When I fled in my van with my children, I had nothing. Over the previous 14 years, I had been prevented from accessing cash and writing checks. I was limited to the use of one credit card for all our needs. I was called in to stand before him once a month to account for every penny I spent. I was forbidden to do the grocery shopping, had to beg for parking change, and had my credit card taken away whenever he determined I had overspent or misused funds. He left the children and me without access to finances for days while he was on business trips. He refused to fix my flat tire, leaving three babies and me driving on the spare for weeks, thereby limiting my movements.
I was told that if I wanted a van, instead of the tiny car that I was driving, I’d have to get a job to pay for it. I was not permitted to leave the house without the children at my side, so holding down a job was impossible. When I found a way to make money from home, he decided that I owed the family and wrote bills against my earnings so that I’d have to pay him. I opened a secret bank account so that I had somewhere to put it when I did secret some cash.
I was required to sign paperwork but not permitted to read through it all. Frankly, I was so tired and scared. I had no interest in reading it because it was more than my brain, which was working on survival mode, could take in. When I decided to flee, I was blessed with the generosity of friends and family who provided me with money, a new tire, places to stay, and gas cards. I drove across four states to freedom; without those donations, I would have been stuck at home with no way of leaving.
It is reported that domestic violence victims experience some form of financial abuse in 96-99% of abusive marriages (NNEDV, n.d.). Financial abuse is an amazingly effective way to maintain control and keep power over a victim in an abusive relationship. It isolates, shames, and disempowers a victim so that she has fewer options to escape or improve her situation.
Financial abuse has many faces. The most obvious is preventing the victim from having access to money. But it also includes interfering with her work or preventing her from working at all. Prevention or interfering with someone’s ability to hold a job, making unreasonable requirements and demands, harassing someone while they are at work, not providing transportation, and taking away earned income are ways of controlling a victim’s ability to work or keep a job.
Controlling money, determining how it spent, preventing access to money, and requiring unreasonable accounting are also forms of financial abuse. I remember trembling in fear every month when I was called to account for every line on the credit card statement. An abuser will also withhold basic needs like shoes, clothes, or food. They will also withhold important documents that prevent victims from employment, opening accounts, or changing their immigration status.
Some abusers are hyper financially suave, like my ex was accounting for every penny and controlling the finances like a dictator. Others are reckless, spending every dime without paying bills or providing for their family. Either kind of financial abuser may secret away money, hiding it or tying it up in inaccessible accounts. They steal the victim’s money, property, or identity and will often highjack their credit cards and credit.
Finally, domestic violence often leads to high medical and mental health expenses: physical violence and emotional abuse results in ongoing long-term medical conditions (NNEDV, n.d.). Victims of domestic violence, medical and mental health expenses are, on average, 42% higher than the average person (NNEDV, n.d.). Because victims are often underemployed or unemployed, they don’t have health insurance coverage unless they stay with their abuser. With excessive medical expenses, lack of health care coverage becomes another form of financial abuse.
Financial abuse is the number one reason that victims are forced to stay in their relationships (Mary Kay, 2012). It is also the primary reason victims will return to their abuser after escaping (Salamone, 2010). Domestic violence is the leading cause of female and child homelessness in the US, with an average of 48,000 homeless shelter beds used by victims of DV on a given night (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2020).
Financial abuse and Christian marriage
Complementarian, headship, or patriarchal theology teaches that men are the leaders of their homes and, as such, must provide financially. As the head of the household, they are also expected to be in control of family finances (Solomon, 2015). A man is under no obligation to include his wife on financial decisions.
Teachings of patriarchal Christianity also teach that women are emotionally driven and thus make poor choices. Her role is to have and then care for children, run the home according to her husbands desires and submit to his leadership. However, nowhere in the Bible does God give men control over finances or the right to abuse their family.
Women are taught to obey and submit to their husbands in every arena (Solomon, 2015). For some Christians, this becomes the expectation that she remains silent, even in the face of financial ruin; after all, her husband is the one who will be held accountable in God’s eyes. Her only recourse is to seek assistance from a pastor since he is considered to have authority over her husband when she does not (Solomon, 2015). Traditional gender role requirements that the husband provides and leads and the wife submits and stays home without mutual respect and equality, sets woman up for abuse and empowers the man to abuse. Abusers will and all too often do, use, and misuse these belief systems to enact their specific form of financial abuses against their victim.
However, God does not endorse financial (or any other kind) of abuse!
The Bible, as a whole and individually, instructs partners to love and respect each other. The verses used to keep women in obedience to their husbands in all things are misrepresented as directives instead of cultural and historical examples (Edwards, 2014). Historically, male headship teaching isn’t even Biblical, as it originated in the Christian church with St. Augustine’s teachings and biased translations (Edwards, 2014).
1 Timothy states that anyone who does not provide for their family is worse than an unbeliever and has turned their backs on the faith. Men are also instructed not to be harsh with their wives, Col 3:19. They are told to love their wife as they love themselves, and as God loves the church Eph 5:25. What can be harsher then abuse? How can a man love their partner as themselves and deny them financial resources? Can a partner abuse their spouse and still be considered Christian?
The Bible teaches that each person is given talents and abilities. It includes women in prophecy, teaching, and exhortation. It names women as judges, leaders, prophets, and apostles. God instructs all Christians to conduct themselves with mutual respect and love; indeed, Christians should be recognized through the love they show others (Edwards, 2014). Additionally, Christian marriage should exemplify love and mutual respect not, control and power by one spouse over the other. God is not abusive and does not endorse any kind of abuse in marriage.
If you find yourself in an abusive marriage, I encourage you to reach out to the domestic violence hotline, 1-800-799-7233 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or your local women’s shelter.
Edwards, B. (2014). Do men really need to govern women? Retrieved from https://juniaproject.com/do-men-need-to-govern-women/
Mary Kay. (2012). “Truth About Abuse Survey Report.” The Nation.
National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2020). Domestic Violence and Homelessness. Retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/what-causes-homelessness/domestic-violence/
National Network to End Domestic Violence. (n.d.) Financial Abuse Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://nnedv.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Library_EJ_Financial_Abuse_Fact_Sheet.pdf
Salamone, N. (2010). “Domestic Violence and Financial Dependency.” Forbes.
Solomon, L. (2015). Can a Christian husband deny his wife equal access to his income? Retrieved from https://biblicalgenderroles.com/tag/financial-abuse/
I remember getting gift cards to help with groceries and Christmas, buying everything we needed, with some left over, and when he discovered I’d received and spent the money on groceries and gifts he yelled at me in the vehicle all the way to our family Christmas celebration, then continued yelling on the way home. He was angry I’d bought groceries (at a grocery store) instead of tires – with the grocery store gift card. I didn’t work, and wasn’t allowed to implement a budget from his earnings that would have put us ahead instead of always running cheque to cheque… In fact, when I tried he accused me of being financially abusive because he couldn’t spend what he wanted.
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