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Financial abuse can trap domestic violence survivors. A new program will help them gain independence

A hand with a pen signs a lease document. Nearby are a pair of house keys.
Wasan Tita
Stewards of the new program, which will include a savings match, say it will help survivors get to a point where they can rent from a landlord or take out a loan from a bank.

The Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence unveiled a new program Tuesday that will try to improve economic outcomes for survivors of abuse.

Ari Menard, an advocate at Circle, a Network member that serves survivors in Washington County, said financial abuse is often the “single-biggest barrier” to recovery for people who escape abusive households.

“People are coming to me with credit scores of 480, and I am having to help them get those credit scores up to a place where a landlord might actually rent to them, or a bank might ever consider giving them a loan for anything,” Menard said.

Menard said those low credit ratings are a result of financial abuse in which a person prevents a partner from working, maxes out credit cards in their name, or forces them to co-sign on a loan.

More from Vermont Edition: Women's Freedom Center marks 50 years working with domestic violence survivors

A $100,000 grant from M&T Bank will fund a new “economic empowerment” program at the Network that will teach survivors how to improve their credit scores and regain their financial footing.

“This is one meaningful way to address the cost of violence in our communities,” Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said Tuesday.

A woman stands at a podium. Four people stand behind her while she speaks.
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Karen Tronsgard-Scott, the executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says the new "economic empowerment" program will help survivors move forward after financial abuse.

Tronsgard-Scott said the grant will also fund a savings match program that will help survivors reestablish their lives.

“So at the end of a period of time, they can come away with enough money for a deposit on an apartment or on a car or to pay off utility bills that are sitting outstanding leftover from their abusive relationship,” she said.

News of the program came as Gov. Phil Scott signed a proclamation Tuesday declaring this week “Sexual Violence and Abuse Awareness Week.”

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