finance

'I speak to survivors of financial abuse every day. This is what I want you to know.'

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When it comes to financial abuse, there are several misconceptions. 

The misconception that women are not as financially skilled as men, and therefore shouldn't be managing the family income. That survivors of financial abuse don’t earn as much money as their partner does, and therefore should be grateful that their partner is managing their money. That it's normal for one person in a relationship to care less about money. 

That it's easy to leave. 

Whilst these may be true in some relationships, it's not true for the vast majority of people who are experiencing financial abuse, according to Suzanne Panecki, a Senior Practitioner Financial Coach at Good Shepherd's Financial Independence Hub.

Another misconception, she says, is that abuse is, to some degree, normal in a relationship — in short, there's still a lot of work to be done to build the general public's awareness and knowledge of financial abuse.

"I think the lack of awareness around financial abuse and other forms of violence is still very hidden in society."

Financial abuse is an insidious and pervasive form of domestic and family violence. In fact, research suggests that up to 90 per cent of those seeking help for domestic and family violence are affected by financial abuse. 

But despite the prevalence, it's difficult to recognise and identify. Panecki says the line between a healthy money relationship with your partner and an abusive one is crucial to know — not only to protect yourself, but also to recognise the signs in others.

What are some of the signs of economic and financial abuse? 

  • Controlling access to someone's bank account - including limiting someone's spending, limiting their ability to access shared funds or to access their own funds (financial abuse)
  • Getting a partners' salaries paid into the perpetrator's accounts so the perpetrator controls their partner's money and income (financial abuse)
  • Taking out loans and debt in a partner’s name without them knowing (financial abuse) 
  • Controlling someone’s spending - including not allowing a person access to credit cards, or giving a person a really limited and restricted amount of money for themselves (financial abuse)
  • Not allowing someone to work or earn an income (economic abuse)
  • Not allowing someone to study (economic abuse)
  • Sabotaging their employment and education opportunities (economic abuse)

Panecki has dedicated her career to helping survivors of financial abuse. Every day, she speaks on the phone to survivors who have sought the help offered through the Financial Independence Hub. From speaking to those who have been left with nothing, she has noticed common trends in their experiences with financial abuse. 

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She says it is common for financial abuse to start subtly and for there to be a slow progression to more serious forms of abuse. Once the signs are impossible to ignore, it can be extremely hard to leave, she says. 

"It takes a long time to recognise the signs. And then often when people think about leaving, that's when it becomes so serious. It's a risk that someone takes when they leave.

"Often they're left without housing, finances, relationships and friendships that can support them to leave."

What can we do to protect ourselves from financial abuse, before it starts?

"The number one tip would be for everyone to be aware of what financial abuse is, what the signs are, what it looks like, the nature of it, and the difference between a healthy and respectful money relationship and an abusive one."

Panecki adds there are three key principles for healthy money relationships — the ability to share, transparency and having an equal voice in your relationship.

For those who have found themselves in a financially abusive relationship, there are, of course, ways to move forward.

"The first step would be to focus on contacting a professional service in the domestic violence field to help maximise their safety and to access appropriate support, and to make sure that they have a safety plan in place so that if they are thinking about leaving, they do have the support in place so they are safe when they are going to leave 

"The professionals will link the person to services like housing and others that will meet their essential needs and help them with holistic support and care."

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One of the services available is the Financial Independence Hub delivered by Good Shepherd. It's funded by CommBank, and provides tailored support for all survivors of financial abuse, regardless of who they bank with. 

The service is designed by people who have previously experienced financial abuse as a result of domestic and family violence, with the purpose of providing support to survivors of financial abuse to achieve long-term financial independence. 

"The Hub service is completely free and offers a range of support to people all across Australia," Panecki says.

"If a person is on their recovery journey, they can access our Financial Independence Hub to focus on their long-term financial recovery. [The Hub can] provide specialist support to people, build their confidence and capability in managing their own finances, including one-on-one coaching sessions — and we can also support assistance and referrals to various other support services."

"Starting from scratch is difficult," Panecki says. "But there are services out there that are dedicated to supporting people through their recovery journey."

If you have experienced financial abuse and are ready to plan for your future, contact the Financial Independence Hub for free and confidential support on 1300 050 150, Monday to Friday, 7am to 7pm (AEST), excluding public holidays.

In an emergency, or if you're not feeling safe, always call 000. For immediate crisis support relating to domestic violence or sexual abuse, you can call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

Feature Image: Getty

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