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Examining Effects of Economic Abuse in Domestic Violence

In a comfy, blue sweater, jeans, sneakers and a pair of thin-rimmed glasses resting between her misty eyes, Mary Metz’s appearance seems simple, but the small Chinese symbol tattooed on her left wrist reveals one of many scars acquired during her 18-year battle with a domestically violent marriage.

Metz escaped, survived domestic violence and now uses her skills as a Certified Public Accountant to volunteer for The Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence.

Survivors face challenges to recuperate from trauma, overcome victim mentality and build a new life. Although 15 years removed from her abuser, 60-years-old, and happily remarried, Metz said the end of her abusive relationship was the start of a long, healing process.

“Recovering from abuse isn’t just a journey. It’s a marathon,” Metz said.

Financial abuse is commonly used as a form of power and control by abusers. This not only creates a major barrier for victims to leave, but also causes long-term financial costs for survivors. The consequences experienced during and after her abuse show Metz is no exception.

Economic abuse is defined as, “preventing her from getting or keeping a job, making her ask for money, giving her an allowance, taking her money and not letting her know about or have access to family income,” according to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. Refer to the timeline below for more information on NCDSV and other preventive programs, related legislature and general history of domestic violence within society.

At 18, Metz married her late husband right after high school. Finances were under her abuser’s control from the beginning.

“I didn’t interpret it as abuse because it was common at that time that the man took care of finances for the family,” Metz said.

Metz’s abuser felt justified to be the sole decision-maker because he was their source of income. Metz complied with her husband’s demand to gain his approval before spending money, but saw work as an opportunity to gain some sort of say in financial decisions.

“I assumed if I made money, I would be making some of the decisions too,” Metz said. “But of course that didn’t happen.”

Metz graduated college in 1986 and her first job paid $18,000 a year. Three years later her annual salary was $24,000. She consistently put money into the bank account, yet continued to give him her paycheck each month.

“The reason I still felt I wasn’t financially able to leave was primarily because he constantly told me I would never make it on my own,” Metz said. “He said that to me so much, I began to believe it.”

Economic abuse is arguably the strongest barrier for women trying to leave abusive relationships, Metz said. Near the end of their marriage, her husband emptied the bank account.

“I think he pulled money out before I left him because I was expressing to him that if things didn’t change I would leave him. I don’t know why, but part of me had trusted him to take care of me.”

When Metz ultimately decided to divorce her husband, she did not have the means to support both herself and her son.

“Without my grandparent’s assistance with paying for my divorce, I don’t know what I would have done,” Metz said.

With family support, Metz was lucky enough to rebuild her life. For most women in domestic violent relationships, money is the overriding issue of why they stay with or return to abusers.

“It’s the biggest barrier to leaving,” Director of Volunteer Services at WDVC, Becca Burns, said. “Without money you can’t get an apartment. You can’t feed your children. You can’t live your own life with your own choices without money.”

Being financially independent is important for every woman. Whether in an abusive relationship or not, women should know where family money is coming from and where it’s going.

“That’s just part of a mature and equal partnership,” Executive Director at WDVC, Joan Schultz, said.

The Willow works with women in the shelter to create resumes, find job opportunities, build self-esteem, recognize the barrier, and form steps to eliminate it.

“Maybe you can only eliminate one brick at a time, but that’s one more brick to self-sufficiency,” Schultz said.

Metz spent her first 36 years of life either under her parents’ roof or under her abuser’s control. Until the divorce, she never had the responsibilities of an adult. Like many women struggling to break the barrier of economic abuse, Metz had no choice but to build her own sense of sufficiency from scratch.

“In retrospect, it wasn’t all bad because, for the first time, I decided and had control over who I was,” Metz said. “I’ve been told people think I’m brave. When I look back, I was brave. And I still am.”

Domestic Violence Timeline:

The outlook and amnesty for domestic violence and sexual assault in has continuously changed with time. The timeline below is based on information provided by the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, and covers significant events regarding the evolution of domestic abuse within society. Click the image to enlarge.

Other sources:
1. Amnesty International
2. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
3. National Domestic Violence Hotline
4. Pearson Education
5. Spruce Run
6. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries


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