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Examining the Intersection of Economics and Domestic Violence

By:  Mary-Margaret Sweeney, Training Services Manager, Domestic Violence Network

I always thought about financial independence for myself in terms of opportunities: having the ability to travel, rent my own apartment and decorate it how I wanted, buying a beer or concert tickets without having to ask anyone else permission. Economic independence had never been tied to distrust of men, but to self-reliance and freedom.  But in my early 20s, the time I had imagined myself enjoying those wild travel adventures and painting my own apartment my favorite shade of purple, I found myself in an economically abusive relationship instead.

I was the only breadwinner in the household most of the time and I worked two jobs–and for one summer, three jobs–while trying to complete my college degree. During this time, my partner either wasn’t working at all, or quit a job the moment he became frustrated with it. I kept a careful budget and knew exactly how much was needed to pay the bills. I logged every penny. And yet, the math just never worked out. I couldn’t understand where all of our money was going. It didn’t cross my mind for a long time that perhaps the person I made dinner with, slept next to, who I trusted and loved, was being dishonest. But it turned out there was a lot going on that my careful budgeting could not have accounted for. He lied about us having health insurance provided by one of his longer working stints. I learned it was a lie when I called him from an emergency room asking for our coverage information as I waited in pain for treatment. Money that I had put into our joint account for health care and property tax costs had instead been spent on a new bicycle, video games, to pay off debt he had accrued without my knowledge, and I’ll likely never know what else. I learned the true extent of this after our relationship ended when I received notification that there was a lien on my property, and I was in danger of losing the home I’d worked so hard to purchase.

It took me a couple of years to pay off the lien on my home, pay a lawyer, and that emergency room bill. But, I was able to do so. I went into that abusive relationship with a lot of resources, emotional support, and privilege that many victims just don’t have. The relationship was emotionally abusive before I knew of the financial deception taking place. And when I first let myself wonder if I should stay or leave, I always knew that I would be able to make it on my own. Not everyone has that. In fact, we know that money is one of the main reasons people stay in abusive relationships. I was lucky. And a big part of my work is inspired not so much by what I suffered, but by the fact that being lied to by one’s partner, almost losing one’s home, and enduring years of financial stress and a negatively impacted credit score can be considered lucky. When compared to other DV victims, I was, in fact, one of the luckiest.

As long as any experience with domestic violence can be counted as “lucky,” our work continues. DVN’s Community Wide Plan, Intersections, is addressing what other factors impact DV victims, making it harder for victims to access services and leave violent partners. The first six months we will be examining the intersection of Economics and Domestic Violence. We invite you to join us for the following event at CHIP on February 28th where we will examine the housing issue.

Domestic Violence and Housing

Tuesday, February 28th

3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

CHIP, 1100 W. 42nd Street, Indianapolis, IN  46208

Please visit our CWP site to find out how you or your organization can help us end domestic violence in central Indiana.