Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, August 14, 2014

Students outline how nonprofit can help survivors of domestic violence access financial services

Available online

Barriers to Building Financial Security for Survivors of Domestic Violence
Prepared for The Financial Clinic by Claire Boyce, Sara Koliner, Lacee Koplin, Shuangyi (Issy) Sun, Dan Trifone, and Joann Wong

Survivors of domestic violence can be helped if barriers to financial services are reduced or eliminated, La Follette School students note in a report prepared for the nonprofit organization The Financial Clinic.

"The Financial Clinic is well positioned to take action to influence public policy and program opportunities to help survivors of domestic violence," says Claire Boyce, who assessed the barriers to financial services that survivors encounter with co-authors Sara Koliner, Lacee Koplin, Shuangyi (Issy) Sun, Dan Trifone and Joann Wong. They were students in the spring Workshop in Public Affairs taught by J. Michael Collins.

"When a survivor of domestic violence does manage to leave her abusive partner, she may find herself entangled in a web of financial challenges," Boyce says. "Many survivors lack the tools or financial literacy to recover quickly. An important step is establishing safe and secure financial accounts."

Survivors can encounter problems when they try to close accounts they shared with abusers, Boyce says. "A financial institution may block closing the account if it is delinquent or reopen an account if it continues to receive deposits or withdrawals, which creates opportunity for the abuser to take advantage of the joint account."

Survivors can also encounter problems opening their own independent accounts. "Federal regulations require the financial institutions to verify customer identities to prevent financial crime and the funding of terrorist organizations," Boyce says, "and survivors who live in a confidential shelter or who lack a good credit history may have trouble."

The students recommend that The Financial Clinic partner with financial institutions on local, state and national levels to smooth pathways for survivors. "These partnerships should include training for financial institution personnel and managers," Boyce says.

The Financial Clinic also should develop a toolkit to help frontline abuse intervention advocates and financial services workers to support survivors, the students recommend, as well as conduct a comprehensive survey of domestic violence survivors to determine the extent of the financial barriers they face.