Victims and their families — like all of us — need food, shelter, health care, and other essential resources to survive. This is a priority by nature not choice.
Victims know that they will not be safe until they are free from violence and can provide for themselves and their family. Victims’ safety plans and decisions cannot be solely driven by a partner’s abusive behavior.
Safety for victims living in poverty is difficult to achieve. Little money means fewer options to escape or reduce violence. Violence makes it harder to meet basic needs.
Implications for victim-defined advocacy
Offer strategies that improve the victim’s financial independence
These strategies may make it possible for some victims to leave a partner who batters and allow some victims to be on a more equal and safer footing if they remain.
- Understand how money is used to control the victim: Does he make all the financial decisions? Does he keep her from having any money? Does he keep financial information from her? Does he keep her from working or advancing? Does he unnecessarily run up debt? Ruin her credit?
- Reduce money as a tactic of abuse: Are there ways to increase her access to the money and financial information, increase her knowledge about money, put money out of his control, reduce his opportunity to run up her liabilities?
- Increase a victim’s income and assets: What might help: a job, better job, education/training for a better job, transportation, chance to reduce debts, chance to save money, unemployment compensation, access to government benefits, housing subsidies, health care, child support?
- Offer options that respond to the victim’s culture and life experiences around money: How does she view money? Debt? Is money a private matter? What is her current standard of living? Did she grow up in poverty or with more resources? In her view, do men and women have different roles around money? Does she believe men should earn the money (be the “breadwinner”)?
Explore the financial impact of strategies to reduce or escape violence
Will the strategy cause her to lose her job or reduce income? Does it affect her eligibility for government benefits or programs? Does it affect her housing or health insurance?
If the victim needs to share expenses and her partner’s income then how will the strategy affect that arrangement? Will it cause her partner/ex-partner to lose his job or reduce income? Will it force her to pay for all housing costs? Will she lose an affordable apartment?
Be prepared to advocate with victims living in poverty
Poverty and a partner who batters make life hard for victims. The intertwined issues make it more difficult for advocates to help victims make things better. Victims living in poverty face risks from their partner and from the effects of living in poverty. Few resources and the violence and control of a partner leave few or no options to be safe.
- Offer more: Provide options and strategies that victims need and the resources they need to access them. Not just the referral but the ride there. Not just the phone number of the court but access to a phone. In a time of decreased funding and strained budgets, offering more may seem impossible. Consider exploring agency priorities and new advocacy approaches.
- Understand that domestic violence may not be the priority: The victim’s primary safety concern may necessarily be food, shelter, and other basic needs. As victim-defined advocates, her priority is our priority. We will also offer information and options to respond to the violence.
- Advocate for victims who remain in their relationship: Many victims living in poverty simply do not have the resources or option to leave a relationship. They deserve and need advocacy that may enhance their safety.
- What happens to her partner will affect the victim and her children: Interventions directed at a partner who batters will have consequences for the victim and her children. What happens to him may affect their physical safety, their family, and their finances. Victims living in poverty have no financial buffer. Ask if the intervention with him will cause a financial crisis for the family. Will they lose housing? Have enough for necessities? What are the implications and options then?
Collaborate with programs and people that offer resources or assistance on financial issues
You will be better able to assist victims with financial issues if you have good working relationships with people who work in related programs. These programs might include: government benefits, housing and homelessness, employment services, health care, tax assistance, child advocacy, child support services, foreclosure programs, legal aid, anti-poverty, faith based, and energy assistance. As part of the collaboration, explain how financial issues and needs impact the safety of victims, the barriers to assistance victims face, and how they can help.
Victim-defined systemic advocacy implication
Victims need money to be safe. Systemic domestic violence advocacy must include financial issues and needs.
- Include victim financial impact in domestic violence policy analysis: Will the policy increase or decrease the victim’s financial options and resources? Will the policy increase or decrease her financial independence from a partner who abuses? Note that the impact on the victim might be caused by a policy directed toward her partner.
- Analyze the domestic violence impact of financial policies: How might the policy affect victims? Will it increase/decrease the violence and control of a partner, ex-partner?
- Advocate for policies, programs, and funding that will improve the financial stability of victims and their children: To be safe, victims need employment or other means to provide for a home, food, electric, transportation, clothes, health care, education for their children, and other essentials.
- Include the particular needs of victims living in poverty in analysis and advocacy: How will the policy affect victims living in poverty? What do they need to be safe? Do government programs for the poor accessible to all victims of family violence? How might they better support safety? Do anti-poverty programs and services respond effectively to domestic violence issues? Keep in mind that improving the resources and financial opportunity for a partner/ex-partner who batters may also benefit a victim and her children.
- Collaborate with programs that offer resources or assistance on financial issues: Integrate the needs and perspectives of victims into the policy analysis and advocacy around improving financial opportunity and stability, particularly for those living in poverty. In turn, access financial issues expertise to integrate financial capacity building opportunities and resources in the policies regarding domestic violence. Potential collaborations may be found in the following kinds of programs: anti-poverty, local, state, and federal government benefits, housing/homelessness, health care, asset building, economic development, financial literacy, employment/job training, faith based, and energy assistance.
Understanding what victims in your community think
Understanding victims’ needs and perspectives is the foundation of victim-defined advocacy. If you don’t know what victims think you can’t be victim-defined.
How: There is a wide range of ways to gather and analyze information. Do not let the process or time keep you from finding out what victims think. Just ask! Ask a specific question at intake, or during support groups, or as part of community outreach. You might also ask advocates and others who regularly work with victims what they are hearing. Gather information from as many victims as possible, those you regularly serve and those you don’t. Know who is missing from your data. Is it women of color, immigrants, victims living in poverty, LGBT victims or other marginalized group? Make an effort to find out what they think.
Then think and talk about what you’re hearing. Information used in this process should be generalized to protect victims’ safety and privacy. If resources are available conduct formal research, inquire about a broader range of issues, or track information over a longer term. Do what you can, but do something.
What to ask victims about financial concerns, meeting basic needs: Ask what is relevant to the priorities and context of your advocacy. Ask some open ended questions that will give you information about victims’ priorities. Do victims think your advocacy and priorities around financial issues would work for them? What do they think you should do?
Sample questions to help you frame the ones you’ll ask: How does a partner’s violence affect their financial status? What do they need? What would help them be better off? What keeps them from getting what they need or improving their financial status?
“I got a job and help putting my life back together. It took a long time, but…I feel safe now for the first time that I can remember.” - Survivor from Alabama, Meeting Survivors’ Needs through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services & Supports: Results of a Multi-State Study by NRCDV (November 2011)