We are afraid to tell anyone.
We are afraid to talk about the details.
We are afraid of being blamed.
We are afraid.
Women have had horrendous things implied about them, said to them and done to them. Many of these actions were abusive and illegal. Yet, millions of women around the globe have been afraid to speak. Too afraid to tell the truth. Worried that their words would not be taken seriously. Silenced by the power their abuser could wield in, and against, their lives.
In 2016, the discussion of sexual conduct as it relates to power was wildly debated. How far was too far? What words should be taken seriously and which should be swept under the “it was a joke” rug? In 2017, the dialogue had taken a dramatic shift and women found their voices. They also found support from one another. In 2018, we saw victims of abuse speaking up but then being the targets of horrendous personal attacks and even death threats. Have we taken steps backwards in women feeling safe to speak up?
With the radical explosion of the abuse disclosure hashtag #MeToo and its honor of being named Person of the Year 2017, women were speaking up in masses. It was an incredible shift in our culture to witness.
The powerful message of the #MeToo movement centers around women telling the truth about their experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.
Why is it not the norm for women to feel safe enough to tell their stories? Why have so many of us been silenced? Why are we so afraid?
As a trauma therapist and advocate for survivors of abuse, I believe we get pushed back into the darkness and are silenced by a few key concerns.
Only “Crazy Girls” Speak Up
We’ve all witnessed a famous woman speak up about her negative life experiences and do it in a manner that makes us uncomfortable. We can’t see ourselves following in her footsteps, thus making many women subconsciously believe that only fiery, aggressive, and foul-mouthed women publicly share their stories of abuse. We might see these boisterous advocates and feel their message is too messy and raw to relate to. They make us uneasy in their brash approach to speaking up, so we stay silent to avoid becoming one of “them”.
The “Nice Girl” Mindset
Nice girls don’t create chaos. We make lemonade out of lemons. We take our life circumstances as they come and faithfully believe that they are somehow helping us become better. Nice girls don’t turn in their boss for sexual harassment, or go to the local police when their pastor has sexually assaulted them. Nice girls clean themselves up and go on with their lives as if nothing terrible happened. Nice girls don’t make anyone else uncomfortable with their story of being raped and instead, hide the pain. Speaking up about abuse requires nice girls to go against what we’ve been taught since childhood – be nice to everyone and don’t complain about the way others are treating you. Nice girls don’t speak up.
Fear of a Smear Campaign
Another reason we are so afraid to tell the truth is the chance that our abuser will orchestrate a calculated smear campaign against us and our allegations. What is a smear campaign? It’s when the abuser and supporters go after the “silence breaker”, as TIME magazine referred to the women of the #MeToo hashtag. Victims worry that becoming a silence breaker will open the door to people attempting to discrediting their character, blaming them for the abuse, and causing enough embarrassment that she retreats from her disclosure to the safety of not discussing the abuse again. A smear campaign can even go so far as to cause unstable strangers to threaten the life of public women who come forward and tell their stories of abuse. When we live in the twisted world of conspiracy theories, smear campaigns can have a devastating impact on victims of abuse who choose to publicly come forward.
The Risks Outweigh the Benefits
Victims of abuse must weigh the risks and benefits when considering disclosure of abuse and too often, the risks seem to far outweigh the benefits. I believe all victims of abuse want to share their stories with at least one other person. Many want to scream what was done to them from the rooftops so the whole world will know exactly who the abuser is behind his public façade. What makes women stay silent and go about their daily lives as if nothing has happened? They feel they have lost enough already and can’t risk losing more at the hands of the abuser or the abuser’s followers.
Culture of Bystander Apathy
For more survivors of abuse to step out of the shadows and speak up, we must culturally address the phenomenon known as “The Bystander Effect”. This occurs when bystanders or witnesses to harm being done, do nothing. It is a well-researched concept that first came to light with the violent and public death of Kitty Genovese in 1964. In a nutshell, people saw a young woman being attacked and did nothing to help her. This effect or apathy happens in families, among peers, in the workplace and in places of worship. The Bystander Effect and looking the other way has caused women to be too afraid to speak up.
How much support will she receive if she comes forward?
When we can fully identify why we are afraid to speak up about our experiences of abuse, we are better prepared to make backup plans for possible negative outcomes. For example, we can speak up in a way that maintains our sense of personal dignity and doesn’t make us feel like we have become too brash in our approach. We can learn that nice girls have a right to set boundaries and have the abuser held accountable for their actions. We can surround ourselves with supportive people so any smear campaign that does occur doesn’t reach our ears. We can put key aspects of our lives out of reach of the abuser to limit the risks of our disclosure. We can build a network of supportive people who will not fall into apathy but will walk with us through the process of disclosure and healing.
Speaking up about abuse is never going to be easy. Many internal fears must be faced. The power of disclosure is that the more women who speak up, the better chances we have to take back power that was stolen by an abuser. We are stronger together.
Keep dreaming big!
Financial abuse. Economic harm. When money is used as a weapon within an intimate relationship.
The conversation about exposing financial abuse is just now starting to get traction and we have a long way to go before this hidden form of relational abuse becomes widely known and openly discussed. We have to push against the apathy that currently exists about relationships that include economic exploitation.
What are the 3 main forms of financial harm?
Family Court Fraud – Passive Control – Overt Control
To read the full blog, visit southlakecounseling.org
With the release of the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I have innocently been asked why this an important topic to cover. It’s a good question but one that, honestly, took me by surprise a little bit each time I was asked.
