For many people, money is one of the most private areas in their lives.
You don’t necessarily talk about it openly with family and friends, and you’re not entirely sure how finances are handled by your peers. We’re not socialised to discuss salaries or our current bank balance, and few of us know how the couples around us deal with household finances. Do they have shared accounts? Shared debt? Do both parties have equal say over how money is spent?
As a result, economic or financial abuse is one of the most insidious, hidden forms of domestic and family abuse.
More than 15 per cent of Australian women, and 7 per cent of Australian men, have, at some point in their lives, experienced being manipulated, controlled, or stripped of their financial autonomy by a partner.
In fact, according to Moo Baulch, Head of Customer Vulnerability at Commonwealth Bank, financial abuse occurs in the vast majority of abusive relationships. In fact, research suggests that among those who seek support for domestic and family violence in Australia, up to 90 per cent are also affected by financial abuse.
It’s a tactic of power and control that occurs across every demographic, and can take many different forms.
Baulch tells Mamamia financial abuse is far more broad and complex than simply having a partner take the money from your pay packet.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
We know that domestic and family violence often increases in times of disaster, and a report from Women’s Safety NSW in March suggests this is certainly the case with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 40 per cent of frontline workers said they had seen an increased demand for help since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s expected that COVID-19 will also have an impact on rates of financial abuse, with factors like unemployment, remote work, stress and financial pressure likely to create a ‘melting pot’ for perpetrators.
Victim-survivors of financial abuse, however, routinely say they didn’t know what was happening at the time. To people inside and outside the relationship, it can be invisible. Often, it starts under the guise of caring, and it’s only when a victim-survivor has left a partner, that they’re able to recognise their experience as abusive.
So we’ve created a quiz with a number of potential warning signs. It is important to note that depending on your own set of circumstances with your partner, these behaviours may be part of a healthy relationship. In this quiz, we refer to a partner, but it is important to note that abuse can also be carried out by someone in an intimate relationship such as a family member. Financial abuse is one of the most powerful ways to keep someone trapped in an abusive relationship, and may also impact on that person’s ability to stay safe once the relationship is over.
Consider each question individually, and answer yes or no. At the end, we’ll tell you whether your relationship looks like it may show some warning signs of financial abuse.