‘Forced Debt’ Follows Survivors of Domestic Violence

The “forced debt” that women who leave abusive relationships take with them can compromise their chances of starting over, research shows.

Forced debt is created when abusive partner uses coercion or fraud to access credit on behalf of his partner. For example, an abuser may force or threaten the victim to take out a loan or use a credit card against their will; or, an abuser may use a victim’s information to take out a loan or credit card without their knowledge.

“Forced debt is a particularly damaging form of domestic violence. This can have serious consequences for the economic well-being of victims of domestic violence, ”says Adrienne Adams, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University and lead author of the study in the journal. Violence against women. “Our research shows how widespread this problem is, what forms it takes and how it affects victims.”

Survivors in debt under duress often suffer from plummeting credit scores, which means more difficulty opening new credit cards.

“Credit is needed to access other resources. When someone gives loans on your behalf, for example, if that debt goes unpaid and destroys your credit, it can ruin your ability to find safe housing, get an affordable car, and even find a job ” Adams explains. “That way, forced debt can destroy a survivor’s chances of starting over. This can make it harder for them to access the resources they need and leave them with a huge financial obligation to repay.

Hidden finances, forced debt, damaged credit

Adams and his coauthors analyzed data from surveys of the experiences of being forced into debt by about 2,000 women who called the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Of those who called the hotline, 52% experienced forced debt. Abusers controlling the financial information, credit damage and financial dependence of victims on their abusers have also been frequently reported.

“Pilot interviews we conducted with survivors for another study suggested that there is a tendency for abusers to hide financial information and incur debt on behalf of their partners,” says Adams. “It seems to go hand in hand: if you prevent your partner from gaining access to mail, for example, you can hide fraudulent debt and continue to perpetrate the abuse. “

In this study, more than 70% of survivors said that their partner had hidden financial information from them, and the researchers found that these women were 3.6 times more likely to have forced debt. Of the survivors, 46% said their credit was damaged because of their abusive partners. Women with forced debts were six times more likely to have their credit damaged by an abusive partner.

Women with forced debts were 2.5 times more likely to have reported financial dependence on their abuser than women without forced debt, with almost 75% of women stating that they stayed longer in an abuser. relationship with someone who was in control due to financial support concerns. themselves or their children.

A lasting burden

Adams explains that the forced debt places an additional financial burden on survivors.

“Making payments on forced debts reduces the money survivors have to pay rent or put food on the table. This may cause survivors to have to compromise – to ask, “Am I buying groceries or paying rent?” “- to meet basic needs,” says Adams. “And if the debt is not discovered or is not paid, the victim’s credit can be damaged, which increases the cost of accessing credit in the future.”

Married victims can file for divorce to escape an abusive relationship, but forced debt follows them.

“What is not commonly understood is that a divorce judgment does not change the contract with the creditor.” Adams said. “This means that even though a judge can order the abusive partner to repay the forced debt, from the creditor’s perspective, the debt remains the responsibility of the person whose name is the debt. The creditor can continue to try to collect the victim. Debt relief depends on the abuser following the judge’s order.

Adams says she hopes her findings will shed light on this serious, but little-studied form of abuse.

Activists can develop strategies to help women discover and manage debt, as well as fight against fraudulent and coercive loans. Adams also hopes the findings will be useful to policymakers taking action to craft legislation to protect victims of forced debts.

Source: University of Michigan

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