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Economic Abuse and Poverty Are Major Obstacles for Those Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

By Anne-Marie Langan*

A study on the impact of economic abuse on survivors of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) found that 94% of those who experienced intimate partner violence also experienced some form of economic abuse such as economic control (79%), exploitive behaviours (79%) and employment sabotage (78%). In practical terms, this means that many survivors are prevented from leaving abusive situations as a result of a lack of access to resources, cannot access credit as a result of damage caused to their credit by their abusive partner, have precarious or no employment and have become completely socially isolated. As a result, they have little to no hope of escaping the abuse they are experiencing.

Economic abuse "involves behaviours that control a person’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources, thus threatening their economic security and potential for self-sufficiency"(Adams et al., 2008). Those exerting economic control may ensure that they have sole access to the couple's bank accounts and anything that is deposited to these including pay cheques, social assistance and benefits. They make all the financial decisions for the family without consulting their partner and force their partner to be completely reliant on them financially in every way (Postmus et al., 2011). Economic exploitation can include things like using the survivor's credit card without their consent and using their money to purchase luxury items for themselves, gamble or purchase drugs/alcohol without their consent. In more severe cases the abusive person takes steps to intentionally ruin the survivor's credit by not paying bills in their joint names or rent without informing them. (Postmus et al., 2011). Employment sabotage often takes the form of harassing the survivor at their place of employment, causing them to be late for or to miss days of work, and generally impacting their ability to concentrate on their work tasks.(Postmus et al., 2011) Abusive partners also often attempt to discourage or forbid the survivor from working. (Adams et al., 2008) Survivors have reported that their abusive partners sabotaged their cars, threatened and physically restrained them from going to work, failed to show up to care for their children, stole their car keys, refused to give them a ride to work, withheld medication, prevented them from sleeping, cut their hair, hid their clothes, and inflicted injuries, to prevent them from going to work. (Adams et al., 2008)

Many societal influences create further obstacles for people experiencing financial abuse including precarious employment, inadequate or unstable housing, lack of access to affordable child care and/ or transportation. On top of that, there remain societal gender stereotypes that women are not as knowledgeable or good at managing money as men and should assume the majority of responsibilities related to household chores and children which further contribute to these barriers. (Postmus et al., 2011) Other systemic barriers include financial systems which facilitate the control by the abusive person, that is, for example, financial products and other accounts which can only be closed with the consent of both parties and immigration and welfare benefits systems which create financial dependence. (Sharps-Jeff, 2021)

Some signs and symptoms that someone you know may be experiencing financial abuse include that they have to ask their partner for permission to make a simple purchase, refer to receiving an "allowance" from their partner, their partner is making large purchases on their credit card or large withdrawals from their joint bank account or they express feeling guilty for wanting to work (Simmons, 2023) There are economic abuse screening tools that have been developed for use by shelter workers and other social service providers working with survivors for identifying economic abuse situations(CCFWE, 2023). The Canadian Centre for Women's Empowerment is offering a financial literacy program for women recovering from economic abuse in which survivors can learn about budgeting, savings, investing, debt management how to improve their credit rating and provide information about other helpful resources. There is also the Your Way Forward project which the Peterborough Community Legal Clinic and 8 other community legal clinics are participating through which we provide legal education, advice, representation and other supports for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence in both urban and rural settings across Ontario.


Adams, A. E., Sullivan, C. M., Bybee, D., & Greeson, M. R. (2008). Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse. Violence against Women, 14(5), 563–588.

Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment. (2023, August 18). Canadian Economic Abuse Screening Tool. CCFWE.

Postmus, J. L., Plummer, S., McMahon, S., Murshid, N., & Kim, M. S. (2011). Understanding economic abuse in the lives of survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(3), 411–430.

Sharp-Jeffs, N. (2021). Understanding the economics of abuse: an assessment of the economic abuse definition within the Domestic Abuse Bill. Journal of Gender-Based Violence, 5(1), 163–173.

Simmons, C. (2023, June 30). Financial abuse: How to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Anne-Marie Langan B.A., B.S.W., LL.B., LL.M. is the project lead for the sexual violence projects at Peterborough Community Legal Centre, including the SHAPE project which provides legal advice and education for those experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace and the Your Way Forward project which provides support for those who have experienced intimate partner sexual violence. These projects are both sponsored by the government of Canada's. She can be reached directly at

Disclaimer: This post contains general legal information as of November 27, 2023, that may or may not apply in a particular situation. It is important to note that the law and government policies can change and this blog will not be updated to reflect these changes. It is highly recommended to seek legal advice from a lawyer about your particular situation.

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