Why wouldn’t any discussions of calling out abuse be significant and why does this specific one need a qualifier of why it’s important?
After I had been asked this question several times and heard my own reply, I realized that the topic of financial exploitation and abuse really does have a long way to go before it is seen as a “legitimate” form of domestic violence and doesn’t require an explanation of why someone would write a book about it. I am beginning to realize why very few books are currently published on the topic of financial abuse within personal relationships. Sure, there are books on elder abuse and ponzi schemes. but I have found very little research or published works on this particular genre. Part of my motivation for writing Exposing Financial Abuse was to fill the gap in published information.
We would never ask authors who write about physical abuse why it is an important topic to cover. It would actually be an offensive question. Financial abuse should be no different. The lasting impact on the survivor and society as a whole are enormous. How? Let’s take a look and maybe people will no longer have a reason to ask why financial abuse is an important topic to cover, and see it in the same dangerous light as physical harm perpetrated by an abuser.
I live in a world of therapy and recovery where harm done to others is enough reason to educate oneself on the topic. The devastation itself doesn’t have to walk up to our own front door and barge in to make it something that is concerning to me and my colleagues in the field of trauma-informed care. However, the larger world around us needs to know why financial abuse happening to someone else should be of importance to them personally. If we don’t experience it, sometimes we have a hard time caring that others do.
Financial abuse leads to poverty
Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse, raw and unedited survivor stories are the main focus and serve as the foundation of the book. During the research prep stage, I read close to 2000 individual experiences of financial abuse, and then protection and restoration. That’s a lot of data on this topic and I learned so much.
One common theme among the survivors who participated in the research project was the complete financial devastation that took place when an abuser overtly or covertly gained control over the victim’s finances. This often leads to living at or below what would be considered the poverty level. When basic needs become scarce, survivors do what they must to take care of themselves and their children. That often includes needing temporary government assistance, the help of local community food banks, loans from family members, and the use of payday loans that have spiked interest rates. In the Chapter titled Basic Needs, I cover story after story of exactly how financial abuse leads to living at poverty levels; even when the family income does not warrant it.
Financial abuse leads to debt accumulation
Targets of financial exploitation have had their names and personal data used to open accounts where the debt balance was run up and the abuser disappeared when the bill arrived. On the other side of the coin, survivors of economic exploitation sometimes will turn to their credit cards to help fill the gap financially where the abuser left a damaging hole. Personal debt to income ratios not only impact the individual but unpaid debt that must be taken at a loss by the company can have a snowball impact on the economy as a whole.
Financial abuse often includes criminal behaviors
Within Exposing Financial Abuse, a whole chapter is devoted to the illegal and fraudulent activities perpetrated by abusers who use money as a weapon. If financial abuse happening to someone else really isn’t of interest to some people, I certainly hope crimes being committed within our neighborhoods and among friend groups is enough to get the attention of many people.
A society that looks the other way regarding personal financial crimes runs the risk of becoming numb to other crimes. This is a very dangerous path to be headed down.
Financial abuse is rampant within the Family Court system and kids are suffering because of it.
Right now, today, some parents are hiding their true income and assets so that it will not be included in the calculations for child support payments and they can pay the least amount each month. That is disgraceful and should not be tolerated within our communities. When deadbeat parents refuse to pay their legal, ethical share to the care and support of their children, it leads to the responsible parent having the full financial burden. Often, it is more than one person can manage and debt begins to accumulate and families inch closer to the poverty line. This takes place even when the responsible parent is working full-time. It is very expensive to just maintain adequate food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Those are basics needs to raise children. Never mind any added wants or desires.
I have barely tipped the iceberg of why relational financial abuse is an important topic to cover. I hope others with greater specialized education will pick the ball up and run with it. We need a collective approach to addressing this hidden abuse that has devastating consequences for us all; even if our lives have never been directly touched by this form of harm. It does frame how we function as a society.
Keep Dreaming Big!
I am very excited to share the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series has been released!
Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon is now available on Amazon (paperback, Kindle, and Audio Book).
Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, you will be given the opportunity to pull the curtain back and see into the lives of those who have been financially harmed by someone close to them. Being able to take a closer look at this hidden world is a unique gift that cannot be taken lightly or without honor for those who have chosen to allow us to peek into the most personal aspects of their lives.
Test yourself. How would you describe financial abuse? It is quietly happening all around us and is hidden within our neighborhoods and communities. You probably know someone who lives within a financially abusive household and you don’t even know it.
What is financial abuse?
Has your spouse or parent taken out lines of credit in your name without your consent?
Does your ex-spouse suddenly stop paying child support as a means of furthering their abuse and control over your life?
Has your partner moved money from your joint account to a secret individual account without your prior knowledge or consent?
Do your parents use financial gifts as an open door to demand future compliance on your part?
Are you blamed for creating financial stress, but are not the one who overspends?
Did your ex-spouse hide his or her income from being included in the calculations for child and/or spousal support?
Have your religious leaders said that you must give to the church first, even if that means you cannot provide for your household’s basic needs?
Do you carry the full burden of making enough money for your household because your partner refuses to maintain steady employment?
To order: Amazon
“Daily Mom Pressures, It’s Never Too Late & The Power to Change”
I had a fantastic time laughing with It Takes A Village host, Ashley Carroll, about the challenges of motherhood, finding our way through jealousy and becoming comfortable in who we are as women – Shannon
To the show: http://theashcarroll.com/podcasts/065