My mom was a great one for inspirational sayings. They must have been pretty good ones, because I remember them all today. One of her favorite, “Learn to stand on your own two feet.” You see, my mom gave up a promising editorial career at a major magazine to stay home, and while I like to think that she didn’t regret a minute that she spent with me :), I know how much she longed for money to call her own, and in fact, later on in life, when a small surprise inheritance gave her that, she took a lot of joy in announcing about gifts, “I got it myself…with my own money.”
So financial independence is great, because it can bring you personal pride and self esteem. It wasn’t until late last month though that I really had the opportunity to think about the power of financial independence to literally save a woman’s life.
Domestic violence is the number one reason that women are homeless, and in 99% of all cases, financial abuse and financial control are the weapons of choice. Abusers will isolate you, take away your financial independence, potentially set about to destroy your credit, and will take other steps to make it financially impossible for you to extract yourself from the abusive situation.
This video tells the story of Lori, a woman that I had the honor of meeting and interviewing at the end of October at Claudia Chan’s SHE Summit. Lori is a survivor of domestic abuse. Her abuse took both physical and mental forms, and as you can hear in the video (which reflects words much like those her husband said to her), financial control was a huge part of it. (“I put a roof over your head.” “I put food on your table.”). As Lori described it to me, abuse in any form, is about one person controlling another, and in that respect, money becomes a powerful weapon for the abuser. With six kids and a husband who literally controlled every penny, she found herself trapped until she began getting cash back each time she bought groceries, literally hiding her money rolled up in tampon applicators, until she had saved enough to take the steps that she needed to to break free. Needless to say, this took years, and that is not a situation that anyone wants to be in.
What to do then? Here is Lori’s advice:
1. Bad boys – they are cool, except that they are not. Value yourself and value being treated well.
2. Enjoy your education – (By the way, this from someone who when she was finally able to go to school after leaving her husband, earned her undergraduate degree and a Masters in Social Work from University of Michigan in three years). Find out who you are in college and what you like to do. This is your time to explore who you want to be.
3. Know the signs – Is your boyfriend or spouse isolating you from your friends? Does he question the thing you do when you are not with him? You are not responsible for reporting your every move, nor should someone be checking in on you constantly throughout the day. It may feel like love – it isn’t. It’s control.
4. Know what a healthy relationship is, and know what physical abuse is. Lori thought because her husband never hit her across the face, that she wasn’t being physically abused. She was. Hair pulling, twisting your arm behind your back, and physically restraining you are all abuse. Watch out for “games” involving these too.
5. Monitor your credit and make sure to keep a good credit score.
6. Build a work history, and keep your foot in the door. Even working part time will keep you connected to the outside world. This by the way is your choice – your boyfriend or spouse should not be deciding for you whether or not you work outside the home.
7. If you are breaking free of an abusive relationship, let someone know your plan. Find a trusted family member or friend and tell them. The most dangerous time for a survivor is the point at which you decide to leave.
8. Get help.
That’s where the Allstate Foundation, and the woman we all want to be, Kerry Washington, come in. As Vicki Dinges, a Senior Vice President at the Allstate Foundation shared with me, twelve years ago, Allstate’s chairman established the foundation to make a difference and to focus on critical issues that were not getting enough corporate attention and support. First and foremost, domestic abuse.
Allstate created the Purple Purse initiative (purplepurse.com). Initially, purplepurse.com, was set up to look like a shopping site, so that women would be able to use the site and get the help they needed without fear of retribution from their abusers. Since 2005, Allstate Foundation Purple Purse has helped more than 800,000 victims escape abusive relationships through financial education and empowerment. The purple purse contains helpful information, conversation starters for letting friends or others know your situation, financial advice and resources, including those that in partnership with the Allstate Foundation, can provide women the support they need to get on their feet and on the road to financial independence.
Kerry Washington is lending her voice and passion to this critical initiative as the ambassador for Allstate Foundation Purple Purse:
Kerry inspired the design of this purple purse (not available for sale):
Kerry has also reached out to some amazing designers including Tory Burch and Christian Laboutin who will be designing purple purses of their own this year. You can also get a tassel to add to your purse or backpack showing your support for domestic abuse survivors.
To donate and to learn more, check out www.purplepurse.com. And, some last words from Lori (whose story I will never forget), “If you’re a survivor of domestic abuse, it doesn’t mean you are weak or flawed. This is something that happened to you, but it doesn’t define who you are. You do that for you..no one else does.”