For survivors of intimate partner violence, economic empowerment can be a lasting solution to the cycle of abuse. For agencies helping survivors, understanding how financial burdens influence survivors’ ability to escape abusive relationships is a first step toward enabling empowerment. Getting to that understanding, however, can require adapting, validating, and retesting methods of measuring the financial factors affecting those survivors.
One newer study, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, has found that some established measures of economic empowerment are less effective for Spanish-speaking survivors – a finding worth underscoring as Hispanic and Latina women, in general, are less likely to access support resources.
The study serves as a reminder that policies and practices for improving public safety and ensuring equal access to justice for victims of crime may only be as sound as the data underlying them, especially as it pertains to the role cultural differences play in the relationship between diverse communities and approaches to public safety.
Economic Abuse and Empowerment
Economic abuse is coercive conduct by which the abusive partner can cause and extend their victims’ financial dependency, the researchers noted. Common forms of economic abuse include:
- Economic control
- Economic sabotage
- Economic exploitation
Economic control can refer to monitoring a victim’s use of funds and limiting access to those resources. Economic sabotage includes jeopardizing a survivor’s job and restricting access to employment or public assistance. Economic exploitation includes depletion of the victim’s funds and damage to credit history.
Victims of intimate partner violence may see no way out of a dehumanizing cycle of deprivation, damage, and dread. But economic empowerment of victims can help break the cycle. Past research established that directed service programs could significantly improve those empowering traits of survivors, including financial literacy, economic self-sufficiency, and economic self-efficacy (meaning an individual’s beliefs regarding her power to affect situations).
Although financial limitations are a well-documented barrier to survivors seeking to escape an abusive relationship, more work is needed to assess financial security, empowerment, and burden among intimate partner violence victims, staff experts with the National Institute of Justice note. When victims feel financially insecure and dependent on their abusive partner, they are less likely to finalize restraining orders or want their partner prosecuted.
Measuring Economic Empowerment
One past evaluation established that certain economic empowerment scales could help measure levels of economic empowerment of partner abuse survivors. That evaluation, conducted as part of a financial management curriculum for abuse survivors, established that survivors who received program treatments sustained significantly higher scores in certain financial knowledge and skill values than those in a control group.
But the evaluation stopped short of yielding insights on whether those tools, initially developed in English, could effectively measure and advance elements of economic empowerment for Spanish-speaking partner-violence victims.
To validate the initial study findings and evaluate the economic empowerment measurements in a Spanish-speaking population, the National Institute of Justice funded Rutgers University to conduct a new, two-phase study that reanalyzed data from their earlier research designed to improve the economic empowerment of survivors of intimate partner violence.
The new research has revealed that some measures previously shown to help assess the economic empowerment of partner violence survivors, in general, were less effective when tested with a Spanish-language victim population. The fact that Hispanic and Latina women, in general, are at higher risk of intimate partner violence and less likely to access support resources  highlights the significance of these findings.
According to the NIJ-funded study, the development of valid, language-specific measures of economic empowerment is vital to reducing service barriers facing Spanish-speaking women and thereby helping them escape the cycle of partner violence.
Findings from the Validation Study
The new study refined the nine financial scales employed to measure varying levels of economic empowerment used in the original evaluation, and then sought to validate those scales on a new sample population of both English- and Spanish-speaking survivors.
Of the nine refined scales assessed in the new study, only four scales were found to effectively measure the intended topic for study in Spanish and English:
- Economic self-sufficiency (a measure of the survivors’ ability to accomplish financial tasks)
- Financial management attitudes (a scale to determine survivors’ attitudes about financial management)
- Financial behaviors (a measure of survivors’ actual financial management behaviors)
- Financial intentions (covering a survivors’ intentions to perform particular financial behaviors)
The five remaining scales were found not to be equivalent measures of aspects of intimate partner violence for both English- and Spanish-speaking survivors, meaning that these five measures did not yield a true comparison between the two groups. Those five scales were:
- Financial knowledge (covering knowledge about investing and long-term planning, knowledge about partner assets or joint assets, knowledge about obtaining resources, and credit knowledge).
- Economic self-efficacy (a measure of survivors’ confidence in financial management abilities).
