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'There were so many red flags.' Naomi's experience as a financial abuse survivor.

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This post deals with financial abuse and might be triggering for some readers.      

Having worked as an advocate for domestic violence victim-survivors within the legal system, Naomi* is pretty switched on to the warning signs of violence.  

However, her professional experience didn’t stop her from being completely blindsided by an insidious form of abuse she suffered in her own marriage: financial abuse. 

A serious form of domestic and family violence, financial abuse occurs when an abuser uses money and resources to gain power and control over their partner or family member.

This might include controlling access to finances or refusing to contribute financially to the family.

New research by CommBank and Deloitte revealed the enormous impact of financial abuse in Australia. The report estimates that in 2020 the direct cost of financial abuse to victims was $5.7 billion, with estimated additional costs to the broader Australian economy of $5.2 billion.

Watch: What is financial abuse? Post continues below.

For Naomi, the financial abuse started from "pretty much day one" of her 25-year marriage. It escalated when she left the workforce to take care of her three children, leaving her without an income. 

“I got a tiny little bit from Centrelink, and that was all the money I could control—that $50 a month,” Naomi says. 

“If I wanted to buy myself a hairbrush, I’d have to save that money. I couldn’t go to him and say, ‘I want a hairbrush’.

“It made me feel stressed, living in a state of unknown without the ability to have assurances about what was happening or to make financial decisions.”

Research and feedback from people with lived experience makes clear that those impacted by financial abuse require ongoing tailored support during their recovery. 

This is why CommBank's Next Chapter program was launched to support and advocate for victim-survivors, and to assist them with achieving financial independence.

As part of the program, CommBank partnered with Good Shepherd to establish the Financial Independence Hub, to provide free one-on-one financial coaching and tools to assist participants in their journey to long-term financial recovery, regardless of who they bank with.

Although Naomi was blindsided by the abuse she experienced, she says there are many red flags to look out for that might indicate your partner is, or will become, financially abusive. 

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Here are 3 red flags Naomi shared with Mamamia, from her own lived experience.

She had to ask her partner for money or permission to spend it.

After leaving the workforce, Naomi was left with no income and her husband maintained control over the family finances.

“I wasn’t allowed to have access to money—I was allowed to pay for groceries with a card, but I wasn’t allowed to withdraw any cash,” she says.  

“In all that time, I never went to an ATM to get cash out, and he never gave me cash to have any kind of autonomy or to make any decisions. 

“If the kids were at school and had an excursion that was going to be $8, I’d have to ask him and he often wouldn’t respond. It put me in a very stressful, unknown state where I didn’t know if it was going to be paid for, and it was very embarrassing because I couldn’t say to the Kindy, ‘Yes, this is going to be paid for’, or to the child, ‘Yes, it’s fine, of course you’re going’. 

“Typically, it was [paid for], but I had no sense of control or assurance over what was going to be happening financially. That was typical of how every expense had to be met—it was a passively controlling conversation."

Image: Getty.

She didn't have access to her own money.

In asking Naomi what advice she’d give anyone else going into a relationship, she says, “I would also suggest they have some money that is independent from their partner (like a separate bank account), and if their partner isn’t happy with that, then that itself is a red flag."

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“It’s important, particularly for women, because they can be so financially vulnerable.”

Financial abuse from an ex-partner also doesn’t just impact women like Naomi; it can undermine a woman’s sense of self and her confidence in her ability to care for her children.

According to The Council of Single Mothers and their Children (CSMG), children living in poverty as a result of financial abuse face insecurity and often have lower development and education outcomes.

She felt uncomfortable discussing money with her partner.

Maybe you’ve noticed a few red flags, whether consciously or subconsciously. If your gut instinct is saying something’s not right, it’s worth digging deeper. 

“If you’re feeling uncomfortable, then consider having a conversation so you can get clarity on where it might be heading,” Naomi says. 

“I didn’t see it coming, and so I would suggest making sure your money values are aligned and that you have the same expectations going into a relationship can save you a lot of heartache.”

Eventually, Naomi left her marriage with nothing in the bank, and has worked hard in the ensuing years to create the sense of security she was lacking while under her former husband's financial control. 

“It has become a passion, because for me now having control and say and capacity to do things with money—I see it as a privilege and don’t take it for granted.”

CommBank Next Chapter, supporting you for a brighter future.

Explore the CommBank Next Chapter hub  independence for victim-survivors of domestic and financial abuse. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also visit White Ribbon Australia to find support services in your state.

Feature Image: Getty.

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity. All images used are stock images.

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Commonwealth bank
CommBank believes in a brighter future for all. That’s why they have CommBank Next Chapter, a bank-wide commitment between them and their customers to help end financial abuse.

Through CommBank Next Chapter anyone who is financially controlled, tracked or abused, can access confidential support through free one-on-one financial coaching, tools, and assistance - no matter who they bank with.