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Economic coercion not bound by social class

This article originally appeared on AdvocateDaily.com on June 4, 2019, and was written by Patricia MacInnis, AdvocateDaily.com Senior Editor

“It’s time for the public to wake up. These attitudes are everywhere.”

The murder of a prominent family physician by her neurosurgeon husband demonstrates that violence and domestic abuse transcend socioeconomic status, says Toronto family lawyer Inna Tsinman.

“The question this case raises is why did an intelligent woman who had access to financial resources — and knew it was not in the best interests of her children to stay — still not leave her husband?” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “From the various media reports, it appears, at least in part, that the answer lies in the fact he was financially controlling her.”

The Toronto Sun reports that the mother of the murdered physician told reporters that the husband, who was recently sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 14 years, stockpiled money in his name while his wife didn’t even have her own bank account.

“Even from behind bars, he was trying to remain in control, possibly trying to bankrupt us through court processes,” the mother said in a statement.

Maclean’s reports that financial control frequently occurs in affluent abuse, and while a woman may be worth millions on paper, she might not have access to family bank accounts.

Tsinman, principal of Tsinman Law, says she frequently sees intelligent, professional women in her practice who are being controlled psychologically and financially by an abusive partner but do not leave the situation.

“This is not the first case where I’ve seen wealthy women who continue to be in this type of relationship,” she says. “Psychological abuse often has economic undertones, but the women are so invested — because of the children, their social status and other reasons — they often are just hoping the situation will improve.”

Tsinman is pushing for the development of a new tort of economic coercion to protect women in relationships of financial dependency.

“It’s a slow process that begins with a shift in people’s thinking about these kinds of issues,” she says. “People in relationships with extreme power imbalances often can’t see it until someone objectively points it out.”

There’s a great deal of mistrust around these ideas because people often feel an agenda is being pushed from on top of an ivory tower, Tsinman says.

“Politically, it is a difficult time to raise feminist issues, especially for women who are accused of not understanding another’s reality. Feminists are being attacked andthose who criticize them are trying to create a socio-economic gap between them and the people they are trying to help, but such portrayal is not the reality for many feminists," she says.

“I have worked with women who have been in relationships where they are completely under their partner’s control. Once they realize that and start to shift their thinking, they become much more independent.”

Economic coercion is insidious, and can take many forms, Tsinman says.

“I see women who just hand their paycheques over to their man, and they don’t know what’s happening with it,” she says. “The partner has all the accounts and investments in his name, even though she is contributing.

Tsinman says economic coercion may have played a role in the abuse the Toronto doctor suffered at the hands of her husband.

“Why are we still ending up with women in these circumstances?” she asks. “She apparently received advice from a lawyer to make a safety plan, but that in and of itself was not enough. She still stayed in the relationship, perhaps because he was constantly controlling her and weakening her spirit.

“It’s time for the public to wake up. These attitudes are everywhere.”

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