Financial empowerment can change a life – and sometimes, even save it. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), financial abuse and the fear that an abuse survivor won’t be able to provide financially for themselves or their children are two of the top reasons women stay or return to an abusive relationship: “For those who manage to escape the abuse and survive initially, they often face overwhelming odds in obtaining long-term security and safety. Ruined credit scores, sporadic employment histories, and legal issues caused by the financial abuse make it extremely difficult to gain independence, safety, and long-term security” (NNEDV.org). To help these women pursue a safer, financially stable life, FFP grantee Working In Support of Education (W!SE) runs a specialized personal finance course that provides domestic violence (DV) survivors with financial education, support, and ultimately the confidence to leave an abusive relationship for good.
Founded in 1998, W!SE initially focused on improving financial literacy for high school students and increasing their readiness for college and career. During the height of the Great Recession in 2009, they began looking at other demographics where the need for financial education and empowerment was strong. At the top of the research list? At-risk women, specifically DV survivors. W!SE President and CEO David Anderson shares, “98% of women who experience physical, emotional, or mental abuse also experience financial abuse, like withholding money, controlling money, or denying access, and that’s an impediment to the women being able to leave the abusive relationship. In addition to possibly not having access to funds, they also don’t have the knowledge, experience or the confidence to set sail on their own.” With that in mind, W!SE embarked on a journey to help financially educate and empower these women, creating their MoneyW!SE course.
Launched initially in the Bronx, MoneyW!SE is now a national program, delivered in cities where domestic violence levels are high. The program consists of a 10-to-12 session course, with 1-to-2 sessions a week and each session lasting 1 – 2 hours, offered in both English and Spanish. Led by volunteer CFP® professionals, the course covers key aspects of personal finance, from budgeting, debt management and credit to insurance and investing. Women enrolled in the course also have the opportunity to connect with the volunteer CFP® professional one-on-one to discuss their specific financial situation or questions. By the end of the course, women have the opportunity to become Certified Financially Literate™ by passing the W!SE Financial Literacy Certification Test.
W!SE has found that the women who enroll in this course have so much more going on than just their status as a DV survivor. David shares, “95% of the women we work with are low-income, many are without jobs, and many would not have access to financial education without our program. This is one of the only places that they can go to learn how to manage their money. Partnering with local social service organizations like local YWCAs, the Family Justice Centers in New York and organizations that specifically serve DV survivors is an essential element to this program and to reaching this demographic.”
There is a clear positive impact on the women who have participated in MoneyW!SE course. One graduate shares, “I had been in a bad marriage for over 20 years, not realizing it was domestic violence because I thought DV was only physical violence. Then, after discovering his infidelity, I realized that I’d been ‘kept in the dark’ about our finances. My advocate told me about MoneyW!SE and I enrolled. I’m so happy that I came to the class because I now have the knowledge and confidence to make it alone and take control of my finances. Through the class, I also passed the MoneyW!SE Certification Test and am now Certified Financially Literate.” Another graduate, who previously had bad credit due to poor financial decisions and inadequate financial knowledge, shares “I’ve applied what I learned in MoneyW!SE and have started fixing my credit, and I feel like I am on my journey to financial independence! This course is such an awesome opportunity, and it made me more knowledgeable and more confident in my ability to handle my money and credit.”
Going forward, W!SE hopes to continue reaching DV survivors, empowering them with the financial knowledge and tools necessary to leave for good, and sees a clear impact of financial education on survivors. David shares, “Typically, the average amount of attempts it takes someone to leave and stay out of an abusive relationship is 8 to 10. One of our partner social service organizations found that the women who have taken the MoneyW!SE course had a reduced average of 6 attempts.”
“I’m so happy that I came to the class because I now have the knowledge and confidence to make it alone and take control of my finances.”
–W!SE pro bono client
- Reaches an underserved, vulnerable demographic.
- Provides women with personal financial education, one-on-one sessions with a volunteer CFP® professional, and the opportunity to become Certified Financially Literate™.
- Reduces the average number of attempts it takes for a DV survivor to leave an abusive relationship for good.