Victims and Survivors Talk About Money: Financial Education Against Domestic Violence

talk about money

Rebuilding financial security and confidence after domestic abuse can be extremely challenging. More and more online and nationwide in-person programs have started teaching survivors the financial skills necessary to recover from abuse. However, as the adage goes, knowledge is power! Let’s talk about money and begin your financial education journey today.  

What does financial abuse look like?

Financial abuse is a red flag that can escalate to other types of violence, such as physical abuse, between partners.

The abuser will attempt to and perhaps succeed in controlling and/or stealing their partner’s finances and information. They can also stalk them at their workplace or prevent them from having a job. Victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable after leaving their abuser. Escaping is a financial burden in and of itself; it may mean single parenthood or difficulties finding a stable home and job. Victims may lack the financial knowledge to (re)gain control over their economic situation.

According to Judy Postmus, director of the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work, when explaining why it can be challenging to leave abusers, survivors complain about their lack of access to financial resources and knowledge of money management. Undoubtedly, survivors of domestic violence have unique financial needs. For example, they may require information on how to separate joint accounts, improve credit scores that their abuser damaged, budget as a single parent, and draft financial safety plans.

Financial empowerment refers to, among other aspects, employment, budgeting, housing, debt, and assets, but here, when talking about financial empowerment, we’ll focus on three things – knowledge, personal savings, and separate credit – as well as how victims and survivors can use these to their benefit.

Talk About Money Knowledge

The first step for both victims trying to escape their abuser and survivors of domestic violence is to build strong financial and money management knowledge and confidence. Knowledge is power! Fortunately, there is a growing list of financial literacy resources available online tailored to victims and survivors. Here are some you may find helpful:

The next steps include listing out all your IDs, debit and credit cards, birth certificates, personal accounts, assets, and debts, which may require a lot of research and digging if your abuser has hidden these documents and information from you. Make a note of what financial resources and documentation you have and don’t have. Ask yourself: Is the abuser keeping the documents and financial resources you’re lacking? Is there a way you can get them back, cancelled, or re-issued? If you’ve never held these documents and financial instruments, what’s stopping your access? Is this something you can get around or get help with?

Keeping Your Personal Info Safe

Remember to keep all your IDs and your Social Security number, and any other personal information safe. Avoid sharing any personal details and passwords with others unless required. It may be a good idea not to store passwords on your computer or phone. These steps will ensure your identity is protected and that the abuser cannot steal it.

As a safeguard, be wary of any requests for your personal information and passwords over text or e-mail, especially soon after you leave your abuser, even if they appear to be coming from your bank or any legal authorities.

Separate Savings

If possible, always keep some savings under your name, perhaps by regularly putting some of your paychecks into a separate account or under a close friend’s name and address, to keep it hidden from your abuser. Victims leaving an abusive relationship should try to take at least half of the money from all the accounts they own jointly with their abuser. Keep in mind that abusers may attempt to drain jointly owned accounts after their victims leave.

Check out Domesticshelters.org, an online searchable database of domestic violence shelters around the country, which can assist with housing after abuse.

Separate Credit

If possible, have your credit card and (bank) accounts to ensure you can build a credit history in your name and that you are not left with a bad credit score or unmanageable amounts of debt after escaping your abuser.

Final Thoughts

Rebuilding financial security and confidence after domestic abuse can be extremely draining and challenging. Financial concerns can also keep victims in abusive relationships and postpone their escape. More and more online and nationwide in-person resources and programs have started teaching survivors the financial skills necessary to recover from abuse, however. There is a lot of power and hope in knowledge. Click on some of the links referenced here to further or begin your financial education journey and reap the benefits.  

An Open Letter to Grief

to grief

To Grief,

We’ve grown close over the last couple of years. I wouldn’t consider you a friend. But, instead, an acquaintance I’ve gotten used to being around. Perhaps, even a teacher– the kind of teacher that’s hard to deal with but earns respect. 

We met on a beautiful fall day– a day I would give anything just to be a typical day again and not a new, significant date on my calendar. 

At first, you felt bottomless– a dark, cold pit that no ladder was long enough for, no light was bright enough for. 

