New York state Sen. Kevin Parker recently introduced a legislative package of four bills to address the costly damages caused by domestic abuse.
I applaud Parker’s proposal as a move in the right direction, but I believe that there’s an opportunity to do more. Not included in his proposal was a bill to support survivors’ access to financial services – a simple provision that could make all the difference between an individual staying in or leaving an abusive situation.
About 98 percent of domestic abuse cases involve some form of financial abuse in which the abuser may restrict, control, limit or gain access to a victim’s financial resources. Limited financial knowledge is a leading reason individuals stay in or return to abusive relationships. And financial pressures are one of the top reasons why women who leave an abusive relationship end up returning.
At Shine Foundation, we know these statistics all too well. Shine is a nonprofit startup that provides financial education to survivors who have recently escaped their abusive situations and are now in confidential locations throughout New York City.
Every survivor we have helped, regardless of their background, has endured financial abuse. These survivors have had their credit destroyed, money stolen and financial awareness stripped away by their abusers. And once in the shelter, they have had to deal with the hard task of rebuilding themselves emotionally and financially. Some returned to their abusers.
There is an urgent need for financial services like Shine’s as a means of preventing abuse. Yet, little legislative and public attention has been given to improving survivors’ access to financial services as a potential prevention strategy.
This is where Parker’s proposal could do more.
The proposals would give domestic violence survivors up to 20 days of unpaid leave, increase research on the negative implications of dating violence towards women, keep guns out of the hands of known perpetrators and would give survivors the ability to remove violent felony offenders from the deeds of co-owned property.
Indeed, these are all critical areas to address. I, too, have known of many survivors who have lost their jobs because of repeated absences – and their lives, because of gun violence. But in order to sustain any positive changes brought about by the current proposal, we must ensure survivors’ continued access to quality financial guidance and services throughout the process of leaving their abusers.
For example, one survivor Shine worked with at an emergency facility had been a customer service representative for 11 years before losing her job because of absences related to her abuse. Had her company provided her with leave, she might have been able to continue working, but her abuser would still have had access to and control over her money. By the time she left her abuser, she practically had no savings and a significant amount of debt that her abuser had accumulated under her name.
Fortunately, Shine was able to work with her to reduce her financial stress. She came up with goals and a plan for tackling her top financial concerns. Two years later, after continuous financial progress and recovery, she has not returned to her abuser.
While her case has been a success, there are many more cases that don’t end as well.
For these reasons, I call for state Sen. Kevin Parker to include a bill in his proposal that would advocate for more investment in improving survivors’ access to financial services. Domestic abuse affects all of us – our parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbors and children. Let’s enhance our communities together by ensuring that every survivor has a fighting chance at leaving the abuse – for good.
Jennifer Tan is the founder of Shine Foundation, which provides free financial education to homeless abuse survivors.