One of the many ways women throughout the world are held back from living their lives and achieving their potential is through domestic violence. This crime can take many forms, from physical and sexual abuse to verbal and emotional abuse. But one less discussed form is financial abuse. For a national street art campaign by Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, Serena Williams is spreading awareness of this extremely widespread problem.
Financial abuse involves using money to control or manipulate someone, and this can happen in a number of ways, Allstate’s senior vice president of corporate relations Vicky Dinges told Bustle at an event for the campaign at New York City's Tictail Market. A financially abusive partner may, for example, use their partner's credit card without their consent and then leave them to pay the bill. Or, they might threaten to stop supporting them if they don't do what they want. Many feel they can't leave because they couldn't survive without the money their partner controls.
These situations are more common than you might realize. One in three American women and one in four men have experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner, and 99 percent of domestic violence survivors experience financial abuse. Williams pointed out at the event that this means most of us probably know a victim of financial abuse. Yet the issue remains widely undiscussed. In fact, it's gotten even more stigmatized over the years: A study by Purple Purse conducted this April found that one in three Americans believes domestic violence is taboo, which is more than they found 2014.
"It's a very scary time for these victims," Williams tells Bustle. "Maybe they're not ready to speak out and take that next step. But you can support them and let them know you're there for them and there's another option." If you don't know anybody who's a victim of financial abuse, you can still show your support by simply by talking about the issue.
"The most important thing is making people feel they're not alone," says Dinges. Toward that end, Purple Purse is installing murals around the country that contain messages about financial abuse. The first is outside Tictail Market, and the others will be in Houston, New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, and LA. Williams encourages people to photograph the murals and post them on social media to spread awareness of financial abuse.
"It's a way to keep you from making your life better. It's a way to keep you in a situation where you're oppressed and you're abused."
"It's a good opportunity to speak out about it," Williams says. "Sometimes, videos and pictures go viral, and that is the best way to get people to know about it, and then everyone can be more educated and aware." The more financial abuse is on the public radar, she points out, the more financial abuse victims — who may be manipulated into thinking what their partner's doing is OK, especially if they've grown up amid domestic violence — will understand that what's happening to them is wrong.
"There's a lot of misconceptions [about financial abuse]," says Williams. "The biggest one is that it doesn't exist and it doesn't make sense, or 'how is that abuse?' And it is abuse if you don't have money, if you're only given a certain amount that you spend and you can't spend more than that. It's a way to keep you down. It's a way to keep you from making your life better. It's a way to keep you in a situation where you're oppressed and you're abused."
Dinges also wants people to understand that financial abuse is a serious form of abuse, even if it's not accompanied by physical abuse. "People think everyone's got money, but no, they don't," she says. "Just because you don't have a broken arm or a black eye doesn't mean you're not being abused." And no matter what type of abuse they're experiencing, domestic violence survivors deserve greater support and understanding.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.