To be honest, I’m not sure I would have even wanted a ladder or a light. Leaving that dark, lonely place meant I had to face a world that my loved one was no longer a part of. I’d have to meet people who never even knew them. And people who don’t understand you, Grief. 

Life suddenly felt too long. There were too many days to “get through.” Too many days, I’d have to experience the gut-wrenching, breath-taking pain of you, Grief.

I remember forcing myself to go to sleep at all hours of the day/night in hopes that I would wake up and everything would be a dream. Before I laid down, I would beg whoever I deemed was a higher power to bring my loved one back. 

I would do anything, I thought, if that “higher power” could just grant me this one wish. But I soon learned that you, Grief, are just as unconditional as the love I had for the person I lost.

As the days went on, it felt like I was in a parallel universe. How could everyone be going on with their lives– listening to music, binge-watching their favorite TV shows, eating delicious food? I could no longer find any joy in the simple things because I spent all but minutes with you, Grief.

Overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and dread, I was no longer excited for the future and couldn’t find the slightest joy in the present. I looked to the past because that’s where my loved one lingered– if I could just lie in my bed in my room and not move, maybe I wouldn’t have to continue in a world without my best friend. 

I was afraid to do anything that could bring up memories of my loss. I turned off the radio in fear of a song coming on that I once listened to with the person I lost. I stopped seeing people in anticipation of having to talk about my loved one. I felt anger when I watched movies that had a happy ending because they reminded me of how unfair my loved one’s ending was.

I was jealous of all the people who didn’t know what it felt like to know you, Grief. 

You affected every nerve and bone in my body. You made me physically sick– headaches, zero appetite, no energy, hair loss, and a dense, mental fog were just some of your side effects. 

But worst of all, you consumed my mind. Memories of my loved one never left my head, and, at the time, those memories were painful. They reminded me of what I no longer had and made me feel hopeless about my life. 

You made beautiful days less beautiful, laughing feel like a betrayal, and smiling feel unnatural. 

But, as bottomless as you felt, I’ve started to build my ladder and create my light. 

I started to build my ladder because you left me no other option. You weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I had to make a choice– I could let your darkness swallow me whole, or I could choose to adapt and grow. 

So, I made a choice. To take control of my bereaved mind, I convinced myself to take steps towards healing. 

I am a strategic person who prefers to think logically and concretely, so that was how I eased into my journey through grief. I knew I found solace in the world of ideas and knowledge, so I began journaling by writing down my favorite memories of my loved one. 

Using an intellectual journey to control my emotional one, I began to understand how I was feeling. Drawing from those feelings, I wrote what I was learning through the process– forgiveness, the fragility of life, and the importance of intentional living. From there, I was able to find books, poems, and podcasts that were relatable and made me feel less alone. At the very least, these concrete steps, although small and simple, made me feel like I was back in control of you, Grief.

Of course, my relationship with you hasn’t been a linear one. It hasn’t been as simple as a few therapeutic journal sessions. Each day, I have to actively choose to be mentally stronger than you. 

There have been ups and downs, and sometimes you hit me at the most inconspicuous times– a smell of my loved one’s perfume, the change of seasons, my happiest moments. 

But, as time passes, I’m starting to see the lighter side of you, Grief– the things you are teaching me about myself. Burned down and reborn, I’m noticing differences. I’m beginning to see things through a new lens.

Before you, I was very reliant on following an expected path. I had my life planned out down to what time I drank tea each evening. I had more than a five-year plan. I felt invincible. Life was taken for granted. 

After you, I was forced to reconsider everything. The person I imagined my life with was gone. I had no choice but to embrace change, step out of my comfort zone, and do things that would scare me. I have become an expert at making the best out of not-so-good situations. 

Before you, I would get upset over simple things, like doing poorly in a sporting event or being rejected for a job. 

After you, I am more aware of the kind of things that deserve mental distress. I no longer “sweat the small stuff.” After all, I have experience with emotional and intellectual resilience because of you, Grief. 

While I will never agree with the statement, “Everything happens for a reason,” because nothing could ever feel justified in loss, you have helped me look for the light in the dark. 

I was forced into grief, survived through coping mechanisms, and experienced the most unwelcome Post Traumatic Growth. 

