Pandemic stress seen as a driver of financial abuse

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Domestic violence, which often includes financial abuse, is on the rise due to the stress created by the pandemic, according to Teal Inzunza of the Urban Resource Institute, a nonprofit organization that addresses domestic violence and homelessness. .

Outcomes of domestic violence situations for survivors could be significantly improved if financial counselors had a better understanding of what victims are going through, said Inzunza, program director of the Urban Resource Institute’s Economic Empowerment Program and master registered social worker. an interview today.

Many financial advisors volunteer their time and expertise to vulnerable populations and work with organizations to help those who are underserved. They can be “advocates for survivors of domestic violence and help victims understand that these bad situations are something they can recover from,” she said. Ninety-eight percent of domestic violence cases have a financial element, she said.

The Urban Resource Institute, one of the nation’s largest providers of residential domestic violence services, says economic empowerment and education are essential services to help survivors return to healthy, independent new lives. Financial uncertainty is a known trigger for abuse, as well as an obstacle to escaping it, the institute said in a statement.

Classes on domestic violence are taught in social work studies, but not enough are included in financial studies, Inzunza said. Counselors could help victims see the red flags that serve as a warning that someone is a financial abuser, she said.

“One of the things potential victims should look out for is ‘forced debt‘. These are situations that do not involve fraud, but someone, such as a spouse or partner, convinces the victim to go into debt that they do not want. It is often a physical threat to the victim, their children or their pets,” she said.

“Once victims have moved out of the abusive situation, they can end up with thousands of dollars in debt that they didn’t even know existed or didn’t know was in their name.” , Inzunza said. “Most states and the federal government don’t offer protection for this type of debt and there’s not much the victim can do. Forced debt can have long-term consequences and prevent the victim from finding housing, getting a credit card or even getting a phone.

A financial counselor can help victims untangle these financial entanglements and can sometimes act as a victim advocate, she said, adding that’s the type of work the Urban Resource Institute does.

Another red flag Inzunza has seen played out is a potential abuser holding a spouse or partner’s immigration status against them and using it as leverage to gain financial control. This may involve the abuser trying to access tax refunds or social benefits. A person from another country may find it difficult to understand complicated financial situations in the United States or may have a language barrier, Inzunza pointed out.

“Financial counselors need to be available and affordable for victims of domestic violence,” she said. “They can help by understanding what the survivor is going through and being as supportive and non-judgmental as possible.”

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