This week, Mentoro sits down with Jan Langbein, the CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter and fearless fighter for women’s rights in the city of Dallas.
In the past, Mentoro has discussed how money can impact your relationships, but often it is difficult to consider the worst-case scenario when it comes to managing money with a partner. In this episode of the Bullpen, Mentoro’s President Whitney Queen sits down to have an in-depth conversation with Jan Langbein regarding the challenging topic of financial abuse.
Jan Langbein has been an activist for more than 30 years in efforts to end violence against women, and currently oversees the internal and external operations of Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support. She often advocates for women in the courtroom by providing expert testimony, and trains law enforcement and prosecutorial professionals to increase their knowledge of how to end violence against women. Jan has been recognized as a National Expert on the dynamics and effects of domestic violence and has had a profound impact on educating the general public on this important issue.
Whitney and Jan discuss something that is not often addressed when talking about general domestic abuse, which is the significant role that money often plays as a mechanism of control. A shocking study performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that “Though financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, a 2014 study showed that 78% of Americans did not recognize financial abuse as a form of domestic violence.” The lack of education about financial abuse is a huge issue and leads many people to not recognize the signs when it happens to them.
What is financial abuse?
According to a 2018 study, financial abuse is defined as “A behavior that seeks to control a person’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain economic resources, and threatens their self-sufficiency and financial autonomy.” Jan clarified that financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse that can be more effective than a lock and key. Despite what most people think, the financial compensatory power that an abuser wields over their victim is certainly a choice of weapon and can be just as effective as physical violence in keeping the victim under their control. To understand the motivations behind an abuser’s actions, it is helpful to understand their mindset and core beliefs about the victim. Jan explained that the basis of an abuser’s approach will always be about power and control. She adds that abusers use a variety of ways to gain, keep, and maintain that power and control that are centered around whatever their victims care about most, whether that be children, pets, or anything they can use to manipulate them.
According to Jan, there are three core beliefs that explain why someone might choose to act in an abusive manner towards their partner.
“I can have what I want, the way I want it when I want it.”
“It is my partner’s responsibility to make it happen.”
“I can punish them if they do not make it happen.”
This mindset leads to a very dangerous dynamic within a relationship, and it is vital to watch for signs of this mindset within a potential relationship.
Recognizing Red Flags
It can be easy to ask, “How do people get into a financially abusive relationship?” Jan pointed out that if you were on a first date with someone and they started being awful immediately, you would never go on a second date! She said that perpetrators can get very skilled at being deceptive about their abusive tactics. She said that it would often look like someone acting as a “knight in shining armor” who wants to save you the trouble of keeping up with your finances by swooping in to take them off your plate. To help identify possible red flags of a relationship, Jan lays out some patterns she has identified in her 30+ years’ experience of interacting with this issue.
- A relationship that happens too fast.
Jan explained how an abuser will want to progress the seriousness of the relationship too quickly, which does not allow you to truly get to know each other. They may ask for access to accounts quickly and limit your financial independence by joining assets as much as possible.
2. They make all the decisions and exhibit controlling behavior
Financial abuse can start with the abuser seemingly offering to do nice things like, “You don’t have to work I want to take care of you” or “Go shop until you drop, but I need you to bring me all the receipts.” This may appear to be nice at first, but Jan explained how gradually while it may appear like a favor and that you are being taken care of it can quickly turn into “If you don’t get it right, you will pay the price.” Controlling behavior about money is a huge red flag and should be a sign that the person is likely not trustworthy.
3. Being afraid of asking about finances
It is very important for both people in a relationship to be involved and informed about finances. If there is ever a situation where one partner feels that they are hesitant and afraid to ask about finances, it is a very concerning sign. It is not advisable to enter a situation where you have no say about how the money is spent, earned, or invested by leaving it in someone else’s hands, especially if that person is controlling or abusive. It can also look like unknowingly signing things at a bank that are not fully explained. If you feel uncomfortable asking about finances, that should be a huge red flag that the person you are with is not in a good place. Even in non-abusive situations, it is all too common for one partner to be non-involved in conversations about money which can leave them in a sticky situation in the case of divorce or the unexpected passing of a partner. It is very important for both partners to be up to date on the state of finances and make big decisions together.
Top misconceptions about domestic/financial abuse
It happens to other people
Jan pointed out that when she first walked in the doors of Genesis, her own expectations were blown away about what the survivors of domestic abuse looked like. Before familiarizing ourselves with the issue, it can be easy for us to assume that it does not happen to people who look like me. Jan described this as an equal opportunity epidemic, knowing no bounds of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or occupation. She also said that victims and abusers can look much different than we think, and they are not easy to spot in a crowd. Jan said, “Abusers can wear preacher’s robes, three-piece suits, and doctor’s lab coats! Just as survivors can be lawyers, dentists, or accountants!” We must not let preconceived notions based on appearance let our guard down in identifying abuse.
If it was really that bad, she would leave
Jan mentioned that she receives this question on almost a daily basis, and she is here to assure us, “There are literally hundreds of reasons, and I swear hundreds of reasons a woman would stay in a violent home. Right at the top of that list is financial abuse.” It really is not that simple. According to the NNDEV, “A survivor may be forced to stay with an abuser due to concerns about economic stability. In a 2012 survey, three out of four victims said they stayed with their abusers longer for economic reasons. Of the 85% of victims who returned to their abusers, a significant number cited an inability to address their finances.” As Jan put it, “This question is a lot easier to ask than it is to actually do.”
How can I help?
Jan rightly pointed out that we cannot leave this issue on the doorsteps of our police departments, city hall, or local women’s shelters alone. In order for real change to occur, we must join in advocating for victims of domestic violence and financial abuse and be willing to ask questions like, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Additionally, Jan mentioned that there are a few important ways to step in and help. First, donating your time or money to support local efforts is a great way to participate. Jan recommended letting your voice be heard politically and making a difference that way. She mentioned staying informed about laws affecting violence victims is an important way to make a difference in ensuring the lives of victims are being preserved.
Raising awareness about financial abuse is a vital step in combating domestic violence and safeguarding vulnerable individuals. By educating ourselves, challenging misconceptions, and taking compassionate action, we can collectively create a safer and more supportive environment for survivors of abuse. Let us follow Jan Langbein’s tireless dedication and stand united in the fight for women’s rights and against domestic violence in all its forms.
For those seeking assistance or resources related to domestic violence and financial abuse, Genesis Women’s Shelter provides invaluable support. Their helpline, accessible 24/7 via call or text (214.946.HELP or 4357), offers a lifeline to those in need. Additionally, their website serves as a valuable repository of information, offering guidance and assistance in rebuilding one’s financial future after experiencing abuse. To learn more about rebuilding your finances after experiencing abuse, check out this resource to get a step-by-step guide. Meet with your Money Mentor to help meet your financial goals.