From you, Grief, I have gained tremendous mental resilience and have begun to embrace and learn from change. I am becoming more self-aware. I have a newfound comfort in knowing that I can go through challenging situations, frame them in the best possible light, and come out even stronger. 

Grief, you destroyed me but also helped to clarify who I am.

Sincerely,

Someone, anyone, who has met Grief

Investing in Yourself After Leaving an Abusive Relationship

investing in yourself

After leaving a violent or abusive relationship, focusing on yourself can be a hard adjustment. You’ve spent so much of your time and energy focused on your partner’s mood, and letting that go to take care of yourself can be a bit of an internal battle. Deciding to leave the situation is the first step in making things right with yourself and for yourself. Now begins your new journey of self-discovery and healing. A good place to start is by learning the ways you can invest in yourself after leaving the abuse behind physically. 

Begin Working Through Your Emotions

Physically leaving behind an abusive relationship is liberating. The emotional aspect, however, can be a little more difficult to leave in your past. This is a time that it is imperative to focus on you

One of the harder things to work through is feeling at fault, even partially, for the way you were treated in your relationship. It is important for you to remember that no one deserves or asks to be abused. To move forward, you need to re-learn to love yourself before you can progress further in life. 

Investing in yourself starts with knowing your emotions, who you are as an individual, and what you deserve in life. Abuse is a lot to cope with, however, it can be done and you can begin to feel like yourself again.

Reconnect with People

Being in an abusive relationship can be isolating. Whether your partner is responsible for those you were once close to alienating you, or you felt ashamed by the way you were treated, it can be hard to face people after experiencing abuse.

However, connecting is a major step toward becoming and investing in yourself again. If there are people who were in your life before or during your abusive relationship that you miss, don’t be afraid to reconnect with them. It’s important to be honest about why the connection broke in the first place, but people who truly care about you will always be there and understand in the end. 

It’s also important for you to make new good friends after an abusive relationship. These people won’t know your past unless and until you feel comfortable telling them about it. They are people you can truly be yourself around without feeling analyzed and can help you work toward reclaiming your identity.

Look Toward Coping Mechanisms

A great way to reinvent yourself is by taking up new hobbies. Thankfully, many hobbies also double as coping mechanisms for dealing with the trauma inflicted upon you during the relationship you left. 

Look for hobbies and coping mechanisms that allow for some form of self-expression. Many people find healing through art or even writing about their experience and hopes for the future. Working in this way can lead you to discover a hidden talent, get your feelings out in a creative way, and can even develop into a new passion. 

Remember to be doing this for you though. This has to be something that you enjoy and find value in, otherwise, it will end up being something you resent and will no longer be helpful to your progress.

Become Financially Independent

When you think about investing in yourself, finances are likely one of the first things that come to mind. After leaving an abusive relationship, it is extremely important for you to establish yourself financially. This is especially true if part of your abuse included being financially restrained or reliant on your abuser. 

Financial independence begins with developing a plan to help you navigate your personal finances after leaving. Once you have a plan in place, you can begin to execute it and work toward living life on your own terms.

If you require some financial education because you’re not accustomed to managing the funds, ask your bank for an appointment to help walk you through the basics or seek advice from a registered shelter or organization with education programs for survivors. 

Restart Your Career With Fresh Eyes

To help you invest in yourself, you need to rediscover your passions and career. It is common for abuse survivors to be lower in confidence and feelings of self-worth. However, those feelings are often not a true indicator of your potential. 

If you already have a career that you love, use it as an outlet to work through the changes happening in your life. Your career can be your constant in the midst of everything else changing, which is something that you can hold onto and be grateful for as you begin to invest in yourself and change as a person for the better. 

Sometimes being in an abusive relationship can cause your career to take a backseat. Use this as a time to invest in yourself by working on your professional development and making sure that your career is working for you. If it isn’t, there’s no time like the present to explore your options and find something that you’re passionate about.

Make Your Own Home

Now that you’re independent, it’s time for you to make your own space and claim it as yours. The best way to do this is by creating your own home that you can feel comfortable and safe in. 

