Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship Blog

7-25 November 2016
I went to Australia in November to continue what I called my 'Winston Churchill Travels - part two'. Because I was so busy I failed to keep a blog whilst I was there so this one is pending! For an overview of my trip which started in Melbourne and then took in Hobart and Sydney click here! It also provides details of what I plan to do next...
22 July 2016
My last day in the U.S. but it was a good one. Angela and Adrienne took me to see the National Domestic Violence Helpline. We were given a tour and were able to speak to advocates. Around 1,000 contacts are made with the hotline everyday - be that via the telephone (the majority of contacts) but also text message and online chat. Economic abuse is a common issue raised by callers; questions are also asked about the availability of relocation funds.

We then went to meet with Margaret Bassett, Deputy Director of the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas. Margaret gave us an overview of the institute and what it does, including the Expert Witness Program.

It truly has been a fortnight of learning and thinking. Such a privilege to have the 'space' to do this and I shall go back to work on Monday morning re-energised (jet-lag allowing!) to share best practice and really drive this area of work forward. Can't wait until Australia in November to learn about even more innovation.

21 July 2015
Yesterday I travelled to Texas on the last leg of my adventure. I came here to meet with another two leading women in the economic abuse world, Angela Littwin and Adrienne Adams. Angela is Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Law School. She writes on the issue of coerced debt and has proposed an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act which would allow victims of coerced debt to repair their credit reports. Adrienne  and colleagues developed the original Scale of Economic Abuse (also SEA) and she is an Associate Professor at Michigan State University.

Following our lunch meeting we met with Carla Sanchez-Adams who is a staff attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and also Krista Del Gallo the policy manager at the Texas Family Council on Domestic Violence. Our discussion was a rich one and it really helped me piece together the different parts of the 'economic abuse' jigsaw, in particular the links between economic empowerment and economic justice.

I am very much looking forward to carrying on our conversation tomorrow and visiting the national domestic violence hotline.

19 July 2016
Another action packed day at the Centre on Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers University. As well as talking to Judy about her research on economic abuse I met with her team and learned about the work they all do. The Centre is a leader in the field, especially in relation to sexual assault on university campus and community engagement work. My presentation was well received and we had a good discussion about the similarities and differences between policy development and implementation in the U.S. and the U.K.

I also got to meet and have dinner with Jane Shivas of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Groups have implemented the Allstate Curriculum and work is now being undertaken around credit scoring. I was very excited to finally get my hands on a Purple Purse charm which is sold by Allstate to raise funds and awareness of economic abuse. I shall display it proudly!

18 July 2016
Following my week in NYC I have moved on to New Jersey where I am spending time with Professor Judy Postmus, Director of the Centre on Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers University. Judy has published widely on economic abuse and is evaluating the Allstate Foundation curriculum Moving Ahead through Financial Management which is delivered to domestic violence survivors in 15 sites across 10 states. I cite her work all the time since she and colleagues developed a framework for understanding three forms of financial abuse: financial control, exploitation and sabotage. 

I have been asked to give a presentation tomorrow on VAWG policy in the UK. Not only is it good to be 'giving back' after having spent the last week extracting knowledge from others, but I have thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting the past ten years of policy change that the women's sector has driven. My summary of 'current challenges' runs into three slides so we're certainly not done yet - who knows what the landscape will look like in another decade. However, I for one am hoping that economic abuse will be recognised and well understood and that we will have developed mechanisms to bring about economic justice.

15 July 2016
I can't believe it is Friday already! After a slow start to the week the past couple of days have been incredibly busy. My first meeting today was with Kate Reeves, Director of Capacity Building at the Financial Clinic. She provided a fascinating insight into work they have developed, starting with a pilot project in shelters. The Clinic provided advocates with tools and strategies to help survivors gain control of their financial lives. Building on this, there are now financial coaches in all five of the Family Justice Centres (FJCs) in NYC and Economic Empowerment Specialists in nine non-residential programmes funded by the Mayor's Office, including the Anti Violence Project (AVP) which I visited yesterday. In fact it is mandated by the Mayor's office that survivors of abuse have support around their financial well-being which is a great step forward.

