Financial abuse in interpersonal relationships highlights another form of family and domestic violence (FDV). This abuse includes tactics like control, denied permission, limited choices, threats of violence, coercion, intimidation, and fear. Often financial abuse does not occur in a vacuum; it can exist in a torrent of other abuses.
While financial abuse is a less reported and discussed form of abuse, the consequences impact the safety and future of survivors, potentially for years to come. Financial abuse is destructive, and the consequences are devastating for women and children.
The Impacts Of Financial Abuse
The impact of future-building for women and their children comes in varying ways. In Australia, FDV is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children. Of those who seek support from specialist homelessness services, 42% of women have experienced FDV.
Unfortunately, there remains a constant shortage of available support services for women who have fled violence and cannot support themselves and their children.
I spoke with a young woman, a survivor of abuse. She had experienced most forms of abuse, including physical and financial abuse from her husband. Not permitted to get a job, she had no money, no home or job and no way to care for her two young children. She ended up in a refuge, fighting for her fundamental rights and dignity. A competent and intelligent woman, reduced to someone she no longer recognised.
Sadly, this woman is not unique. Many who have experienced financial abuse have also experienced this outcome.
The Cascading Effect
Financial abuse commonly leads to an inability to provide. Unable to provide for oneself creates crippling and cyclical debt, problems borrowing money from reputable financial institutions, vulnerability to renter the same relationship and ultimately and most devastatingly, homelessness. Financial abuse, like other abuses, may appear innocent and not at all like abuse or control.
Seeking legal support can prove difficult for women experiencing violence. Accessing legal support may seem obvious for a victim of a financial crime. However, impacted by violence, a woman is in survival mode. Her priority is accessing basic needs, including housing, food and safety, not necessarily legal help.
The focus for the woman is on her safety. Her priority is not navigating calls to legal aid. Having a high-level conversation about her financial future and legal action is almost impossible if she barely knows how to feed her children.
Warning Signs Of Financial Abuse
Not permitted to access money
A partner may not allow the woman to have money at all. Often women may not be permitted to access their own money, even if they have a paid job and earn for themselves. Their money funnels to the partner who uses it how he sees fit. The goal here is to isolate the woman, prevent her from leaving, reduce her access to resources, and, most importantly, create an absolute dependence on the partner.
Imagine the difficulty of leaving a relationship with no money and no support. This lack of access or awareness of resources already challenges the most resourceful women. Add to this the complexity and danger of violence with threats of death, and this ability to move on is next level.
Forced to ask for money
The partner insists on the woman asking permission to spend money. To further humiliate and control, the partner often demands the woman asks (or begs) for what she needs. Being forced to ask permission is controlling behaviour, which creates further dependency and increases the power dynamic.
The woman has little money to plan for her future. She receives only enough money to buy what she needs for the house and the children. There is certainly no money left over to squirrel away to plan to leave.
However, if it is safe to do so, the woman may attempt to leave the relationship. While leaving a violent relationship is one of the most dangerous times for a woman, it also presents other challenges. Women who cannot financially support themselves and their children may return to violence as an undesired alternative to homelessness.
Not permitted to work or study
A woman may be forced with the threat of violence if she gets a job. The inability to work or study to improve her life is economic abuse. The partner controls a woman’s earning potential by not getting a job or not allowing further study. The partner fears the woman may grow independent, threatening his sense of control.
Control is at the heart of abusive behaviour, financial abuse included. The partner will not allow a loss of control that financial freedoms, choices and independence can bring.
Intentional job loss
If the woman does work, her job may not be secure. When a woman leaves a relationship and can grow more independent, she may be able to secure a job. The partner may discover where she works, and I have spoken to many women forced to leave their jobs because they are stalked or harassed at their workplace.
Suppose a woman loses her job; her safety and ability to provide for herself diminish. Some women consider going back into the relationship.
Protection orders may be an option, but it creates further problems for some women. It is, for some women, not an easy option or an option at all to apply for his order. Often, women are so fearful of retaliation, including threats of death. Many prefer to go it alone as it is a safer option.
Monitoring bank accounts
Monitoring and other coercive control tactics ensure the partner’s further control. A woman may have to report all her spending and share access to her bank accounts with her partner. Leaving the relationship is difficult when a woman does not have sole access to her own money.
The occurrence of debt can impact a woman’s ability to move forward. The partner may refuse to pay debts, child support or loans, leaving the woman to pay these. These debts impact the woman in applying for other loans when needed.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Statistics are taken from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare https://www.aihw.gov.au/.