Get Real! I’ve Had to Lie to Get Him to Stop Pressuring Me for Sex

Heather Corinna

One part of readiness for sexual partnership -- and it's a biggie -- is being able to hear, accept and respect another person's limits and boundaries, not just using someone else to get your rocks off.

This column is published in partnership with Scarleteen.com.

anaxelisz asks:

I lied
to my boyfriend and told him I was raped. I know rape is nothing to
joke about at all. My mother was raped as a child. But it is the first
thing that came to mind! He’s always trying to get me to have sex with
him, and I’m just not ready. He’s not the kind of guy you can just sit
down with and explain that too..that’s just not him and hes a
virgin..but he does get "head" sometimes. (Not while I’ve been with him
of course..] But anyway I told him I was raped and that I’m not ready
to have sex after that happened to me and that it scares me because it
will remind me of what happened. Well, that lie got old and now he’s
starting to ask me again and again. What do I tell him ? I’m stressing
over this and hes not the kind of guy I can just say "I’m not ready to
do this..or that" to. Please help. I’m young, only 14 and hes 15
but..what to do ?!

Heather Corinna replies:

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I
think that when it feels like the only way you can get someone to take
no or "I’m not ready yet" for an answer is to lie and say you were
sexually assaulted, that you probably know all you need to know. Same
goes for someone who you say you cannot sit down and talk to about
saying you aren’t ready.

In other words, THIS guy clearly isn’t ready for sex with a partner, either, from the sounds of things. Not even close.

One part of readiness for sexual partnership — and it’s a biggie —
is being able to hear, accept and respect another person’s limits and
boundaries, and to really be interested in a sexual partnership, not
just in using someone else to get your rocks off.

In a bonafide sexual partnership, when we are ready for that, we do
not WANT to have sex with someone else who also does not share that
desire as strongly as we feel it, because we are invested in the
pleasure and comfort of BOTH of us. In a healthy sexual partnership,
when a partner tells us they don’t want to do something, we don’t keep
coming at them with whatever we are offering again and again: we figure
they know what we want from voicing it the one time, and that if and
when they are ready, the ball is in their court to throw back.

Someone being very pushy about sex one partner does not want (and he
knows you don’t by now), someone who you don’t feel comfortable talking
with about sex and/or your limits, someone who is "not the kind of guy"
you can just tell you don’t want sex yet to isn’t the kind of guy (or
girl) to be with in a relationship where sex is a factor. So, if you
cannot just tell him you are not ready, and he cannot hear that and
accept that, your best bet is not to be with this guy at all. The kind
of guy anyone can have a healthy, happy and safe relationship
with IS the kind of guy who you can tell you just aren’t ready and who
can handle that, no problem. And there are plenty of those "kinds of
guys" out there.

You’re right, you are young, and so is he. Bear in mind that often,
boys mature physically and emotionally at a later schedule than girls,
so while there are certainly exceptions, it can be sage to figure that
his 15 can be a lot more like your 12 or 13. Now, some young people at
14 and 15 have more maturity than others, but it’s sounding to me like
that isn’t the case here. And it is safe to say that given all the
responsibilities sex entails, all the communication skills, and all the
possible risks it poses that more people than not, at your age AND his,
are not ready for sex. That’s obviously the case with both of you in
this scenario.

I see you as having two good options with this: you can
either go ahead and try and have an honest, clear conversation with him
about not wanting to have any kind of sex with him yet, or you can just
go ahead and quit your relationship with this guy.

My personal feeling is that based on what you have said here, this
is someone who just isn’t ready for an intimate relationship yet, and
someone who you don’t feel — and I can understand why — comfortable
with in this kind of relationship. If he’s not someone you can talk to
comfortably and honestly when you’re saying something he doesn’t like,
the rest of your relationship probably isn’t so great, either. That
given, I’d suggest just shifting to a platonic friendship or breaking
off the relationship full-stop.

In any relationship, we deserve to feel safe, we deserve to feel our
limits and boundaries will be respected, and we should feel comfortable
being honest about what we want and need and have every expectation
that our partners will not want to push us to do anything we don’t
want. Without those things and more, we’re unlikely to have a good
relationship. And there’s no sense pursuing or continuing any
relationship that isn’t likely to be a good one, you know? It might be
a good exercise for you to really think about what you want in a
relationship: do you want someone pushing for sex all the time,
especially when it’s likely very clear that’s what HE wants — for
himself, not because he thinks it’s something you’ll like, too — and
very clear it is NOT what you do? Does that kind of dynamic really look
good to you or feel good for you? Probably not: it wouldn’t for most
people, and it isn’t what a healthy relationship looks like.

I’d also consider that while you did tell a lie, if his
understanding is that you are a rape survivor, and yet he is still
pushing for sex — and has made no effort to ask how to address sex
with a survivor, what he can do to make YOU feel safe and comfortable
— that shows a pretty profound lack of sensitivity and care on his
part, as well as showing us more about a lack of maturity.

But if you feel like this has been and is, otherwise, a good
relationship for you, that this is someone you do care for deeply who
cares for you just as much back and want to give this another try, then
you will need to sit down and have that conversation.

If you’re going to do that, I’d suggest a script like this, which is very honest, but I think that’s the way to go:

I need to talk to you about something important, and
it’s really important you hear me. I did something I need to tell you
about: I lied about being raped to you because I didn’t know how else
to get you to stop pushing me for sex I don’t want. I don’t feel good
about that, and I’m sorry for lying. I will understand if you’re angry
with me about that lie, but I also want to tell you why I told it.