If you are ready and in a good enough place financially, then it’s time to discover your options. For example, you may have racked up some credit card debt in the process of reclaiming your life or you might be working on building up your credit score, but that doesn’t mean you can’t own your own home. Should either of those describe your situation, then researching a FHA loan would be a good option for you to consider. 

Having a place to retreat to and independently make your own space is a liberating feeling. It is also something that can make you feel like you’ve truly overcome the abuse you once faced. Reclaiming a home for yourself is perhaps the best investment you can make both emotionally and financially.

Although focusing on yourself can be a tough adjustment after leaving an abusive relationship, it is a necessary step. By investing in yourself, you are telling yourself that things will get better, and you are taking the steps to create that reality. There will undoubtedly be hard times, however, by creating that base investment, you’re setting yourself up to be able to overcome anything else that comes your way.

Post Traumatic Growth: Thriving and Finding Meaning After Trauma

post traumatic growth

We have all heard the phrase,  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” 

As survivors of domestic violence, this saying can be hard to grasp. It can leave you wounded, with both visible and invisible scars. It can sometimes be hard to imagine you will ever recover from the trauma you faced, let alone come back stronger. 

However, as much as it doesn’t feel like growth is occurring, data states otherwise. Studies show that about 71% of interpersonal violence survivors experience some type of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) [1]. Thousands of survivors have learned not just to survive but to thrive. They have used the pain inflicted by their trauma as an avenue to find new meaning in their life. 

From Trauma to Opportunity

In short, PTG is a positive transformation that occurs in the life of many survivors of intense trauma. 

People who experience PTG do not merely bypass the negative consequences of trauma. Instead, the emotional battle is what challenges survivors to reevaluate their perception of life. This new perception works as a catalyst for positive growth [1]

In other words, the aftermath of trauma can change your mindset (in a good way). It can alter the lens through which you view the world. It is like a photographer who adjusts their lens and angle to see the most powerful possible shot. People experiencing PTG choose to react to their trauma in a way that allows them to see the best in their situation. 

According to the Post Traumatic Growth Inventory, people typically experience PTG in one or more of the following ways. 

  • A new, enhanced appreciation for life.
  • Improved social relationships and an increase in positive emotions derived from the relationships.
  • An openness to new possibilities/opportunities in life.
  • An increase in mental resilience and personal strength.
  • Spiritual connection.

The Journey of Post Traumatic Growth

There is no timeline for coping, healing, or growth. Every survivor’s experience is different, and that’s okay. PTG usually occurs naturally, and unfortunately, not everyone experiences it. 

However, there are five evidence-based ways to help facilitate growth:

Education

Growth after trauma requires some serious self-reflection. You may not be the same person you were before the trauma, and you have to face the reality of determining your new identity. Also, many of your perceptions about life have likely changed. 

The first thing to facilitate growth is to acknowledge these changes and understand that your situation will require you to view your circumstances in a new, positive way. You need to try to change your mindset while at the same time, allow compassion for yourself and your trauma. 

Disclosure

Talking about trauma can feel like a release. It can also help you make sense and find meaning in the trauma. There are many different ways you can talk through and process your trauma. You can try counseling, venting with family/friends, joining a support group, sharing your story on a blog/domestic abuse network, or starting a journal. You could even record yourself or talk to yourself in an empty room.

Service

Helping others has profound benefits for your mental health and healing. To add, it can give you a sense of self-worth, accomplishment, and gratitude. It can also aid in finding meaning in your trauma. 

Consider doing service directly with causes associated with the trauma you went through—such as being a domestic violence advocate or starting a blog about your grief and growth.

Emotional Regulation

Regulating the intense emotions you feel after a traumatic event can be difficult; but, trying to experience PTG when surrounded by negative emotions is impossible. You should refrain from dwelling on your negative emotions– try your best to frame things positively. Instead of focusing on your situation’s negatives, consider what you have gained through your experience– perspective, a fresh start, an opportunity to learn and grow.

Another practice that can assist with emotional regulation is breathing, mediation, and acknowledging/observing emotions while you are experiencing them. 

Narrative Development

You are solely in charge of deciding what your story will be and what your trauma means. It is an individual choice to focus on the negatives and talk about everything you lost from the abuse or grief. You can also acknowledge those losses while choosing to focus on the positive things you learned from the trauma and the growth you experienced. 

