May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month. It’s a sadly necessary and important month of awareness activities and campaigns, including everything from TV and online ads to news media coverage and fundraising events. In other words, the issue of family and domestic and family abuse is finally getting some of the attention and visibility it requires, after years of being suppressed by our culture and society. But one of the most common forms of abuse may not leave visible signs.
Earlier in 2017, researchers from RMIT University discovered a disturbing trend occurring right here in Australia[i]. Economic abuse (also known as financial abuse) is a form of domestic violence that is not often talked about, but can have a severe impact on the security and wellbeing of the abused partner, as well as children/dependants. And it’s happening a lot more often than you might think.
The researchers found that 11.5% of Australians (women and men) have suffered economic abuse at the hands of a partner.
In other words, there’s a strong chance that one in every ten of your friends has experienced financial abuse in the past. They may still be suffering right now.
15.7% of the women who were surveyed for the study had a history of economic abuse, compared to 7.07% of men.[ii]
What is economic abuse?
According to the lead researcher in this study, Jozica Kutin, “Economic abuse is systematic behaviour, not just poor financial decision making, and it’s used as a tactic to gain control of another person.”[iii] It generally involves one partner controlling the other partner’s access to (or use of) money in order to control their lives. Economic abuse may be just one of the ways that an abusive partner exerts power and manipulates their partner.
One example is where the abusive partner is the sole breadwinner, and the other stays at home – often to care for children, or because the abusive partner will not allow them to work and earn their own money. The abusive partner might force them to beg for money to keep the house running, listing and justifying every expense they incur. Another example is where both partners may be earning their own money, but one manipulates the other in to handing over large amounts of money for gambling, alcohol, drugs, or personal spending. Or, one partner might refuse to work and manipulate the other in to handing over most of their pay cheque.
In the RMIT study, researchers looked at a range of different incidences of economic abuse. These included ‘denied access to household money’, ‘denied working or studying’, ‘denied basic necessities’, ‘damaged, destroyed, stole property’, and ‘denied access to car, internet, telephone’, amongst others.
When and where does it happen?
One of the things that makes economic abuse so difficult to track is that there often aren’t any outward signs. What researchers around the world do know is that it happens in relationships and families of all different ages, cultures and socioeconomic circumstances. In one story relayed to Mamamia mid last year, a woman who married a very affluent man who provided a lavish lifestyle, but in return, made her quit her job – and eventually cut off her allowance[iv].
A 2014 research report from women’s support organisation WIRE uncovered some shocking tales from Australian women (and new migrants) from a variety of backgrounds[v]. 28% of women who’d escaped economic abuse left behind household incomes of over $100,000. Around 40% of the women surveyed stayed in an economically abusive relationship because they were afraid of physical violence, or afraid of making physical violence worse. 6% stayed because of their migration status, and 26% weren’t even aware that they were in an abusive relationship.
If you recognise these signs (or other similar incidents) in your own relationship, please seek help as soon as possible. There are financial, practical and social support systems out there for you.
If you see these signs in a loved one’s relationship, create a safe private space where you can raise your concern with them gently and offer your support. Start by telling them you’re concerned; tell them what you have noticed, and why you think this may be financial abuse. Offer them your support, and some suggestions or resources for where they can go for professional help. Be prepared for a negative reaction from your loved one; they may still have strong feelings for their partner, or they may feel embarrassed at their own perceived ‘naivety’ or ‘stupidity’.
The first steps to escaping and surviving financial abuse can include:
- Building an ‘escape fund’. This may mean secretly putting aside money – perhaps in a hidden bank account, or with a trusted friend/family member – over a period of time. The money may be skimmed from an ‘allowance’, or come from a covertly held job.
- Leaving the relationship. This may mean moving in with friends or family, or seeking emergency help, whilst re-establishing financial independence.
- Getting a new job or going back to study.
- Opening a bank account.
- Investigating financial support through Centrelink and/or the Child Support Agency.
- Negotiating with debtors where the abusive partner has fraudulently taken out loans or lines of credit in the other partner’s name.
Money101 offers an online financial education to not only to address this issue head on but to empower all Australians to make better financial decisions. Popular units includes, Budgeting Tips, Family finances, Building good money habits, General Insurance, Debt basics and Surviving financial abuse. Click here to read more, or contact us for more information.