I need for you to understand that I do not feel ready for sex
with you, and it is not what I want right now. If and when I do want
it, I will let you know. I get that it’s something you want, but the
way you keep putting that out there makes me feel very pressured and
uncomfortable, and it also makes me feel like you are ignoring my
needs. I haven’t felt like I could tell you I don’t want that and have
you respect that, which is some of why I lied. I’m trying to tell you
honestly now. So, what I need now if we are going to stay together is
for you to stop bringing sex up, and to understand that I am just not
ready, and your pushing me isn’t okay. Please hear me when I say I do
not want to have sex with you now, and do not know if and when I will,
especially if you keep pressuring me like you have been.

Can you accept that? Are you still comfortable having a relationship
with me with that limit — even if it means I’m not ready for sex for
another year or two — and do you think you can really respect it? If
not, then we should talk about maybe being friends instead or just
going our own separate way entirely.

You might even want to bring up that some of his behaviors show you
that HE isn’t ready, either, and mention things like his inability to
respect boundaries, or what seems like a pretty selfish push for sex
that’s more about him and what he wants just for himself than about
really being with you. You could also talk about what you WILL need if
and when you are ready for sex, and how that includes things like
really being heard, like feeling safe enough to be honest, like feeling
like it’s always okay for you to say no and that any sexual partner of
yours is someone you expect to handle a no with maturity. heck, you
might even bring up the fact that when anyone has sex because someone
else pressures or coerces them into it, we ARE talking about rape.

Then you give him a chance to absorb that and respond. He may or may
not want to continue a relationship that isn’t sexual if what he wants
is a sexual relationship. That’s okay, as we all get to choose the
kinds of relationships that are what we want. Mind, like I said, it
doesn’t sound to me like this guy is ready for sex with someone else,
but that’s a moot point when it comes to what choices he makes. He may
— and that’s valid — also be angry with you about you telling him
that big whopper of a lie.

If he does say he needs sex in this relationship, and so you two
should split up if that’s not something you want, I’d encourage you not
to take that personally or to cave and have sex you don’t want, aren’t
ready for, and would be having with someone who is being so pushy about
it. Again, you don’t just want any relationship, but a good one that
makes you feel good, right? If so, then having relationships with
people who are on the same page as us with this stuff is important, and
there are other potential people out there for you who won’t be pushy
about sex, who will do just fine respecting your limits, and who even
will be in the same place you are right now, where sex isn’t something
they want yet. Same goes for first sexual relationships where the sex
is not pressured: sex is very unlikely to be something that’s good for
you when it’s something you do under duress, and someone who can’t deal
with limits and boundaries with having sex is also likely to be someone
you’re going to have troubles with when it comes to birth control and
safer sex issues, areas where your health and life is the one most at
risk.

If he DOES say he can honor that limit, then you can give this some
time and see if he makes good on that. It is possible that your ideas
(and mine) about his ability to handle this kind of honesty and
communication, and to respect limits may not be right: he may surprise
both of us and do just fine with this, especially when, rather than
making up a story about rape, you are being clear and honest.

If he agrees to honor that limit but in a while goes right back to
pushing for sex again, then at that point, I’d say it’s time to stop
trying and to just move on. You can wait for a relationship with
someone who can both respect your limits and honor any agreements they
make with you. You deserve that: everyone does.

I’m not going to dwell on the lie you told, but I do want to
reiterate that fabricating a rape really isn’t okay, especially in
terms of how that can impact actual rape survivors. (For instance, your
boyfriend may, after you disclose your lie, then have the idea that all
rapes are made-up stories, which can contribute to our culture as a
whole not believing actual victims.) As a survivor myself, I am always
very troubled when I hear about someone using rape for their own
purposes in this way. But I think you already know that your doing that
was unethical and not okay to do.

More importantly for you in this, I think, is recognizing that when
we’re inclined to do something like that, and feel we have no other
choice, that’s a feeling we need to pay big-time attention to. A
feeling like that tells us a lot about our lack of trust with that
person, and our feelings of not being safe and respected: in a word, if
we feel the need to do something like that, we’re probably not feeling
like we can trust them, not feeling safe, and not feeling respected. If
and when all that is going on, it’s usually best to not be around
someone, at all, who causes us to feel that way. In other words, that’s
an instinct you should listen to: it can help keep you safe, and also
help guide you away from relationships that aren’t good for you, and
towards those which are. When we’re with someone safe, someone who
cares for us or has the ability (and maturity) to, we will feel
comfortable voicing limits honestly, and not like we have to make up
stories to get them to back off.

Too, if we have a huge honking lie in the middle of a relationship,
we can’t have a very good relationship. If it feels like someone
everything is still fine if and when we are massively misrepresenting
ourselves, then chances are we’re not being really all-there in the
relationship and that the whole works is a bit of a farce. And if we
ever have to misrepresent ourselves to someone we are close to in order
to be safe, that is a huge problem that tells us a lot about…well,
how very much a relationship seriously sucks.

I’m going to leave you with a handful of links to read, including
some on healthy and unhealthy relationships, on sexual readiness, and
on communication about sex with a partner. I hope after reading this
and some of those, you can make a choice about this relationship that
feels most right for you, and which is most likely to net you a healthy
relationship, whether than is this one, or whether that is another,
better relationship down the road.


Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

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.”