(WHTM) — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and experts are giving tips on how to ensure those in abusive relationships can keep or take back control of their finances.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence says 98% of abusive relationships involve financial abuse and that finances are the top reason why people stay in those relationships.

Experts say that abuse has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial professional and attorney Kim Scouller says domestic violence numbers are up about 8% during the pandemic.

“At the root of abusive situations is the abuser’s need to take control,” Scouller said. “And in COVID, in the pandemic, a lot of people are feeling out of control. So abusers are trying to exercise even more control.”

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Scouller gives the following tips on how to take control back:

  • Stay involved with finances: Often in a relationship, one person knows everything about their finances and the other stays in the dark. Even in healthy relationships, it’s important to know exactly what’s happening. This is vital in keeping yourself protected if you find your relationship turning for the worst.
  • Look for red flags: Common signs of financial abuse includes the abuser draining the bank account, denying or limiting money access, hiding money, demanding detailed accounts and bills, being critical of handling of finances, threatening to withhold money, forcing the victim to be late or miss work, belittling the victim and any violence.
  • Communicating: Scouller says it’s understandable for women to stay silent when this is happening and doesn’t want anyone to know. But it makes things worse. Scouller recommends women come together to discuss experiences and find steps on getting financial control back and helping others.
  • Learning the ins-and-outs of your finances: It’s common knowledge many do not know basic personal finance, as it’s not really taught in school. Money is one of the top reasons for women to stay in abusive relationships. Scouller says learn how to be financially independent, build savings, learn investment strategies and find out how your money can grow. Look online or find books to get started.
  • Put personal financial safety plan in place: Many times when women leave abusive relationships, they fall victim to bad credit, back taxes and bankruptcy. It’s vital to have a safety plan for finances to carry you at least 6 months and help pay bills, rent, insurance and other expenses.

If you or someone you know is struggling with domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.