Written By: Tannia Ventura and Sonya Passi, FreeFrom
From working in partnership with financial coaches and counselors, we know that some of you may be approaching this article with questions. You may be asking yourself: How do I know if I’m working with survivors of intimate partner violence? And, what can I do as a financial coach or counselor to help survivors?
Let’s explore the first question: how do you know if you are working with survivors or people who have experienced intimate partner violence (“IPV”)?
One in two trans people, one in four women, and one in seven men experience intimate partner violence. In other words, since IPV is so prevalent, it is very likely you are already working with survivors. This isn’t a question you necessarily need to ask a person you are supporting, but if you ever find yourself needing to ask, it might be best to ask an individual in privacy and in a way that doesn’t automatically categorize them as a survivor.
Many folks do not identify with the term “survivor” or “victim” so if you are making this ask, a question like: “are you or have you ever experienced harm in your home, from a family member or a partner?” may be open-ended enough to encourage someone to disclose. However, even with a question like this, some folks may still not recognize the harm they have experienced and this is when it’s important to recognize the signs of IPV and economic abuse. You can read more about how to recognize the signs of IPV and economic abuse here and here.
What can I do as a financial coach or counselor to help survivors?
99% of all people who experience IPV also experience economic abuse and the #1 challenge that prevents survivors from staying safe is financial security. IPV is an economic issue with economic causes and economic consequences. You have such a crucial and important role in supporting survivors and interrupting economic abuse as a financial coach/counselor.
5 Ways to Support Survivors of IPV in this moment and beyond
1 – Understand your own experience with IPV and give yourself space and time to heal. Since IPV is so common, it’s possible that you or someone close to you has experienced IPV. If this is true for you, acknowledging your own experience with IPV and its economic impacts in your life can tell you a lot about your personal relationship to money and your job as a coach/counselor. Finding professional help (like a therapist or counselor) as you explore your experiences with IPV can be helpful and can help you begin to heal some of the financial trauma that you may carry.
2 – Learn about IPV and economic abuse so you can better recognize the signs and begin to address the abuse. Explore the Power and Control wheel (please ignore the “her” pronouns as IPV can happen to anyone) and the Healing and Accountability wheel to learn about IPV and healthy relationships. Economic abuse or financial abuse are often tactics that control a survivor’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources, thus threatening the survivor’s potential for self-sufficiency by creating financial dependence on the harm-doer. Examples of economic abuse are: not being able to work or losing your job as a result of the abuse, not having access to cash or bank accounts, or being coerced into debt and/or taking on fraudulent debt created by another person.
3 – Meet with partners/family members separately if it is safe to do so. This may allow you to support the person being harmed in creating financial autonomy and the person who is harming in better understanding that their need to control assets, money, and resources is harmful. Helping folks separately balance economic access and decision making in a family or partnership can be a great tool for interrupting economic abuse.
4 – Interrupt credit fraud/coerced debt. One of the most common forms of economic abuse is forced or coerced debt in which the partner/family member who is causing harm secretly accesses or forces a survivor to take out loans and credit cards under the survivor’s name (often without paying it off or forcing the survivor to pay for it), e.g., a survivor who was forced to go to a car dealership to buy the spouse a car under the survivor’s name without ever having access to that car.
Unfortunately, credit bureaus and creditors do not always recognize this as fraud (within a marriage or relationship) so getting these debts forgiven can be more challenging and nearly impossible. Along with checking a credit report (with individuals separately) and utilizing credit alerts and freezes, if creditors are not willing to recognize the abuse and forgive debt, negotiating a repayment plan or coaching a couple/family through a repayment plan might be the best way to address the fraud.
Questioning a person’s habit to take credit cards or loans out in their family member or partner’s name and helping the person causing harm find ways to access credit for themselves can be helpful in these cases as well. Overall, respecting a survivor’s choice to report or not report fraud caused by a family member/partner is extremely important when building a coaching/counseling relationship built on trust.
5 – Help the person who is being harmed make and execute a financial safety plan. A financial safety plan is a plan that helps a survivor protect their finances whether or not they choose to remain in a harmful relationship. Financial safety plans include things like: creating a safe email that only the survivor has access to, creating secret bank accounts or ways to hold/save money, deciding what happens to assets/money if something were to happen, secretly working on credit to be able to get their own place, changing logins/addresses on bank accounts or credit cards, etc.
Not all financial safety planning options are safe for survivors so it’s helpful to present survivors with options and allow them to tell you which are safe for them to pursue. You can read more about financial safety planning in the survivor section of FreeFrom’s COVID-19 Response Guide.
We hope you found this article helpful and we would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or questions. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.