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Financial abuse might not be visible, but Serena Williams is fighting to change that

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Christobel Hastings
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Domestic abuse affects one in four women, but some forms are more visible than others. That’s why Serena Williams is fighting to ensure the often-overlooked issue of financial abuse and its warning signs don’t go unnoticed. 

When you read the words domestic abuse, what springs to mind? Name-calling? Harassment? Or perhaps physical violence? Whatever your understanding of domestic abuse, a gendered crime rooted in social inequality, controlling behaviour can take many different forms.

But while some signs of domestic abuse such as physical and sexual violence frequently make the headlines, others have failed to reach the public consciousness, leaving victims unaware of the disabling scale of abuse and poorly equipped to challenge their circumstances. But one woman that’s on a mission to change the status quo is Serena Williams

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In a bid to help combat financial abuse, one of the most frequently overlooked forms of coercive control, Serena Williams has teamed up with the Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse program, a charity which campaigns to raise awareness of domestic abuse.

The tennis champion, who also acts as an ambassador for the charity, stars in a powerful new video called “Signs,” in which she walks through a maze while the voiceover illuminates the hard-to-see warning signs that may signal you are a victim of financial abuse, such as a partner wanting to review your receipts, taking your paycheck, and spending your money without your permission. 

With shocking statistics showing that the controlling behaviours associated with financial abuse are present in 99% of all cases of domestic violence, Williams’ campaign can’t come a moment too soon.

“It’s a weapon that keeps people trapped in abusive relationships,” Williams told USA Today. “One in four women will experience domestic violence, and this is to help woman and communities throughout America find a way (out of) abuse through financial education and empowerment. That’s my big message.’’

Williams, who is a vocal advocate for women’s issues and recently called for gender parity in the workplace, also said that her involvement in the campaign had inspired life lessons that she would pass along to her daughter, Alexis, in the future.

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“One message I want to teach her is to always have the confidence to stay financially independent,’’ she continued. “It’s okay to be stable on your own, and (say) ‘we can do a lot of things together as well.’”

Given that many signs of abuse are hidden in plain sight, Williams’ campaign is a powerful reminder that we can’t allow invisible forms of abuse to go under the radar. With greater conversation and resources around the issue, we can begin to encourage victims to reclaim their financial independence.

Image: Getty