Throughout the year, the twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and the recession it spurred have disproportionately hurt Black and Latinx communities across the country. A new study from the nonprofit Me Too has found that survivors of sexual violence in these communities have been particularly vulnerable to financial instability caused by the pandemic—thus making them more likely to return to their abusers.
The report, “Measuring the Economic Impact of Covid-19 on Survivors of Color,” documents the specific social and economic impacts Black and Latinx survivors have faced this past year. Released on Wednesday, the study found that financial insecurity was highest among Black women and Latinas, with almost twice as many of these survivors experiencing financial hardship because of COVID-19 than white women.
“What we found, while sobering, wasn’t shocking,” said Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement. “COVID-19 illuminates the ways in which our social and economic safety net catches some while allowing those who are most vulnerable to fall through the cracks.”
The study is further evidence of how porous America’s social safety net is for its most vulnerable people—with a few thousand dollars marking the difference between being able to live without an abusive partner or having to return to one.
On average, women who reported a high likelihood of returning to their abusers had access to about $3,700, while survivors who said there was no likelihood of reconciling with their abusers had about $8,300 in available funds.
That means about $4,600—a relatively small amount of money that, nevertheless, is still far more than many Americans have in their savings accounts—was the difference between liberation and continuing to live in a cycle of abuse.
This disparity got worse when overlaid with race and ethnic background. The report found that survivors of color had far less than the aforementioned $3,700—slightly more than $1,500, in fact—while white survivors, on average, had access to more than $9,000.
The report also found that essential workers—a field in which women of color are over-represented—were also more likely to experience housing and food insecurity. The combination of these factors means that Black women and Latinas were far more likely than their white peers to return to abusers.
The findings highlight the precarious economic position Black women, in particular, have always occupied in America, and the larger, more destructive effects of that imbalance. Before the pandemic, Black women were already working in a “Jim Crow labor market,” which saw them funneled toward lower-paying positions in lower-wage fields. The pandemic unleashed even more pain: over the course of the year, around 1.4 million jobs held by Black women were wiped out once COVID-19 hit American shores.
According to a recent report from The 19th, Black women were also “one of the only groups for whom unemployment during the pandemic went up from one month to the next, while for others it went down.”
This financial vulnerability is one of the foundations of abusive partnerships, and can be seen in myriad ways: an abusive partner may dictate that their significant other quit their job, or require access to (and subsequently drain) their partner’s bank accounts. They may sabotage employment opportunities for their partner, or impose strict limits on how they can spend their money. As HuffPost writes, experts say economic abuse is present in 99 percent of abusive relationships.
This economic vulnerability doesn’t just make survivors more dependent on their abusers, it also limits their ability to seek solutions and resources, Burke pointed out.
“When it comes to issues such as safe and affordable housing, mental health support, and economic insecurity, survivors of sexual violence are most at risk, with Black and Brown survivors experiencing a ‘collision of crises’ that were already detrimental to communities of color,” she noted. “COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on the ways in which our social and economic safety net catches some while allowing those who are most vulnerable to fall through the cracks.”
The study also highlights the need for government interventions—whether on the local, state and federal levels. As the year seems likely to close without a second stimulus check from the government, Black and Latinx survivors will face an even more difficult and tumultuous holiday season without a lifeline.
Me Too CEO Dani Ayers said she hopes the study spurs the government to take some action.
“As health and policy leaders continue to work on a vaccine and solutions to stop the spread, we hope this study encourages them to prioritize the immediate steps needed to keep those of us who don’t have the resources to recover as quickly as others on our feet,” said Ayers. “Survivors cannot wait. A one-time, $1,200 check will never be enough.”