During Super Bowl XLIX this past February, one of the commercials was a public service announcement featuring the audio of a chilling phone call for a pizza order that revealed far more than the caller’s preference of toppings. The caller had actually dialed the police and conveyed her situation of distress and risk of physical abuse masked by a pizza order. “Is there someone in the room with you?” The police officer asks. “Yes,” the caller responds hesitantly in a shrinking voice. Without showing any violence, the public service announcement hauntingly conveys the frightening reality of being in acute danger in your own home. It brought mass awareness to domestic abuse.
The intention of domestic abuse is to assert power and maintain control over a partner with threat or use of violence. Most domestic violence incidents are never reported, and they are not something victims can simply “walk away from.” Domestic abuse thrives on dependency, fear and intimidation.
What we don’t always discuss is that domestic abuse is costly, in the most literal sense. While we should focus on protecting victims, studying the short and long-term economic effects of abuse is relevant to how we can better support and aid survivors as well. Survivors may manage to escape the imminent threat or use of violence from a partner by requesting a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order, a civil order of temporary protection from further harm granted by a judge. Yet much like the mental and physical effects, the economic bruising does not fade quickly and can last for years beyond the relationship.
A survey referred to by The Atlantic showed, “98 percent of abusive relationships involved financial abuse.” Financial abuse is a powerful way of making a victim wholly dependent on their abusive partner. It includes destroying a partner’s credit score or jeopardizing a partner’s career.
Safehorizon.com, a website devoted to helping victims of violence and severe distress, reports, “women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence” an important time for developing self-sufficiency. They also note that approximately $37 billion a year is spent on domestic violence through law enforcement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment and lost productivity at companies. Domestic abuse usually takes place between the hours of 6pm and 6am, the hours after and before work causing an estimated 8 million missed workdays a year for victims.
A recent study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh by Melanie Hughes and Lisa Brush analyzed the financial abuse evident in women who filed a civil restraining order and found that though there was a gradual increase in earnings after the restraining order, women in abusive relationships “lost anywhere from $300 to $1000 in the year following filing for a petition.” They also found that victims in abusive relationships averaged significantly lower incomes than people in healthy relationships.
In conjunction with C.A.R.E (Concerned About Rape Education) week happening on campus this week, it is important to bring awareness to unhealthy and dangerous relationships and to make it known that there is support for victims. Domestic abuse leaves lasting marks on physical, mental and economic health that prevent healing and progress. In order to fully support victims of abuse, we need to consider all aspects of their trauma. Many times it is financial abuse that rob victims of an escape. Signs of domestic abuse include excessively accusing a partner of cheating, threats and or use of violence, severe intimidation and ridiculing, control over access to money, pressure to increase partner’s level of isolation and stalking by any means.
If you or someone you love needs help, reach out to University Health Services, the Women's Resource Center, a national hotline, Safehorizon.com or many other available resources.