What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is an aspect of ‘coercive control’ – a pattern of controlling, threatening and degrading behaviour that restricts a victims’ freedom.

It’s important to understand that financial abuse seldom happens in isolation: in most cases perpetrators use other abusive behaviours to threaten and reinforce the financial abuse.

Financial abuse involves a perpetrator using or misusing money which limits and controls their partner’s current and future actions and their freedom of choice. It can include using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in their partner’s name, and gambling with family assets. [1]

Financial abuse can leave women with no money for basic essentials such as food and clothing. It can leave them without access to their own bank accounts, with no access to any independent income and with debts that have been built up by abusive partners set against their names. Even when a survivor has left the home, financial control can still be exerted by the abuser with regard to child maintenance.

Sadly the vast majority of survivors experience financial abuse at some point.

The impact

Under reported and poorly recognised, financial abuse affects women in a range of different ways. Even those who may have a full-time salary or who share joint accounts with their partners are not safe from financial abuse.

We surveyed 126 survivors and found:

· 71 per cent went without essentials because they didn’t have enough money

· 61 per cent were in debt because of financial abuse and 37 per cent had a bad credit rating as a result.

· 52 per cent of those living with an abuser said they had no money so could not leave. [2]

Mary's Story

Mary's story

Mary married an older, high-income man. She had a job but he pressurised her to give up work. He then deposited money into her account for household bills. This account was almost empty at the end of the month and she had to keep asking for extra cash. He said the allowance was enough, so she was bad at managing money. On several occasions the allowance was withheld. “I realised that I was trapped and controlled. His income was high and we had savings, but I never felt I was his partner, I was more like his slave.” [3]

Why is it important to address financial abuse?

The manipulation of money and other economic resources is one of the most prominent forms of coercive control, depriving women of the material means needed for independence, resistance and escape.

  • It’s a barrier to leaving: Lack of access to economic resources is a reason why many women feel that they have no choice but to stay with an abuser.
  • Increased risk for the survivor: Economic barriers to leaving can result in women staying with abusive men for longer and experiencing greater danger, injuries and even homicide as a result.
  • A barrier to an independent life: Economic abuse doesn’t rely on physical proximity, so can continue after separation. Women are often left in debt and the lack of financial security impacts on their ability to rebuild their lives after leaving.

More information

Unequal, trapped and controlled: women’s experiences of financial abuse and the potential implications for Universal Credit

Women’s Aid and the TUC wrote a report about women’s experience of financial abuse called ‘Unequal trapped and controlled’

Helpline Poster

If you are concerned about your relationship, call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline (run in partnership with Refuge) day or night.

[1] Sharp, N (2008) “What’s Yours is Mine”: the different forms of economic abuse and its impact on women and children experiencing domestic violence. London: Refuge

[2] Women’s Aid and TUC (2015) “Unequal trapped and controlled: Women’s experiences of financial abuse and the potential implications for Universal Credit.” www.womensaid.org.uk/financial-abuse-report

[3] Women’s Aid and TUC (2015) “Unequal trapped and controlled: Women’s experiences of financial abuse and the potential implications for Universal Credit.” www.womensaid.org.uk/financial-abuse-report

© 2015 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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