Recent Australian research suggests that 15.7% of women and 7.1% of men experience financial abuse in their lifetimes, with the risk peaking between the ages of 40 and 49 years.
It is often described as a "hidden" form of domestic violence, since people sometimes believe only physical or violent abuse would make them a victim of domestic abuse. Victims of this financial control are often unaware that this type of abuse exists – even when they are being subject to it.
So, what are the signs of financial control or financial abuse? And what can you do if you suspect you are being financially abused, or someone you love is?
WHAT IS FINANCIAL ABUSE?
Financial control or abuse is a form of domestic violence. Domestic violence extends beyond physical violence, and includes any form of violence, abuse and intimidation between people who are, or have been, in an intimate relationship.
In a domestic violence situation, the perpetrator uses these things to control and dominate the other person, leaving the other person physically injured, fearful, or psychologically harmed.
Domestic violence can include any one, or any combination of, the following:
- emotional abuse
- physical assault
- sexual assault
- verbal abuse
- financial control or abuse
- psychological abuse
- isolating a partner from friends and family
- stopping a partner from practising their religion.
SIGNS OF FINANCIAL ABUSE
When Marie started maternity leave, she planned to return to work when her baby was six months old. When the time arrived, her husband told her she was doing a great job at home and persuaded her to stay at home for an extra six months. Now, her baby is two years old and she desperately wants to get back to working, at least part-time. Her husband has also slowly isolated her from her friends and family, and she no longer has a relationship with anyone outside of the household. Her husband says it's not a good idea and has threatened to leave if she returns to work. She is entirely financially dependent on her husband.
This scenario highlights one form of financial abuse, but there are many other ways that a person can use money to exercise control and inflict abuse:
- completely controlling finances and money
- restricting access to bank accounts
- providing an inadequate allowance or monitoring what a partner spends money on
- forbidding a partner to work
- taking a partner's pay and not allowing them access to it
- preventing a partner from getting to work by taking the keys or car
- using a partner's credit card without their permission
WHAT CAN I DO IF I AM FINANCIALLY ABUSED?
If you're planning to leave your partner, and you identify signs of domestic violence (financial or otherwise), it is important to make every attempt to plan an exit strategy before you leave.
Your exit strategy should take into account your support networks, your financial assistance, and your physical protection:
- Find as much emotional support as possible from family and friends. Speak to them about what is going and reach out for help. You can also reach out to the support organisations listed below.
- Think about who you can rely on, at least initially, for financial assistance. Once separated, if your ex-partner refuses to provide to you any financial assistance, you can:
- make an application with the Child Support Agency for child support (if there are children involved)
- make an application with the court for financial support provided it can be established your partner has capacity and you have the need (the first court date after you make an application can be 6-8 weeks away so it is helpful if you can support yourself for a number of months)
- reach out to Centrelink to find out if any government benefits are available to assist you
- If you need to apply for a protection order through the courts, start gathering evidence of the most recent incidents of violence, intimidation or threats, the history of your relationship and the violence, and why you feel the violence will occur again. An application for a domestic violence order can be done privately (where you file the documents yourself) or through the police (where they will take your statement and lodge the application on your behalf).
You can find more pre-separation advice on our pre-separation information page.
WHERE TO FIND HELP WHEN IN A DOMESTIC VIOLENT RELATIONSHIP
These organisations offer support and help for those who find themselves in a domestic violence situation:
- Lifeline – Crisis support and suicide prevention services. Ph: 13 11 14 (24 hours)
- Relationships Australia – Relationship support services for individuals and families, including counselling, mediation and education programs. Ph: 1300 364 277
- DV Connect – Queensland-wide telephone counselling service and practical assistance such as intervention, transport and emergency accommodation. Ph: 1800 811 811
- Domestic Violence Prevention Centre Gold Coast Inc – In person counselling and support for victims.
- 1800RESPECT – National sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral service. Ph: 1800 737 732
If you suspect that you're being financially abused, or that a friend or loved one is in this unfortunate situation, being aware that there is a problem is the first step in getting help. While a solution isn't easy, there are things you can do – one step at a time.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.