Serena Williams is in her second year as an ambassador raising awareness about financial abuse
Ninety-nine percent of domestic violence cases involve some form of financial abuse
Being a mother has affected tennis superstar Serena Williams in countless ways. For one, it has motivated her to use her voice, she told CNN.
Williams, a 23-time grand slam tennis champ and seeded 25th heading into next week’s Wimbledon Championships, started speaking out about the financial abuse aspects of domestic violence last year when she was pregnant with her first child, Alexis Olympia, born in September.
During an interview last year, she spoke about the importance of her work and now says this means even more because she has a daughter, she said.
“It makes it so much more important for me because this could be me. It could be my daughter. It could be my niece,” said Williams, an ambassador for the Allstate Foundation Purple Purse program.
Purple Purse, founded in 2005, was created to raise awareness and help survivors discover the tools they need to recover from financial abuse.
“It is so important for me to raise my voice so my daughter would feel comfortable if she were unfortunate enough to go through a situation like this,” said Williams. “So for me, that’s even more reason to speak up and to let the kids know, especially the new generation, let them know early it’s not okay and it is okay to speak up about it before it goes way too far.”
Williams said she also got involved because the statistics are “shocking.” One in four women will be affected by domestic violence at some point in their lives and of those who experience it, a staggering 99% will suffer from financial abuse, according to Purple Purse.
“No one really talks about it,” said Williams. “You hear about domestic violence, which is awful, and no one talks about all the stuff that goes along with it.”
Abusers can lock off access to a credit card or checking account, run up debt in a victim’s name and take other steps to make it economically difficult to leave the abusive relationship. In fact, finances are often one of the main reasons women can’t leave, according to Purple Purse.
“There are cases of women that are not allowed to work. They’re given very little money. They have to show receipts. They have to show every single dime that they spent to make sure that they’re not saving money to try to leave the situation,” said Williams.
“It’s an incredible way to keep women down and to keep them in this awful position where they can’t get away.”
Despite #MeToo, still a taboo subject
While the #MeToo movement has led to a greater awareness and conversation around sexual harassment and sexual assault, unfortunately, we haven’t seen the same cultural change for domestic violence.
In fact, according to a survey this year by Purple Pursue, 34% of Americans think discussing domestic violence is taboo, an increase from 24% four years earlier.
“I think it’s so ingrained in our culture that it’s private and people are afraid because so often for the abuser, it’s really all about control and [victims] are afraid,” said Vicky Dinges, senior vice president for corporate responsibility for Allstate, one of the largest insurance providers in the United States. “The most dangerous time for a domestic violence victim is when they’re ready to leave. It’s almost as if an abuser can sense it.”
People also don’t know how to talk about it, said Dinges. That’s part of the reason why this year’s Purple Purse campaign involves unveiling six murals by female artists, which will appear in six cities around the United States.
The first one, displayed in New York, is made up of words, with “financial abuse” and “hiding in plain sight” repeated throughout. The hope is people will share these murals on social media and help make financial abuse less invisible, she said.
“People just feel that it’s such a private issue and we wanted to use something in pop culture that could bring some greater attention to the issue, and bring it out of the shadows so to speak so that’s why we decided to do the street art,” said Dinges.
As part of last year’s campaign, Purple Purse released a new public service announcement. A hidden camera captured passengers getting into a Lyft car and finding a purple purse. Inside that purse, they discover a phone and see a series of abusive text messages, including “You’re too stupid to manage money” and “Good luck paying a lawyer when you have no money.”
In the video, the passengers connect by phone with the woman and give her back her purse, but then they leave. The PSA asks, “If you knew somebody needed help, would you know what to do?”
People often don’t know what to do when they encounter financial abuse, said Dinges. Two out of three said they would not know how to help a victim of financial abuse, the 2018 survey found.
“Because they’re not educated, because they don’t know about this invisible way of controlling someone, they kind of just let it be,” she said.
PurplePurse.com offers a list of resources in the US, including providing contact information for the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE) and the National Network to End Domestic Violence, which has coalitions in every state that can help people find shelter, financial guidance and local support.
The program also offers tips on how to have the conversation with a loved one, such as the importance of expressing support and concern about their safety, letting them make their own decisions and providing ways to get help, such as finding resources and telling them things such as, “Let’s develop a safety plan.”
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Williams hopes by using her voice she can help get more people talking about it, and the more people who talk about it the more people will be aware it exists and how they can help.
“It’s an ugly topic,” said Williams. “Let’s be honest. It’s not something that people want to talk about or if you’re going through it, you sometimes feel embarrassed to talk about it.”
It doesn’t matter “what color you are, what country you’re from,” she said. “So for me, that’s even more reason to speak up.”