What is the price of a woman? Apparently 200 camels. At least, that’s what I learned as a 16-year-old girl on a family trip to Egypt. It was my first example of an indicator of financial abuse.
I remember it like it was yesterday. A middle-aged man wearing an dishdasha (the long white robe worn by Arab men) approached my father and gestured to me. He said something we could not understand, so we asked a translator. The man was asking my father if he would sell me for 200 camels. Apparently, that was my value as a young woman.
My dad always tries to find humor in even the most deplorable situations. So he asked the man what he would do with 200 camels in Nevada, our home.
Needless to say, there was no sale.
But I learned that, women are bought and sold like grain and livestock. As many teenage girls would do, I internalized the exchange. I felt fury, confusion, and disbelief all at once.
In America, we may not be selling women for camels. But a subtler type of manipulation and control is exerted in relationships in regards to finances. It’s called financial abuse and financial infidelity.
Financial abuse, a tactic used by one party in a relationship to gain power over another by controlling, limiting access to, or concealing a family’s finances, is the troubling result of women not having a voice in their financial destinies.
Financial infidelity is equally as damaging. This usually entails one party concealing — or outright lying about — joint assets or a spending or gambling addiction. It can range from lying about a small purchase to concealing a bank account. Both affect women disproportionately.
How deep is this problem in our society?
Today, CentSai released a survey of 2,064 millennials. According to this: 63 percent of women either have been financially abused or have been victims of financial infidelity.
The male perpetrator is not always the sexual monster trying to feel you up in the hallway. In fact, both men and women who have been abused are often struggling with a tangible sense that something is wrong, but they often can’t quite place their finger on it.
An abuser can also be the husband, wife, or partner who encouraged you to pursue your college dream. But instead of setting aside money for your basic amenities has been overspending on their own non-essential interests.
To be sure, CentSai’s study shows a sizable number — 37 percent — of perpetrators are female, as well. Understandable. At CentSai, a second credit card holder hiding their spending, risking the primary card holder’s credit rating, is abuse.
Whether the overspending is driven by misunderstanding compound interest, salivating over a new pair of Manolos, or helping out a family member in a clandestine way, we will never know. But dishonesty is abuse, regardless of the intent.
So why should anyone care about financial abuse or infidelity?
For one, it has a brutal impact on one’s self-esteem and ability to trust. It leads to depression, despair, and in some cases suicide. Not to mention the financial ruin it can cause.
In our survey, less than half of the alleged perpetrators — 48 percent — faced any consequences. What’s more, a mere three percent said the perpetrators faced any legal action.
Are we dealing with a social problem that needs to be tackled head on? Absolutely! But the immediate issue at hand is educating the victims — help them understand that they are victims in the first place.
This article was originally published by the author in the Huffington Post on Tuesday, May 17, 2016.