Empowering Women Affected by Domestic Violence

If you had told me 30 years ago that my story would come to life in a film about domestic violence and financial abuse, I wouldn't have believed you.

Thirty years ago, I had just married an attractive, popular guy who was never nice to me. Abused by my parents throughout my childhood, I didn't know any other way. I thought my husband's violent actions were part of normal family life. I thought the emotional, physical, sexual and financial control was just something I had to accept in my home. And I did--for 18 years.

Immediately after the birth of our sixth child, I reached my breaking point. "Who's going to want you now?" my husband leaned in to ask me in my hospital bed. Right then and there, I knew I had to leave, but I had no money to fund my escape, especially with six children by my side.

So I began adding cash back to checks at the grocery store in $5 and $10 increments and hiding these bills in empty tampon applicators stored in the back of my bathroom cabinet. It was the only place in our house I thought my husband would never look.

I did this, painstakingly, for two years until I saved $2,600, just enough money to hire a lawyer, file for divorce and leave with my children.

Not all victims are so lucky.

Ninety-nine percent of all domestic violence cases involve financial abuse, in which abusers deny victims access to money, ruin their credit by stealing their identity, or harass them at work so they lose their jobs.

Financial abuse was the reason I stayed. During our marriage, my husband controlled all the finances. I didn't know how to balance a checkbook or how to budget, and I was unaware of our assets, even accounts he had in my name. Plus, I was never allowed to pursue an education or a career, so I couldn't support myself and our kids on my own.

I tried to leave, time after time, but always took him back. I didn't have the financial means to walk away. Or, he'd promise to change, and I'd believe him because it was easier than somehow finding a way out.

My resourceful plan of using tampons as my hidden safe funded my initial escape, but I had no job and no family support after I left my husband. At this critical point, many victims return to their abusers, feeling helpless and lost on their own. But I was determined to never go back.

Thanks to my legal advocate, I was led to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, where I slowly got back on my feet.

Years later, I discovered Allstate Foundation's Moving Ahead Through Financial Management curriculum, a tool I wish I had when I was making my escape. The curriculum offers tools on budgeting, career planning and resources to help survivors become financially independent. Since 2005, The Allstate Foundation has invested more than $50 million in resources for domestic violence victims and helped nearly 1 million victims to break free--and stay free--from abuse.

I was so impressed with the curriculum and the work of Allstate Foundation Purple Purse that I became one of the program's survivor spokespersons. I was honored to support an organization that was helping so many women with experiences like mine. If they thought my story could help, I was glad to share it and help others break free.

This year, Allstate Foundation Purple Purse launched an online film based on my experience called "America's Largest Prison Break" to call attention to the staggering reality that more women are trapped in abusive relationships than are incarcerated in America's prisons. Since the film's release in June, the campaign has raised more than $4 million to fund programs and tools to support domestic violence nonprofits that provide vital services to survivors such as legal assistance, childcare and emergency shelter.

Thirty years ago, I never thought I would have an opportunity to help other women. I was just struggling to survive and desperate to remove my children from an abusive home and prevent them from growing up to be batterers or abused themselves.

I never thought my story would make a difference. I never thought that an ordinary person like me could make a difference.

Starting on #GivingTuesday, Tuesday, November 29, you can participate in an auction of five exclusive Purple Purse handbags. Your support can empower victims of abuse to regain their financial independence by making sure they have access to the services they need.

Visit purplepurse.com and follow @PurplePurse on Twitter and Facebook to learn more.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the #GivingTuesday Team at 92nd Street Y, to celebrate #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is a global giving movement, and the series (which will feature content throughout November) aims to celebrate how people are giving back around the world. For more information about #GivingTuesday, visit here. And to join the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #GivingTuesday.