Get Real! How Do I Tell My Boyfriend I Don’t Think He’s Ready for Sex Yet?

Heather Corinna

People are too often not as concerned as they should be about a partner's readiness for sex, often assuming males are "always ready." This pervasive double standard hurts both men and women.

This column appears as part of a partnership between Rewire and Scarleteen.

erohwaremac asks:

My
boyfriend and I have been going out for over five months now. In an
emotional sense, we’re a perfect couple. We love and respect each
other, and get along incredibly. However, I am his first real
girlfriend. I’m only the third girl he’s ever kissed and done other
things with. We "fool around" such as we make out, he feels me up and
fingers me, and I go down on him, etc. However, I have essentially
taught him everything he knows. He is a virgin. I am not. He tells me
he is ready for sex, but despite the fact that I love and think the
world of him, I know that he is not. Biologically he is raring to go,
but emotionally he is not. I don’t really know how to tell him this. I
know it won’t compromise the relationship, but I just don’t want him to
feel like I think of him any less. I just want his first time to be
special and wonderful. And the only way I can let that happen is if he
is totally emotionally ready. Deep down, he agrees with me, but his
hormones are getting the better of him. I don’t want to deny him, but
at the same time I don’t want to hurt him either. What do you suggest?

Heather replies:

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My
hat’s off to you for being so thoughtful about the readiness of your
partner. Too many people not as concerned as they should be about a
partner’s readiness, and people are often particularly prone to presume
male partners are always ready: that if men want sex, it’s all go, with
no need to consider things like emotional or practical readiness. It’s
a very pervasive double standard, one that I think really hurts men and
women. So, I’m always so happy to see female partners who don’t make
those kinds of assumptions. It’s not like sex before a person is ready
for it is any less likely to be problematic or negative for men than it
is for women, after all. Readiness matters for everyone.

I can see why you feel in a bit of a pickle, especially because
those kinds of assumptions are so culturally popular. Some guys can
take it particularly hard if it’s suggested they aren’t ready, or even
if they just feel for themselves that they aren’t. Some will feel their
masculinity is being questioned or threatened: a whole lot of cultural
ideals of masculinity include being sexual with partners, after all. or
being the one in a partnership to call all the sexual shots. But even
though it can be tricky, I think you can manage it just fine,
especially in a relationship that’s as solid and caring as yours sounds
like it is.

I can’t know about the overall dynamics of your relationships
besides what you have told me here. Do you think that, overall, your
boyfriend feels like he’s in a relationship of equals? In other words,
while yes, he’s newer to sex and sexual relationships than you are, all
the same, in that arena and others, do you get the impression you feel
like a partner to him, and he to you, rather than a mentorship kind of
relationship? If so, you probably have less to worry about with this
than you think. If not, you may want to tread more lightly, and also
make some extra efforts all around to assure y’all have and feel real
equality between you.

Ultimately, you can’t make this decision for him, and you shouldn’t.
It’s his to make, as you know. Who you can and do make decisions for is
yourself, and you are also half of the decisions you make as a couple
and a sexual partner. You can only determine what’s best for him to a
point, but you can absolutely determine what you know is best for you
and what you feel is best for your relationship. I think it’s fantastic
to want someone’s first time (and hopefully, every time!) with any kind
of sex to be wonderful and special. That is absolutely something we’ll
want for the people we love and care for.

But I would not suggest you frame the conversation you have about
this around what you think he is or isn’t ready for. That, to me, is
more a parent-child kind of conversation than the conversation we have
with a peer or partner. I think the goal is to state your own wants and
needs, your own sense of what’s best for you as a couple, and to have
discussions that help him discover what he feels ready for and which
support him in whatever place he’s at.

I’d use statements that express what you want, what you feel
is right for you and your relationship right now, and what is and is
not any kind of action or situation you feel fits or doesn’t fit the
way you want to love and be loved; the ways you are and are not
comfortable being sexual with him or any partner. For example, you can
say that it’s strongly important to you when having any kind of sex (or
intercourse only, if that’s how you feel about it) with someone you
care for, that you have as strong a sense they’re ready for that as you
can, and when you’re not feeling that yet, it just isn’t right for you
or what you want. You can express that the kind of sexual relationship
you want is one where everyone involved takes whatever time they need
to get to the places where both people are really ready for the steps
they are taking, sexually or otherwise. You can even talk about how
real readiness and full consent play a big part in you feeling turned
on, as they tend to with people who are paying real attention to their
partner, and want to truly, deeply connect and interrelate with them.

There are probably reasons you feel the way you do. You can
certainly bring up what those are, whether they’re about knowing people
who had sex before they were ready and had negative experiences, about
you having that issue yourself in the past, about what your ideals and
models of healthy, positive sexual relationships are and have been,
what have you. It would also be helpful to talk about what you need to
be at the place where you feel comfortable having intercourse with him.
Is it about his having a better understanding of certain risks
involved, be they physical, like pregnancy, or emotional? Is it about
wanting more time first to explore other kinds of sex and get in better
alignment with those? Is it about cooperation with birth control or
safer sex? Is it about wanting to refine your sexual communication
together more first? Is it about him understanding that intercourse all
by itself may be more physically satisfying for him than you? Whatever
it is, if you can give him a good, tangible idea of what you need, and
make it about your needs, he’ll probably be less likely to
interpret this as any sort of negative judgment about him as a person,
a man or a partner.

