This article originally appeared in AdvocateDaily.com on February 1, 2019, and was written by Patricia MacInnis.
One of these stereotypes is the cliche of the younger, ambitious woman — commonly referred to as a gold-digger — who seeks out a wealthy older man to satisfy her material needs, says Tsinman, founder and principal of Tsinman Law.
“I’m not denying that predatory marriages exist,” she says. “But in some cases, it’s actually the reverse of what appears on the surface: older men who are financially well-off are preying on younger women with limited means and resources, often destroying their self-esteem on the way. As opposed to looking at her as a gold-digger, we should consider that she may be a victim.”
Tsinman says snap judgments based on how a relationship looks are not helpful in revealing the true nature of such unions, which is often that one partner is exercising power and control over the other.
In her practice, she works with clients, primarily women, who became involved with their superiors at work — not based on genuine, mutual attraction, but because they felt pressure to return the man’s advances.
“This is known as coerced caring,” Tsinman says. “It arises when your financial interests are aligned with the person you’re working for. As a result, you start caring for that person and doing everything you can to ensure their success,” including entering into a relationship with them.
“As a result of the pressure of the financial interest alliance, the male boss will start to take advantage of this caring. The woman feels trapped, as though she doesn’t have a choice. This is her job and livelihood. Her career is on the line,” she says.
To illustrate the point, Tsinman recalls the story of one of her distant relatives, a Jewish woman with a child who became romantically linked to a Nazi officer during the occupation in Europe.
“They had marital relations,” she says. “She had to rely on him for all her and her son’s needs because it was a life-and-death situation for her and her child. She traded sex for another day of life.”
Traditional gender roles and financial dynamics play a pivotal role in enabling these kinds of relationships, Tsinman says.
“When a client comes to me for legal advice, I often ask, ‘If you were not financially dependent on this person, would you still have feelings for him?’ Many of them say no,” she says.
Tsinman says one way to create an equal footing for women is through the expansion of tort law, penalizing those who exploit their economic power and degrade a woman’s personhood.
“Currently, there’s no tort of intentional infliction of mental suffering in the context of economic coercion of sex, but there have been cases where women were awarded damages based on violence and abuse they experienced during their unions,” she says, pointing to a 2009 decision where a judge relied on the tort of intentional infliction of mental distress to award damages of $15,000 to the woman.
In a recent paper, Tsinman says the inherent difficulty with a predatory marriage is in reconciling the injustice caused to the vulnerable and/or incapable spouse since such relationships are not easily challenged in law.
“By recognizing the mental suffering of victims of economic coercion, we can protect vulnerable people from destruction of their dignity,” she says.