Recognize financial abuse in relationships and where to get help

Kylie * trusted her boyfriend. So when he asked to use his bank and his credit cards, she authorized him.

Then things got worse.

He took full control of his finances and began to take on debt on his behalf.

“He was giving me dribbles and drabs,” Kylie says.

“I knew it was wrong, but was I saying ‘no’ that was worth the hit?

She eventually ended the relationship, fleeing their home with $ 40,000 in debt.

In addition to being forced to file for bankruptcy and having a bad credit rating, she says the emotional scars “will always be there.”

Research has shown that almost 16% of Australian women experience economic abuse. Financial stress and disability are important markers.

Kylie believes her intellectual disability has made her more vulnerable.

“When you’re up against someone powerful like the person I dealt with, you don’t understand, you’re trapped and you don’t know how to get out of it.

But she wants other women to know that there is support for this largely hidden form of domestic violence.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is not exclusive to intimate relationships.

Nicole McMahon, CEO of 1800RESPECT, explains that financial abuse occurs when a person is excluded from financial decision-making or prevented from accessing money that is rightfully theirs.

It takes many forms and can be different for each victim.

“It can also force you to pay for things you don’t need or need, force you to give someone money and control your benefits or pay,” Mrs. McMahon said.

“It can prevent someone from studying or working. It could be someone forcing you to give up assets or take out loans on behalf of someone else.”

Women are the majority of victims of economic abuse and often it can be subtle, says Joanne Yates, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW.

For example, someone who takes control of a joint bank account.

“They might be watching what you spend, you might need to ask permission to buy certain things, or they might take full control of your payroll and give you coins as compensation,” she says. .

Cultural expectations also mean it can affect families differently, says Prof. Supriya Singh, of the School of Business and Law at RMIT University.

“In the Australian Indian community, financial abuse is tainted with money that belongs to the family rather than the couple,” she says.

While a son sending money to his parents in India may be seen as an act of respect born of an obligation, this is not always the case.

“When a husband sends all his money and some of his wife’s money to his parents without consulting his wife, then the remittances become financially abusive,” says Professor Singh.

The consequences of financial abuse

All kinds of abuse can leave emotional, psychological and physical scars.

Financial abuse can lead to significant debts for the victims.(

Unsplash: Kelly Sikkema


Financial abuse has the added consequence of leaving someone bankrupt or in debt and, in extreme cases, homeless, Ms. Yates says.

“Especially when older couples divorce… women are paid less and great because they take care of their families.

“They are losing their homes and we are starting to see women becoming homeless.”

Kylie says that even though she feels stronger for going through what she’s done, she still feels emotional thinking about it.

“People with disabilities are absolutely more vulnerable. I trusted him and I was in pain.”

What are the warning signs?

When controlling behavior around finances becomes a pattern, it’s a sign of abuse, Ms. McMahon says.

“One of the most common warning signs is that exclusion [from financial decisions]. ”

Ms. Yates says it could start with something simple like applying for a small loan of money.

“They might say ‘I won’t get paid until next week, would you mind paying for groceries or shouting dinner?’

“When it becomes a model and is opposed to a point model – there is an imbalance.”

She says if a request makes you uncomfortable, don’t ignore that instinct.

Those who have been victims of financial abuse say:

  • They were afraid of the other person.
  • Financial abuse has been experienced along with other forms of abuse.
  • There were subtle changes in the other person’s behavior, and this then progressed over time.
  • They felt “stupid” or incompetent.
  • Loans, mortgages, credit cards and accounts were in one person’s name, which made them feel helpless and trapped.
  • There was no discussion on finances, income and budgets. Decisions were made without their input.

Source: 1800RESPECT

Seek help

Ms. McMahon says it often takes a long time for victims of financial abuse to seek help because they see no way out.

“The most important thing is to understand that this is really quite common and that there is support available, there is no shame in asking for help,” she says.

Victims or people worried about someone they know can call 1800RESPECT or jump in line chat with an advisor.

the National Debt Helpline offers free financial advice.

Ms. Yates also recommends sharing with a friend or someone you trust for support.

Kylie says she wants other women to know that while it can be difficult at first, asking for help was the best thing she’s ever done.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. People will listen and want to help.”

* The name has been changed for reasons of confidentiality.

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