I just learned that Great Britain is working to include “economic abuse” in its anti-domestic abuse law (thanks to this article from Public Radio International).
Domestic abuse is nothing to joke about, or shrug off. But this new step concerns me on a number of levels.
For one thing, physical abuse against spouses is already illegal (at least here in the U.S. – I assume it would at least fall under assault and battery across the pond). Is adding this new category to the equation really worth it? What benefits will we gain…and what might we lose?
First, “financial abuse” is a nebulous term that’s hard to define. Second, focusing on these varied abuses seems to assume that women are victims – not masters of their own fate – and need protection from abuse. (I say “women” specifically because the example used in the article is a woman, and the main thrust of these abuse movements are to protect women. But we all know that men can be abused as well.) Lastly, if we admit that women are at risk and need protection, who should those protectors be? Their immediate family and friends, who know them, know their significant other, and know the emotional make-up that attracted them to each other? Or some third party, like a loan officer (whose business is money), who has no vested interest in the woman beyond being a “good neighbor” (and abiding by the law)?
What Does “Economic Abuse” Even Mean?
Just how do we define “financial abuse”? Do we really want the government inserting itself into the intimate give-and-take of married life?
Spouses are supposed to communicate, argue, cooperate, and work through the struggles of life as a unified team. Some couples do better at it than others do, but that’s just life.
Can the government really understand (let alone referee) this complex relationship?
In the original article referenced above, an interviewed woman (called “Anna”) describes her own experiences of so-called “economic abuse”:
She says her husband forced her to co-sign a loan to cover the bank fees, against her will. That loan left her saddled with debt after their marriage ended. He never paid any of it.
(By the way, why was she still responsible for the debt after the divorce? Couldn’t she – or her attorney – have said that the loan was made on behalf of her husband, and that the husband should be responsible for paying it back? We already have systems in place to help situations like this…do we really need another law on top of it?)
Anyway, we agree that abusing shared credit cards, or abandoning co-loans with your spouse, is mean and bad. But it doesn’t always look the same to different people.
The unintended consequences:
What if a couple struggles with money, and regularly argues about how to spend it – but love each other and want to make the marriage work?
Is it helpful to slide a bureaucrat into that home (a bureaucrat who doesn’t know them, their history, or their emotional rapport) and have him start making decisions about who’s abusing whom?
What makes a police officer, bank employee, or other third-party “advocate” qualified to decide who is the aggrieved party in this situation? What if both the husband and wife are spending beyond their means…and blaming the other? That sounds like a situation for a budget or marriage counselor – not a policeman with handcuffs and guns.
Who holds the reins?
Just who defines what this “financial abuse” is, and who should be punished for it? If the “victim” doesn’t know she (or he) is being abused, by what metric does the faceless bureaucracy of the government say so-and-so must be punished for it?
You see, the government has the most guns, and the most policemen and handcuffs. That means they get to decide who goes to jail. If they don’t have a good, clear metric for deciding these things…a door has been opened to abuse (and not the domestic kind).
When something as nebulous as “economic abuse” is made illegal, a great deal of power is handed to whoever creates the guidelines. Does that person have my best interests at heart?
Consider what the original article says:
“Domestic abuse isn’t going to be solved by a piece of paper alone or a piece of legislation unless the police and the courts have the resources and the understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse. And the fact that it isn’t always physical and it isn’t always visible.”
If something’s not visible, it’s harder to fight.
Do Women Need Protectors?
In Ephesians 5, God commands men to love and cherish their wives. He also commands women to respect and obey their husbands. (Eph. 5:22-25)
The book of Ruth is all about women seeking the protection of a good man (husband) – and God providing that excellent man in Boaz (hard-working, gentle, protective, and responsible).
This tried-and-true system of the past several thousand years has recently been thrown out in favor of women protecting themselves. Y’know, warrior princess feminism and that kind of thing.
I’ll show you what I mean:
The self-help people on the internet will tell you to take charge of your dreams, cut off destructive relationships, stop making excuses to yourself (for yourself or others), and become master of your own future.
You know the self-help gurus I mean, right? In fact, you’ve probably seen all that plastered on a cat poster.
But consider this quote from the article above:
The proposed legislation would also encourage police to look into financial as well as physical abuse. And it would provide funding to train bank officers to recognize the signs of financial coercion.
Penny East, who works with a UK-based organization called Safelives, says that’s a big deal because loan officers could change the outcome for women being coerced in this way.
“Like, for example, if a woman was to go into her bank and asked to take out a large loan, rather than just letting her sign the document, it’s just about having that question or having that training just to double check,” East said.
