While it is more well-known that physical and sexual violence within a family is known as domestic violence, a lesser known form, financial abuse, can be just as damaging.
It involves access to money and finances being restricted, or taken away altogether, and it is believed 16 per cent of Australian women will experience it in their lifetime, reports SBS. The figure rises to almost 90 per cent among people who have experienced domestic and family violence.
Co-convenor of the University of NSW Gendered Violence Research Network, Jan Breckenridge, said research shows those impacted are overwhelmingly female.
“There is a gender inequality around financial security,” she said. “Men, by and large, are much more literate financially, are expected to be in control of finances”.
The abuse can include restricting access to bank accounts or making victims give over their passwords, as well as blackmail, fraudulently using someone’s credit card, or getting them to sign financial documents without explanation.
And Professor Breckenridge warned the abuse doesn’t always end when a victim leaves – if they can.
“They leave with debt, they may leave with no housing,” she said. “Where people leave and they’re financially insecure, they often return.”
The Australian Banking Association and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission both have guides to recognise financial abuse, encouraging organisations to work with customers experiencing violence or abuse to resolve any financial difficulties.
The big four banks all list policies to help both customers and employees in abusive situations.
In November 2017, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia launched a 12-month pilot Domestic & Family Violence Emergency Assistance Program, “providing access to independent specialist trauma counsellors, financial assistance, safe establishment of bank accounts and telephone support.”
In its first month alone, the program received more than 87,000 calls, and to date, some 6,000 people have accessed assistance. Around half of those who reached out were between 22 and 35 years of age, the majority from NSW, followed by Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.
The service is now being extended, with an investment of more than $18 million into prevention and support measures across the community, including education for young people about gender equity, and national training for staff to identify those at risk.
Signs of financial abuse
In the context of financial abuse against women (although anyone can become the victim), financial abuse includes:
- complete control of finances and money
- restricting access to bank accounts
- providing an inadequate allowance and monitoring what a woman spends money on
- forbidding a woman to work
- taking a woman’s pay and not allowing her to access it
- preventing a woman from getting to work by taking her keys or car
- identity theft to secure credit
- using a woman’s credit card without her permission
- refusing to work or contribute to household expenses
What to do if you’re experiencing financial abuse
- Try to find out as much about your financial situation as you can.
- Make copies of everything that identifies you or with your address on it – photo ID, passports, bank statements, mortgages, credit cards, superannuation, telephone and utility bills as well as any subscriptions with your name on it.
- Change to SMS or electronic email statements or bills, as much as possible over direct postal mail. Change your forwarding address of important mail if you know where you are leaving to, and if you cannot use or access a private email account.
- Contact your financial institutions and ask to speak with someone who handles domestic violence issues. Most of the big banks have services to help protect victims from abusers. National Australia Bank is one of the big banks that provide specialist assistance in this space.
- Stash all of your private financial or other important information or items with a trusted friend or in a safe place that your abuser won’t get access to ahead of your leaving.
Build your emergency savings
It’s not always possible to save money when you are in an abusive relationship because you may not be in control of your own cash flow.
But if you are able to save some money with the knowledge that you intend to leave, or that it’s a possibility that you will, then the more money you can save to cover the basics such as rent, food and travel costs, the better.
Financial experts often recommend having up to three months in savings in an emergency rainy day fund that only you can access. The same could be applied to domestic violence situations, although it may be extremely difficult to achieve when your earnings capacity is restricted.
If this is the case, some simple tips to earning extra cash are:
- Selling items you don’t need via an online platform where you can’t be identified such as Facebook, EBay or Gumtree.
- Taking out small amounts of cash as part of a grocery shop, and hiding it.
- Starting a side job where you are paid cash or into your own private separate bank account.
Talk to your employer
Because earning an income is an important part of being financially independent and feeling confident enough to leave an abusive relationship, your ability to earn an income needs attention.
Often you may have no choice but to quit your job if it means leaving town to escape an abuser, or resort to finding other work entirely.
But given the government’s August introduction of up to five days leave for victims of domestic violence, it might be appropriate to let your human resources (HR) department know what is going on at home.
They may be able to help you in terms of ensuring your pay goes into an account in your name that you control and give you a ‘blame the company policy’ excuse.