Lessons from a Broken Cup

@9231458 via Twenty20

The Japanese have a tradition called kintsugi, which means “golden repair.” It is the ancient art of putting broken pottery dishes back together using gold [4] causing the pottery to be more beautiful and worthy than before it suffered the break. 

Likewise, you can use the trauma you endured as a way to recreate yourself in a beautiful, strong way. You can experience post-traumatic growth.

Viewing the World Through a New Lens

“Thoughts could leave deeper scars than almost anything else.” 

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix

It’s essential to recognize that you are not defined or controlled by your traumas. 

Unfortunately, no one can take away the trauma or pain you endured, but you can choose how to react to what the world has handed you. It is up to you to change your mindset and decide to frame your life experiences positively. 

Remember, broken things can transform into something even more beautiful. And you–survivors and angel families— can thrive after trauma. 


A Note From The Author:

Let this serve as an inspiration. None of this is to say that the abuse you experienced or the loved one you lost to an abusive relationship ended up being a blessing in disguise. Anyone who experiences post-traumatic growth realizes the cost. Most likely, most would happily give up all the growth if they could change the truth of their trauma. 

Not everyone experiences growth after trauma, and that’s okay. It does not mean you are not a survivor, and it does not mean you will not thrive.

The growth you experience does not make your suffering any less valid.

References

  1. Elderton, A., Berry, A., & Chan, C. (2017). A Systematic Review of Posttraumatic Growth in Survivors of Interpersonal Violence in Adulthood. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 18(2), 223-236. doi:10.2307/26638176
  2. Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of traumatic stress, 9(3), 455–471. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02103658
  3. Tedeschi, R. G. (2020). Growth after trauma. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/07/growth-after-trauma#:~:text=Although%20posttraumatic%20growth%20often%20happens,%2C%20narrative%20development%2C%20and%20service.
  4. Mantovani, A. (2019). Kintsugi and the art of repair: life is what makes us. Medium. https://medium.com/@andreamantovani/kintsugi-and-the-art-of-repair-life-is-what-makes-us-b4af13a39921
  5. Rowling, J. K. (2014). Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix. Bloomsbury Childrens Books.

Re-Learning to Love Yourself After Abuse

re-learning to love yourself

How do you find your way back to yourself when another person has stripped you of your confidence, made you question your intuition, and jaded your sense of “good” in the world? How do you re-learn to love yourself when there is a haunting voice that says you are unworthy of love?

You were made to believe you are crazy. You were taught to put their needs before yours. You learned to keep the peace at any cost.  And that cost was usually your own well-being.

Domestic violence isn’t merely bruises and broken bones. It isn’t only fabricated stories created to ease the humiliation of being in a relationship we never thought we’d find ourselves in. Often the web of violence is interwoven in the psyche of the victim. It is methodically and relentlessly chipping away at the very structures that each of us relies on to maintain a sense of identity. Intimate partner abuse is a tricky beast, wrought with nasty side effects that can linger for a lifetime.

So, how does one find safety, love, and trust again after abuse?

Journey to Self- Love

The answer is found in the journey back to Self. The journey applies to those of you who once knew who you were and fell prey to the dark side of human control. It applies to those of you who have never felt a strong connection with yourself. After living in a mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically violent environment with an abuser, the path to internal peace will include the same stepping stones. 

These healing stones are not always linear, meaning there is no order or even progression. Each stone will come along differently for each of us, and they will continually invite us to heal more deeply, understand ourselves more fully, and reconcile all the missing pieces of our souls over time. Don’t be surprised if some stones seem to be on repeat at times while others aren’t as prevalent–this is how the soul heals itself–in its own time. The important thing is to look for opportunities in each of these areas. 

The Stones of Healing

Self-Study

Self-study is the commitment not to distract yourself with shame-spirals, fixing other people’s problems, or pretending you’re doing better than you are. Learning yourself includes identifying your emotions, needs, triggers, desires, old patterns, and boundaries. The more you know about yourself, the less you’ll allow other people to tell you who you are.

May I remind you: Know yourself the best. Love yourself the most.

