Helping Domestic Violence Victims Create Financial Security

Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron talks the economic challenges of domestic violence

(Image: Dara Richardson-Heron)
(Image: Dara Richardson-Heron)

A study by Rutgers University and the Allstate Foundation finds that about 70% of Americans fail to connect domestic violence with economic abuse.

[Related: Mind Over Money: The 5 Keys To Building Good Financial Habits: Part 1]

Researchers, however, say the economic aspect of domestic abuse is one of its most debilitating components. The study says economic abuse can include things like preventing the victim from accessing bank accounts, destroying their credit, and interfering with their employment, making it hard–if not impossible–for victims to fully recover and build new lives.

The YWCA is one of the largest domestic violence services in the United States. spoke to  CEO Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron,  about the economic challenges facing domestic violence victims and some of the YWCA’s efforts to get legislation passed that will improve their job security.

BlackEnterprise: Domestic violence issues are an important component of the YWCA’s work.  How big a part of the total equation is economic?

Richardson-Heron: I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of economic empowerment and financial stability when it comes to a woman’s ability to leave an abusive relationship and stay safe. An imbalance of economic power between men and women is one of the many societal inequalities that allows domestic violence to continue.

The YWCA is also focusing on legislative issues to help victims rebuild their financial lives.

One important piece of legislation that YWCA USA is focused on is the Healthy Families Act. In addition to ensuring paid sick days, the bill allows for “paid safe days” for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Many women, and women of color in particular, face a gender wage gap, and as such, they are much more likely to be employed in jobs that lack fair workplace protections. One of the primary challenges that women face when leaving an abuser is the lack of financial security and support to leave a violent home. Because survivors of domestic violence are at an even higher risk of violence while attempting to leave an abuser, paid safe days can provide the opportunity for them to use the normal work day to seek out safety and assistance without the threat of lost wages.

Can you quantify the impact domestic violence has on victims’ ability to continue gainful employment?

According to the American Bar Association, approximately half of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors lose their jobs as a result of the violence. One significant reason for this job loss is missed days of work. We strongly support the Healthy Families Act legislation because we feel that women who need to take time off to seek protection from domestic violence and sexual assault certainly should not be re-victimized by the loss of their job.

What are some of the messages we can take away from this, as far as breaking the cycle of violence?

Domestic violence and sexual assault are pervasive and complex issues and there is no “one-size-fits-all solution.” There are many layers of challenges that victims of violence face and, often, there are many systemic and institutional barriers preventing women from leaving abusive situations.  Understanding what these challenges look like on a larger scale, understanding how these challenges are often compounded if you’re a woman of color, and understanding how these  challenges can ultimately impact a victim’s ability to leave is critical.

The fewer options a woman has, the greater the likelihood that she will fall back into the cycle of violence.

In addition to Dr. Richardson-Heron’s insights, you can go to the YWCA’s website for more information.  Also, click here for 6 tips from The National Network to End Domestic Violence on how victims can create financial security.