Why Should Anyone Care About Financial Abuse?

With the release of the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I have innocently been asked why this an important topic to cover. It’s a good question but one that, honestly, took me by surprise a little bit each time I was asked.

Why wouldn’t any discussions of calling out abuse be significant and why does this specific one need a qualifier of why it’s important?

After I had been asked this question several times and heard my own reply, I realized that the topic of financial exploitation and abuse really does have a long way to go before it is seen as a “legitimate” form of domestic violence and doesn’t require an explanation of why someone would write a book about it. I am beginning to realize why very few books are currently published on the topic of financial abuse within personal relationships. Sure, there are books on elder abuse and ponzi schemes. but I have found very little research or published works on this particular genre. Part of my motivation for writing Exposing Financial Abuse was to fill the gap in published information.

We would never ask authors who write about physical abuse why it is an important topic to cover.  It would actually be an offensive question. Financial abuse should be no different. The lasting impact on the survivor and society as a whole are enormous. How? Let’s take a look and maybe people will no longer have a reason to ask why financial abuse is an important topic to cover, and see it in the same dangerous light as physical harm perpetrated by an abuser.

I live in a world of therapy and recovery where harm done to others is enough reason to educate oneself on the topic. The devastation itself doesn’t have to walk up to our own front door and barge in to make it something that is concerning to me and my colleagues in the field of trauma-informed care. However, the larger world around us needs to know why financial abuse happening to someone else should be of importance to them personally. If we don’t experience it, sometimes we have a hard time caring that others do.

Financial abuse leads to poverty

Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse, raw and unedited survivor stories are the main focus and serve as the foundation of the book. During the research prep stage, I read close to 2000 individual experiences of financial abuse, and then protection and restoration. That’s a lot of data on this topic and I learned so much.

One common theme among the survivors who participated in the research project was the complete financial devastation that took place when an abuser overtly or covertly gained control over the victim’s finances. This often leads to living at or below what would be considered the poverty level. When basic needs become scarce, survivors do what they must to take care of themselves and their children. That often includes needing temporary government assistance, the help of local community food banks, loans from family members, and the use of payday loans that have spiked interest rates. In the Chapter titled Basic Needs, I cover story after story of exactly how financial abuse leads to living at poverty levels; even when the family income does not warrant it.

Financial abuse leads to debt accumulation

Targets of financial exploitation have had their names and personal data used to open accounts where the debt balance was run up and the abuser disappeared when the bill arrived. On the other side of the coin, survivors of economic exploitation sometimes will turn to their credit cards to help fill the gap financially where the abuser left a damaging hole. Personal debt to income ratios not only impact the individual but unpaid debt that must be taken at a loss by the company can have a snowball impact on the economy as a whole.

Financial abuse often includes criminal behaviors

Within Exposing Financial Abuse, a whole chapter is devoted to the illegal and fraudulent activities perpetrated by abusers who use money as a weapon. If financial abuse happening to someone else really isn’t of interest to some people, I certainly hope crimes being committed within our neighborhoods and among friend groups is enough to get the attention of many people.

A society that looks the other way regarding personal financial crimes runs the risk of becoming numb to other crimes. This is a very dangerous path to be headed down.

Financial abuse is rampant within the Family Court system and kids are suffering because of it. 

Right now, today, some parents are hiding their true income and assets so that it will not be included in the calculations for child support payments and they can pay the least amount each month. That is disgraceful and should not be tolerated within our communities. When deadbeat parents refuse to pay their legal, ethical share to the care and support of their children, it leads to the responsible parent having the full financial burden. Often, it is more than one person can manage and debt begins to accumulate and families inch closer to the poverty line. This takes place even when the responsible parent is working full-time. It is very expensive to just maintain adequate food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Those are basics needs to raise children. Never mind any added wants or desires.

I have barely tipped the iceberg of why relational financial abuse is an important topic to cover. I hope others with greater specialized education will pick the ball up and run with it. We need a collective approach to addressing this hidden abuse that has devastating consequences for us all; even if our lives have never been directly touched by this form of harm. It does frame how we function as a society.

Keep Dreaming Big!



3 comments on “Why Should Anyone Care About Financial Abuse?

  • The financial aspect of abuse is definitely misunderstood, overtly ignored and/or viewed as a non-issue, as you noted.

    It is troubling that so few people comprehend the short- and long-term harm inflicted through financial abuse, such as having no control over financial decisions, not having access to funds for basic needs, watching a spouse claim (or hide) the overwhelming majority of resources, rack up debt, or assume control of an inheritance. All of these strategies are designed to keep a victim wholly dependent on the abuser while making it virtually impossible for her to leave and even saddling her with “shared” debt should she leave anyway. It is an insidious and calculated strategy. So thank you, Shannon, for shining a light on this common – and often overlooked – aspect of the abuse dynamic!

  • BlueMonster says:

    Shannon, I am so looking forward to reading this book. I am in the process right now of extricating myself from a financially controlling (and other ways controlling) spouse. Your book Healing from Hidden Abuse was very helpful for me. In my case, I am the one who looks like the un-responsible one, on paper – and that has been really hard. I think there is a place for explaining why this needs to be written. My experience has been so confusing and covert at times – wrapped in all the baggage of how many women see ourselves as incapable of handling money well, that men are supposed to be our “head”, that we need to get permission… My husband is so justified in the ways he has been financially abusive to me over our relationship, and it just felt normal to me. It has taken so much to be able to wake up and name it as abuse. And getting out of it is still my responsibility, and it is so hard. Everyone’s situation and story is unique – but I have not read much that reflects my experience out there. Representation is critical in raising awareness. Thank you for this, I look forward to reading. Please keep writing about it.

  • vanessa walters says:

    looking back on my divorce (17 years ago)..I wonder how much of our farm assets my (ex) tried to hide before he was forced to have a financial guardianship, before our divorce was final. cant go back now, but he was always yelling about how much I spent during our marriage, but I am reasonably sure, his mother gave him money..after I left him and filed for divorce. He sure managed to ‘come out on top’..re-marry not once, but twice. I still live below the poverty line..but its MY life.


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