Kalyn Risker could have been a statistic. Every year, millions of Americans are affected by domestic violence. Nearly all of them—a whopping 98 percent—also cope with financial abuse. It’s a way for abusers to trap their partners by doing things like keeping them from looking for work, hiding financial information, or ruining credit. These victims aren’t just harmed physically. They’re held captive, made completely dependent, and stripped of self-esteem.
Risker was one of them. Her partner wouldn’t let her leave for work, so eventually she was fired. Then he beat her badly enough to shatter her eye socket. When he was arrested, she was left without an income.
Today, she runs Detroit’s Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment (SAFE), where she helps victims of economic abuse learn how to interview, write resumes, and look for jobs online. With jobs come money and with money comes independence, and many SAFE clients don’t need to rely on an abusive partner for income any more.
SAFE turns eight next week. Here’s Kalyn’s story and advice, as told to NO MORE.
In 1998, I’d been in a nearly eight-year relationship with the father of my then-four-year-old daughter. I met him when I was 19. I didn’t see the signs of abuse at first. This was only four years after the Violence Against Women Act was signed, and there wasn’t awareness.
“I thought ‘domestic violence’ was just physical.”
At the time, I was in my twenties. I didn’t have an understanding of the type of relationship I was in. And it wasn’t this way at the beginning; there was a build-up.
I didn’t recognize the other signs: Intimidation. Breaking things. Threatening gestures. Isolation. He’d hide the car keys so I couldn’t get to work at the hospital. He’d yell at me that he didn’t want me working nights at the airport, until finally they let me go because I wasn’t showing up. I just thought it was something we had to work through.
Then came Labor Day weekend 1998. My daughter was with my mother for a few days. We were in the car arguing. He punched his fist into the dashboard and left an indentation. He went to a friend’s for the night, and then he came back to assault me until he shattered my left eye socket.
Then he took me to the hospital. It felt like we were driving around the city for hours. Normally we’d take the freeway—but this time it seemed like we stopped at every red light in Detroit.
I was so scared. He was on probation for another offense, and I was afraid that he was concerned about getting arrested. I began to pray, and he started screaming at me, cussing, screaming at me to stop praying. We finally got to the hospital, and I jumped out of the moving car.
…”Men aren’t supposed to hit women.”
A woman asked what happened, and I could hear him say that I’d fallen into a desk. Then he left to move the car, and the police came. I was seeing double, triple. I’ll never forget the doctor’s checkered tie, and I’ll never forget hearing a nurse say, “We know you didn’t fall on a desk.”
When my daughter saw me, she said, “Daddy did it.” How could he do this? Someone who loved me, my best friend, the father of my child?
The only thing I could think of to say to her was this: “Men don’t hit women. Men aren’t supposed to hit women.”
He was arrested and was given five years probation. He’d been the breadwinner, so my gas was cut off. I was threatened with being repossessed. I called the national domestic violence hotline and requested counseling. Through counseling, I was able to get job leads. Interestingly, when I lived with him, I never got calls for jobs. I can’t be sure, but I think he was intercepting them. I was offered fast-food jobs, and I ended up getting a job at a payroll company. Even though I had double vision from the beating, they were patient with me.
While working full-time I got a bachelor’s degree in human resource management. And I got a master’s degree in 2012. Both degrees were funded by a scholarship by Doris Buffett’s foundation for domestic violence victims.
Now she keeps victims SAFE.
While working in human resources, I saw applications from women who didn’t have the simple things needed to get a job, like an adequate resume. I also met with people who needed help coping with abuse in their homes—whether they needed time off or had issues dealing with productivity.
In Detroit, there’s only one domestic violence shelter, with just 67 beds. Women need help. And so the idea for SAFE, Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment, was born. We provide services to survivors through workforce training and building skills needed to get a job, like writing a resume or learning to interview. We help women learn to manage their finances. Most importantly, we equip survivors with the tools to end the cycle of economic abuse. They feel financially empowered to start a new life, violence-free.
My daughter is 20 now, and I have another child as well. I bought a house in 2005. I’m engaged to a great man, and we’re getting married in 2015.
“There’s a lot of hope at the end of the tunnel. If I can come through it, anyone can.”
Are you in trouble, or do you know someone who is? Here are some of Kalyn’s tips for dealing with an economically abusive situation.
- Don’t wear interview clothes out of the house. Take the clothes with you and change en route.
- Conceal your job-hunting efforts. Don’t tell your parents, best friend, or even your kids your plans. They could accidentally let things slip.
- Job-hunt at the library or at public schools, if you’re a parent there. Many public schools have federal funding that allows this.
- Delete your cell phone browser history.
- Google is great for better anonymity. You can set up a separate email address, upload bank statements to Google Drive, and use Google Voice to transfer calls to any other phone. (Learn more tips here.)
- Formulate an action plan with a counselor or an advocate about getting credit history. Send letters to creditors. It’s a rebuilding process, but it can be done.
- When writing a resume, think creatively. Says Kalyn, “I helped a woman who’d worked for Burger King. Her resume had four words: ‘I cooked the food.’ I asked her: Did you talk to customers? Did you use a cash register? It came out that she interacted with customers, worked with money, and was never late—not once! She went from looking at the floor to flashing a huge smile.”
- Cliché as it sounds, take care of yourself first before getting into a new relationship.
Join us in saying NO MORE to Financial Abuse.
Learn more at SAFE, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and help raise awareness about financial abuse by sharing this blog with family, friends, and coworkers.