The forgotten victims of financial abuse
Financial abuse isn't restricted to women experiencing violence in the home, or even just women.
Last week I wrote about financial abuse, prompting an outpouring of comments. Some were sad stories of marriages turned abusive, and financial chaos or extreme control.
Others pointed out that this is a much wider issue than many realise, with men as well as women experiencing this secretive abuse. That’s certainly true, so I want to take a look at men and other groups that are sometimes the hidden or overlooked victims of financial abuse.
Domestic violence is bullying and controlling behaviour, and can be physical, psychological, sexual or financial. It can be hard for men in particular to admit they are the victims of an abusive partner. That’s especially true when it comes to financial abuse, as many people don’t recognise financially controlling behaviour to be abuse.
I look at the ways that financial abuse can manifest itself in my article Why financial abuse is domestic violence.
Women are often the victims, but men are also vulnerable. In fact, according to the charity Men’s Advice Line, some men find themselves vulnerable to abuse because their partner threatens them with the loss of access to their children. That’s a threat that would cause many loving fathers to stay in bad situations.
Some men may also feel embarrassed at having to admit they have been the subject of abuse, whether at the hands of a wife or girlfriend, or a same-sex partner. There’s a perception among some that it isn’t ‘manly’ to be a victim, causing some men to conceal the truth from friends and family.
Pandora’s Project is a not-for-profit group that provides support for survivors of sexual assault. It warns that men are affected by domestic violence, including financial abuse, more than society might think.
Its research shows that there are many reasons men remain with abusive partners, including financial insecurity, fear of leaving children in a vulnerable situation and love for the abuser.
But fear of being laughed at is a particularly powerful reason men remain in financially and physically abusive relationships. The group says: “The media portrays the popular image of the ‘hen-pecked’ guy who is abused by his wife as a figure of fun....portraying him as weak, pathetic, stupid… and who wants to have this stereotype attached to them?”
Worryingly, this means that men are five times less likely to discuss domestic abuse with friends or family. If you think you might be a victim of extreme financial control, or any kind of abuse, you can call the Men's Advice Line in confidence on 0808 8010 327.
Financial abuse of the elderly is particularly disturbing as it’s often perpetrated by sons and daughters. Sometimes the victim finds that they can’t seek help as age prejudice causes people to dismiss their concerns, or assume that they are simply confused. It’s an especially difficult area as sometimes older people are confused.
Any illegal or unauthorised theft or use of a person’s property, cash or valuables should be considered financial abuse.
The charity Age UK says that this isn’t always as straightforward as a carer stealing cash from a purse; it could involve putting pressure on the older person to lend or give money to family members or caring staff.
Sometimes financial abuse takes place when a carer or family member takes charge of the older person’s pension book and doesn’t give them all their money, or misuses their credit or debit card.
The charity Action On Elder Abuse (AEA) says that often the children of victims don’t realise that what they are doing is fraudulent or abusive; they justify it to themselves on the grounds that they are simply getting an advance on their eventual inheritance.
People with learning disabilities
It’s a sad fact that the most vulnerable people in our society can seem like easy prey for thieves and fraudsters. As with some older victims, it can be hard for the victim to convince people that there is a problem, or even for them to seek help in the first place.
East Sussex Country Council gives an example of a local case of financial abuse. David has a learning disability and so lives in a care home, where staff help him manage his weekly allowance. However, a carer noticed that David’s bank statement included abnormal withdrawals, and that the balance was lower than it should be.
David gave his permission for the police to be called and they viewed CCTV footage from a cash machine, showing a support worker stealing money from his account. That carer was prosecuted and is no longer able to work with vulnerable adults.
Possible signs of financial abuse
Abuse can really vary, which is why it’s so important to speak out if you see any signs of mistreatment or inappropriate financial behaviour.
The organisation Action on Elder Abuse lists the following as signs of possible financial abuse:
- Signatures on cheques that are not in the person’s usual handwriting
- Unusual banking activity, such as large withdrawals
- Additional names being added to the person’s bank account
- Sudden changes to a person’s will, or the unexpected creation of a will
- Previously uninvolved relatives appearing out of nowhere and claiming an interest in the person’s affairs
- A sudden and unexplained transfer of assets
- Unpaid bills and/or rent, when someone else is responsible for ensuring the payments are made
- Someone expressing concern that the person is spending too much money on themselves or on care
- The person suddenly lacking amenities that they should be able to afford, such as new clothes, TV and personal grooming items
- The disappearance of valuable items such as jewellery or cash
- Signs that a person is being deliberately isolated from their friends and family, allowing the caregiver total control.
If you suspect that someone is experiencing financial abuse, or any kind of mistreatment, you can phone the adult social care helpline on 0300 200 1005.