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Knowing the signs: How to recognise financial or economic abuse

  • July 23 2020
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Knowing the signs: How to recognise financial or economic abuse

By Grace Ormsby
July 23 2020

The stress caused by COVID-19 has caused a spike in the occurrence of family violence, but less attention has been paid to financial or economic abuse, which is often “invisible” in nature. Would you know what to look out for?

Knowing the signs: How to recognise financial or economic abuse

Knowing the signs: How to recognise financial or economic abuse

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  • July 23 2020
  • Share

The stress caused by COVID-19 has caused a spike in the occurrence of family violence, but less attention has been paid to financial or economic abuse, which is often “invisible” in nature. Would you know what to look out for?

Knowing the signs: How to recognise financial or economic abuse

RMIT University’s Supriya Singh, an honorary professor in the university’s graduate school of business and law, has warned that “a tsunami of economic abuse reports by women threatens to flood services once they can safely seek help”.

“COVID-19 has further entrapped women and children suffering family violence,” she said, noting an increase in calls from victims of such violence, especially for those who have re-entered stage 3 restrictions in Melbourne.

But even more worrying from her perspective “is the silence of women who are trapped”, with isolation, fear and entrapment key elements of coercive control that sits at the centre of family violence.

According to Professor Singh, even where women do feel safe enough to seek help, more instances of family violence are arising – especially in lockdown-like scenarios and due to the extra stress that the COVID-19 crisis is causing.

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Pre-pandemic, “the best estimate is one in four women suffer financial/economic abuse by an intimate partner”, she highlighted.

Worryingly, “financial abuse will rise because of the general economic fragility and uncertainty” that is present at the moment.  

“Financial abuse is gendered, in that it’s men who abuse women. And it is women who are more impacted by financial vulnerability because of COVID,” the academic explained.

“Women have lost more hours of work as they are often casual workers in hospitality, health and education. Fewer women receive JobKeeper payments because of the insecurity of their work. At the same time, women are doing more hours of unpaid work at home,” Professor Singh stated.

All of these factors make for a greater incidence of financial stress and make it more difficult to plan to leave an abusive situation.

Explaining how economic abuse does occur, Professor Singh went on to illustrate how “a woman is embarrassed and ashamed when she finds herself without access to money and economic assets, has her money and property appropriated, and is prevented from gaining assets.”

“She thinks it is her fault. She cannot name economic abuse as family violence. She does not realise she is being subjected to a pattern of abuse that entraps her, denying her human rights and taking away her sense of self,” she explained.

Recognising the signs

According to Professor Singh, family, friends and acquaintances should be aware of the warning signs of financial or economic abuse, and consider the following questions.

• Is the woman constantly short of money, even though she and her partner may appear well off?

• Does she appear to be always worried about bills?

• Is there a gambling problem within the family?

• Is the woman always trying to excuse her partner’s controlling behaviour or overspending?

• Is the woman’s household goods being repossessed or her jewellery pawned?

• Have any friends or family been approached about providing a loan?   

How to help

From Professor Singh’s perspective, one of the most helpful things that friends, family and acquaintances can do “is to name it as financial or economic abuse”.

Secondly, it’s worth talking to the victim that “financial abuse is family violence – suffering the violence of money”.

“Most people do not associate financial/economic abuse with family violence, though it is part of the legal definition of family violence. They think family violence means he is beating you,” she expressed.

The academic said, to start, “offer help by first listening without being judgemental”.

“Tell her you are there to help. Tell her also where she can seek help. Also alert her, if needed to multicultural agencies that help with family violence. It is easier to get help when the cultural lens of money is the same,” she added.

As financial and economic abuse is family violence, the academic advised that any services dealing with family violence “should also be able to offer at least temporary help and/or refer a person to specialist services like financial or family counselling”.

Knowing the signs: How to recognise financial or economic abuse
Knowing the signs: How to recognise financial or economic abuse
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About the author

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Grace is a journalist on Momentum Media's nestegg. She enjoys being able to provide easy to digest information and practical tips for Australians with regard to their wealth, as well as having a platform on which to engage leading experts and commentators and leverage their insight.

About the author

Grace is a journalist on Momentum Media's nestegg. She enjoys being able to provide easy to digest information and practical tips for Australians with regard to their wealth, as well as having a platform on which to engage leading experts and commentators and leverage their insight.

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