As a wider society, we are starting to understand that abuse doesn’t just mean beatings. Of course, physical abuse is a terrible thing. I am not discrediting it. But we need to understand that abuse takes other forms too. This can be mental, verbal and, what I am focusing on in this article, financial. Usually, there are all intertwined but I feel like financial abuse is one of the last forms to receive any attention or understanding. It is essential we do understand it because financial abuse is debilitating and has long-lasting effects.
According to Women’s Aid almost a third of survivors said their money was controlled by their partner during their relationship.
So what is financial abuse exactly?
It is when an abuser controls the finances of their victim. This can involve stopping them using their bank account, spending the victim’s money on themself and not letting the victim have any financial independence. Abusers might build up debts in the victim’s name and any other financial control. Abusers might spend the victim’s money without permission or spend money set aside for bills on treats for themselves.
Economic abuse is slightly different. This term has a wider reach. It means an abuser takes control of a victim’s economic life like not letting them have a job or an education and preventing them from having basic resources like food.
In the end, it’s all about the abuser having as much control as possible. That’s what abusers thrive off. They want control of the victim’s bodies, social life and money. Victims are not allowed any freedom at all. Without money, your life becomes very restricted. You can’t see your friends or pay for transport to go anywhere. You are isolated to who and what is in walking distance without the abuser having to physically stop you. The abuser can instead use the money to fulfil their own desires. They are often narcissists after all.
How does financial abuse happen?
Its a question that victims are often asked. It’s really not as easy as just walking away or saying no. Often abusive behaviours are built up over time. It will start with victims lending their abuser a bit of money because they are going through a hard time. Then it will escalate as the abuser becomes more and more manipulative. Victims will be villainised for not sharing their finances. Any protests from victims will be turned back on them. The abuser will always portray themselves as the hero. Its all part of controlling and cohesive behaviour. Financial abuse doesn’t tend to happen in isolation but alongside other abusive behaviours that will enforce financial control even more.
Before the victim even realises what’s happening, their finances have been taken over by their abuser. Loss of control of their finances makes a huge difference in a victim’s ability to leave. They need to have money to get away. Being financially dependent on their abuser makes it harder to feel like they can survive alone. The victim may fear financial repercussions of annoying their abuser meaning they are scared to challenge them even more. It could mean the abuser spends the rest of the money in the bank account or plunges the victim into more debt. They could feel ashamed about their financial situation or that they deserve to not have the luxury of money.
The impact of financial abuse
Financial abuse makes abusive situations even worse. Its another level of degradation and another barrier to stop victims leaving. It doesn’t necessarily stop when the victim leaves. The abuser could still have access to their accounts or the information to set up new accounts allowing them to keep spending the victim’s money. In situations involving children, childcare payments could be used as a form of control and punishment. Victims could walk out of relationships with nothing – their bank account completely empty and a load of debt under their name. That’s a scary situation for anyone to be in, nevermind someone also dealing with the effects of abuse.
Any controlling behaviour leaves mental scars. Survivors could struggle with the concept of money during their recovery. Being starved of access to money for so long they could spend everything they have fearing it will be taken away from them or feel guilty about spending anything but they were previously punished for doing so. After financial abuse, victims experience an emotional journey as well as a journey to financial stability.
There isn’t currently a specific law covering financial abuse. It comes under the law against controlling and coercive behaviour. This includes most forms of abuse that aren’t physical. Financial abuse can be used as evidence that a partner was manipulative and controlling. You can find more about this law here. For more information about reporting domestic abuse in general read this post.
If you are worried about you or someone you know being in an abusive relationship, reach out for help. There are loads of domestic abuse charities you can talk to but remember if anyone is in immediate danger they need to call the police right away.
Here are some links that you might find useful.