Skip to main content

The Economic Implications of Domestic Abuse

In a new report, 73 percent of respondents said they stayed with an abusive partner because of economic reasons.

After my first daughter was born, my abuser's grandfather gave us a check to buy necessities for our newborn. Not a single cent of that money went to diapers or onesies. Instead, my abuser took the check and spent the money on himself. That wasn't the first time he took what wasn't his. He was constantly in and out of work, and he often left it to me to cover the bulk of our rent, utility bills, and sometimes even his car payments. If I ever raised concerns about his spending, on expensive speakers or tires for his Jeep, I was accused of being "crazy" or "possessive."

When he wasn't hijacking our money, he was negatively affecting my ability to earn more of it. My abuser frequently called the coffee shop where I worked, asking with suspicion whether there were any male employees or customers in the building. This obviously affected my ability to perform my duties. But his distraction wasn't just mental: He once stole my car for close to a month so that he could go party with friends in a city six hours away from me, which limited my ability to commute to work and school.

My experience isn't uncommon. Survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault pay a hefty price for their abusers' actions. In a new report released Wednesday by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a think tank for women's rights, 83 percent of survivors reported that abusive partners disrupted their ability to work or obtain an education. Of this cohort, 70 percent were not able to have a job, and 53 percent lost a job because of the abuse.

"He would show up at my school and physically remove me from class or lie and say one of my kids is in the hospital," said one survivor quoted in the report. "He would mess my computer up so I would not be able to access my work and notes for school."

Due to the financial instability abusers impose on their partners, many victims, especially those with children, feel like they can't flee for safety. Seventy-three percent of respondents reported that they stayed with an abusive partner longer than they wanted or returned to the partner for economic reasons.

And for many survivors, the abuse doesn't end when they leave their abuser. "Everything financial currently seems to revolve around my ex and the control he still seems to have over my life even though we have no direct contact," said another survivor. An abuser can wreak havoc on their ex-partner's long-term financial well-being by harming their credit score and taking money from them against their will, such as their paycheck, savings, or public benefits. Three in five respondents had their credit score harmed; of these, 66 percent said it prevented them from getting a loan and 63 percent said they couldn't get housing.

"While the tangible costs associated with intimate partner violence, such as health-care expenses and lost worker productivity, are profound, the true cost of abuse—to society and to individual survivors—is much higher than a simple dollar figure," says Cynthia Hess, the IWPR's associate research director and a co-author on the report. "How do you quantify the economic impact of lost opportunities?"

What can be done to lessen the financial blows that are brought upon by intimate partner violence? According to the IWPR's report, policymakers, justice system personnel, service providers, and researchers can do more to ensure that survivors have access to long-term safety and economic freedom. Below, a breakdown of the report's findings:

  • States can pass laws that protect survivors' employment and grant them with paid sick and safe leave, allowing the usage of sick days to recover from violence, seek help addressing it, or to care for victimized family members.
  • Judges should receive robust training on the economic turmoil domestic violence can cause on survivors' lives and ways to hold offenders accountable. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and attorneys should be trained to understand the nuances of forced or coerced criminal activity. That way, survivors who were forced or coerced by their abuser to break the law can be protected from the financial burdens caused by an arrest or conviction.
  • Medical and health-care providers should receive training on trauma-informed care, offer culturally responsive care, and provide survivors with local victim service providers and reproductive health services when needed.
  • Advocates who work with survivors of abuse should screen for coerced debt and poor credit ratings. Program leaders can implement initiatives that give survivors access to financial services—such as credit repair and debt remediation, flexible financial assistance, financial counseling and education, career empowerment services, and job training and Know Your Rights clinics.