In this week’s post I’m going to dissect a common aspect of financial abuse – jeopardizing a woman’s employment.
Without a job, it’s damned hard for a woman to leave an abusive man. The number one reason that women cite for going back to abusive men is money. They can’t support their children on their own, we all know that the legal system and its ability to enforce child support is a joke, and if a woman runs out of options she often will go back to an abusive man rather than see her children homeless.
One of the last pictures I took before being forced to give up an excellent job and return to a state where my skills aren't as valued.
Abusive men may not consciously know that hurting a woman’s job will keep her with them, but they often act on learned patterns or subconscious knowledge. So how does a man jeopardize a woman’s job?
Often, it starts with small things. It can even look romantic on the surface. He offers to meet you for lunch at work, but then he wants to make out in the building’s lobby – as the CEO walks by. When you shrug him off and try to keep him from grabbing your ass you’re called “cold” and “frigid.” Or, it will take the form of long phone calls or requests that you run errands during the day that intrude on your work.
Sometimes verbal abuse creeps in; your job isn’t important, of course it makes sense that you run the errands since you’re in a dead-end job anyway, why do you care so much about your stalled career?
When a woman has a child with a financially abusive man, it can get worse. Sometimes the partner will demand that the woman stay at home with the children. There may be good reasons for this – daycare is incredibly expensive – but it’s an effective form of control and isolation. If the working partner then refuses to share financial information with the stay-at-home parent, if they start parceling out money or controlling all the accounts, and if the non-working parent has no access to their own cash, it can become abusive.
I have one friend who’s been a stay-at-home mom for so long that she genuinely doesn’t know how much money her husband makes, how much he has in the bank account that he won’t let her access, where he has the bank accounts, or how much is in his retirement savings. While she initially chose to stay home with her kids, she didn’t sign up to be kept so completely in the dark. Now that she’s leaving him, she’s terrified about her financial future.
Note that I’m not saying all stay-at-home moms are being financially abused – that would be ridiculous. It’s the combination of control, lack of access to money and financial resources, along with the refusal to answer questions or share information that adds up to financial abuse.
And what if she does go back to work after having a baby? Will he take turns watching him when the baby gets sick at daycare, or is she always the one calling into work? Does he help with baby duty in the morning so that they can both get ready, or is she on her own? Women in hourly jobs have an even harder time of it, as they can get written up or fired for being tardy.
In extreme cases, he’ll show up at her place of employment and act in ways that can get her fired. One dance teacher that I worked with out in Boston had difficulty holding down positions because her husband would come to the studios where she worked (sometimes drunk), insist she talk to him in the parking lot, and then pick loud fights. Without a consistent employment history, she couldn't qualify to rent an apartment on her own and, thus, couldn't leave him.
The canal near where I used to work in Lowell, MA. Minnesota doesn't have one tenth the beauty of New England.
While these actions can be blatant, financial abuse and employment issues can take more subtle forms. Prioritizing his education over yours, or making the choice to send him back to grad school while the woman puts her career plans on hold to support him. Not allowing her to move to a place where she could make significantly more money or get promoted, thus keeping her at the same income level. A level much less than his, so therefore she can’t fight him as effectively in court.
Think of all the things that you need a job for in order to have access to them; an apartment, a lawyer, a car, the list is long. And, if a man can jeopardize your job and career, he can keep you with him.
If at all possible, I recommend telling your employer that you’re in an abusive situation before you try to leave. Some states, not all, unfortunately, have laws which protect you in those situations. Good employers will be understanding and make allowances. This is a good resource which sums up the by-state rights of victims of DV and abuse. Note that, in many cases, if you have not called the police or filed a report you will not always be able to take advantage of these protections.
Few, if any, states recognize financial abuse as a form of domestic abuse and violence. This is absolutely something that needs to change. In the meantime, bcoming aware of this issue can help women prepare to leave men like this, and hopefully increased education will lead to institutional change. If you, or a friend, are trying to leave a financially abusive partner, I have a free guide available to download here.