The YWCA is committed to ending domestic violence and making sure that women who do experience domestic violence are able to find safety and survive abuse from an intimate partner. That is why last week, as an Aspen Ideas Scholar, I spoke on the impact of financial abuse on domestic violence victims at the Aspen Ideas Festival. It is always an honor to bring awareness to such a critical issue.
Unfortunately, far too many people dismiss domestic violence as a private matter, assuming that both partners have an equal role in maintaining the peace at home. But the very nature of domestic violence is that one partner exerts imbalanced power and control over the other. While differences and arguments are a part of any relationship -- in a healthy relationship those differences are resolved without threats, fear of retaliation, or physical harm.
Sometimes domestic violence is explicit, such as physical and sexual abuse. Domestic violence can also be implicit. This type of covert abuse includes isolation, intimidation, threatened harm to children and/or pets, or even financial abuse. Contrary to what many may think, domestic violence can occur without physical violence.
As one of the largest domestic violence service providers in the country, local YWCA staff can provide countless stories of how the absence of physical violence can be the very reason women stay in abusive relationships. She may experience all other manifestations of domestic violence, but an absence of physical harm may lead her to rationalize and accept unacceptable and abusive behavior. The media, communities, and even loved ones often exacerbate this problem by dismissing this type of domestic violence by saying, "at least he didn't hit you." In addition to asking why she doesn't just leave, this rhetoric is high on the list of damaging things to say to someone experiencing domestic violence.
A lack of financial resources and options is the number one reason that victims of domestic violence cannot leave abusive relationships. Like all forms of abuse, financial abuse can be seen in many types of controlling behavior. In some cases, abusers do not allow their partners to work. This allows them to control their partner's movement and ensure that she does not have the financial means to leave the relationship.
In other cases, abusers allow their partners to work but do not let them have access to their paychecks, requiring them to hand over their earnings. Many abusers do not allow their partners to have access to credit cards or personal bank accounts. Shared access to a credit card or a bank account is sometimes given solely to monitor and threaten their partners by keeping track of their purchases and movement. Domestic violence and lack of financial stability often places a woman in the untenable position of choosing between staying in an abusive environment or becoming homeless. And like domestic abuse, financial abuse cuts across class, race, religious affiliation and sexual orientation. Financial abuse impacts nearly 98 percent of all domestic violence victims.
The YWCA is working daily to support victims of domestic violence. In 2014, more than 470,000 survivors were served across all YWCA domestic violence programs. Furthermore, 98 percent of domestic violence victims who stayed in YWCA shelters 30 days or more develop an economic self-sufficiency plan. In addition to direct services 75 percent of YWCAs providing domestic violence services also work to end domestic violence through legislative advocacy.
To help lessen the economic barrier that so many domestic violence victims face, YWCA USA is working to pass the Healthy Families Act. While the bill's core component ensures the accrual of seven paid sick days for all workers, it also provides for "paid safe days" so that victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking can seek out safety and assistance without the threat of lost wages. We believe this is essential to women suffering domestic abuse, so I am asking you to contact your legislator today and tell them to support the Health Families Act. Together we can create a safer and more just world.