You can make clear that you love him, you care for him, you’re
attracted to him, and you think of him as your equal and a person of
maturity. I’d mention that having sex doesn’t mean someone is any more
or less mature, especially since so many people feel that it is. This
situation is quite a perfect example of how maturity can be about a
choice NOT to have sex. It sounds like you have strong feelings for
him, you’ve obviously wanted to be sexual with him, and yet, you’re
exercising maturity in holding off on a kind of sex that, however
wanted by you both, just doesn’t feel totally right or like it’s going
to result in the best outcome for both of you. That’s serious maturity,
just as it’s very mature for any of us to choose for ourselves not to
do something we know we’re not in the best space for yet.

I’d emphasize the fact that intercourse isn’t the only sex there is.
I know that might sound like semantics, but the thing is, oral sex and
manual sex ARE both kinds of sex, just like intercourse is a kind of
sex. I’d be sure that’s something you both recognize and acknowledge,
especially if you’re concerned he might not feel quite on par with you
in this sphere. It’s not that you feel he isn’t ready for sex: you’ve
had some kinds of sex together already, after all, and I assume you
have because you have been comfortable with your perceptions of his
readiness for those activities with you. But you just don’t
feel like, as a couple, you’re both at the place for THIS kind of sex
you’d ideally want to be at yet. And when we’re talking about a kind of
sex that not only tends to be more culturally loaded than other kinds,
and which also presents physical risks other kinds do not, that’s
particularly relevant.

While I’m at it, know that "hormones" only have so much impact. It’s
very unlikely to be hormones that make us want to have one particular
kind of sex rather than another. Our hormones, after all, don’t really
know the difference: for the most part, stimulus is stimulus as far as
they’re concerned.

What’s more likely is that intercourse is something he wants to do
because it’s another sexual activity TO do, and he enjoys sexual
activities with you. It may be something he wants to do because it’s an
activity he hasn’t done yet and is curious about, and because, as many
people do, he assumes it’ll feel good. He may also want to because so
many people frame intercourse as THE sex, as THE sexual thing that
means you have really HAD sex, as THE kind of sex that’s really about
bonding, while others aren’t. That, in fact, is probably the biggest
driver of all, far more so than hormones. Mind, none of that is
actually true in any essential way, but just like the idea that men are
always ready for sex, those kinds of ideas about intercourse are really
pervasive. I don’t know if those are ideas you hold yourself or have
been enabling (you say he’s a virgin and you’re not, so you do in at
least one way put a greater premium on intercourse as capital-S sex
than other kinds of sex), but if so, I would suggest you reconsider
them and unpack them a bit together. ALL the ways we are sexual with a
partner are real, all of them are ways we can bond together, all of
them mean we have had sex, all of them can be THE sex if we’re fully
present in it (and intercourse can be no kind of sex at all when we’re
not). The only quintessential, rather than ideological, differences
genital intercourse has from other kinds of sex are a) that we’re doing
something where our genitals are interlocking, and b) we’re doing
something that presents higher risks of infections, and if we’re
male-bodied and female-bodied, something that can potentially create a
pregnancy.

I do want to add one last thing you might want to pass on to him.
With any and every new partner, we’re all really learning for the first
time. Because you’ve "taught" him what you like with kissing doesn’t
mean that if and when he has another female partner, he’ll walk in
knowing what to do. She might like something completely different than
you do, after all, and may kiss a different way than you do. You can’t
teach him about sex with everyone: you can only teach him about sex
with you, just like he can only teach you about sex with him. We may
sometimes find common threads between one partner and others, but when
a person knows that they are always learning sex anew with a new
partner, it can help them to feel less like babes in the woods, or like
one partner is a teacher, rather than a partner. Just something
for you to remember, and that might make him feel like this joint
learning (and it is joint, because you have been learning with and
through him what he likes, too) isn’t just about the fact that he’s a
total newbie to sexual partnership and you’re The Big Expert. It’s
learning for you both because you are new to each other, not because
he’s new to sex with anyone.

As you’re saying all of this, give him the chance to share his own
thoughts and feelings, and listen to what he was to say, too. I know
you say you think he agrees with you about where he’s at, but if it
turns out he has a different perception of his readiness, it’s
important you hear that and that he feels heard. Of course, you still
get to make whatever choices you want to about if you want to have that
kind of sex with him or not: even if he and you felt he was
100% ready, that doesn’t mean it has to be a go for you if it still
doesn’t feel right, even if you don’t know quite why. Lastly, I’d be
sure to close any conversation like this making clear that you’re open
to continuing talks about this, and intend to assess this together as
you go.

That all said, my sense from what you wrote is that your feelings
are coming from such a great place that it’s hard for me to see you
mucking this up. Really. I think if you take in some of what I have
said here, use a lot of I-statements, and, most of all, lead with that
mutual respect and care you two have you’re going to do just fine, and
he’s going to feel just fine about it, as well as very deeply cared
for. I think the conversations you have about this are likely to
improve your relationship, both with where it is now, and if and when
it gets to a point where you do choose to have intercourse together.

Besides my best wishes, I’ll leave you with a few links I think you
will find helpful and which might also be good tools for the two of you
to work with together.


News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”