Self-Love

Here is where you build the connection to your truth, bond with yourself, and learn how to show up and nurture yourself. Most of us have been told this is selfish, and we should sacrifice and give to others first.

May I remind you: You are worthy of taking the time to learn and to love yourself well.

Self-Compassion

In this stone where you learn and remember how to be kind to yourself, forgiving the times you sacrificed your own well-being for another, and practicing speaking kindly to yourself when you struggle to feel you are doing it “right.”

May I remind you: You are enough, just as you are in this moment.

Self-Awareness

This is understanding that no matter how the path unfolds, I alone am responsible for paying attention to myself and making sure I am following through with my commitments to myself, speaking what is true for me, and doing whatever it takes to create safety for myself. 

May I remind you: This “work” is ongoing, deeply rewarding, and completely empowering.

Being Self-Focused

Notice the path to loving yourself is entirely self-focused. You have the power to recreate, rebuild, reestablish whatever kind of life you dream of. No matter what anyone else has done to tear you apart, break you open, and leave you for dead, you still hold the key to your soul journey. You can honor your loss with your tears as you weep over what has been stolen from you. You can embrace the sacred privilege of being the only one who will ever be able to collect the scattered pieces of your soul that were always meant to be an enchanted mosaic. You were made to be a self-healer.

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Sometimes people and life can be unnecessarily dark and inhumane. But as humans, we each carry an unprecedented ability to reconcile loss, recover from pain, and recreate our dreams. For every piece of you that feels broken today, there is an entire toolbox of skills and tools ready to be learned and used to help you rebuild a life you love and feel safe in. Life will never be what you imagined it would be before you became acquainted with domestic violence. Still, if you can give yourself time and patience as you begin to walk through these healing stones, you’ll find there is more than you ever thought imaginable right within your reach. 

Loving yourself after abuse means allowing yourself to dance across–to and fro, weaving in and out of–the four Stones of Healing (self-study, self-love, self-compassion, self-awareness)… for the rest of your life.

Survivors in the Grey-Area: Intersecting Identities, Vulnerabilities, and Inequalities

The characteristics of our identities are multi-faceted. They are based on our race, class, gender, sexuality, faith, nationality, and many other factors. But these aspects don’t just stack up on top of each other to create the layered people we all are. Instead, they interact, intersect and collide. This places us in a grey area, where we don’t feel 100% like any one of our identities. The ways in which our multiple identities interact can also potentiate discrimination associated with each of them. However, the Law doesn’t fully address the complex issues of the victims and survivors who live in this grey-area.

Intersectionality = Grey-Area

Before 1964, General Motors did not hire black women. In the early 1970s, a recession that brought about seniority-based layoffs hit. The firm laid off all black women hired after 1964. Five black women sued General Motors, claiming that its policies were targeted solely at black women. In the DeGraffenreid v. General Motors 1976 case, Judge Harris Wangelin ruled against the plaintiffs. This was done by arguing that black women shouldn’t be deemed a separate legal class. What he failed to realize was that these women were under a double bind that required special attention. The layoffs did not seem prejudiced against black men or against white women. However, it was prejudiced towards those at the intersection of race and gender who suffered from the firm’s policies.  

In 1989, black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality.” She describes it as a unique framework for understanding how different forms of disadvantage associated with each of our identities sometimes compound themselves (Crenshaw 1991). In the previous example, the General Motors workers’ disadvantage of being black ganged up with their disadvantage of being a woman in the 1970s.

Grey-Area in Domestic Violence

Crenshaw further pointed out that mainstream feminist and anti-racist institutions resisted publishing socio-demographic statistics about victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. They feared authorities would use these statistics to portray DV as a minority crime, reinforce negative racial stereotypes, and ultimately cut off their financial support. Collins (2017) furthered this claim, arguing that mainstream feminist research tends to focus on domestic violence against white women whereas racial scholarship usually looks into public violence against black men (such as police brutality). Mainstream research thus somewhat overlooked domestic violence against black women, pushing black female victims to the backdrop of the social debate on intimate partner violence.  

Types of Intersectionality Within Domestic Violence and Survivors

So, how can we use the framework of intersectionality to better help survivors of domestic violence? Ultimately, intersectionality is a tool that allows us to pinpoint why victims are treated differently. It also helps us identify the ways in which laws need to change to accommodate survivors whose intersecting identities push them to the margins of existing DV legislation. 

