People who have never experienced domestic abuse often find it hard to understand why someone doesn’t leave at the first sign of ‘trouble’ – the first physical incident or sign of controlling behaviour.
But emotional manipulation is more complicated than most film and TV representations would have you believe, often building up over time and not being restricted to physical violence. In 2015, this was officially recognised in the UK, with a new law introduced to specifically target psychological and emotional torment – recognising repeated “controlling or coercive behaviour” as potentially just as harmful as physical abuse.
Actor Kerry Washington is using her profile to point to another important facet of overall manipulation and control – financial abuse.
Washington, working with for the AllState Purple Purse campaign, took part in a panel at the Forbes Women Summit last week, and said it’s important women are taught to handle themselves financially, saying: “Not having information is how we're disempowered.”
“A lot of times we say, ‘Why does she stay? Why do they stay?’ We know from our work that the number one reason people stay is because they don’t feel like they have the tools to go,” she told refinery29.com. “And all of us, rather than shaming and blaming, can use our resources to lend a hand to people who don’t have access to that information to be able to transform their lives.”
Financial abuse can include having bank accounts and credit cards controlled by an abuser, having spending scrutinised, being prevented from working too much or at all, and being forced to be dependent on the abuser for money.
According to Purple Purse, which aims to support women in the US via financial literacy services, job training, and entrepreneurship guidance, financial abuse occurs in 99% of abusive relationships. Much like other facets of controlling relationships, the abuse can start small and escalate into total control.
As a viral essay on the importance of “financial self-defence” illustrated last year, financial freedom can be vital in helping a victim leave an abusive relationship.
Washington goes on to discuss the importance of financial literacy, addressing the “veil of shame” many survivors feel.
She said: “I know how disempowering it can feel to not feel financially literate. Sometimes, as women, we just don’t want to be involved in the details […] And because it’s not something that we're necessarily taught, we’re not sure if it’s something we should know.
“Abuse is a multi-layered issue […] but when you can at least give a woman the tools to walk away, then you can start to do that bigger work.”
If you’re looking for information and are worried your computer activity is being monitored, support organisations advise not changing your computer habits at home, but accessing a computer in a public library, at a trusted friend’s house, or in an internet café. Other guidance for covering your online tracks can be found here.
For information and support, visit the Women’s Aid website at womensaid.org.uk or call 0808 2000 247.
The Freephone 24-hour Domestic Violence Helpline is on 0808 2000 247.
The Refuge website can be found at refuge.org.uk.
American readers can call National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
Main image: Rex Features