I was a victim of domestic violence and abuse myself from 2000-2013, but you could say that it hasn’t really stopped. Even after the divorce, I am still suffering emotional abuse due to being estranged and alienated from both my family of origin and my three children I had with my ex-husband. In the last five years, I’ve channelled my pain and grief into helping other women understand what is happening to them and giving them the tools they need to work their way through it. I’ve lived through arguably some of the worst outcomes of any abusive marriage, including a two-week hospital stay after a suicide attempt in 2010, six days in county jail, homelessness and hotel-living, financial ruin and alienation from my family and children.
But it is because of these experiences that I seek daily to share what I’ve seen and learned with other women. In all my travels and interactions with other domestic abuse victims, recurring themes become apparent and the main types of abuse are easy to spot. My hope is that by learning to identify and name abuse, we can arm ourselves with the knowledge needed to teach all women and girls what healthy vs. unhealthy relationships look like as early as possible. If we can reach them before they meet their future spouses, we will be one step closer to eliminating domestic violence and abuse from our homes, thus ensuring that more women in generations to come to know their rights and are afforded the respect they deserve. Part of what this entails is making sure everyone not only understands what abuse looks like and the many forms it can take, but giving all women the resources they need to start the hard conversations about abuse with their friends, families, and communities. Domestic abuse is more than just a domestic problem – it has lasting effects on everyone around us and, without treatment, perpetuates intergenerationally as well. However, with the right tools and support, the damage of these cycles of abuse can be minimised and, Insha Allah eliminated altogether.
This article aims to give an overview of financial abuse in its many forms, and also offer some ideas and solutions to women who are working to rebuild their lives after financial abuse. Of course, for a woman facing sustained financial abuse, fraud, bankruptcy and financial ruin, a brief magazine article is not going to solve all her problems in one go, but my sincere hope is that it will start the wheels turning and prompt some changes in her life. I once read that the life advice we give to others is really only advice we wish someone would have told us at an earlier point in time – and I think that sentiment holds especially true for victims and survivors of domestic violence. We may see ourselves so empathetically in others, and the triggers are so real, that we forget that other women’s situations are not our own. So for all of my advice and thoughts, remember that I am first and foremost talking to an earlier, younger, version of myself – to the 20-year-old girl who married an abusive man and spent 13 years learning that she didn’t deserve to live like that.
Cuts, bruises, black eyes, choke marks and broken bones are the visible signs of domestic violence, but financial abuse is the hidden reason most domestic violence victims stay. I’ve chosen to address financial abuse because it’s so woven into the system of abusive power and control that it can be one of the most insidious signs to recognise. Often women don’t realise how deep it goes until they are physically out of the relationship and look back to survey the damage done. Kerry Washington, in a public service announcement for the Purple Purse Foundation, explains “Finances are almost always a weapon of choice. Taking away access to cash, destroying credit, jeopardising jobs; financial abuse leaves invisible bruises that can take decades to heal.”
Financial abuse can be very subtle – your spouse is telling you what you can and cannot buy, guilt tripping you about small purchases, or requiring you to share control of your bank accounts. At no point does someone you are married to have the right to use money, or how you spend it, to control you.
Here are some examples of financially abusive behaviour:
• Forbidding you to work, limiting the hours you do, or demanding you quit your job.
• Physically or verbally abusing you when you try to work.
• Placing your paycheck in their account and denying you access to it, even though Islam allows you to keep all of it.
• Hiding or stealing your student financial aid cheque or outside financial support.
• Using or maxing out your debit or credit cards without your permission.
• Refusing to give you money, food, rent, medicine or clothing.
• Giving you an allowance and closely watching what you buy.
• Taking any inheritance you receive, while Islam allows you to keep it.
• Spending money on themselves but not allowing you to do the same.
• Misrepresenting income in order to defraud the IRS or courts and avoid the child and spousal support.
If your husband or ex-husband does any of these things above, you are probably in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. If you have no control of your finances, if your partner has stolen money from your bank accounts, or if you don’t have the funds to pay for an apartment or hotel, it can seem very scary to leave an abusive relationship. However, there are individuals and organisations who can help you gain control over your finances and some even provide short-term loans to cover important expenses as you escape an abusive relationship. You may also want to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member, or legal professional about getting a protection order. Whether you decide to leave or stay, consider making a safety plan that includes determining a safe place to leave to in the event of an emergency, and setting aside funds, important documents, clothes, etc. for you and your children, in a secret location.
For women escaping abusive environments, finding employment can be a difficult process – especially for women who have been out of the workforce for a long time. Reasons include ex-partner isolation, opting to become a stay-at-home mother, or because they gradually took on fewer responsibilities at work to be more available for their children’s needs. Various batterer and abuser sabotage may have included: cutting or bruising up a woman before important job interviews or presentations, not watching the children as per the parenting schedule to make it impossible for the victim to get to an interview or appointment on time; or if a woman already has a job, showing up at work to harass her or other employees and create scenes.
