Financial Empowerment Tools For Survivors of Domestic Violence
Approximately 94-99% of domestic violence survivors experience economic abuse (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
Economic abuse occurs when an abuser controls a victim’s access to economic resources, forcing the victim to rely on the abuser for financial support.
This includes interfering with a victim’s ability to obtain or keep a job, stealing paychecks or benefit checks, refusing to provide a victim with access to cash or credit cards, or opening bank accounts and credit lines in the victim’s name without his or her knowledge or consent.
At Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter for people with disabilities, new residents are immediately connected to an entitlements specialist who helps them apply for public benefits and review their credit reports.
Additionally, the Occupational Therapy team at Freedom House works with new residents to create a budget, challenge inaccurate credit reports, and look for employment.
Social workers and support groups help our residents understand the nature of financial abuse and develop financial goals.
Survivors with disabilities face unique challenges in becoming independent, as they may not be able to work or may be solely reliant on Social Security Insurance as their income; for these survivors, finding supportive or subsidized housing and learning to manage a fixed income are primary goals.
Deaf individuals may have difficulty finding work due to communication barriers or lack of access to accessible education, so Freedom House helps Deaf survivors learn to advocate for themselves and work through barriers to educational goals (source).
For many years Freedom House has employed hearing social workers and case managers who are fluent in ASL. In 2017 Barrier Free Living received a grant to expand our services to the Deaf community, which led to the hiring of a Deaf social worker. Advocates who are fluent in ASL are able to escort Deaf residents to appointments and help them communicate with other agencies and workers, modeling for Deaf residents how to effectively interact with the hearing world while also teaching hearing workers how to best serve the Deaf community.
In addition, Freedom House has a videophone Deaf residents can use to make phone calls with the help of an interpreter and has created an ASL informational video to welcome and acclimate new Deaf residents. BFL’s Secret Garden domestic violence program also created an information film for Deaf survivors (view the film here).
Many victims leave the relationship with little or no financial assets, poor credit and/or a limited or disrupted employment history (California Law Review, TIME). Many have little experience managing their own money. They may be forced to go on public assistance because their abuser prevented them for working or stalked and harassed them at work.
For a victim with a disability, their abuser may be named as their Social Security Representative Payee, meaning that the victim does not have access to their benefits (source). Blind survivors have reported abusers forging checks, which they did not realize until the money had been drained from their accounts.
Barrier Free Living has partnered successfully with two agencies, Shine Foundation and the Assurant Foundation, to provide financial empowerment workshops for survivors of domestic violence with disabilities.
Shine Foundation, whose mission is to “improve the financial health of homeless abuse survivors” provides four-week workshops at Freedom House covering topics like budgeting on a fixed income.
“We believe that learning to manage one’s money and reduce one’s debt are stepping stones in survivors’ paths to freedom.,” says Jennifer Tan, Founding Chair of Shine Foundation. “We hosted a class on how to stretch one’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) dollars, which we had designed with survivors. Being part of survivors’ journeys has been nothing short of an honor.”
A single resident with multiple sclerosis reported that she didn’t realize she’d been financially abused until she went to the Shine workshop.
She worked with Shine to improve her credit by disputing fraudulent charges from her abuser and obtaining a secured credit card. She learned to budget and spend money only on what she needed, and by the time she moved into her own apartment in 2016 had saved enough money to purchase several pieces of furniture.
In 2017, the Assurant Foundation funded an 8-week financial empowerment scholarship workshop at the Barrier Free Living Apartments complex in the Bronx. BFL Apartments offers permanent homes to survivors of domestic violence with disabilities, and their families.
The workshop, whose mission is to identify and support career-focused goals of BFL Apartment tenants welcomed eight participants who had identified a clear career-focused goal, and shared a narrative about how they hoped the workshop would help them move toward that goal.
The participants also shared the obstacles they had faced in pursuing their goals, and how they hoped to rise above these with the knowledge and support offered by the workshop.
The workshops, led by experts in the fields of career development, financial empowerment, social work and occupational therapy, ranged from “Overcoming the Fear of Success and Change” to “Financial Empowerment and Education” to “Creating a Road Map to Achieving and Maintaining a Successful Career Goal.”
Workshop leaders included Sarah Hayes, LMSW Deputy Director, Economic Empowerment Programs (EEP) Sanctuary for Families; Marti Fisher, an educator and Executive Career Coach; and Sara Eldridge, LMSW, a Senior Social Worker at Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter.
“The results were incredible,” says Scott Hess, BFL Director of Communications. “The participants excelled individually by clarifying and identifying clear steps toward their goals, but they also rallied as a group, learning to listen, identify with and support one another’s journey. “
The course ended with a graduation ceremony, where participants shared both the initial challenges and the ultimate success of the workshop, as well as their next steps toward achieving their “dream” career goal. They were each awarded scholarship funds to support these goals. Goals include attending the American Beauty School; pursuing a degree in case management at Hostos College; pursuing a certificate program in non-profit management and grant proposal writing at Lehman College; training in security; and attending the Culinary Arts Institute of NY.
If your organization is interested in partnering with Freedom House to provide financial empowerment workshops or classes for survivors, please contact Sara Eldridge at [email protected]