Why financial abuse is domestic violence

Felicity Hannah
by Lovemoney Staff Felicity Hannah on 14 March 2012  |  Comments 38 comments

Financial abuse is a subtler kind of abuse, but one that can trap victims as effectively as the most brutal violence.

Why financial abuse is domestic violence

It’s easy to assume that domestic violence refers to just that – violence. Physical harm caused to one partner in a relationship, most often the woman.

But actually the official definition recognises a wide number of abuses as domestic violence, including psychological, emotional – and financial.

In some ways, financial abuse is even easier for attackers to hide; there are no tell-tale bruises provoking awkward questions.

Not only that, we’re notoriously touchy when it comes to discussing finances in the UK, even with our friends or family. That can make it even harder for victims to reach out for support, or question whether a situation is normal.

So what is financial abuse?

If a partner is preventing someone from having financial independence then they could be considered financially abusive.

The way this abuse manifests itself can vary, but often includes controlling their partner’s bank account or benefits; demanding to see receipts accounting for all spending; stealing or demanding money; making their partner ask others for money; and preventing their victim from spending money on themselves or their children.

So at one extreme, abusers don’t allow their partners to have any say in the household finances and control every penny. At the other extreme, they trap their partners with mountains of debt, putting all the household bills in their name.

Victims can become trapped in a cycle of poverty, causing physical and mental ill-health, a lack of confidence and feelings of isolation.

Is it really as bad as physical violence?

Financial abuse can leave victims feeling unable to escape unhappy and physically violent relationships, by trapping them with debts or limited funds. Women are most often the victims, and may feel unable to leave abusive partners because of their financial insecurity, particularly if they have children to think about.

According to Walby & Allen’s British Crime Survey 2004, 41% of women who’ve experienced domestic force have also suffered financial abuse. When you consider that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, you can see that the problem of financial abuse is bigger than you might initially think.

However, financial abuse isn’t restricted to women experiencing physical violence. Research from the YWCA, now renamed Platform 51, shows that some women suffering financial abuse don’t recognise that they’re being mistreated because they are not being hit.

According to this charity, the average age of women experiencing financial abuse is 20. That’s an age where many people have not yet formed sound financial judgement, making them even more vulnerable to manipulation.

For example, Gabriella was with her partner for nine months and escaped a financially abusive relationship with the help of Platform 51. She described what happened: “My boyfriend constantly asked me for money, which he spent on booze, and I'd have no money for myself. When I told him I didn't have any money left he called me a liar and checked my bank statements. He insulted me until my self-esteem was at rock bottom.”

Escaping financial abuse

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that people experiencing financial abuse are reading this article. Someone experiencing such extreme economic control isn’t likely to spend time browsing a website dedicated to making the most of their money.

That’s why it’s so important for people to be aware of this issue, to watch out for the signs, and to have information on how victims can escape and rebuild their lives. The charity Refuge, in conjunction with HBOS, has published a useful financial guide (opens as a pdf) for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

Sadly, escaping an abusive partner is rarely as simple as packing a bag and walking out, especially if the victim is experiencing money worries. Here are three things to bear in mind:

  • Build an escape fund. This can be tricky if the abuser is very controlling over money but aim to put small amounts of cash aside over a period of time.
  • Set up a new bank account that your partner doesn’t have access to, requesting that the bank doesn’t send bank statements to the shared home.
  • You can simply walk out in a crisis. Your local benefits office can issue a crisis loan in an emergency, even if you don’t receive benefits. If violence escalates and you need to run then there is financial help available.

What to take

It will be easier to rebuild your finances if you manage to take a few key documents with you when you go. Of course, if you don’t manage to take these with you, you can get copies, but you’ll find your feet faster with these to hand.

Documents to try and take with you include pay slips and other tax documents, such as P45 forms; passports; your National Insurance number; bank statements; documents proving ownership of any belongings; details of credit cards and bills that are shared or in your name; your birth certificate and the birth certificates of your children.

If it’s not safe to take the original documents then try making copies, or simply scribbling down key information such as account numbers.

Getting free from your ex’s debts

Once you’ve escaped, it can feel daunting to start disentangling your financial affairs from your ex’s. The most important thing to remember is that they will also be able to see your bank statements from joint accounts, which can include locations of cash machines that you’ve used. If you’re lying low then consider setting up a new account and transferring money into it instead.

Remember that if you share a bank account, you are jointly liable for any overdraft, even if your ex has spent the money. If the account is in credit then talk to the bank about closing it down; some banks allow you to do so without your partner’s consent.

If the account is already overdrawn then the bank will allow you to freeze it, after which you should seek legal advice. Talk to a charity like Women’s Aid or Refuge if you’re not sure how to access help.

Dealing with debt can feel overwhelming but you can’t ignore it. The biggest priority is making sure your partner can’t run up any further debt. Then you can start regaining control of your credit. Unfortunately you will be jointly responsible for any shared debt and if the creditors can’t chase your ex, they’ll come to you. It may not be fair but it is the law.

Check out lovemoney.com's Dealing With Debt blog from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service for tips and advice on becoming debt free.

Seek help

There are many organisations out there that can help you plan, discuss your options or simply listen.

Women’s Aid and Refuge jointly run a 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline. It’s free to call on 0808 2000 247, and won’t show up on BT bills.

More: A 30% debt disaster | Edwina Currie is part of the UK's debt problem

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Comments (38)

  • real1
    Love rating 0
    real1 said

    Reading all these comments, it shows that financials are clearly hot button issue #1 in a relationship. Somehow when people marry, most of us don't understand that marriage was set up as an economic partnership. So, if that's true, then ladies, we should approach going into marriage like going into a business negotiation. And give whatever we give up for the marriage or the family the pricetags it deserves. And men, believe me, if we took such an approach, many of us would end up much better than what we 're getting right now.

