We know that financial abuse is a form of control that restricts, exploits and sabotages a woman’s economic well-being; from what money they can access, to keeping a diary of what money they are spending and having to justify every penny, or what toiletries or clothes they are allowed to buy. It is a destablising and devastating form of coercive control.
A particularly common tactic used by abusers is forcing woman into debt; this acts as an effective and lasting trap that drains what money a woman does have available and causes them financial stress and worry. It is also important to remember that financial abuse and its impact often continues to happen and affect women long after they have left the abuser.
Find out more about what financial abuse is and the signs to look out for.
Mary* was referred into Women’s Aid by her GP. She had experienced emotional and financial abuse over many years from her ex-partner. It wasn’t until she engaged with Women’s Aid that the true impact of his financial abuse began to surface.
During her abusive relationship Mary would be pressured into signing loans and credit and debit card agreements. She never said no for fear of the repercussions from her abuser. From him there was always an excuse and reassurance what he was doing would “sort out” their “money worries”.
Eventually Mary found the courage to leave her relationship, but the financial abuse that was hidden from her for many years started to escalate after she’d left. She received many phone calls and letters from creditors because solely her name was on the loans. Mary tried to manage the repayments but shame and embarrassment kept her from seeking help.
With the support of her Outreach Worker at Women’s Aid, Mary was able to access emotional and practical support and to recognise the signs of financial abuse. Following engagement with our Outreach team, Mary was also signposted to Christians Against Poverty NI (CAP) who provided her with free debt help and advice. With the support of an advisor, Mary was able to set up a debt management plan and negotiate affordable payments with each creditor. As well as CAP there are other organisations online that can help with debt issues if you are currently experiencing or have experienced financial abuse (see below).
Financial abuse shows up in a myriad of ways and may not be as obvious as a bruise or verbal abuse. We find that some women may not even recognise they have been financially abused until after experiencing other types of abuse.
Gambling addiction is a common cause of financial abuse, and this can be accompanied by a lot of secrecy and excuses. The abuser may try to conceal what they are doing from their partner but will never take responsibility if confronted or caught.
Overall financial abuse is very isolating, because women often become financially dependent on their abusers. The financial dependence traps them in the relationship. Without resources and support they are unable to see a way out of the situation.
Years of financial and emotional abuse taught Mary the power of reaching out and seeking help. Mary has now started to rebuild her her life, and she finally feels emotionally and financially secure. Financial abuse is a hidden threat in almost all domestic abuse situations, but knowing the signs can empower you to seek help and support.
*Name changed to maintain anonymity
Where you can turn for help if you are worried about debt from financial abuse
Banks have specialised services that can help you if you are experiencing financial abuse. You can often contact them online or on the phone: