‘Coerced Debt’

Dear Priscilla Bennett Friends,

‘Coerced Debt’ often follows domestic violence survivors and is another roadblock to building their future. Abusers use debt to trap their victims. Credit cards and loans taken out under two names, but never paid back, can cripple a survivor financially.

Angela Littwin, a law professor at the University of Texas, coined the term. She says there are two types of domestic violence: situational violence and coercive control where one partner seeks to control and diminish the other. “The abuser’s goal is essentially to undermine the victim’s free will,” Littwin says. “The abuser does that by making demands that the victim does something, and implying that there will be consequences for non-compliance.” Those demands often involve financial actions that the victim might otherwise not take, or that do harm to the victim’s financial situation.

A ruined credit report can cost an abuser more than the ability to obtain a credit card. “More than 60 percent of employers use credit checks for at least some jobs,” she says.

Joint credit accounts are another source of risk for those in abusive relationships. “If the victim is more financially stable… then the creditor is going to go after the victim.” Littwin says changing the situation for joint account holders is difficult. The survivor would need to show that their name had been added to the account fraudulently, or through coercion. This is difficult to do even though debt by coercion is unauthorized use under the law.

In my novel SOMETHING TO BE BRAVE FOR, Katie has no credit standing. Her famous plastic surgeon husband, Claude, controls all the finances. He withdraws all the money from their joint checking account along with removing his name, leaving her nothing. He also sells a small fund of Katie’s and puts it in his name because the banker agreed to do it. Katie is trapped until she can save up enough money from pocket change and her “allowance”, and that takes time. She must be patient and stay much longer than she wants in her abusive marriage, until she reaches her goal.

Take good care of yourselves,