    Let's clarify a few things:

    Domestic abuse usually touches on all forms of abuse physical, emotional, financial at different times. Financial abuse is the last part of a puzzle with which the victim can be tormented with. Yes, abuse can happen to men and women, however statistics show very clearly that 85% of domestic violence victims are female. Financial abuse is the most effective form of abuse in preventing a spouse from escape. Leaving takes money. Attorneys cost money. Divorce or separation takes time. A roof over your head costs money. Men can hurt women through custody battles threatening to take her children away or financials, trying to make sure, she never ever sees a way out of the forest towards happiness ever again. What most of you are describing in your comments are nitty gritty marital conflicts over money. It is abuse when a spouse cannot leave because she cannot afford an attorney, has no job, lives in a country where there are no social benefits available as e.g. is the case in the USA, has limited legal grounds or access to marital assets. When a spouse is prevented from taking on a job. Or when she has a job and is forced to handover her paycheck and he decides where the money gets put towards. For example, she earns income. He takes the check. He has a choice between putting the payment towards paying off the mortgage on the house (in which case the spouse would have a tracable payment and legal right towards building up marital assets) , or he chooses to use the money to pay off a credit card in which case, her money is used to pay off the credit card, so it does not get paid towards increasing marital assets. See the difference? You'd be surprised how often this happens. Or take another case: You live in an area with limited jobs. You have children. you get a job offer in another town and would need to relocate, but your spouse refuses. There is no way, you can go, at least not with your child, without a court order. So, you're stuck. Don't have a job. Have limited marital assets or a limited legal right to assets. Don't have your own money and are a stay at home mother with your kids. You have to ask for every cent. Justify every purchase of 3.95. Or even less. Your spouse defers income, and instead takes out loans, which are considered marital. No attorney takes your case unless you pay a considerable amount of money. And mind you, in the US for example, custody battles and divorce can easily reach 100,000$. You have no way out. Unless you painstakingly plan. Strategize. Build up some discreet money which you need to survive, because when an abuser realizes that you want out, the conflict will escalate, from covert to overt. At this point, if not already earlier, your life is in jeopardy. Potentially also that of your children. Yes, when getting out of an abusive situation you do need to put financial strategies in place. you have to take financial precautions just like someone who is hiding assets under normal circumstances. That's the paradox of the whole thing. What it buys you is a start for a way out, at least so that you survive and one day can get back on your feet. it gets you your life back. free of fear, free of being continually coerced into things you do not want. Free to do what is healthy for you and your children. free of walking on landlines, never knowing when one might explode right underneath you. free to sleep through the night. free to breath and enjoy a day in the rain or sun.

    Report on 23 March 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • mmmk
    Love rating 0
    mmmk said

    Many of the comments to this post make me feel even more hopeless than I already do.

    I have no control over any money. My husband earns, I am working on a Ph.D. that will hopefully the care of our future earning potential (he is 22 years older than me and will be retired at about the same time i can expect to be finished). My bank account is scrutinised, we have no joint bank account, I am not allowed my personal credit card - my one emergency source of money, I have no access to cash, so my only access to money is on a joint credit card he pays off every month so he can track every penny I spend.

    The only new clothes I've had in the last 12 months have been in the form of a few birthday presents, apart from lingerie I don't need that my husband has bought for me. In the previous 12 months, I bought from the £3 sales with Nectar Points and hoped he wouldn't notice.

    I never suggest a meal out, or a take away - that's a certain way to make sure it won't happen. I have to wait for him to suggest it, and most of the time he'll later say that we can't afford it. I wouldn't mind if he never suggested it, but we never go anywhere else - I go for weeks without leaving the house but to shop for food - but the dashed hope and then the punishment I get for daring to be disappointed is just not worth it. In fact, I'm not even disappointed that we don't go out anymore, because even if we do go out I have to be consistently grateful for it for days after, but I'd like him to at least stop pretending that we're going to do something.

    He calls me demanding, but when I ask him what I am demanding he never has an answer and moves onto something else.

    The male/female debate is, I think, generally unhelpful. It is never useful to generalise all men as controlling and abusive, as it is unhelpful to label all women as conniving and using. Everyone, man or woman is capable of the full range of human emotions and actions and the 'them and us' mentality is wrong.

    My husband daily reminds me that thought the house is legally ours, it is his morally. I have never disputed this and have consistently told him that I would stake no claim should we divorce. But he keeps telling me that my (non-existent) lawyers would push me to fleecing him. It makes me want to scream because he just doesn't trust me and there's no reason for it. I've been nothing but grateful for him supporting me through the degree and I am so conscious of spending his money to make sure I only get the essentials.

    He thinks that because I am not earning money, he has the monopoly on how things are. If I'd made the decision to do a Ph.D. Before we were married, I might see his reason for an argument, but he was wholly supportive and encouraged me to do it. Now, if I offer to give it up and get a job, he tells me that I'd never get one, anyway. And then when he's feeling nice again, that he didn't mean it and he's fully behind me.

    Men, I am not dismissing your points, but I am dismissing what seems to be, in some comments, a very sweeping generalisation that seems to be based on a single experience, because that's what I'm suffering from: my husband thinks I am going to be like his ex-wife, who walked away with a lot. I will genuinely walk away with nothing, if splitting up is what we have to do.

    It would be so much easier if we didn't have moments of genuine pleasure between all the bad.

    Report on 26 October 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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