- A financial strain survey (covering health impacts, relationship impacts, and meeting financial obligations).
- An abusive behavior inventory (covering psychological violence, physical violence, and sexual violence).
- A scale of economic abuse covering forms of coercive conduct by the abuser, such as economic control, sabotage, and exploitation of the survivor.
The lack of equivalence in five financial empowerment scales led the research team to recommend further research on causes and measures of that non-equivalence.
Validation Study: Purpose and Design
The validation study, designed to confirm and refine the previous Rutgers research on the economic empowerment of survivors, reflects the National Institute of Justice’s commitment to validating prior scientific findings.
Phase I of the new study re-assessed the original Rutgers data by separately examining Spanish and English samples. Financial scales from the original study were revised and presented in English and Spanish.
Phase II of the new research entailed face-to-face interviews, using questionnaires with nine financial and abuse scales, of women recruited from seven agencies in New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico. Of the final analytical sample of 417 women, 209 completed the questionnaire in English and 208 completed the questionnaire in Spanish, the researchers reported.
The participants’ average age was 40. Almost two-thirds (63%) identified as Latina or Hispanic, 21% identified as non-Hispanic black, 6% as non-Hispanic white, and 10% as Other. One-third of participants reported an annual household income of less than $10,000, and 69% reported it was extremely difficult to live on their income, the report said.
Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice
In light of the new study’s mixed outcome on the effectiveness of the nine empowerment scales or measures, the researchers recommended further research on:
- The measurement equivalence of the four scales found to be effective for both English- and Spanish-language subjects.
- Impact of survivors’ experiences on the five scales that did not achieve measurement equivalence between English- and Spanish-language subject speakers.
- Further analysis of the five scales that did not meet measurement equivalence with a new sample of violence survivors. (Researchers and practitioners should avoid comparison across the two groups until the new analysis is done, in light of systematic differences in the five items that did not meet measurement equivalence.)
- Replication of the research with English- and Spanish-speaking survivors in the community who have not sought services.
The research team also advocated policy and practice reforms, informed by that research, including:
- Dissemination of the validated scales to service providers for English- and Spanish-speaking survivors; training of advocates and agency staff on using the tools.
- Training of practitioners who work with survivors to implement economic empowerment interventions such as financial literacy programs.
- Promotion of the inclusion of economic abuse in standard assessments of the abuse experience.
Continuing research in this area affords the field an opportunity to refine policy directions and practice strategies in all areas of intervention with intimate partner violence. Individual, social service, and criminal justice systems stand to gain from exploring the use of financial empowerment interventions and outcomes.
About this Article
The research described in this article was funded by NIJ grant 2017-VA-CX-0032, awarded to the Center on Violence Against Women and Children, Rutgers University School of Social Work. This article is based on the grantee report “Testing and Validating Financial Measures with Intimate Partner Violence Survivors,” by Judy L. Postmus, Ph.D., ACSW, Kristina Nikolova, Ph.D., and Iris Cardenas, LSW.
[note 1] “The Role of Intimate Partner Violence, Race, and Ethnicity in Help-Seeking Behaviors,” S. Lipsky, R. Caetano, C. Field, G. Larkin (2006). Ethnicity & Health, 11(1), 81100. https://doi.org/10.1080/13557850500391410
[note 2] “Measuring Abusive Behaviors: Is Economic Abuse a Unique Form of Abuse?” (2013), A.M. Stylianou, J.L. Postmus, S. McMahon, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(16), 3186-3204. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260513496904.
[note 3] “Validating the Allstate Foundation’s National Model on Helping Survivors of Violence Achieve Economic Self-Sufficiency: Final Report,” (2010), Judy L. Postmus and S. Plummer, prepared for the Allstate Foundation, Economics Against Abuse Program.
[note 4] “Evaluating a Financial Education Curriculum as an Intervention to Improve Financial Behaviors and Financial Well-Being of Survivors of Domestic Violence: Results from a Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Study” (2015), J. Postmus, A. Hetling, Ph.D., G. Hoge, Rutgers University, School of Social Work, Journal of Consumer Affairs, 49(1), 250-266. https://doi.org/10.1111/joca.12057