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Affluent abuse a growing, global phenomenon

This article originally appeared on on July 18, 2019.

While domestic abuse is often considered to exist largely in the realm of the have-nots, Toronto family lawyer Inna Tsinman says, in fact, it has no socio-economic boundaries.

A spousal partner may exercise inordinate control over another spouse through various forms of abuse, no matter what their income bracket or level of education, says Tsinman, principal of Tsinman Law.

When that involves wealth, the power imbalance in a relationship could result in a paralyzing control over another individual’s life, finances, career and reputation, she tells

Tsinman says affluent abuse is an issue that is just now surfacing and being discussed in the media, pointing to a recent Chicago Tribune article in which two women shared their painful domestic-abuse experiences. They chronicled their lives as victims, despite their privileged lifestyle, and how status and money were used against them to make them feel powerless and less likely to leave the relationship.

“I’ve seen it in my practice,” she says, “women are often regarded as chattel.

“Women complain that they can’t make any decisions on their own even though they’re surrounded by wealth,” Tsinman says. The Tribune story notes that one in three women — and one in seven men — will be victims of domestic violence.

She describes affluent abuse as being among those with access to greater resources than average people, often involving those considered to be professionals, from wealthy families or successful in business.

But, Tsinman says, there hasn’t been a great deal of research focused on abuse among those with financial resources, and it has therefore been under the radar during the ongoing discussions about the prevalence of abuse.

“Any type of abuse can happen, regardless of the financial circumstances,” she says.

The problem, Tsinman adds, is a global phenomenon, pointing to the tumultuous breakup and custody battle of a billionaire and his sixth wife, playing out in a London, England court, The Telegraph reports.

One way to break down that bond between a victim’s material survival and the abuse is for the court to penalize those who exploit their economic power over their spouses through the economic coercion tort, she says.

“Having a tort recognize the harm it does to women” who feel powerless to leave abusive, controlling relationships, because they think they have no options, Tsinman says.

The role of the court is to deter abusive behaviour, and it has the ability to impose a financial award to send a message to the individual and the public that it will not be tolerated, she says.

“That award then also provides the victim with the financial ability to leave the relationship and offer some comfort about how they will survive on their own,” Tsinman adds.

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