Her organization talked with a lot of women who had similar experiences to Anna’s [woman quoted above], who wished someone at the bank would’ve stopped them from signing the form and taking on the debt. She says loan officers would get training to spot things that don’t seem right and ask questions.
Loan officers would be trained to verify decisions with statements: “You know you’re completely happy with the loan you are choosing, that you’ve chosen this independently to take out this loan, et cetera, et cetera.”
In Anna’s case, she says a question like that might have kept her from taking out that loan in her own name to cover her husband’s expenses. In retrospect, she wishes a loan officer had looked at their bank statements and stepped in.
So…now consent doesn’t even cover signing your name on an official document. If a woman changes her mind on a loan, she can say she was coerced into applying for it, and she’s now a victim of “economic abuse”! (Who’s the abuser in that situation?)
But we’ll leave that potential misuse of the law alone now. The point is, is this woman capable of being her own defender?
She doesn’t want the loan. She thinks it’s a bad idea, and that her husband/partner has made a bad money decision.
Is she a kick-butt, Girl Power! chick who can figure this out on her own?
Or is she a realistic, emotionally vulnerable, and probably scared woman who needs a caring hand to help her out of this situation?
Does she need a bank officer to take the role of a police officer and intervene in a situation that doesn’t affect the bank employee personally?
Who is master of my fate?
I am supposed to chase my dream, abandon negative self-think, and shed the needy, harmful relationships in my life.
But I am also supposed to depend on loan officers to alert me when I’m being financially abused…rely on social service campaigns to teach me that I’m being domestically abused…have full faith in police forces to keep me from being murdered or raped…and depend entirely on non-elected officials to decide what is best for my healthcare.
We can’t have it both ways. And one of these paragraphs assumes de facto that women are victims, and need heroes to rescue them from their villainous partners.
Who Is My Neighbor?
Yes – we should care about the people in our community! Police officers are specially trained and duly delegated people to do just that: interfere in bad situations.
But…there’s a part of me that thinks if we need a bank officer to give us a clue that this relationship is caustic, there are several safety valves that have already failed.
If women are vulnerable, emotional creatures who frequently need help escaping bad relationships – who is best qualified to help them?
Is it a loan officer (trained for and experienced in writing loans and dealing with money)? Is it a police officer (who must walk the fine line between laws, policies, common sense, and PR)?
Or (gasp) their immediate family and friends? This woman’s mother, sister, and/or BFF know her, her relationship history, know this guy she’s with, and know her emotional entanglements – and can make a call about what behavior is “normal” or “inappropriate”.
If it ain’t broke…
For countless years, we taught children/women to depend on the people who were most intimately vested in their success: their families and friends.
Now, from the time they step onto the school bus for kindergarten, we tell them to make their own choices and deal with problems in their own strength.
That’s not working. Women are getting hurt. But is the answer to make loan officers, doctors and nurses, and other members of the community responsible for safe-guarding these women?
Or is the solution to go back to what we should have been doing all along: encouraging strong, stable, intact families? Families that protect each other, have each other’s backs, and don’t let their girls (or boys) make excuses for abusive relationship partners?!
The Disease Is Bad…But What Is the Cure?
Any man (or woman) who breaks the God-given pattern (say, by beating his wife – or by running thousands of dollars of debt onto her husband’s credit card) is disobeying God…hurting his spouse and children and family…and breaking society.
Any woman (or man) abused by her/his spouse is a sad story. It wasn’t meant to be this way. It’s good that we want to fix it.
But what is the best way to do that? And what is the cost?
It’s easy to say this behavior is bad. But so is teasing another kid in your third grade class. That’s not something the police should be involved in. (Parents and teachers can handle that, okay? Don’t send a third grader to jail!)
Sometimes, we can’t fix everything…even though we try. Even though things are bad, and need to be fixed, doesn’t mean we have the power to do it. And sometimes, yes, the cure is worse than the disease.
Walk forward with both eyes open.
Is it worth it to rescue one brow-beaten woman from a bad relationship – if it means sending fifty innocent men to jail for non-existent crimes?
(Oops…did I mention #MeToo?)
In the opinion of this sheltered little churchy blogger, the potential costs outweigh the supposed benefits. Not like anyone in the British Parliament will listen to me (it’s not like I vote for any of them).
But perhaps you, dear reader, will listen. And even if you have a different opinion of “financial abuse” and the role government should play in combating it, I hope that at least you will take a closer look at your dearest held views and have a better idea why you hold the opinions you do.
A worldview unexamined is a most dangerous thing.
And so is this new legislation.
Kimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American midwest (you betcha!) bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.
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