Kerry Washington is using her celebrity, her love for fashion, and her designing skills for a good cause: to empower women to escape from financial abuse, which is present in 98 percent of cases of domestic abuse. When I asked Kerry why the issue was so important, I saw she was just as sharp, articulate and passionate as the Olivia Pope character she portrays on Scandal.
In 2014, the Allstate Foundation asked Washington to design a purple purse to call attention to financial abuse and raise money — $2.5 million — for foundations which fight against it. And this year, they did it again, unveiling Washington’s new purse at a purple carpet event at the Plaza in New York last week.
When I asked Washington why she chose to behind this campaign, she said,
I had never really heard of financial abuse before but then I learned it’s the number one reason why women stay in abusive relationships and why they go back even after they’ve left. They don’t feel like they can take care of themselves financially. And I thought this is a way I can do work on an issue I’ve been involved with for a long time, violence against women, and be part of a really tangible solution, giving them the tools to do it and doing it through fashion. It was so many things that I love coming together.
I’ve always seen domestic abuse as complex and as a social issue, a psychological issue, an emotional issue. But it’s so much a financial issue. And identifying the financial issue makes me feel really hopeful. Because I feel like all those other issues are very important but allowing a woman to have the tools to have the financial independence to leave an abusive partner let’s her really tackle all the other issues.
One out of four women report experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes. The Purple Purse Program explains that financial abuse “prevents victims from acquiring, using or maintaining financial resources. Financial abuse is just as effective in controlling a victim as a lock and key. Victims of financial abuse live a controlled life where they have been purposely put into a position of dependence, making it hard for the victim to break free.” Financial abusers do things like control how money is spent; withhold money from their partner or grant it in the form of an “allowance;” forbid their partner from working; or steal their partner’s money, identity, property or credit. According to a survey commissioned by the Allstate Foundation in 2014, 98 percent of women in abusive relationships reported that financial abuse was one of the things that kept them with their partners.
Though financial abuse is almost always an integral part of domestic abuse, and affects all socioeconomic classes, most people are unfamiliar with this epidemic. Seventy-eight percent of survey participants, for instance, hadn’t heard much about financial abuse as an aspect of domestic violence. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents said their family or friends wouldn’t know if they were in a financially abusive relationship and seventy percent can’t say they would know how to help them.
Check out the resources available at the Purple Purse Program, including a curriculm to help people identify if they’re in a financially abusive relationship. If you want to support the cause and can afford it, buy a purse or a charm. And read our Feministing Five interview with Washington from awhile back.