After decades of families suffering in silence, it seems that the government, media and general public is finally opening their eyes to the realities of domestic abuse. However, the problem goes a lot deeper than just physical violence. Financial abuse is a huge problem in our society, although it is sadly often overlooked and misunderstood – and its keeping women locked in terrible situations for far longer than they need to be.
When financial adviser and author Helen Baker was interviewed in a podcast on the topic recently by Wellness Daily, she revealed some shocking truths. Baker said that, put simply, financial abuse involves “a restriction on people’s independence.” It could take the form of a restrictive allowance, limiting the amount of money the victim has access to and making it difficult for them to afford necessities for themselves or their children. The abusive spouse may be spending up big on their own hobbies or vices, leaving insufficient funds for food or rent, or racking up high levels of debt which the victim then must help to repay.
Financial abuse can prevent victims from working, studying, participating in their community, using transport, accessing medical services and, of course, breaking ties with their abusive partner.
What are the signs of financial abuse?
Baker says signs of financial abuse within a relationship can include:
- One party taking on sole control of the couple’s finances
- One party restricting access to funds or information from the other party
- One party making financial decisions without involving or consulting their spouse
While financial abuse can affect both genders, Baker says women are particularly susceptible.
Added to that the wage gap and the disparity in superannuation that often accompanies taking time out of the workforce to fair a family, and it’s no surprise that news reports are flooded with stories of older Australian women left broker and even homeless in their golden years.
She also cautions that financial abuse can occur regardless of income or socio-economic status, with wealthy women just as vulnerable as their less well-off counterparts. While it often impacts families where one parent works and the other stays at home, professional women earning their own high salaries can also be affected.
Those in second and subsequent marriages are particularly prone to financial abuse, as the family budget becomes more and more stretches by costs such as child support and furnishing a home from scratch following a divorce.
When it comes to dealing with financial abuse, Baker suggests a process which she calls the Four C’s: clarity, control, certainty and confidence. These are the path by which victims can claw back their empowerment. She also advocates the Five Foundations approach to protecting yourself from a financial abusive situation.
The first step, says Baker, is to have an emergency fund that you can access – if you need to leave your partner, for example. Even better, if you can open this account with a different bank and don’t tell anyone about it, you will have more peace of mind.
The next step is to have a spending and investment plan, a comprehensive budget that takes into account all your income and expenses. One you have ticked these two crucial first steps off, you can move into organising your insurance and superannuation, before finally making sure your will and power of attorney reflect your wishes.
If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, there is help. Many charities, including the Salvation Army and Christians Against Poverty offer free financial counselling, or you can call Lifeline or 1800 RESPECT for advice and support. And most importantly remember (or remind your friend or loved one) that you are not alone.
This article contains information that is general in nature. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation or needs before making any decisions based on this information.
Louisa Sanghera is a Finance Broker for Residential Mortgages, Vehicle and Asset Finance, Commercial Lending and Budgeting and Cashflow Coaching with Zippy Financial.
She has gained more than 30 years in the Banking and Industry, and since founding Zippy Financial, has become a multi award nominated expert in the field of finance featuring regularly in industry press and speaking at finance and investment seminars across the country.