by Sonali Rana, Policy Intern
The last year has been filled with many challenges – loss of jobs, home foreclosures, lack of financial security – these are only a few areas in which the economy has had an impact. The economy has affected us all, including survivors of violence who have additional hurdles they must overcome as they strive for economic stability and a brighter future. As one survivor reflects, “I believe without economic stability there is no future, especially when you have children. It is every mother’s great desire to see her children getting better education and having a peaceful life for herself and [her] children. Economic stability is possible when we have a better education and then we can have [a] better job.”
As part of our integrated approach, Sakhi understands the importance of bringing economic stability into women’s lives. One way we help to achieve this goal is through our Economic Empowerment program enabling access to educational and self-sufficiency opportunities for South Asian survivors of domestic violence through both short-term response and long-term skills building.
We here at Sakhi recognize the specific challenges facing survivors in this economic climate especially at a time when organizations are cutting back on staff and resources. The dire need to address this type of abuse rises as economic abuse increases, defined by the Office on Violence Against Women, as “making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money, or forbidding one’s attendance at school or employment.”
Recently, to advance Sakhi’s goal of empowering women and to determine how the economy has affected survivors of domestic violence, Sakhi disseminated 205 economic empowerment surveys and collected and analyzed surveys returned from 17 survivors. The women came from a diverse background immigrating from Bangladesh, Guyana, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Japan with approximately 76% having resided in the United States for 11 years or more and nearly 66% having children.
In a 2008 article “Recession can be deadly for domestic abuse victims,” Mary R. Lauby and Sue Else note, “Economic stresses often lead to more frequent abuse, more violent abuse, and more dangerous abuse when domestic violence already exists. Domestic violence programs report that victims experience an increase in abuse in part because out-of-work abusers have more opportunity to batter…Victims end up with fewer opportunities to contact programs for help, attend support groups, or get away from the batterer.” This form of abuse, financial or economic abuse, may be less known throughout the communities, but is just as destructive – approximately 35% of survey respondents experienced credit card abuse and stated their partners did not help with paying the bills; 11% of the women had their partners steal money from them or their family; and 11% asserted their partners did not help pay the mortgage. The forms of financial abuse did not end there. Respondents also described how their partners refused to work to help support their family, interfered with their work performance through harassment and monitoring activities, and refused to pay child support. As these abuses continue, the need for Sakhi’s work in empowering women becomes even more vital.
Most of the women were highly educated with roughly 70% attaining a college degree or higher. Despite their education, 66% of the working women earned $35,000 or less and even more surprisingly, nearly half of the women earned $15,000, which falls below the poverty level for a family of 3 or more. Out of the women who were employed, more than 73% of these women did not receive any employee benefits even with working. To make matters even more difficult, of the women who had savings, 33% had been able to save $2,500 or less, illustrating a vulnerable economic situation.
More than half of the women surveyed were unemployed which exacerbated the worries and stresses as revealed by one survivor, “It has been very difficult to get a new job. Without a job, everything has become difficult.” As a woman and mother wanting to secure a future for herself and her family, the lack of employment is yet another hindrance in their search for independence and stability. One survivor expresses her worry by stating, “No job, no business, no information, [and] no assistance – hard to manage with two children.”
As the job market remains uncertain, other concerns linked to the scarcity of jobs and security were raised. Survivors were worried about debt payments, a secure retirement, higher taxes, expenses related to child care and/or tuition, rising gas and home heating prices, rising health care costs and finding an affordable home. Furthermore, approximately 56% of respondents felt that housing assistance would be the most helpful – no surprise in New York City. Additional support the respondents believed to be valuable were English language training, health insurance for themselves and their family, job training, lower taxes, subsidized child care, vocation or other higher education, assistance for student loans, grants to pay debts, and free or low-cost camp during summer. This shows the ability for survivors to assess their situation and acknowledge the specific support needed to address concerns.
Among the darkness, there is also hope. The importance of Sakhi’s services shone through as we discovered most of the women who responded to our survey, attended or received aid from at least one of Sakhi’s programs – 6 had attended computer literacy classes, 2 attended financial workshops, 3 received grants from the Swarna Chalasani Economic Empowerment Fund, and 5 attended support groups. None of the respondents accessed programs from other organizations emphasizing the significance of Sakhi’s work. The importance of a future with economic independence, self-sufficiency, and confidence was conveyed as one survivor expressed, “So we can get more jobs and take care of my family. Give my child good education, happy, and healthy home.”