The Journey to Safety and Self-Sufficiency

by Alika Mathur, Media Intern

 

As the economy falters, it becomes clear how vital economic stability is to our future. For survivors of domestic violence, financial barriers are yet another hurdle to overcome when confronting abuse.

Along with physical and mental abuse, domestic violence can involve economic or financial abuse. Economic abuse is defined by the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) 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.”

Although other forms of abuse are more commonly known and discussed, financial and economic abuse is just as damaging to a person’s well-being, even if the physical bruises are missing. Sakhi has seen the impact of the economy first-hand in our work to end violence: in the last half of 2008, Sakhi had a 15.6% rise in new pleas for help compared to the same period in 2007. Furthermore, in comparison to the 345 new requests in the first half of 2008, Sakhi has experienced a jump of nearly 17% as we responded to 403 new requests in the first half of 2009. In addition, due to the downturn of the economy, partner agencies are cutting staff and often the first to be let go are new personnel serving emerging populations and communities. Moreover, with the resources dwindling, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of low- or no-income survivors of violence requesting support through Sakhi’s pioneering Economic Empowerment Program.

To determine how the turbulent economy has affected survivors of domestic violence, Sakhi distributed 205 economic empowerment surveys and analyzed the responses from 17 survivors. One focus of the survey included gathering data on forms of financial abuse experienced. The data reflected that:

  • approximately 35% experienced credit card abuse;
  • approximately 35% stated their partners did not help with paying the bills;
  • 11% stated their partners did not help pay the mortgage; and,
  • 11% indicated that their partners had been stealing money from them or their family.

The decision to leave a partner comes with its own worries and challenges – more so since finding a job in this economy is a difficult task. The respondents also lacked financial assets such as stocks, bonds and/or property of their own. Approximately 33% of this group had savings of $2,500 or less. As one survivor summarized “no job, no business, no information, no assistance – hard to manage with two children.”

As survivors struggle through this economy, the importance of Sakhi’s programming shines through – the majority of the women attended one or more of Sakhi’s programs, including computer literacy classes and financial workshops, and 3 received grants from The Swarna Chalasani Economic Empowerment Fund. In light of the economic climate Sakhi has held numerous workshops in 2009, with focuses ranging from identity theft, credit and debt management to investments.

Sakhi is fortunate to have support for its innovative Economic Empowerment Program through funding over the past couple of years from sources including the Allstate Foundation, BRV Sharma Family Foundation, Daimler Chrysler Foundation, Lotus Partnership Fund, Independence Community Foundation, Patrina Foundation, RISE-NYC!, and the Verizon Foundation. “Victims of domestic violence need targeted tools and strategies to help them become financially stable and plan for safe, secure futures,” said Kelly Costanza, Allstate Foundation Representative. “That is why the Allstate Foundation is partnering with Sakhi for South Asian Women, to energize, empower and equip survivors with the resources, knowledge and skills they need to achieve economic empowerment.”

Sakhi is proud to be able to partner with such a diverse set of funders in order to enable safe homes and strong communities. “Domestic violence is a problem that affects all members of families and tears at the basic fabric of our society,” said June Jee, Verizon director for community affairs in Queens. “These funds will go a long way in helping to educate Queens residents about abuse, the steps needed for prevention, and assisting those people who are trapped in abusive relationships to get help and restore their lives.”

For more information on financial abuse and Sakhi’s innovative economic empowerment work, read our new fact sheet.