Coerced Debt: The Role of Consumer Credit in Domestic Violence

California Law Review, Vol. 100, pp. 1-74, 2012

73 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2011 Last revised: 2 Jun 2012

Date Written: June 1, 2012


Over the past several decades, the modern domestic violence (DV) movement has had some success in reforming the systems on which survivors must rely to achieve basic safety for themselves and their families. Although far from perfect in their treatment of domestic violence, police departments, hospitals, and family law courts are at least now engaged in the conversation about DV as a social problem, rather than denying its existence or importance. But there is a new form of domestic violence that has not yet been recognized and which needs to be addressed: Financial abuse through consumer credit. As consumer lending has permeated American life, violent partners have begun using debt as a means of exercising abusive control, making the consumer credit system an unknowing party to domestic violence.

Coerced debt can take a variety of forms. It ranges from abusers taking out credit cards in their partners' names without their knowledge to forcing victims to obtain loans for the abuser to tricking victims into signing quit claims deeds for the family home. This article uses original, empirical data to explore how abusive relationship dynamics interact with a complex and amorphous consumer credit system to leave many victims of domestic violence with hundreds or thousands of dollars of coerced debt.

Keywords: domestic violence, credit, credit cards, mortgage

Suggested Citation

Littwin, Angela K., Coerced Debt: The Role of Consumer Credit in Domestic Violence (June 1, 2012). California Law Review, Vol. 100, pp. 1-74, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Angela K. Littwin (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

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