Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Economic Abuse: The Invisible Form of Interpersonal Violence

How domestic abusers inflict more than physical and emotional abuse.

Key points

  • Interpersonal abuse is emotional, physical, and also financial.
  • Because intimate partner violence is about power and control, this often extends to control over money.
  • Economic abuse is often manifest through daily methods of depriving a victim of necessities.

Interpersonal abuse is emotional, physical, and also financial. Because intimate partner violence is about power and control, this often extends to control over money. Many domestic victims become accustomed to being supported by their abuser, often before he or she became abusive. Over time, this can create a feeling of being “trapped,” and especially when supporting children or other family members as dependents, make them reluctant to report the abuse.

Source: Andrew Khoroshavin/Pixabay
Source: Andrew Khoroshavin/Pixabay

Economic abuse is often manifested through daily, practical methods of depriving a victim of necessities. A victim may be hungry and facing an empty refrigerator or preparing for a job interview but facing an empty closet where much of her former wardrobe has been removed or sold. Both instances of deprivation are daily reminders of how victims are forced to rely on their abuser for simple survival.

Victims of economic abuse are not necessarily incapable of earning an income. A working woman may wake up one morning to find her wallet empty, or her credit cards drained, as some abusers who earn less than the victims attempt to “level the playing field” through exerting control in other areas. Unfortunately, although economic abuse doesn’t leave marks, it is enormously disruptive, draining, and, depending on the extent of withholding daily needs, can be devastating.

Economic abuse is “invisible”

Judy L. Postmus et al. (2020) discussed economic abuse as an invisible form of domestic violence.[i] They began by recognizing that the most prevalent perception of intimate partner violence (IPV) is physical, despite there being so many other forms of violence and abuse, including sexual, psychological, and emotional. They describe economic abuse, often referred to as financial abuse, as frequently hidden or “invisible.”

They also recognize the lack of consistency in defining economic abuse, even in light of emerging links between gendered economic insecurity and economic abuse. Postmus et al. did, however, find growing clarity and consistency within relevant terminology and validated methods of measuring this phenomenon, including exploring how understanding cultural differences and language may play a part.

Recovering from financial abuse

Kelly King et al. (2017), in a study entitled “The Costs of Recovery,” examined financial recovery from domestic abuse.[ii] They began by noting that IPV can impact physical and mental health, as well as familial functioning and economic health. They recognize that the financial costs of IPV are high for victims and their families, as well as for society at large. They also note how common economic abuse is within abusive relationships, citing one study that showed 94 percent of survivors as having experienced some form of economic abuse, 79 percent reporting economic control, 79 percent reporting economic exploitation, and 78 percent reporting some form of employment sabotage.

In addition, King et al. note that beyond direct costs usually associated with the healing process both physically and emotionally, financial costs can be compounded by the variety of challenges involved in rebuilding a new life, which can include costs of relocation, furniture, transportation, and childcare.

Recovery through support, not stigma

One of the biggest first steps for a victim of economic abuse is speaking up. Whether this means disclosing to a family member, friend, or a supportive peer, the first move is stepping up by speaking out.

The next step is often literally stepping back out into society. For victims previously unemployed and financially tied to an abuser, reentering the workforce is empowering and can lead to recovering both competence and confidence. In this fashion, victims can regain both health and wealth after leaving their abuser. One day at a time, one dollar at a time.


[i] Postmus, Judy L., Gretchen L. Hoge, Jan Breckenridge, Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, and Donna Chung. 2020. “Economic Abuse as an Invisible Form of Domestic Violence: A Multicountry Review.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 21 (2): 261–83. doi:10.1177/1524838018764160.

[ii] King, Kelly, Christine E. Murray, Allison Crowe, Gwen Hunnicutt, Kristine Lundgren, and Loreen Olson. 2017. “The Costs of Recovery: Intimate Partner Violence Survivors’ Experiences of Financial Recovery from Abuse.” The Family Journal 25 (3): 230–38. doi:10.1177/1066480717710656.