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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
The YWCA is passing out purple purses as part of an Allstate Foundation project to raise awareness of domestic violence.

YWCA sheds light on financial abuse

Someone dropped by the newspaper Wednesday and gave me a purple purse.

The question, one might suppose, is, what am I going to do with a purple purse? I don’t need a purse. I don’t carry a man purse and would never use a fanny pack. I travel light. If it doesn’t fit in my pocket, I don’t carry it.

The answer to the question, actually, is quite simple. I just gave the purse right back to the person who handed it to me and started a chain of events that, if everything works out, could end up raising a lot of money for the local YWCA.

This is what it’s all about.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Now, before you stop reading this, you should know that while the purple purse symbolizes domestic violence and abuse, it also tries to call attention to something different: financial abuse.

If a husband or boyfriend is beating up his significant other, or vice versa, it leaves marks. Even if you see the marks, you might not say anything. We don’t want to pry. We don’t want to stick our nose into someone else’s business. We don’t want to risk incurring the wrath of the abuser. We pretend we don’t see it.

But then there’s financial abuse, something that leaves no marks at all. No one can tell it’s taking place, unless the victims inadvertently drop little hints.

Financial abuse involves one partner controlling all of the financial assets in a relationship, said Deborah Beckman, president and CEO of the YWCA of Northeast Indiana. She explained how it works.

A woman might be required to turn her paycheck over to an abuser or have her check automatically deposited into an account controlled by only the abuser. Oh, money will be parceled out to the victim a little at a time for basic necessities. But even when they are given money, they have to provide receipts showing exactly what they bought and how much they paid for it.

Everything, including the house or apartment, bank accounts, etc., will be in the abuser’s name.

The victim might have a credit card in her name, but the financial abuser controls it. He pays the bills. If the victim tries to leave, all he has to do is quit paying the bills and leave the victim with an ugly credit rating and a credit card that gets rejected.

The result is that a victim is fundamentally held prisoner financially. If she tries to leave a relationship, she can’t. She has no money. There is no way to escape.

Beckman says one in four women, and one in seven men, are victims of abuse in their lifetimes. Surprisingly, though, victims of financial abuse might not even realize what is happening to them, she said.

The purple purse is supposed to get people talking about this, as well as all the other types of abuse.

The YWCA has been given 10 such purses by the Allstate Foundation. Each one has a different serial number, and each person who is given a purse is asked to go to www.purplepurse.com, register the serial number and include their ZIP code, then pass the purse on to someone else, who is supposed to do the same thing.

Each time one of the purses is registered, the Allstate Foundation will give $5 to the local YWCA, so the more the purses change hands and the more people who register them, the more the YWCA gets, up to $10,000.

Helping abused woman is one of the YWCA’s primary goals. In 2012, it provided assistance to 1,712 women, offering them shelter, and helping them find housing, employment and child care and longer-term assistance. And among those women were some victims of financial abuse.

“We’re encouraging people to get involved,” Beckman said. “We’re starting to highlight that. Financial abuse is more significant than we realize.”

I scribbled down my purse’s serial number and went ahead and registered it. So I just made $5 for the YWCA.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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