Family and domestic violence is generally thought of as physical, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse. But there is another insidious abuse experienced by many women. This abuse can be difficult to talk about and its ramifications can last well after women have escaped the relationship. I am talking about financial abuse and coercive debt.
Women and children are referred to us to escape domestic violence and homelessness. They get support with sourcing stable housing and being linked to services to rebuild their lives. Financial concerns may be put on the back burner while their more immediate needs such as safety, housing, and legal matters are addressed. Although women are invited to discuss their financial situation so that we can offer support, they are often reticent to disclose the extent of their money problems.
As a trusting relationship is developed between the woman and a Bonnie’s staff member, women divulge more details of their financial burden, and a more accurate picture of debt comes to light. It can be quite a surprise to some women that they have been victims of yet another form of abuse.
Stories from the women we see at Bonnie’s, tell of credit cards being taken out in their names, without their knowledge or consent; their signatures are forged for loans which are often for their partner’s gambling addictions. Some women are left with thousands of dollars of debt. Women are then forced to repay loans, either to banking institutions (if eligible) or are shamed into repaying the partner’s family.
Women feel a lot of shame with having debt to their name. But it’s even more painful knowing that their trust was betrayed by their partner. Money is charged with symbolism and an intimate partner is someone to trust ideally in financial matters. Many women experience not having a say in money matters, restrictions on their spending and forbidden from sourcing employment. They become financially dependent which can be an obstacle to leaving an abusive relationship.
What women are often not aware of is the support available to address their debt. This is particularly pertinent to those newly arrived in Australia and those from CALD backgrounds. Bonnies can link women with women’s legal services and female financial counselors who understand the dynamics of financial abuse and domestic violence. Payment plans can be arranged and in some cases, debt can be waivered. Some banks also have support and non-interest loans for women who have experienced domestic violence. For government debt, there are work development orders (WDO) available which includes participating in case management and counseling to settle the debt if the eligibility criteria are met.
Financial abuse is starting to become more recognized and there are services that provide free advice and support. The 1800RESPECT phone line now has financial abuse support available. If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, please seek help.
Written by Margy, Photo by CreditScoreGeek