finance

Signs of financial violence: If he says, "I'll take care of the money", you could be about to lose yourself.

“It’s a power play, it’s ownership, and it’s just one of the steps in breaking down someone’s autonomy to the point you can become their puppet master.”

Felicity*, 42, is a survivor of domestic violence. Eight years ago, she packed up her infant son, a suitcase of clothes, and fled.

What comes to mind when you think of domestic violence? Bruised arms, bloodied lips, broken furniture? Screaming matches? Cars speeding away in the middle of the night, suitcases packed, crying children?

What if I told you that there was another type of domestic violence? One that is so silent and pervasive, you would probably have no idea it was ever even going on?

Economic abuse or financial violence is the silent player in the game of domestic violence, and a cruel and dangerous trap.

Felicity managed to leave her ex-husband, but the road to recovery for herself and her son has been tough: she literally was forced to start her life over, with nothing more than the cash in her wallet.

Want advice on starting over after separation? Mamamia’s The Split has you covered. Post continues after audio.

What is ‘financial violence’?

“Financial violence can take many forms but essentially it’s a situation where the actions or behaviours of someone whom you trust makes you feel like you’re not in control of important financial decisions that impact you,” explains Tasha Chye, Senior Manager, Community Advocacy at Westpac

It is a typically suffered by women, particularly women in married partnerships. It can be found across all age groups, and all class structures. Figures show that 98% of women who report domestic violence to police also suffer economic abuse.

This abuse can take form in many different ways. For some, it will mean actively being prevented from going to work and earning money. For others, it will mean providing limited amounts of money, or not allowing a spouse to have their own bank account. And for many, it is a slow grinding down of their independence and confidence to the point they barely know how to look after themselves.

Financial abuse can be something that’s very difficult to recognise or even admit that you’re going through when it’s happening to you,” explains Tasha. “Especially if it’s someone that you trust or love.”

“We know that people are at the highest risk when they actually leave an abusive relationship, so it’s important to have some sort of plan so that you can exit the situation safely.”

If you’re being prevented from being financially independent, and therefore unable to leave the relationship, this is domestic violence.

According to the Family Violence Protection Act of 2008, there are many ways a person can be domestically violent. Read the below, and read it carefully – because the actual definition of abuse is surprising to many.

ADVERTISEMENT

“FAMILY VIOLENCE PROTECTION ACT 2008 – SECT 5: Meaning of family violence

(1)     For the purposes of this Act, family violence is—

(a)     behaviour by a person towards a family member of that person if that behaviour—

(i)     is physically or sexually abusive; or

(ii)     is emotionally or psychologically abusive; or

              (iii)     is economically abusive; or

(iv)     is threatening; or

(v)     is coercive; or

(vi)     in any other way controls or dominates the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or wellbeing of that family member or another person; or

(b)     behaviour by a person that causes a child to hear or witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of, behaviour referred to in paragraph (a).”

Signs of financial violence:

According to the Center For Relationship Abuse Awareness, there are 22 major signs of economic abuse.

Some of them include:

  • Controlling your access to financial information
  • Not allowing you to talk to others about money
  • Taking any money you earn
  • Preventing you from having or keeping a job
  • Interfering with your efforts to maintain a job by sabotaging childcare, transportation, or other arrangements
  • Harassing you at work
  • Refusing to work
  • Not including you in family financial decisions, or giving you access.
  • Making you ask for money

(You can see the full list here.)

Many women never see it coming.

Like physical abuse, the early days of an economically abusive relationship can seem idyllic.

Many women who have suffered economic abuse remember the joy of being told by their partner, “I’ll look after the finances.” But before long, that transforms into “I’ll do it, because you can’t”, and finally, “You are not allowed to go near the money.” It’s a slippery slope.

‘My money is your money.’

Felicity’s ex-husband begun to style her into a stay-at-home wife, prepping her for the children they both so desperately wanted. At first, she didn’t mind, and she obliged to his wishes. She quit her studies and her job, which she loved, to manage the home and prepare for kids.

“My reward for quitting my job was a monthly allowance and a proposal. I’d never cared too much for marriage but he was old fashioned, he wouldn’t have kids without it, so marriage had become something I was very keen on. We had such a lavish lifestyle it took me a while to realise I now had absolutely no independence financially or otherwise.”

Whether it was visiting her family interstate, returning to study, or see her friend, she had to ask him. Her independence begun to slide away and she sunk into a deep depression.

“It’s actually a very hard thing to make others understand the hell that is emotional and psychological abuse,” she says.

“I often wished he’d just hit me so I would have something to show others. By the time I started thinking about leaving we had a young child, who I had no way of taking care of financially, but I knew I had to leave for our child’s sake as well as mine. So I found my courage and walked out.”

How are the women financially affected?

According to a report from WIRE Women’s Information, the financial situation of Australian women who manage to leave an abusive relationship is truly dire, with many living on less than the minimum wage.

“Almost half (44 per cent) had a household income of less than $40,000 post-separation,” states the report, with one in five of those women “earning less than $20,000 per annum”.

Considering that 60% of these women were leaving with children as the primary parent, it is a shocking amount of money to live off: less than $300 per week.

That barely covers rent, let alone food, school fees, clothing, and the multitudes of other costs it takes for a family to merely survive.

“I had nothing but the small amount of money in my wallet,” remembers Felicity, whose son was a toddler when she left.

ADVERTISEMENT

No money, no house, no job.

For women who leave economically abusive relationships, their battle has only just begun. It is a massive struggle to regain their confidence, and financial control over their lives.

For some, they have spent years having their confidence whittled down by an emotionally abusive partner, all the while being starved on the ability to budget or save. For others, by the time they leave their skill sets are so outdated they won’t be able to re-enter the workforce, therefore needing to start again with study or training.

For Felicity, she was out of the workforce for so long, she still struggles to find work almost eight years on.

“I was mid thirties, hadn’t worked for ten years and couldn’t afford child care to  assist me in finding full time work,” she says. “Each one of those things alone is not incapacitating but when you add them together it makes a person virtually unemployable.”

Finding affordable, stable housing was a significant issue for most of the women. Almost half (43%) were renting, and of these women one in three was in the private rental market, making them and their children vulnerable to rent increases and the uncertainties of tenancy.

“None of the women currently renting envisaged being able to afford to buy a home,” says the WIRE report. “Just 14% of all research participants owned their own home and those paying off their homes worried about meeting mortgage repayments.”

Here are the people you can call.

If you believe you are suffering economic abuse, or know somebody who is, here are the people you can call for help.

1800 RESPECT

Phone: 1800 737 732

24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

www.1800respect.org.au

Lifeline

Phone: 13 11 14 (24 hours)

Lifeline has a national number who can help put you in contact with a crisis service in your state.

www.lifeline.org.au

Relationships Australia

Phone: 1300 364 277.

Support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners.

www.relationships.com.au

And of course,

Police or Ambulance
000 in an emergency for police or ambulance.

Remember: you are not alone, and help is available.

00:00 / ???