Economic abuse

Economic abuse is a form of abuse when one intimate partner has control over the other partner's access to economic resources,[1] which diminishes the victim's capacity to support him/herself and forces him/her to depend on the perpetrator financially.[1][2][3]

It is related to, or also known as, financial abuse, which is the illegal or unauthorized use of a person’s property, money, pension book or other valuables (including changing the person's will to name the abuser as heir), often fraudulently obtaining power of attorney, followed by deprivation of money or other property, or by eviction from own home. Financial abuse applies to both elder abuse and domestic violence.[4]

A key distinction between economic abuse and financial abuse is that economic abuse also includes the control of someone's present or future earning potential by preventing them from obtaining a job or education.

Role in domestic violence

Economic abuse in a domestic situation may involve:

In its extreme (and usual) form, this involves putting the victim on a strict "allowance", withholding money at will and forcing the victim to beg for the money until the abuser gives the victim some money. It is common for the victim to receive less and less money as the abuse continues. This also includes (but is not limited to) preventing the victim from finishing education or obtaining employment, or intentionally squandering or misusing communal resources.[5]

Controlling mechanism

Economic abuse is often used as a controlling mechanism as part of a larger pattern of domestic abuse, which may include verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse may include threats or attempts to kill the spouse. By restricting the victim's access to economic resources, the offender has limited recourses to exit the abusive or violent relationship.[6]

The following are ways that abusers may use economic abuse with other forms of domestic violence:

Victimization occurs across all socio-economic levels, and when victims are asked why they stay in abusive relationships, "lack of income" is a common response.[7]

Job-related impacts

There are several ways that abusers may impact a victim's economic resources. As mentioned earlier, the abuser may prevent the victim from working or make it very difficult to maintain a job. They may likewise impede their ability to obtain an education. Frequent phone calls, surprise visits and other harassing activities interfere with the spouse's work performance. In couples where the spouse is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning of their sexuality (LBGTQ), the abuser may threaten to "out them" with their employer.[7]

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the United States reports that:

Impact of lack of economic resources

By denying the victim access to money, such as forbidding the victim from maintaining a bank account, he or she is totally financially dependent upon the abuser for shelter, food, clothing and other necessities. In some cases the abuser may withhold those necessities, also including medicine and personal hygiene products. They may also greatly limit their ability to leave the abusive situation by refusing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support.[7]

Abusers may also use force their spouses to obtain credit and then through negligent activities ruin their credit rating and ability to get credit.[7]

Managing economic abuse

There are several ways to manage economic abuse: ensure one has safe access to important personal and financial records, ensure one's research activities are not traceable and, if you believe you are going to leave the relationship, prepare ahead of time.[7]

Role in elder abuse

Main article: Elder financial abuse

The elderly are sometimes victims of financial abuse from people within their family:

Family members engaged in financial abuse of the elderly may include spouses, children, or grandchildren. They may engage in the activity because they feel justified, for instance, they are taking what they might later inherit or have a sense of "entitlement" due to a negative personal relationship with the older person. Or they may take money or property to prevent other family members from getting the money or for fear that their inheritance may be lost due to cost of treating illnesses. Sometimes, family members take money or property from their elders because of gambling or other financial problems or substance abuse.[8]

It is estimated that there may be 5 million elderly citizens of the United States subject to financial abuse each year.[7]


United States

The Survivors’ Empowerment and Economic Security Act was introduced by the 110th United States Congress to the Senate (S. 1136) and House of Representatives (H.R. 2395) to allow for greater economic freedom for domestic violence victims by providing short-term emergency benefits where needed, guaranteeing employment leave and unemployment compensation, and prohibit insurance restriction or job discrimination to domestic violence victims.[7]


  1. 1 2 3 Adams, Adrienne E.; Sullivan, Cris M.; Bybee, Deborah; Greeson, Megan R. (May 2008). "Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse". Violence Against Women. 14 (5): 563–588. doi:10.1177/1077801208315529. PMID 18408173.
  2. 1 2 Brewster, M. P. (2003). "Power and Control Dynamics in Pre-stalking and Stalking Situations". Journal of Family Violence. 18 (4): 207–217. doi:10.1023/A:1024064214054.
  3. 1 2 Sanders, Cynthia K.; Schnabel, Meg (2004). "Organizing for Economic Empowerment of Battered Women: Women's Savings Accounts" (PDF). Center for Social Development, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University. Working Paper No. 04-15.
  4. Carnot, Edward J. (2004). Is Your Parent in Good Hands?: Protecting Your Aging Parent from Financial Abuse and Neglect. Capital Books. ISBN 978-1-931868-37-2.
  5. "Economic Abuse". BSAFE. September 6, 2009.
  6. 1 2 Economic abuse wheel. Women's Domestic Abuse Helpline. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Economic Abuse. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  8. 1 2 Financial Abuse. National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA). 2008. Retrieved November 20, 2011.

Further reading

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