Using economic abuse is the dynamic that makes it nearly impossible to get out of an abusive relationship, even when the victim wants to go. One way the abuser gains control is to prevent the victim from getting or keeping a job. It is not unusual for the abuser to demand that the victim gets a job, only to create so much disruption that the victim loses the job in a way that creates an unflattering reference. Enough of these instances and the victim has a ‘spotty’ work history and will have a hard time finding a job that provides enough income to make getting out of the relationship an option. Abusers have been known to show up at the victim’s workplace and create a scene there. Sometimes the abuser will accuse the victim of cheating with a co-worker and create a scene with the co-worker. In the end, they get the victim fired. If the victim gets angry about the behavior of the abuser, they may become physically violent or resort to threats of suicide. Another form of economic abuse is to make the victim ask for money or give them an allowance and demand an accounting of how it is spent. One twist on this is to give the victim an allowance for household items and groceries that is too small to be realistic and then shame the victim for not being creative enough with the money to be able to get all of the things that the abuser wanted. In cases like this, they will often use name-calling and humiliation with friends or family. They may say something like, “Mom, you have always been so good with money. Can you show Lisa how to manage her money better? She just isn’t getting the hang of it.” This will not only be said in front of the person the abuser is addressing but will be said in front of other friends and family too. This way, the abuser has humiliated the victim in front of as many people as possible. If the victim is allowed to keep a job for any length of time, the abuser will usually keep the money that comes in from it. They will know how much to expect and often will demand to see the paystubs to be sure the victim isn’t getting money without the abuser knowing it. The victim will almost never know anything about the family’s finances either. This gives the abuser complete economic control of the victim and ensures that if they do leave, the abuser has the ability to take control of the money right away. This also affects the victim’s ability to get an attorney for any family court action. Some places have domestic violence advocates to help the victim navigate through the court system for an order for protection but there is often no legal help available for the victim when it comes to the divorce or other legal actions that the abuser subjects the victim to. We will discuss this more during the using children dynamic.
Now that the abuser has the victim isolated, fearful, and self-doubting, they can move on to using intimidation. The abuser will start using looks, gestures, and actions to make the victim afraid. This can be as subtle as looking angry when the victim says or does something or as overt as getting very close and shouting. Most abusers have several ways of using intimidation, sometimes with certain ones for private and others for public. They may smash things, punch doors or walls, or kick things in the house. They will likely destroy the victim’s property, particularly anything that means something to the victim. They may abuse pets or display weapons. The weapons are not displayed with an overt threat, such as ‘I am going to kill you’ but more likely with a look other action that conveys disapproval. When things start getting to this point, law enforcement may get involved whether the call comes from inside the house or outside. It is very common for the officers not to understand just how threatening this situation is. They may try to separate the couple and have one of them go somewhere else for the night to ‘cool off’ but rarely is anyone charged with a crime at this point. This is a very critical point though and it can escalate from here to physical abuse quite quickly and the abuser has a new talking point then too. “The police won’t do anything. They know it is you that is causing the problems!”
The next dynamic, using coercion and threats, goes hand in hand with using intimidation. The abuser makes and will sometimes carry out threats to do something to hurt the victim. The point of making the threats but not always carrying them out is always to keep the victim on guard. There is often no pattern to discern for when the abuser will carry out the threats or not so the victim lives in a constant state of fear. The abuser may make the victim do illegal things by using threats and intimidation to gain another thing to use against them. If the victim does not do what the abuser wants then the abuser threatens to turn them in for the illegal act they committed or report them to child protective services because of it. They may threaten to leave or to commit suicide while telling the victim that is it all their fault if they do. The coercion that happens will often depend on the time in the relationship. Earlier in the relationship, the abuser may use threats of suicide or leaving the victim to attempt to gain emotional control over the victim. The statements may be very subtle at first. “If you ever left me, I don’t think I could keep going.” “You are my reason for living.” Later on, it may be more like “I always screw things up! You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and now you are going to leave. I should just kill myself and get it over with. I am worthless.” This gets the victim feeling sorry for the abuser and telling them they are not worthless, of course, they are not leaving. From that point on, it will always be on the mind of the victim if they think about leaving. The point of the manipulations is to keep the victim in the relationship and to gain control over their emotional health. Once this happens, it becomes very difficult for the victim to leave.
These are the third and fourth dynamics of power and control. By this stage of an abusive relationship, it is very difficult for a victim to leave the relationship without help. If you are in a relationship like this and want out, here is a list of resources you can use to find help. If someone comes to you telling you that they are experiencing this kind of abuse, believe them. They need you to believe them and support them. It may take some time before they can actually get away from the abuser and they will need your support until that happens. I will write more about supporting the victim during and after getting away from the abuser in a later post.