Financial abuse — the act of controlling a person’s access to economic resources — is understood to be a particularly ‘hidden’ tactic used in the context of domestic violence (DV).
While we know that financial abuse is present in almost every case of DV, victims often don’t recognise the signs until after they’ve left the relationship. Behaviours like restricting access to money and making major financial decisions without any consultation can seem acceptable, and might even appear to come under the guise of an intimate partner being ‘caring’. But money is one of the biggest barriers to people leaving violent relationships, and when it’s being used as a tactic of abuse, it can take years or even decades to recover.
Despite the prevalence and severe toll of financial abuse, we’re only just starting to understand what it looks like and the impact it has on victims.
On Thursday, the Commonwealth Bank announced a new acceptable use policy for its digital banking services, after discovering abusive messages in transaction descriptions.
“After noticing disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence, we conducted analysis to better understand the problem,” said Catherine Fitzpatrick, General Manager of Community and Customer Vulnerability.
“We were horrified by both the scale and the nature of what we found. In a three month period, we identified more than 8,000 CBA customers who received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with potentially abusive messages in the transaction descriptions – in effect using them as a messaging service. All genders were sending and receiving these messages, but the nature ranged from fairly innocuous ‘jokes’ using profanities to serious threats and clear references to domestic and family violence.”
It’s the latest iteration of what Anna Bligh, CEO of the Australian Banking Association, describes as “the shocking… lengths that violent partners will go to threaten, harass and abuse”.
Listen: The ‘invisible’ issue of financial abuse. Post continues after audio.
Tactics of abuse, it seems, evolve as technology, lifestyles and circumstances change.
“When we talk about financial abuse, we often think about someone coming home and taking all the money from the pay packet, and that physical thing of removing their partner’s money,” Moo Baulch, Head of Customer Vulnerability at Commonwealth Bank, told Mamamia. The reality, however, is that it’s far more complex.
“It’s also things like stopping [a person] accessing Centrelink benefits or childcare benefits, or refusing access to a bank account or a credit card.
“It might be coercing them to do those sorts of things against their will. And then we see this really awful, insidious stuff where that power and control is so focused that it’s… ‘I want to see all your receipts for this week, I want you to keep a diary of what you’re spending money on, and you need to justify every single expense to me.’ It might be stopping somebody from being able to pay bills, access to resources from the outside, like a car or money for petrol.”