An often overlooked aspect of domestic violence is financial abuse. Victims are forced to co-sign loans, open new credit cards and make purchases they can’t afford.
One Tarrant County woman lost tens of thousands of dollars to her abuser. Years later, she’s still working to regain her financial footing.
Most of us have some sort of filing system—like an accordion folder full of important documents like tax returns; 52-year-old Kelly is flipping through hers in the living room of her Tarrant County home. Her tabs are a little different—one’s marked 'domestic violence,' another- 'debit card fraud.'
For five years, Kelly was in a relationship with a man who physically abused her. KERA agreed not to use her last name, for safety reasons.
From Happy To Violent
The first two years of their relationship were happy, the last three were not. She talks about getting hit, having a gun pulled on her, wine bottles smashed against the wall next to her head.
“Another time I was hit with a small wicker decorative thing that had little drawers in it, and he beat me with that. So it wasn’t always with his hands," she says.
She had a great job when she met him and plenty of money in the bank. Things changed when she ended up in the hospital with brain swelling.
“He was able to log on, change all of my security questions and all of my log in information so I couldn’t log on and then he just wired out all of my money," she says. "It was over $50,000.”
An overdrawn checking account and a default on an auto loan she’d been forced to sign, tanked her credit score—which had been in the high 700s.
“At the first point that I had the opportunity to start even thinking about my credit, when I checked it was in the 400s, the low 400s," she says.
Kelly finally left her abuser and went into hiding—staying first at a shelter, then a transitional community for battered women.
“You know I went from having a great savings and not having to worry about myself financially, to not being able to buy any food or put gas in my car," Kelly says.
A Familiar Problem
Deborah Lyons is Executive Director of 'The Gatehouse' in Grapevine, a community for women and children in crisis. She says Kelly’s story isn’t uncommon.
“I believe that financial abuse is generally a part of every domestic violence situation, and it is a component that is more significant even than the physical abuse and the verbal abuse in that, it tends to keep a woman prisoner," she says.
If a woman has no money, it’s very difficult for her to leave an abusive partner, especially if kids are involved. Which is why, Lyons says, so many abusers also intentionally saddle wives and girlfriends with debt.
“Even when she leaves this abusive situation, she is still in bondage to credit card companies, automobile dealerships, furniture, that’s a big one," she says.
And while breaking free with no money and a mountain of debt is possible—it’s not easy. And recovering from the financial hit is even harder.
“I’ve seen many instances where women do leave, do escape, and it’s taken them upwards of 20 years to rebuild their credit, and to get out from under all of that debt," Lyons says.
Another Chapter For Kelly
Kelly is now engaged to be married, has a home she's proud of and loves her job. To get here, she's had to hire credit attorneys, settle lawsuits and re-start her career. She wants people to understand what she went through—and what so many other victims of violence are struggling to shoulder.
“If more people are aware of the whole realm of domestic violence, then less women will have to go through the abuse, less women will die, and more women will leave and stay gone," she says.
Kelly got away—even though she lives with deep physical and financial scars.