The signs of domestic violence are often thought of as bruises and scars, but it’s the less visible financial abuse that often keeps victims trapped in those relationships.

That’s why Allstate Foundation Purple Purse launched a campaign across six major U.S. cities that uses urban artwork to highlight the issue and spark a dialogue about financial abuse.

“We need to get conversations started about these issues to bring them out from behind closed doors, so we encourage everyone to do that,” said Ellen Lisak, Allstate Foundation Purple Purse senior program officer.

The murals will be up at least through the end of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and will coincide with the foundation’s Purple Purse Challenge.

Nearly 300 nonprofits focused on helping victims of domestic violence will compete for about $800,000 in available funding. There are three tiers for the challenge, based on operating revenue, to even the playing field for smaller organizations, and additional bonus challenges.

Purple Purse reached out to Ellen Picken to create a mural in Seattle, each art piece meant to contain a hidden message about financial abuse that pops out when viewed through Instagram’s Moon filter. She created the “Star Sister” mural for the Hotel Sorrento’s parking garage three years ago.

“They saw my Sorrento work actually and reached out to me that way,” Picken said, “and at the time I was actually painting on the Elysian Brewing building.”

Picken was aware of the cause and had her own experience being in a bad relationship that she said wasn’t abusive, but the need for a home kept her in it longer than she wanted.

“Finding first and last months rent is really impossible when you’re living day to day,” she said, “so it’s really important to be in control of your own finances.”

One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, Lisak said, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

“It’s the whole spectrum,” she said. “We hear stories all the time. Sometimes it’s doctors or physicians that are being financially abused.”

Financial abuse can include restricting access to credit cards, cash and bank accounts, Lisak said, as well as preventing a partner from finding or keeping a job and purposely ruining their credit — you can’t find a good a new apartment with bad credit.

Purple Purse works with a network of 300 domestic violence nonprofits across the United States, and has an online Moving Ahead curriculum it created with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, which provides education and resources for achieving financial independence in English and Spanish.

“Sometimes there’s not somewhere to go, and that’s part of the cycle of abuse,” Picken said, “is that you become dependent on that one person.”

The message — “Can you spot financial abuse” — can be seen inside the multicolored mural on the side of the building that’s home to iconic lesbian bar Wildrose on East Pike Street in Capitol Hill.

“I had to go through and test out different fonts,” Picken said. “There were so many different types of font that would work with this one but it had to be legible and hidden at the same time.”

The Spokane artist, who grew up in Seattle, said she was happy about the location.

“I lived on Capitol Hill, and I was 18 years old, and that was one of the first places I was aware of when I was coming out and being aware of myself,” Picken said, “and I couldn’t go there yet.”

As the mural took shape, she said, people would stop and try to figure out what it said. About half that spoke to her wanted to know what financial abuse was.

“They were thinking abuse from the banking system,” she said. “It was a really good opportunity to start talking about it.”

She said the other half had their own stories.

“I heard men talk about their girlfriends withholding funds or not paying the rent, and elderly people having been abused by their grandchildren, you know? All kinds of situations,” Picken said.

“Financial abuse doesn’t often come with the cuts and bruises that are so commonly associated with domestic violence, but there are warning signs you can look for,” Lisak said.

When someone has to check in with a partner about everyday expenditures, for example, or when they express concern about making nominal purchases. Lisak added a woman getting her hair done at a salon and then having to go to their partner outside to pay for it as a common example she’s heard.

Purple Purse hopes people will share photos of the six murals with #SafeWayOut and start their own conversations about domestic violence and financial abuse.

“We need to get conversations started about these issues, to bring them out from behind closed doors,” Lisak said, “so we encourage everyone to do that.”

Learn more about the foundation at