There are many forms that domestic abuse can take, the most obvious two are physical and verbal abuse. Unfortunately, there are also more subtle forms of abuse, such as economic abuse.
‘Domestic abuse goes beyond physical harm’
What is Economic Abuse?
Like with most abusive behaviours, the purpose is to control their victims and restrict their use of using their own money. Most of the time, this type of abuse is not a stand-alone situation, many times physical, verbal or other forms of abuse go hand in hand. The actions of the abuser are to limit the victim’s freedom to do anything. This leads to isolation and the victim is left to fully rely on their abuser for everything. The situation can even go so far as to include controlling access to basic needs such as food and clothing.
As with other forms of abuse, we rarely hear and read about economic abuse. When you take away a woman’s freedom and ability to make choices, she is left with nowhere to go. She may feel there is no other choice but to remain with her abusive partner. As a result of staying, a woman is left exposed to being hurt even more, which could lead to physical injuries and worst case scenario, homicide.
Economic abuse is different from physical abuse, as the abuser doesn’t have to be close by. Even after being separated, the effects follow. How can a woman build another life without access to finances?
Types of Economic abuse
There are different methods an abuser can use to control their partner’s finances. This is especially true for those who apply for things like joint bank or credit accounts.
The first method is to exert control:
- An abuser will try to deny access to money, thereby stripping the person of any financial independence.
- Demanding the victim turns over their bank and credit cards, even their salary
- The abuser will keep track of any money being used
- They will not share any financial responsibility,
- The victim will need to ask for money
- The abuser may even hinder the victim from gaining any further education or employment.
- Threatening to cut the victim off financially
The second method is through exploitation:
- The abuser may destroy or damage any property or belongings of the victim
- Building up debt that then falls under the victim’s name, by not paying bill’s on time, or even using credit cards without knowledge and permission.
Lastly, the abuser can use tactics like sabotage, which is mainly aimed at a person’s employment:
- They somehow manipulate their victim, preventing them from going to work
- An abuser might even show up at work and cause a scene
- Or just plain threaten their victim, force them to leave their place of work.
Economic abuse can be very subtle, it is not something that is illegal. Many times, the effects literally leave a victim choosing between going back to their abuser or having to live in poverty to the extent of homelessness. When a victim leaves, they will have no security, no money and sometimes no job. Here are some ideas that could help you break free from financial abuse.
This type of abuse is not only for couples, but it can also extend to other relatives like parents. Economic abuse of an older parent, where their parent then has minimal access to their finances, under the guise of helping. Wherever there is a situation where somebody is denying you access to your financial information, it is time to seek help.
Seek help for financial abuse
In certain circumstances, family or friends can help by providing financial support. There are also organizations who can help with legal advice, counselling and shelter if necessary. You can seek help from places like POWA or Lifeline.
Once out of the abusive situation, it is important to get an overview of your finances. You should find out what your situation is and how much debt you may have. You can easily get yourself a free credit report and, if necessary, you can seek debt counselling.
Another step should be to get control back over your bank cards and other financial areas the abusive person had access to. This means getting into contact with the bank and preventing outside access, opening up a new account or changing your access passwords. The next step may be very difficult and take some time, but you can build up your credit score as well as start building your savings.
Women have come quite far in terms of gender equality, but the struggle is still very real for many women in South Africa and all over the world. In many cultures, the man is seen as the one who should be in charge of the finances amongst other things in the home. But financial independence is something everyone should have access to. A person is empowered when they have security as well as peace of mind.