Immigration status

Migrants are often at high risk of domestic violence (Morash et al. 2009). In addition, being an immigrant is usually a racialized identity, which adds another layer of complexity to the experiences of migrant survivors. One of the particular vulnerabilities associated with migrants’ identity, especially for illegal immigrants, is their legitimate reluctance to report their abuse for fear of deportation, which national citizens don’t face. 

An officer described how the police handled the case of a migrant survivor in the UK as follows: 

The police came round and found her [the survivor] unconscious on the floor and found him strangling her … he was arrested… she disappeared. … only through going back through their records [were we] able to find a phone number (Day and Gill, 2020).

In the end, the police referred the victims to immigration services: 

we’d have to refer that to the Border Agency, but we’d also refer that in the context of how we’ve come across them… we’d have to do a Nacro check and things like that on the suspect, and similarly if we think the victims are here illegally.

(Day and Gill, 2020)

This account highlights the dangers of our failure to acknowledge the intersecting vulnerabilities migrant survivors face, particularly illegal ones. Whereas we might not, abusers who are not migrants themselves most certainly do, and they will use the cruel ways in which the criminal system treats migrant survivors against them. 

Pregnancy and Class

Pregnant working women may suffer employment discrimination and see their wages or career progression hindered as a consequence; worse, they are at a higher risk of being fired. Women in low-paid or precarious jobs may not have access to even basic maternity employment rights (James 2012), sometimes having to rely on their abusive partners for financial support. Intersectionality is at play in the lives of pregnant working survivors because their limited financial resources interlock with their vulnerability as new mums. What are their intersecting vulnerabilities? As a woman, a new mother, and someone who might struggle financially to escape their abuser, pregnant working survivors need and deserve to see their compounding vulnerabilities recognized by employers, legislators, shelters, helplines, and other resources. They deserve their situation to be seen through the lens of intersectionality.

Gender

The intersection of gender with other identities fosters discrimination against not only female survivors but also men.  

On the one hand, by-standers and the criminal system sometimes use male survivor’s gender to belittle their pain, directly or indirectly telling them to “man-up”. On the other hand, this appeal to toxic masculinity may headbutt survivors’ identity as someone who thinks it’s morally wrong to harass or strike back. Here also, the concept of intersectionality can help us understand why male survivors are usually not afforded sufficient recognition, as noted by a DV advocate:

I’ve got a male client… he’s a straight man in a relationship with a woman; she’s harassed him a lot. When the case didn’t go to charge, because … there wasn’t enough evidence, the police officer in the case said to the victim, ‘Taking my police officer’s hat off, this is because you’re a man’ .

(Day and Gill, 2020)

Moving Forward

As a survivor and/or advocate, you can use the framework of intersectionality to better understand the inequalities that DV victims who are very different from you face on a daily basis. Ask yourself: How can this victim’s identities (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.) put them at a higher risk of discrimination? Does current legislation honor the struggles that this victim faces? For example, should victims who are illegal immigrants face arrest or deportation given their vulnerabilities as an immigrant and a DV victim?

Your thoughts on these questions can advance current debates on how DV legislation should change to accommodate the intersecting identities of more survivors and victims. Your voice can help press for more awareness and better laws.

References

[1] Collins, P. (2017), ‘“On Violence, Intersectionality and Transversal Politics,” Ethnic and Racial Studies’, Taylor & Francis, 40: 1460–73.

[2] Crenshaw,  K. (1991), ‘Stanford Law Review Mapping the Margins : Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’, Stanford Law Review, 43: 1241–99.

[3] Day, A. S., & Gill, A. K. (2020). Applying intersectionality to partnerships between women’s organizations and the criminal justice system in relation to domestic violence. The British Journal of Criminology, 60(4), 830-850.

[4] James, S. (2012), Sex, Race and Class—The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952– 2011. The Merlin Press.

[5] Morash, M., Erez, E., Adelman, M. and Gregory, C. (2009), ‘Intersections of Immigration and Domestic Violence’, Feminist Criminology, 4: 32–56.