Because of these tactics, and others, survivors may be seen as less than desirable employees, especially if they also have young children to support and care for as a newly single mum. Because 98% of abusive relationships include some form of financial abuse, many women will likely also be at a disadvantage when their potential employers check credit scores as a part of the background check for potential employees. Lack of financial resources can make even physically getting to a traditional in-person job interview an impossible feat!
If you add to that the many women who are facing physical and mental disabilities as a result of physical beatings and traumatic brain injuries – and the more classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – it’s not surprising that holding down a regular 9-5 job can become quite hard! Due to these symptoms and disabilities, when a financial abuse victim is unable to re-enter the workforce in a traditional employee/employer job relationship, then non-traditional, work-from-home, and set-your-own-schedule avenues for income creation and personal support need to be considered. It’s always good to first invest some time in brushing up skills and re-wording resumes and cover-letters before attempting to re-enter the workplace. Women may also want to consider going back to school to study a different line of work or seek funds to start up a home-based business.
If you are knowledgeable in a certain field, or have a skill or hobby that you are quite good at (be it gluten-free cooking, crafting, cleaning, organising, photography, wedding planning, nutrition, fitness, sewing, decorating, jewellery making, art, writing, etc.) consider starting your own business and taking your skills and passions to the next level. There are numerous online support groups for entrepreneurial women where you can find and connect with other women who are following their passions to discover what works as far as marketing and funding start-up costs.
In addition to creating a new business centred around your passions, consider creating a curriculum or classes that you can take to your local and international community. Many communities have local centres where classes are taught for a fee. You can also develop online courses for hosting on platforms like Udemy and Creative Ummah. Once the initial course is designed and filmed, you only have to promote your course and get people around the world to sign up.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel you have the skills and education needed to compete in the career-field you want to enter, consider going back to school to refresh your skills or attain a new degree. There are numerous grants and scholarships available for women re-entering educational facilities, especially to study STEM fields (academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or accounting, or specifically for victims of domestic abuse.
If you have a stable (or semi-stable) internet connection you can complete freelance projects or offer consulting services online. This can allow you the freedom to pick your own schedule and work around any health, school or court appointments you may have. There are hundreds of thousands of contract employers looking for freelancers. Writers, designers, editors, translators, IT professionals, business professionals, etc. can find work on freelancing websites like Freelancer, Upwork, Elance and many others. Once you meet and work with some initial clients and build a good reputation, you may also be able to complete additional future projects for them off the sites to maximise your payments. Also, if you have experience in a niche field, you may consider creating a course for ongoing education classes that you can take to local businesses to support the ongoing professional development of their employees. Many companies would much prefer to hire a consultant, all expenses paid, for a weekend seminar than pay to send all of their employees out to attend a conference.
If you are fortunate enough to be fluent in multiple languages, consider working as a translator or transcriber. Companies like Rev, NCS Pearson, and others have online jobs in linguistic transcription for the development of English language proficiency tests, and also offer online audio transcription, video captions and document translation services to their clients. Bilingual and trilingual women (which, masha Allah, many Muslimahs I know are) are an asset to these companies. You may also consider becoming a victim advocate and working as a translator in association with local shelters to help other women navigate the legal and social benefit systems.
Volunteering in a field you want to enter can give you a ton of experience and noteworthy accomplishments in a relatively short amount of time. Volunteering can also result in great letters of recommendation that you can take to other potential employers. Websites like Idealist.org can connect you to job and volunteer opportunities both in your area and elsewhere in the world – including opportunities that can be completed remotely. Also, if you become an indispensable asset to an organisation by getting your foot in the door as a volunteer, it’s easier to argue in favour of turning your role into a paid position after you have proven your value!
Most importantly, reach out to your sisters in Islam on social media sites like Facebook and other networking platforms like LinkedIn, and work to connect with others who are walking the same path. Not only will your sisters offer emotional support throughout the hard times you may face, they can also offer encouragement through your entrepreneurial efforts and give tips and advice for new, creative and innovative ways to stay afloat!
Remember, you are not alone and we are all here to help each other! For more information about the companies listed, to learn how to make a safety plan, for help accessing resources, or to learn more about how you can start needed conversations to assist abused Muslim women in your area and around the world, join us in our Facebook group: Muslim Women Against Domestic Violence and Abuse.
SISTERS Magazine was created to uplift and enlighten fabulous Muslim women, and to inspire them to become the best Muslimah they can be. The SISTERS team is an eclectic group of writers, journalists, artists and readers based all over the world. Find us online at www.sisters-magazine.com and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Copies of SISTERS Magazine can be purchased in our online store.
By Safa Brown