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Domestic violence survivors often left unprotected from forced debt racked up by abusers

Domestic violence survivors often left unprotected from forced debt racked up by abusers
Domestic violence survivors often left unprotected from forced debt racked up by abusers 05:34

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Domestic violence is usually characterized by physical and emotional abuse but often there's another kind of abuse—financial abuse.

Even after domestic violence survivors leave an abusive relationship, many are strapped with debt caused by their abuser.

Texas law often fails to protect victims from this coerced debt, leaving some victims in financial ruin that long outlasts their abusive relationship.

After 11 months in an abusive relationship, Krystle King said she finally had the courage and opportunity to leave.

When she left, the physical abuse stopped. But four years later, she said, the financial abuse caused by her ex-boyfriend has yet to go away.

"I've lived under the threat of am I going to be sued? Is someone going to freeze my bank account? Am I going to have judgements against me? Am I going to have to file bankruptcy? For someone who has paid their bills on time their whole life, this is extremely heavy to weigh on you," she said.

During the time King was in the relationship, she said her ex-boyfriend told her his credit was tied up in investments, so he had her buy vehicles and ranching equipment for him and pay his bills.

Initially, King said she believed he would pay her back but when she questioned him about his finances, she said he threatened her.

"It was a whole manipulative game," she explained. "It was just a progressive scale of, 'If you don't do this, I'll hurt myself. If you don't do this, I'll hurt you.'"

King said she entered the relationship debt-free. By the time she left, she owed more than $100,000, had taken out all $70,000 from her 401K retirement account, and was down to her final pennies.

"I had 30 cents. That is not an exaggeration. It was literally the change on my floorboards of my car is all I had. I had nothing," King said.

When she reported the financial abuse to law enforcement, King said the local sheriff's office told her there was little they could do.

The CBS 11 I-Team spoke with a different woman who told a similar story to King. Each of the women told the I-Team they dated a man named David Norton and that he allegedly abused them physically and financially.

Attempts to locate and contact Norton by the I-Team were unsuccessful. Norton's last known address was in New Mexico. 

Norton has active felony warrants in Colorado and in Kaufman County for domestic violence charges and for jumping bail.

King said after she shared her story on Facebook, other women contacted her about allegedly being abused by Norton.

In the latest report from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, in 2019, 30% of domestic violence victims from Texas reported experiencing financial abuse with coerced debt being one of the most common forms of abuse. Coerced debt is debt incurred by an abuser in the name of the victim taken out using force, threat, or fraud.

In 2019, Texas lawmakers passed a bill expanding the definition of identity theft to include coerced debt. The law was supposed to protect domestic violence victims, but often, it hasn't.

"One of the problems that we continue to see is even when people take all the steps that they should take, sometimes debt collectors will not recognize those remedies," said Ann Baddour, the director of fair financial services for the nonprofit Texas Appleseed.

Baddour is working with Texas lawmakers on a new bill this session that would create a list of documents a victim could provide a debt collector to clearly establish the money owed as coerced debt.

"The hope is that having these protections creates an opening for them to put that abuse behind them," Baddour explained.

However, even if those changes are made, it won't help all victims of coerced debt. Since King's debt occurred before Texas passed the 2019 bill adding coerced debt to the criminal code, victims like her are left with little recourse.

Texas Appleseed has created an online toolkit for victims of coerced debt. This toolkit includes a list of steps you can take to address this kind of debt.

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