Economic Abuse | #16Days 2020

When Elmira* left Iraq, with her husband and children, she hoped for a better life in Canada. Shortly after arriving, she got help applying for disability and child benefits. But she doesn’t see a penny of that money. In fact, Elmira doesn’t even have access to her own bank account. Her husband has total control over every single aspect of the couple’s finances, and his poor money choices have landed their large family in a shelter. Pregnant, unable to speak English, and lacking any knowledge of the state of her financial affairs, Elmira is left with limited choices in this abusive situation

Economic abuse can happen in any intimate relationship, and it leaves the victim feeling trapped. The abuser might block a partner from accessing their own finances, run up surmountable debts in joint accounts, or even refuse to let them work. There are endless variations, but the underlying motive is always control.

An abuser may exert control by denying their victim access to—or knowledge of—their own finances, running up large debts in joint accounts, not disclosing tax money owing, adding to home bonds or rentals without consent, or outright stealing cash from their victim’s accounts.

Some abusers won’t allow their victims to earn money, or the other extreme, they might force their victim to be the sole breadwinner for the household. Another way of exerting control is by dictating exactly what kind of job a victim is allowed to do.

Economic abuse can happen so subtly and slowly that its victims don’t even know it until they’re in its grips. It takes time to escape and then more time still to rebuild self-esteem, financial security and a general sense of safety. Elmira is not yet ready to separate from her husband or address the abuse she’s facing. But she’s acknowledged the issues to trusted individuals, and that’s a critical first step. When she is ready, she knows there are many eager allies ready to help.

Often when abuse comes to a point where a partner is trying to get out of that cycle, and the abuser is losing their control, the abuser will react, and this often escalates to other forms of violence fairly quickly,”

Victims should identify safe places, people and organizations to turn to for support, as they remove themselves from their situation. Social workers, community shelters, or the police could all be helpful at this time.

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