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.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse is wider in its definition than ‘financial abuse’, as it can also include restricting access to essential resources such as food, clothing or transport, and denying the means to improve a person’s economic status (for example, through employment, education or training). The charity Surviving Economic Abuse describes it in the following way:

“Economic abuse is designed to reinforce or create economic instability. In this way it limits women’s choices and ability to access safety. Lack of access to economic resources can result in women staying with abusive men for longer and experiencing more harm as a result.” 

The impact

As reported in The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse, we surveyed 72 survivors and found that:

  • Nearly a third (31.9%) of respondents said their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator
  • A quarter of respondents said that their partner did not let them have money for essentials during the relationship
  • A third of respondents had to give up their home as a result of the abuse or leaving the relationship and nine found themselves homeless as a result of leaving
  • 43.1% of respondents told us they were in debt as a result of the abuse and over a quarter regularly lost sleep through worrying about debt
  • 56.1% of our sample who had left a relationship with an abuser felt that the abuse had impacted their ability to work and over two fifths of all respondents felt the abuse had negatively impacted their long-term employment prospects/earnings.

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

Image of the cover of The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse explores the relationship between domestic abuse and economic resources

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’

[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 (2019) The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse. Bristol: Women’s Aid

[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

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