In my last post, I responded to a question I saw in a Shabbat leaflet. It dealt with a woman whose husband opposed her buying a new dress for her sister’s wedding. I raised my concerns over the potential red flags of such a situation – namely, financial helplessness and covert abuse – and one reader suggested that I might respond to the woman by writing to the newsletter.
Well, I did it. I wrote to the editor, and today I received a response, along with a copy of this week’s leaflet, in which my comment (abridged for reasons of space) and their answer appeared. I’m copying and pasting their answer here.
“Thank you for your comments!
Financial abuse is not only extremely harmful, but can be used as a tool to trap a victim in an abusive relationship. As with emotional abuse, financial abuse is generally not about a specific situation. In most relationships, there are periods of financial stress wherein the couple must reduce their spending
or make other decisions and adjustments.
However, with financial abuse, the abuser usually wants to control, manipulate, trap and dominate the other person. Some examples involve controlling the victim’s acquisition and use of money and assets, preventing the victim from working, putting the victim into large debt and/or ruining their credit, creating legal issues for the victim, controlling all the spending, refusing to work, withholding basic needs and hiding assets. Even if they are only using one of these tactics, their behavior may still be financially abuse.
While there may be indications of possible abuse in the woman’s question, it might also be simply a tight financial period. A good idea, as you mention, would be for the woman to know the finances. Her husband not agreeing would be a red flag. However, assuming he agrees, she should also participate in financial decisions, hopefully lessening her resentment.
Shalom Bayit (for my non-Jewish readers: this refers to marital relationships, literally “peace in the home”) counseling is delicate. The goal is to bring the couple closer while also being attuned to the individual needs and vulnerabilities of husband and wife. Before introducing a label such as emotional, verbal or financial abuse, it is important to gather as much information as possible.
Targeted questions, involving the subjects mentioned above, will enable both the counselor and the counselee to understand whether it is abuse or not.
If a person feels their situation might be abusive, they should speak with a professional who can help them assess their situation and move forward with a healthy, successful and normal life.”
I have just a few words to say in conclusion. First, I appreciate the editor’s attention to my concerns, and I am thankful they chose to give space to the subject of financial abuse, often subtle and not enough recognized in Orthodox Jewish circles. I also agree that it is impossible to find out, just on the basis of what we know, whether the writer of the original question is going through financial abuse or just a period of financial strain and faulty communication.
However, there is one thing I just wanted to note: “If a person feels their situation might be abusive” may be hard to pinpoint. Many people live in a financially abusive situation for years without being aware of it. They might feel it’s normal, or it may happen so gradually that they look back one day and realize they have given up all their financial freedom and capability.
I guess what I’m trying to say is just that I hope people will gain more awareness of financial abuse. A couple of years ago, a few Israeli Knesset members tried to pass a law that would protect victims of domestic financial abuse. I am sorry to say that Orthodox and right-wing PMs were the ones who stopped this law from passing. They ridiculed the suggestion of giving more legal protection to financial abuse victims and claimed this law “interferes in family dynamics.” I found a brilliant article that discusses it here.
Also, for whoever is curious, the leaflet that prompted me to write these last two posts is Living Jewish.