By: Lonna Hays, Manager, ICF

Lonna Hays is a Manager at ICF, where she currently works with the Office of Adolescent Health’s Think, Act, Grow® initiative — a national call to action in support of America’s 42 million adolescents. Her background includes work on sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as fostering healthy family relationships.

The views expressed in In Focus are exclusively those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official positions of their employers or clients. References to materials or services in the public domain do not imply endorsement from those entities.


Preparing to leave an abuser takes a lot of planning. Among many other things, victims need a place to stay, food to eat, getting to and from work, healthcare, childcare, and legal services. And all of these resources have one thing in common: they cost money.

Controlling finances is a key strategy for abusers to keep control over their partners. In fact, 99% of women experiencing domestic violence are also experiencing financial abuse. The Office of Women’s Health describes financial abuse as the control, withholding, and concealment of money from the victim, who feels stuck and afraid to leave the abusive situation.

In addition to emotional or physical abuse, abusers will often use a powerful silent weapon—money— to control economic freedoms e.g., opening bank accounts, limiting shopping, taking victims’ paychecks, getting victims fired, and hiding bills and debts. Beyond that, missed days of work and the stress of being in an abusive relationship can limit a victim’s ability to plan for the future. Often, survivors feel that they must choose between homelessness and being in an abusive relationship.

Unfortunately, during the Great Recession the United States, we also saw an increase in controlling and abusive behavior. This led to a greater need to focus on financially empowering survivors in order to achieve long-term security. Read on to learn about some of the innovative strategies that have emerged in the years since.

  1. Empowering survivors through financial literacy and asset building: Purple Purse, an initiative that raises awareness about financial abuse, provides information and resources for survivors to obtain financial security including the Moving Ahead Curriculum. Additionally, asset-building initiatives—microenterprise, homeownership, and Individual Development Accounts (IDA) savings programs—designed specifically for domestic violence survivors are on the rise.
  2. Paid time off: Very recently, New Zealand passed legislation to give domestic violence survivors 10 days of paid leave to help with the planning and execution necessary to leave their abuser. In the United States, more than 60% of survivors’ jobs are affected by their abuse. Job loss means more dependence on the perpetrator, continuing the cycle. Paid leave can provide the needed freedom to get the survivor out of it.
  3. Workforce development programs: Supportive services in workforce development programs are especially key for survivors of domestic violence. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research profiled eight programs that provide supportive services—such as childcare and transportation services—and, by extension, financial security for their participants.

These strategies model holistic ways we can support domestic violence survivors. They recognize that financial health is key to ensuring safety and empowerment. Assisting with financial literacy, providing for some of the most expensive elements of leaving an abuser, and asset building are crucial to promoting long-term safety and independence for domestic violence survivors.

Interested in reading what my colleagues have to say about empowering domestic violence survivors? Check out the recent webinar, Strengthening the Safety Net for Survivors Through Collaboration, from OFA’s PeerTA Network