Report: Domestic Violence Also Involves Economic Abuse

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblyman Eric A. Stevenson, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance and State Senator Jose Peralta at the unveiling of the report on domestic violence. (Photo by Luna Liu via World Journal)

A new report released by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer shed light on the high incidence of economic abuse among victims of domestic violence. The report calls for new legislation to expand the definition of domestic abuse, the World Journal reported. The article was translated from Chinese.

Domestic violence is not just physical and emotional abuse. It is also economic abuse. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released a report on Oct. 2 called “Economic Abuse: The Untold Cost of Domestic Violence.” (It was co-authored with Sakhi for South Asian Women, a domestic violence advocacy group, and released in partnership with the Worker Institute at Cornell, a forum for research on contemporary labor issues.)

It reveals that the abusers use economic and financial control to victimize their families.  Stringer is also gathering online signatures to petition the state and city governments to add “economic abuse” to the domestic violence definition.

According to the report, economic abuse can be manifested in various forms, including taking away the victim’s assets, putting the victim in debts, forbidding the victim from working, etc.  In addition, domestic violence causes victims to lose their jobs or their productivity.  Every year, domestic abuse costs U.S. employers $3 to $5 billion in lost wages and productivity besides $31 billion in medical costs related to the violence.

The report was based on a survey of 25 organizations that fight domestic violence.  It found that 25 percent of victims of domestic violence experience economic abuse. Similarly, 80 percent of the victims admit that they had to obtain the consent of their abusers to spend $50 or more, while 25 percent of the victims owe debts that did not belong to them.

The report says economic abuse is quite common among new immigrant communities. The abusers control the family’s finances so the victims do not have any economic independence. If the victim shows disobedience, he or she would not be able to spend money, including money to buy food. Many victims also worry that if they leave their abusing partner, they could lose their green card or immigration status. That’s why they prefer to stay silent.

At the press conference, Stringer said that New York State laws define domestic violence to include physical, emotional, and psychological abuses, but not economic abuse.  He said he wanted to gather enough signatures to amend the laws to include economic abuses to the definition of domestic abuse.

The report recommends that state and city governments explore creating Individual Development Accounts, which are saving accounts matched by government or foundation dollars that survivors can access to pay for shelter, transportation and other basic needs.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said that his office receives about 600 domestic abuse cases each year.  This represents a small portion of the cases because many victims are too afraid to file a report.  Victims not only have to miss their  work, but also incur medical bills and find a new safe housing for their families. He proposed that the laws be amended quickly to designate repeat offenders as “felons.”


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