Actress Kerry Washington is well-known for her role on the political primetime drama "Scandal," but in real life, she is using her star power to raise awareness of financial abuse and empower women to walk away from domestic violence.
Washington is working with Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, a charity, to give women the financial independence and tools they need to free themselves from abusive partners.
"I had never heard the term financial abuse before I started working with the Allstate Foundation," Washington said in an interview with The Huffington Post at the United State of Women White House summit last week. "And yet it's in 99 percent of domestic violence cases. It's also the No. 1 reason why women don't leave domestic violence, and the No. 1 reason why even when they leave, they go back, because they don't have the financial empowerment or wherewithal to stand on their own, to be truly free."
Financial abuse is a means of controlling one's domestic partner economically in order to compel them to stay. It can include preventing the victim from working by sabotaging her job, hiding information from her about joint finances, running up large amounts of debt on the joint account, or giving her a weekly salary. Nearly all domestic violence cases include some form of financial abuse, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
To empower women to leave, Allstate Foundation Purple Purse provides grants to local domestic violence programs to help women secure small loans to purchase cars so they can travel to their jobs, for example. The Allstate Foundation and NNEDV also provide a financial curriculum that teaches domestic violence survivors how they can repair their credit, create a budget, and apply for home loans. The curriculum is free and available in Spanish and English at PurplePurse.com.
The organization has invested more than $50 million into the program and helped 800,000 women escape domestic violence situations. One survivor, a mother of six, was able to save $5 at a time from the grocery allowance her husband was giving her by hiding the money in tampons.
"She knew the only way she could hide the money where her abuser wouldn't find it is in the applicator of a tampon," said Vicky Dinges, vice president of Allstate Foundation. "For two years [she saved] $5 every week. At the end of those two years she was able to get her family out safe."
Washington has been working to end gender-based violence for a decade, but says she was inspired to work with Purple Purse because the program figured out a tangible way to save women from dangerous situations.
"There are so many ways to tackle this issue," she said. "You have to work from a psychological level, an emotional level. But learning that financial abuse is such a huge component in why women stay, it just feels like, oh, we can give this concrete tool, this very tangible tool for women to be able to take care of themselves, save their lives, save their families, and transform their communities."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Purple Purse directly gives women small loans to buy cars. Purple Purse provides grants to local programs that help women secure these loans.