This week, Emmy-nominated actress and “Scandal” star, Kerry Washington, appeared in a PSA by the Allstate Foundation about financial abuse — a tactic used in abusive relationships to manipulate victims into staying by controlling and limiting access to finances. The actress is applaudably raising awareness about a crucial component to why domestic violence persists: women don’t have the money to leave.
Washington has been named the ambassador for this particular campaign, entitled “Purple Purse” which involves a literal purple purse available to win when you offer a donation of $10 or more. (Washington reportedly helped design the purse). The program offers resources to help women understand the red flags for financial abuse (such as having your spending being tightly monitored by a partner), fund direct services and financial education. In her PSA, Washington cites financial abuse as, “Taking away access to cash, destroying credit, jeopardizing jobs.”
Allstate maintains on their website that the project was prompted by “a significant gap in resources designed to assist survivors with financial challenges.” (U.S. News reported in 2011 that financial abuse occurs in 98 percent of abusive relationships.)
While this campaign is powerful for focusing on financial literacy, Purple Purse also successfully disrupts the old “why did she stay?” narrative that often plagues domestic abuse survivors. Purple Purse zeros in on the economic challenges and puts them at the core of not only abusive behavior, but also the consequences of leaving abusive behavior.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Safe Horizon, the largest victims’ services agency in the United States, reports that most women who were admitted to the emergency room for domestic violence had fewer financial resources than other non-injured women.
And yet, according to a July 2014 Allstate report, nearly eight in 10 Americans aren’t aware that financial abuse is often linked with domestic violence — a major hole in knowledge considering that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
The Purple Purse’s list of “what to look for” when spotting signs of financial abuse also rightfully problematizes romantic, traditional notions of men being the sole holder of the metaphoric checkbook. There is so much cultural lofty language surrounding women handing over their earning power à la “being taken care of” and “being a kept woman” and “being a woman of leisure.” But this broad reaching initiative identifies and articulates complete and utter control of the purse strings for exactly what it is — abuse.