Survivors of domestic violence often face financial exploitation — and that can make it more difficult to leave their partners. A bill introduced in the Texas Senate aims to help survivors by making it a state jail felony to threaten someone into taking on debt.
Brandon Formby is a reporter with the Texas Tribune and has been following the issue.
Interview Highlights: Brandon Formby
On what economic abuse means:
There's a lot of behaviors that fall under this umbrella. Generally speaking it's when one partner controls finances of another, whether that's controlling all the bank accounts and credit cards.
But it can also be when they secretly use their personal information to take out credit cards in their partner's name [and] rack up debt that their partners don't know about.
On legal options for the exploited:
Right now, there's not a lot. That makes it really hard for people who do get out of domestic violence situations to undo the bad credit — to undo the debt that they carry with them, which makes it so hard to find a place to live.
It can be hard to get a [credit] card or find a job, and one of the reasons is because a lot of times financial institutions will say "You know you signed this, so you're on the hook for it" when really, from their point of view, they didn't have a choice but to sign it because they were being threatened with violence or other kinds of repercussions.
On recovering from partner credit card abuse:
If they do it without the partner's knowledge, they can be charged with identity theft. But in these coerced debt situations, that's where a lot of times victims have trouble convincing police or financial institutions to take reports or get things off their credit.
A new bill in the Texas Senate — Bill 269 — from Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would make threatening somebody to take on credit or you know finance something the same state jail felony as identity theft.
On Texas Senate Bill 269:
It adds two words to the penal code on identity theft: effective consent.
That would not only allow law enforcement to prosecute spouses or partners who do this, but it also helps victims. They can take those police reports and they can take court documents to financial institutions and it helps them get things off their credit and get debts out of their name.
On what victims can do now:
A lot of people suggest getting a lawyer.
One of the victims I talked to credited her lawyer with helping her fight financial institutions to get debts out of her name, even debts that were left to her ex-husband in the divorce decree, and to get things taken off of her credit that she didn't take on.
Brandon Formby is a reporter for The Texas Tribune.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for clarity.