Financial abuse: what to do when a loved one uses money as a means to control you

Woman's Day Editor-in-Chief Fiona Connolly shares her personal experience with financial abuse, plus how to spot the warning signs and rebuild your life.

By Woman's Day in partnership with Commonwealth Bank
According to recent research*, 36 per cent of Australian women have either personally experienced financial abuse or know of someone who has.
The reality is, the numbers are likely even higher as many victims feel too ashamed to admit what has happened to them, despite it being an all-too-common occurrence.
To help shed some much-needed light on financial abuse — which is closely linked to domestic abuse — Woman's Day Editor-in-Chief Fiona Connolly sat down with finance commentator Effie Zahos and Commonwealth Bank's Sian Lewis to record a podcast on the subject.
As well as defining what financial abuse is (and what a healthy financial relationship should look like), the three women share some insights into red flags to look for in a relationship, as well as how to get your money matters in order so that you can leave an unhealthy relationship. Plus, they talk tips on rebuilding your financial confidence if you've fallen victim to this cruel act.
Hit play to listen to the Financially Fit podcast on financial abuse:

What is financial abuse?

Put simply, financial abuse is a way of using money to gain control and power over someone. It can take many forms, but some of the more common examples of financial abuse are:
  • Someone controlling access to your finances, such as cash, bank accounts and superannuation.
  • Someone refusing to let you see bills and statements.
  • Someone refusing to contribute to household bills or family expenses, while expecting you to.
  • Someone preventing you from working or studying.
  • Someone making purchases or investments in your name without your knowledge or consent.
  • Someone redrawing money out of a home loan without your knowledge.
It's important to know that financial abuse can happen to anyone, at any age, no matter how much you earn or how educated you are.
It's an insidious type of abuse that can often be difficult to spot, which is why it's important to know the warning signs.
If you think you, a friend, colleague or family member may be experiencing financial abuse, you can find your bank's financial hardship contact number here.

What does a healthy financial relationship look like?

According to Sian, there are three key principles to a healthy and respectful financial relationship:
  • Financial decisions and responsibilities are shared.
  • Both partners are transparent with each other and recognise the need for both people to have access to information.
  • Both partners have an equal voice in any decisions involving money.

How to set yourself up again after experiencing financial abuse:

It can feel daunting to detangle yourself from a financially abusive situation — Fiona confirms she felt incredibly anxious after her decade-long experience — but just start out small. Learn to trust yourself, upskill if you need to, and don't be afraid to get advice from someone you trust (be it a friend, family member or an expert).
Effie shares her top three tips for rebuilding your financial knowledge and confidence after experiencing financial abuse:
  • Open a bank account in your name only.
  • Find out about your credit history.
  • Cut off any potential liabilities, for example, a lease under your name, a credit card where you're the additional credit card holder.
These are also good things to familiarise yourself with even if you're in a healthy financial relationship or don't consider yourself at risk of financial abuse. As Sian says, "the best defence against financial abuse is to be aware of the warning signs and stay vigilant."

Who to contact if you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing financial abuse:

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) offers 24-hour support to people impacted by domestic and family violence.
  • Lifeline (13 11 14) offers 24/7 phone support to all Australians experiencing a personal or family crisis, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression and abuse and trauma. The charity also offers an after hours texting service from 6pm until midnight (0477 13 11 14) and online chat.
  • MoneySmart.gov.au has a comprehensive list of nationwide organisations that can offer support and advice about financial abuse on its website.
Scroll up to listen to this Financially Fit podcast episode in full.
This article has been written in partnership with Commonwealth Bank, who have created a financial abuse guide for people who work with victims and survivors of domestic and family violence (DFV) to help them identify and provide support for those experiencing financial abuse.
To help improve your financial wellbeing, please visit financiallyfitfemales.com.au.
Always consider your personal circumstances before acting on financial advice.
*Her-Pulse Women + Politics Survey | Bauer Media Story 54 Research, March 2019. All Women 18-64 N=1093. Weighted to women 18-64 in regional and metro areas.

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