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Escaping financial and domestic abuse in a foreign country

HOUSTON – She was abused and held captive in another country.

The woman, remaining anonymous for her safety, said she never thought she'd get back to the United States, but with the help of international organizations, she is now safe in South Texas.

That doesn't mean her crisis is over, however.

Her abuser stole the documents that prove her identity, a type of financial abuse more common than many people realize.

"You don't think people who claim to love you would do something as, I don't know, shady," the woman said, head down through tears.

The survivor moved eight years ago from the United States to her boyfriend's country, where she expected marriage and happiness. Instead, she said she was used and controlled.

"Emotional abuse, psychological, intimidation, coercion. I was kept hostage. I wasn't allowed to go outside very much. He threatened me with death. He threatened other people with death if I were to talk to them. He kept me apart from my family," she said.

However, it was the often unrecognized financial abuse that kept her trapped in the foreign country.

"I had no money because anything I did earn, he would take it from me," she said.

The woman said she was making good money through her online business, but she said her abuser and his family funneled the money straight into his account.

"My identification, my birth certificate, my Social Security card -- they had taken that," she said.

She was able to hide her passport, and one day, she snuck online and found Pathways to Safety, an international organization helping abused Americans abroad. She said their emergency escape plan helped bring her home.

"I've been gone for so long, I'm just a blank slate, I think. I have no idea what he's done with my birth certificate, my Social Security," the survivor said.

This is something, Paige Theriot with Family Violence Prevention Services said, is shockingly common in abusive relationships. They even have a system set up to help survivors.

"We work with the police department, a special team, in order to try to recover clients and victim survivors' identities in order to help them obtain places to live, jobs, the things we need to move forward in our life," Theriot said.

It's a freedom this once imprisoned survivor now realizes is possible.

If you know someone who needs help, or you are a survivor yourself, you can call the Pathways to Safety toll free crisis line 833-SAFE-833, or email crisis@pathwaystosafety.org.