The Warning Signs of Financial Abuse

[Editor's Note: The following piece contains descriptions of graphic violence.]

One hot summer afternoon, 15-year-old Nancy Salamone was hanging out on the boardwalk at Orchard Beach, in her hometown of the Bronx, which is how she spent most of her lazy summer breaks. But though it started out like any other, this particular day would end up changing the course of her life.

She caught sight of a handsome older guy strolling by, and to her surprise, he approached her and started flirting. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s talking to me!’” she remembers. “I was captivated.”

Despite their age difference — he was a college student and budding chef — they soon began dating exclusively. Salamone didn’t notice the red flags that shot up during their relationship because she was so smitten: She thought it was romantic that he wanted to spend all his time with her, rather than recognizing it as a subtle strategy to isolate her from friends and family. He got angry if she wore clothes that showed too much skin. And he’d ask to borrow money (she worked part-time in a dentist’s office).

financial abuse
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He proposed right after she graduated high school, and they were married a short time later in a traditional Catholic ceremony. The day they returned from their honeymoon in Montreal, Salamone’s “Prince Charming” beat her, sodomized her, and left her bleeding on the bathroom floor.

Thus began a nightmarish 18-year marriage in which she was abused not only physically and emotionally, but also financially. Salamone’s husband forced her to hand over her paycheck to him, controlled all the money, forged her signature on financial documents, and put her career in jeopardy.

Sadly, Salamone’s experience is not rare. The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) reports that 98 percent of women who are physically abused also experience financial abuse, which prevents victims from acquiring, using, or maintaining monetary resources. “It’s one of the tactics batterers use to enforce their control and keep women in the relationship,” says Kim Pentico, senior economic justice specialist at the NNEDV. She also says that some women are financially abused without being harmed physically.

According to Purple Purse, a public awareness and fundraising campaign aimed at creating long-term safety and security for survivors through financial empowerment, “domestic violence victims frequently cite income, employment, and financial stability as the strongest, most immediate deterrents to leaving abusive situations.” Without access to money, and with their credit scores often in shambles, women’s options for everything from housing to job opportunities are severely limited. And having kids adds another layer of complication. Without adequate funds to support a family, there’s the risk that their children could be taken away from them if they flee.

It’s a terrifying predicament to be in, so the sooner women can realize they’re in a dangerous situation and get out, the better. Here are the early warning signs of financial abuse, and what to do if you recognize them.

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