Survivors of gender-based violence have a median of $0 in savings, report says

Survivors of gender-based violence say they need an average of $1,567 just to meet their needs and stay safe. But they often have dramatically less to work with, reporting a median of zero dollars in savings.

That precarity was detailed to the national organization FreeFrom, which works to create pathways to financial security for survivors of gender-based violence, in response to a series of optional questions the group asked in late 2020 as it distributed $533,839 worth of unrestricted cash grants to nearly 2,200 people in need, according to a new report. Some 776 survivors completed a follow-up survey.

Survivors largely identified as people of color, and often reported being disabled and queer+, according to the report. Almost all said they’d been subjected to economic abuse.

“Having $0 in savings means having absolutely no safety net to fall back on and no ability to safely plan for the future,” Sonya Passi, the founder and CEO of FreeFrom, said in an email. “Even a small emergency, like a parking ticket or copay for a hospital visit, isn’t affordable. We heard from many survivors who received cash from us that this cash meant they didn’t have to reach out to their harm-doer for financial help.”

The pandemic and inflation have only made that worse, Passi said. While survivors said at the end of 2020 that they could access a median of $175.50 if needed, that is hardly enough to cover an average night in a hotel. What’s more, survivors reported “an average of $10,120 in abuse-related costs,” including medical bills, therapy, legal bills, relocation, lost wages and more, according to the report. 

With the money they received from FreeFrom in 2020, survivors said they were able to buy food, household utilities and household items. About 66%, though, said they still needed help with their housing costs, and survivors largely reported wanting cash assistance, as well as debt relief and mental-health resources.

Disabled survivors were more likely to report that they needed help protecting assets from a person who was monitoring, controlling or restricting access to cash and benefits, according to the report.

FreeFrom also separately released a new report offering solutions that would expand long-term support for survivors of gender-based violence, including by addressing the intersecting, systemic harms survivors might have faced due to racism, sexual harassment, transphobia, ableism and more.

To help survivors economically, Passi added, banks could train their staff on how to assist survivor customers and help protect their bank accounts, given that 58% of survivors reported not having safe access to their own accounts. Because many survivors also lose work as a result of the harm they’ve faced, employers could also adopt paid and job-protected leave policies.

And with many survivors being reluctant to call police when they’re in crisis, the government needs “to invest in crisis response solutions that survivors actually want, like trained community de-escalation teams and mental health professionals,” Passi said.

Read more: Domestic abusers are taking survivors’ stimulus checks — and lawmakers want the IRS to do something about it

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