“It’s not just about words and it’s not just about money.”
We can see what domestic abuse against women looks like, right? She looks really frightened or uncomfortable, diminished, chaotic, scared, defeated, suffering, black and blue if we want to be literal.
But what if domestic abuse turns up on your doorstep wearing a Stella McCartney blazer and holding an outstretched bottle of Dom?
I know, from afar, a woman like this. She is a woman with two houses, the latest clothes and shoes, great haircut, always handing over some beautiful French cheeses from an upmarket deli when she “drops around”, but she never has more than $50 cash on her and she has no access to cash. Everything is bought with a credit card.
On the surface it could seem AbFab, but it’s not. It’s much more sinister than that. It goes to the foundation of a woman’s independence and her feeling of safety and security. She can buy designer, she just has no ability to book a hotel room if she wants to leave (and she has tried, and he talked her back around, and the cycle began again).
That’s the way her husband likes it. She can buy what she wants, he can see everything she buys, and he can cancel her card whenever he likes (which he did when she was very late coming home one night). He dominates and demands and checks his Visa statement online during the day. He knows exactly what she does or what she wants to do. She is stressed and anxious all the time, pretending to be the happy, “generous” guest.
She walks on eggshells and is so used to walking on eggshells she thinks that is what the ground is made from. But she can buy a great bottle of vino and fabulous cheeses to take around to a friends’ house.
As Associate Professor in Sociology at Flinders University, Kristin Natalier, said in The Conversation this week Australia is making overdue moves to tackle domestic violence (the Federal Government has announced a $100 million package and NSW government a $65 million package), but there is a less obvious form of abuse that damages a woman’s well-being: economic abuse.
Economic abuse, she says, includes behaviours that “limit a person’s ability to acquire and use economic resources. Women are more likely than men to be victims of this form of abuse”.
“These are not the equivalent of disagreements over money,” Associate Professor Natalier said. “They are controlling and humiliating behaviours, which abusers use to undercut women’s economic security and independence.”
Usually economic abuse is linked to psychological, emotional and often physical abuse, she says, “although women may experience economic abuse even when they are not physically hurt by their partner”.
When the kids were little, I volunteered at a women’s refuge one day a month (I wrote the newsletter) and I saw many women who did not fit the stereotype of victims of domestic abuse. There were women who, from afar, looked as though they were heading off to a nice lunch. But when you watched them in the waiting room, they were frightened and anxious, unable to concentrate, fidgety, small.