The level of resource that goes into this area was also impressed on me by Joscelyn Truitt, Director of Programs and Community Partnership at Brooklyn FJC.

Joscelyn used to be a Self-Sufficiency advocate but now coordinates a wide range of direct services at the FJC. In relation to self-sufficiency these include, but are not limited to: financial coaching (provided by the Financial Clinic); financial literacy classes; accessing public assistance; affordable housing; and computer classes. The FJC sees 100 clients a day - on average, 2000  a month. Joscelyn estimates that around two in five clients require support in relation to financial issues. These range from one off appointments to intensive work that might last up to 6 months. Longer term work is referred to organisations such as the Civil and Legal Advice and Resource Unit (CLARO).

It was good to talk to Joscelyn about the wider political picture too and we touched on the events that took place in Nice last night where, unsurprisingly the perpetrator was also abusive to his wife. It's been such a privilege to meet women as passionate about myself about the issue of economic abuse and I'm looking forward to what next week brings in New Jersey. But now the weekend beckons and I'm off to see a show in Broadway for some light relief!

14 July 2016
It was a wonderful start to the day hearing that Refuge and the Cooperative Bank have been shortlisted for a Charity Times award in the category of National Partnership with a Financial Institution. The Money Matters research I undertook at CWASU underpinned the 'My Money My Life' campaign run by the partnership so fingers firmly crossed!

My first meeting was lunch with Amanda Stylianou who is Senior Director for Research and Development at Safe Horizon - the largest organisation helping victims of domestic violence in the United States. Amanda is also co-developer of the 'Revised Scale of Economic Abuse' (SEA-12). One of the things we discussed was how the revised SEA-12 could be used by advocates to screen for economic abuse. We also pondered evidence requirements for proving economic abuse, recognising that programming in this area is a progression from crisis work and therefore in an early stage of development. We nattered non-stop for almost two hours and Amanda ended up having to 'take out' her lunch!

I then went to meet with Hannah Pennington, Assistant Commissioner for Policy at the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence. Hannah has worked in VAW for a number of years (the DJH of the VAW world!) and gave me a comprehensive overview of how work on economic empowerment has developed. NYC has five Family Justice Centres (I am visiting one tomorrow) and an economic empowerment/self-sufficiency coordinator sits in each. In addition, the Financial Clinic (meeting them tomorrow too!) goes into the FJCs once a week to meet with clients. Financial literacy classes are provided by WISE. Hannah believes that more could be done to identify women with consumer debt issues which will invariably lead to the need for more funding to increase the number of legal advocates working in this area.

Across the road from City Hall is the New York Anti-Violence Project where I met Economic Empowerment Specialist, Teal Inzunza. The AVP empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and HIV affected communities. It allies to end all forms of violence through organising and education and supports survivors through counselling and advocacy.  AVP also convenes a Domestic Violence Taskforce for Economic Abuse.

Most of Teal's day-to-day work focuses on  providing support to individuals on credit, debt and bankruptcy. She makes referrals to the Domestic Violence Consumer Advocacy Project and also runs workshops on economic empowerment. Teal gave me an overview of some of the cases she has worked on and talked about the nexus between financial abuse and mental health, interestingly also the theme of Amanda's doctorate research. It was particularly powerful to hear how some credit reports chart the abuse that individual's experience - with problems coinciding with the beginning and duration of meeting an abusive partner.

