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The Hidden Sides of Abuse, Part Two: Financial Abuse

This morning we hear part two of our in-depth series, "The Hidden Sides of Abuse," which explores those aspects of abusive relationships not often seen by outsiders. In today's segment, KSMU's Jennifer Moore reports on how abusive partners use money to control their victims. The name of the victim in this report has been changed to protect her identity.

For 44-year-old Katherine, a registered nurse in Greene County, payday was not the same joyful experience it tends to be for most employees.

"When I went to pick up my check from work, he would take me to get it cashed. Then he would take the money, saying it would be safer with him," she says. "And when someone's towering over you and when it's someone who has woken you up in the middle of the night with a knife to your throat, you don't argue."

The "he" she refers to was her husband. Although he was a public figure and made a good living, he didn't allow her to have a checking account or a car for transportation.

"His spending was unconditional; mine was none," she says.

Charlie Nolan, a certified mediator working in Christian County, says these are common examples of what's known as "financial abuse."

"Financial abuse is basically where the abusive partner is controlling everything that has to do with finances in the home," Nolan says. "They're not allowed to have credit cards in their name. They're not allowed access to family accounts. They might not see paychecks that are coming in. Often, they're not allowed to have job."

Contrary to public perception, abuse in relationships is not just about rage; it is about one partner's desire to exert power and control over the other partner. And an abuser learns very quickly that if you control the finances, in large part, you control the person.

Financial abuse often starts here, in the grocery store, where the abuser has given the victim a limited amount of money, and it had better be spent on those items which the abuser thinks are absolutely necessary.

But where do you draw the line between financial abuse and what all couples have to do regularly: budgeting? Nolan says in a healthy relationship, the decision-making is shared, and both partners have access to the family's money.

"It may not be a 50-50 balance, but most couples, each partner has some input, they are allowed to know the balance in our checkbook, or they can look if they want to. In an abusive relationship, they generally have no idea what income is, and they are not allowed to say, 'I think this is what we should spend it on.'"

Financial abuse is almost always accompanied by other forms of controlling behavior, which can include keeping the victim isolated, using intimidation and physical violence.

Katherine's husband had used knives on both her and her mother, and threatened to kill her if she ever left him.

Money, or rather a lack of it, is just one of the reasons why victims of domestic violence stay in abusive relationships. Not only do they have no resources by which to leave; if they do happen to make it out, they are starting from nothing.

"I didn't leave as near as soon as I wanted to because I did not have the funds," Katherine says. "Financial abuse can be one of the most limiting, crippling, paralyzing forms of abuse, because it limits your ability to escape. And I don't say leave, I say escape."

Abusers will also threaten to hire the best lawyers to get custody of the children, another terrifying aspect for abused women.

Katherine says someone at her workplace finally saw a bruise under her eye and told her about the Family Violence Center in Springfield. So one day, her mother brought her children to her at work, and together they took a taxi to the police station.

"If you can imagine leaving everything you have with two children, maybe 17 dollars and maybe 8 or nine diapers," she relates. "Where are you gonna go? Who's gonna provide food for you? Where are you gonna get your soap? Where are you gonna sleep?"

Katherine did not receive any money from her divorce, but was granted full custody of her children. For her, it was more than enough, and today, she balances her own checkbook.

For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Moore in Springfield.


  • The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • The Family Violence Center (Springfield, MO)