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#RealEstateReset: How One Woman Broke The Chains of Domestic Violence And Financial Abuse To Became A Homeowner

Stacey Tisdale5-minute read

November 10, 2020

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If you look at Star Hogan’s life today, it’s hard to imagine that the 50-year-old mother of three, grandmother of five, and proud homeowner, was trapped in a cycle of financial abuse by her former partner.

"I met my abuser while in college. I was a freshman and he was a sophomore," says Hogan. "After we became serious, I thought, 'We're going to graduate with our degrees, have 2.5 kids, a house, a dog, and all that good stuff.'

"We dated for a couple years before he started really doing the controlling and manipulating things in our relationship that I really didn't understand," she continues. "But I just thought, 'Oh, it's so wonderful. He loves me so much. He's just possessive of me.'"

Hogan could have never imagined that those early signs of possessiveness were omens of what was about to become a 15-year nightmare that would drain her financially, psychologically and emotionally, and even put her in physical danger.

Early Signs Flashing Bright

While Hogan and her partner were in the "honeymoon" phase of their relationship, life dealt her an unexpected blow in her sophomore year.

"I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and that pulled me away from college and sent me on another survival cycle as I dealt with chemotherapy and radiation for the next year of my life," says Hogan.

"But in the process of my treatments for my cancer, I was actually still experiencing physical, emotional and psychological abuse. That continued through the next 15 years, even through the birth of our two children," she adds.

Hogan says one of the most prevalent and foundational forms of abuse throughout their relationship was one that very few victims and outsiders know or recognize.

"There was a lot of economic and financial abuse in our relationship, which just is probably the most unrecognizable of the abuses that go on in domestic violence or intimate partner violence relationships," says Hogan.

Unrecognizable and rarely acknowledged. According to the Allstate Foundation, financial abuse – disempowering a victim by controlling their financial life – occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, and is the number one reason victims stay in or return to abusive relationships. That means nearly all of the 1 in 4 victims experiencing intimate partner physical violence in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, wear these financial chains that bind them to abusers.

“It looks different and it can be multiple incidents,” says Kim Pentico, director of economic justice at the National Network To End Domestic Violence.

“It can be everything from stealing money out of my wallet to running up a line of credit. There is a refusal to pay bills, showing up drunk to take care of kids so that the victim can’t go to work, or sabotaging employment so that the victim gets fired. It can be really subtle and hard to identify.”

“There’s not a lot to be done about it. There’s not a lot of great interventions for many survivors, so it’s super slick in that way and it is also incredibly effective. We know from survivors that they often return because of finances or they’re unable to leave because of finances … Very effective,” Pentico adds.

Learn more about Star’s story in our latest episode of #RealEstateReset!

Destruction By Any Means Necessary

Hogan’s abuser became more and more insecure as she worked to rebuild her life and start a career.

“I went back to school, secured a better job, and was working on a career,” she says. “I ended up finishing my undergraduate degree. I was moving up at this time. I was working in banking. I was working in institutional trust, in the employee benefits. I was making some nice career strides for myself and making more money than I thought was possible for me as a Black woman in corporate America.

“With every accomplishment that I made personally, regarding my education, my career, the kids, he became more threatened by my accomplishments and my perceived success. His tactics got more and more desperate," she adds.

Desperate enough to try to get her fired. It got to the point where she enlisted the support of her employer.

“He would call me continuously at work, which was very disruptive. He would pop in at my job, and it got so bad that my boss actually had to move me to a secured floor," says Hogan.

She says all of this was an attempt to get her to be more dependent on him, which experts say is a common tactic of abusers.

Setting Yourself Free

By the time this was happening to Hogan, she had already taken crucial steps toward breaking free. She’d begun to see a therapist in secret and was saving part of her salary in an account her partner could not access.

“With every stride that I made toward my independence, the abuse grew and became more drastic, and it was by the grace of God that I made it out with my sanity,” she says.

Afterward, Hogan struggled to make ends meet as a single mother. She also had to rebuild her confidence, but she was determined that she and her children would have a home of their own where they could heal and grow.

Then in 2006, Habitat for Humanity accepted her application and she and her two children soon had that home.

Star Hogan house

“It has been truly a safe haven and like a little sanctuary for us. It gave them a greater sense of stability and safety and belonging. It provided just the right foundation that they needed. I just can’t even put it into words, but every time I walk through the door, I still say thank you because it was that magnificent of an accomplishment for me,” says Hogan.

Helping Hands

As a journalist, I began covering financial abuse nearly a decade ago when I learned about its prevalence in the financial lives of so many women, and its significance in identifying people who are at high risk of being victims of physical violence from relationship partners.

One thing that is striking about Hogan’s story is how many things she did right when it comes to breaking out of abusive relationships.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Allstate Foundation actually have a financial literacy curriculum for financial abuse victims, and Hogan did many of the things they recommend.

“It is in many ways a very traditional financial literacy curriculum. We talk about budgeting and credit and how banks work, loans and long-term planning, but what really sets it apart is module one,” says Pentico. “That module is all about what is economic abuse and how to do financial safety planning within the context of domestic violence. And then we weave those concepts throughout the rest of the curriculum.”

Pentico’s organization has also gone a step further to help financial abuse victims rebuild their credit and realize financial goals such as homeownership.

“This is credit building through a micro lending program,” Pentico says. “We offer $100 no-fee, no-interest loans to survivors of domestic violence to help them rebuild their credit. They pay the loan back $10 a month for 10 months. We report those payments to the three credit bureaus, and over time, we see an average score increase by over 30 points over the lifetime of the loan.”

Most importantly, Hogan and people like Pentico who have committed their lives to helping domestic violence victims want to remind all that even in their darkest of moments, they are not alone.

Watch the full 3rd episode of #RealEstateReset here.

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Stacey Tisdale

Award-winning on air financial journalist and author, Stacey Tisdale was the first woman and first African-American to report from the New York Stock Exchange in her role as a reporter/anchor for Emmy award winning Wall Street Journal Television. During her 20-year career, Stacey has reported for some of the greatest news organizations in the world including, CBS, CNN, PBS, the Today Show, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. As founder and CEO of multi-media content provider, Mind Money Media Inc., Stacey uses her personal finance and media platforms to educate her audiences about all aspects of our complex relationship with money, as well as the ways in which socioeconomics, gender, race, age, orientation, and culture, play out in our financial experiences and careers.