8 ways to financially support a friend or family member experiencing abuse

  • Research has found that nearly all survivors of domestic violence have experienced financial abuse.
  • FreeFrom surveyed 2,163 survivors to learn what kind of support they need from their communities.
  • Here are eight ways to financially support a friend or family member experiencing abuse.

Financial abuse is more common than you think.

In one survey of domestic violence survivors, 99% said they’d been financially abused, in addition to experiencing physical and psychological harm. “It’s a way to restrict the survivor of abuse from leaving,” explains financial therapist Megan McCoy.

Financial abuse happens when one partner in an intimate relationship controls the other partner’s access to money. Financial abuse also happens in families, where one family member withholds access to money from one or more family members.

In November 2020, economic justice organization FreeFrom gave 2,163 survivors of gender-based violence cash grants to help them meet basic needs. They also asked those survivors to participate in a survey to assess their exact needs from policymakers and community members.

Of the survivors who completed FreeFrom’s survey, many had only $10 in their savings account on average. CEO and founder Sonya Passi says, “The data in this report gives an unprecedented window into what resources we need to build to meet the needs of queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx survivors.”

If you know someone in an abusive relationship, here are eight ways you can financially support them.

1. Ask them what they need

Instead of buying things for survivors without asking, start by asking what they need. The report says, “Survivors know best how to allocate money to cover their costs. We must give survivors cash to spend as they see fit, so they can take care of their own unique needs to get and stay safe.”

For example, one survivor quoted in the report said they personally needed a reliable car that comfortably fit their kids, adding that it’s important that their abuser doesn’t know about the car.

Another survivor said they needed to raise $14,000 for top surgery. “If I passed, I would be more likely to be able to get a good job,” they said.

2. Give cash instead of electronic transfers

FreeFrom’s report shows that 74.1% of survivors do not have a safe bank account. More than half of survivors surveyed said that their abuser has monitored, accessed, withdrawn from, or controlled their bank account in the past. Cash is the safest way to help a survivor become economically empowered.

3. With permission, use social media to promote crowdfunding efforts

If your friend or family member has a fundraiser on a platform like GoFundMe, use social media to help them raise funds. Ask for permission first to respect their privacy.

4. Offer to pay for therapy or other healing tools

Nearly 40% of survivors said that mental-health services are a top need, and 55% of survivors said they put off seeing a healthcare or healing practitioner since the start of COVID-19.

Ask your friend or family member if they need help paying for therapy, coaching, or spiritual tools to help them gain emotional stability.

5. Use your professional network to help them find jobs

More than 31% of survivors surveyed said that an abuser prevented them from working or having a job. Additionally, because survivors need to take more time off than others to tend to the physical and mental effects of abuse, 60% of survivors lost their jobs.

Survivors of gender-based violence often have gaps in their resumes and limited means to support themselves and their families, according to the report. Connecting your friend or family member to job opportunities or skills training may help them become financially independent.

6. Help them stay accountable for debt-payoff goals

According to FreeFrom’s report, 50.8% of survivors borrowed money or put living expenses on their credit card to make ends meet, and 45.1% of survivors said they had missed or late payments, which negatively affect their credit score.

If you’re on a debt-payoff journey, it may be helpful to friends or family members experiencing abuse to know they are not alone in dealing with debt. 

7. Offer rides and childcare so they can attend support groups

FreeFrom offers survivor-led, peer-to-peer financial support groups to help survivors get back on their feet. One survivor called the support group “a place for sharing hope,” adding, “At any point that we can give hope to someone, I think, is essential.”

One way to help a friend or family member experiencing abuse is to offer to drive them to a support group, especially if they don’t have their own car or can’t afford public transportation. You can also offer free childcare to make it easier for them to attend support groups.

8. Start a community lending circle

Lending circles are groups of individuals who lend money to one another. A lending circle is a grassroots alternative to traditional banking or credit services, which may be inaccessible to survivors whose abusers can access their accounts.

Here’s an example given in the report:

  • 10 people pool $100 each for a total of $1,000
  • The lending circle sets regular times to disburse the funds, for example, every month or every quarter
  • One person in the group will receive the $1,000 loan each month or quarter
  • Next month or quarter, another person receives the loan
  • The process repeats on a regular basis until all 10 people each get their turn to receive $1,000

The concept of lending circles is derived from a West African tradition called susu, also called asue or sou-sou. Lending circles or susu funds help survivors who are unbanked or don’t have access to credit get back on their feet.