13 July 2016
Today I met with Diane Johnston who provides representation to survivors of domestic violence in consumer debt cases, credit repair and personal bankruptcy. Diane is a staff attorney for The Legal Aid Society and a Kirkland & Ellis Fellow. She identified the need for the Domestic Violence Consumer Advocacy Project having observed intersections between consumer debt and domestic violence. Diane is developing innovative practice around challenging debts accrued as a consequence of financial abuse (and domestic violence more generally) before cases go to court  as well as the point at which women are sued. We discussed how difficult it is to prove financial abuse and she shared some of her strategies to date, including building a picture of the context in which financial abuse has taken place. However, as it the case with MFY, she has not yet had to argue a case in court.

11 July 2016
The Domestic Violence Consumer Working Group in New York is coordinated by the Feerick Centre for Social Justice. The group brings together consumer debt and domestic violence advocates to better respond to victims of abuse. This week I am meeting with members of the group, starting with Carolyn Coffey (Director of Litigation for Economic Justice) and Ariana Lindermayer (attorney) of MFY Legal Services.

MFY Legal Services provides free legal assistance to residents of New York on a wide range of civil legal issues, prioritising services to vulnerable and under-served populations. MFY's Consumer Rights Project represents and counsels New Yorker's regarding debt collection and other consumer protection issues. As part of that practice MFY assists survivors of domestic violence who call their hotline or attend court-based consumer clinics. The two issues they address are:

Identity theft: whereby an abuser steals his partner's personal information without her knowledge and uses it without her permission to obtain credit; and

Coerced debt: whereby an abuser may sabotage his partner's good credit by forcing her to obtain loans/credit she does not want or need.

Many of the collectors who harass women for repayment cease to do so when an attorney becomes involved. Cases of identity theft are approached like all cases - interestingly nuanced arguments pertaining to domestic violence are not used because they don't need to be. There is no case law around coerced debt since collection cases are usually dismissed on the basis of a sworn affidavit (and sometimes a police report). Women may also declare themselves bankrupt. There is no economic justice this way but the debt does 'go away' - as does the power and control that was exerted through it.

10 July 2016
Yesterday I flew to the US on the first leg of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travels. I am starting off in New York and will be here for a week before I head to New Jersey and then Texas. The focus of my time in NYC is to explore how legal professionals respond to survivors of domestic violence who are in debt as a consequence of their partners coercing them into taking out loans/credit and/or committing identity fraud. In 2012, the Office of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, Sakhi for South Asian Women, Cornell ILR School and The Worker Institute surveyed more than 25 organisations (serving some 25,000 survivors of domestic violence) to better understand economic abuse and its impacts. I have used their report to identify the organisations that are leading the way.

17 March 2016
The New Fellows' Seminar on Tuesday was really interesting; varied projects but common passion! Inspired by the 'ask' to help raise awareness of the Fellowship, I contacted my local newspaper on Friday to tell them about my own experience. I was amazed at the level of interest shown - by the end of the day an article was online with some great photos!

10 March 2016
It was over a month between my WC interview and getting my letter to say that I had been awarded a Travelling Fellowship so when it came it took me completely by surprise!  I was so excited though. When you know over 1,000 people applied, 238 were shortlisted and just 150 Fellowships were awarded you feel so pleased and proud you made it. The news that I was off to the US and Australia to learn about innovative approaches to financial/economic abuse went straight on Facebook. It attracted more 'likes' than anything else I have posted this year!

Since I live in Wanstead which is WC's old constituency area, it felt apt to enjoy a celebratory drink in the Manor House, now a public house but formerly his old constituency office and Conservative Party headquarters. Unsurprisingly there are some pictures of the great man himself hanging on the walls so I was able to raise a toast to him!

One of the objectives within my application was to create an international network of professionals working to address financial/economic abuse but is soon became apparent that I had already succeeded in doing this just through the process of developing a potential itinerary. They were so pleased to hear my news. One Australian colleague said:

'Woot Woot! if that expression is not known in merry England it means yeah to the power of 10.'

This weekend I plan to read my WC handbook ahead of the New Fellows' Seminar next week. Since I applied under the 'open category' it should be a really interesting afternoon getting to meet other Fellows and learning about their varied interests.

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