Kerry Washington wants to keep the conversation about domestic violence going.
On Monday, the Emmy-nominated actress spoke out about an often-overlooked reason why women stay in abusive relationships: financial abuse.
"It's the reason why so many people stay," she said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "That whole hashtag #WhyIStayed that happened last week, you saw how many of those responses were about feeling trapped financially."
The "Scandal" star appeared at an event in New York as an ambassador for The Allstate Foundation, which runs an initiative called “Purple Purse” to raise awareness of domestic abuse. As the campaign's spokeswoman, Washington designed a limited-edition purple purse to draw attention to the role of money in abusive relationships.
Financial abuse is a tactic often used by abusers to control and isolate their partners. It takes many forms: Abusers may drastically limit their victims' access to cash so they have no money of their own if they want to flee. They may sabotage their victims' ability to work, or pile up debt under their victims' names. Experts cite financial abuse as one of the top reasons why many victims are unable to escape abusive relationships.
"I think people just aren't as aware of financial abuse," Washington told HuffPost. "If a woman isn't even aware of the dynamics of financial abuse -- what it looks like, what it is -- she may not even know that that's part of the tools being used to control her and manipulate her and keep her trapped. When there is more information around it, people can begin to identify it and then get the help they need."
Washington said she loved designing the bag and hoped it would spur more conversations about domestic violence. "A purse is a powerful symbol," she said. "It's where a woman's economic power lives."
On "Scandal," Washington plays Olivia Pope, a firebrand D.C. crisis handler with a team of "gladiators in suits."
One of those gladiators, Abby Whelan, is a domestic violence survivor whom Pope helped rescue from her abusive husband in a subplot on the show. Washington said fans often approach actress Darby Stanchfield and thank her for not shying away from such a tough issue.
"We've actually been told that this season is going to be a really strong season for Abby's character. I wonder if we'll get to see more of how that dynamic played between them as friends, as Olivia stepped in to help get her out of that relationship," she said. "I'm very curious to see how that plays out."
Washington also released a PSA on financial abuse.
"Finances are almost always a weapon of choice," she says in the video. "Taking away access to cash, destroying credit, jeopardizing jobs -- financial abuse leaves invisible bruises that can take decades to heal."
All proceeds from the initiative will go to domestic violence organizations nationwide to support their efforts helping survivors rebuild financial security.