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Financial abuse is more common than you think. Here are the signs.

At the beginning, her story made everyone envious. Carla was a 21-year-old backpacker and met a handsome, successful French man in Paris and they fell in love. They both thought it would be a holiday romance. But it wasn’t. After years of Carla travelling between Australia and Paris they flew family and a few friends to be together and they married.  

Their life was so shiny. They holidayed in exotic locations and lived in a beautiful apartment overlooking markets on the Right Bank. Even though she had a university degree, Carla never needed a “proper” job in Paris and she worked a few days a week in an English speaking book store. They had three children and Carla stayed at home to raise them.

She missed Australia, but thought everything was fine. This was her life. Kids and school, activities, weekends away and looking after her family. Her husband looked after the finances. He gave her a very generous allowance every week to live off and he liked to know how she spent it. He worked hard. He was also working hard at having affairs and when they started divorce proceedings when the youngest was six she found she didn’t even know how much money he made a year, or where all his bank accounts were, or that her name wasn’t on the title for their seaside property.
Carla hadn’t had a job for 12 years. She had no support network. She never had to worry about finances. The only thing Carla knew was that she was going to lose in this divorce. He had been planning this day for a long time.

In Australia, three in five women in relationships are leaving themselves open to financial abuse, this is according to recent research by CoreData.

Three in five women are vulnerable because they don’t have assets or savings of their own. Maybe they’ve left the workforce to have children, maybe they’ve returned to the work force part-time. Maybe everything is in their partner’s name, because their partner is the breadwinner and “takes control” of the finances.

However it’s happened, these women are exposed.

And this financial exposure so often comes alongside, and can even enable, domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Staying in a abusive relationship is all the more likely, when you can’t afford to leave.

Women share experiences of emotional abuse on Twitter. Post continues below video.

Financial abuse can be tricky though. It’s not always so easy to pin-point, and can often be hidden under the guise of ‘providing for the family’ or ‘freeing you up for more time with the kids’.

Signs to look out for include:

Secrecy.

“Oh that’s not your concern, you don’t have to worry about that.”

This type of language, alongside secrecy around earning and spending, renders one person powerless and allows one person complete control. It might be used when talking about finances in general, or in the specifics of buying and selling properties and assets.

Knowledge, after all, is power. If one person is aware of what’s going on financially, they’re going to be more prepared and equipped to make decisions that will steer the relationship (or the separation, if it comes to that). The other person will have no choice but to follow along – they don’t know the state of things, so they have no idea of their options.

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Monitoring.

If you’re not allowed to use money freely, and are held accountable for every purchase made, this is a warning sign of deeper, more manipulative tendencies.

Damands to see receipts for purchases, or questions like: “Why did you spend so much for that yogurt?”, “Wasn’t there a cheaper one on sale?”, “But I gave you $100 two days ago, where has it gone?” are controlling and abusive. Again they render one person powerless, or inferior, in the relationship and they reinforce the other person’s feeling of control.

Tracking money obsessively, and demanding proof or justification of spending, is controlling, not careful.

No personal accounts.

If all money is coming from the one source, this can be trouble. Obviously, this is particularly concerning if there is a high imbalance in the income of the relationship. If one person is contributing more than the other, and all money is pooled in one bank account, this can used as a weapon for abuse and control.

Certainly, it makes sense to share bank accounts in a serious relationship. Paying for the rent, mortgage or groceries can be more fairly divided when done from a single account where you both contribute equal amounts.

The key word here is equal. 

There is a very strong case for keeping personal accounts and credit cards, alongside any joint bank account. This way, you have your money, separate to your partner’s, and, if something goes wrong, you have the means to support yourself and get out.

Forced into certain pathways

This can be extremely subtle, but also extremely dangerous. This is when you are urged by your partner to take a certain career path so they are put in a position of power. For example staying at home with the kids, leaving the work force, having children when you’re not yet ready.

This is all about control. When one person is determined to be the breadwinner, and willing to see you put aside your aspirations to make this happen, this is abuse and should be seen as such.

Threats of leaving

This is a huge, glaring, blinking, flare-throwing sign to get out. If your partner is threatening to leave the relationship, as an ultimatum for you changing your behaviour, this is a blatant sign of financial and emotional abuse. It means they’re aware of the power they have financially, and they’re prepared to use this ‘keep you in line’.

If you’re response to these threats is fear, fear that you will actually have nowhere to go or a way to support yourself (because you don’t have an income of your own, and you don’t have a personal bank account) it’s time to make some changes. You need to have your own resources so you are empowered to make your own decisions, instead of simply reacting to their threats and abuse.

According to Ginder Dean, founder of Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, there are a few ways you can re-claim the power if you’re in a financially abusive relationship. Her’s what she listed on the Huffington Post

  • Reach out to trusted friends, relatives.

  • If vocational training or education is a barrier to getting a job then start going to school online.

  • Skim money from whatever is given to you and save little by little.

  • Open a bank account in secret and stash your money until you’re ready to leave. Ask friends and family for donations to this account while noting you will pay them back once you are on your feet.

  • Get a job in secret. For example you can say that you’re volunteering and get a PT job walking dogs or babysitting. Or find a position working from home, online.

  • Establish credit. Get a secured card that you keep only at a friend’s or family member’s house in a locked box. Use it to make purchases while building your credit.

  • Research all options with regards to government assistance around food stamps, housing and community-based services. When stepping out for the first time, this may be a temporary option to get you from point A to B while you establish yourself.

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