Domestic Abuse and Financial Abuse
[Originally published in 2016.]
A friend of mine has been divorced for over 10 years from a man who terrorised her from the day they married.
He still makes her life hell and they have very little contact.
This is what he has left to break her with....Money. He has it. She does not. He withholds what she should have. She suffers. He gets his rocks off. He withholds money for his children. His children suffer. He gets his rocks off. Every year she endures a life of austerity imposed by him and compounded by the government ...he gets richer and he gets his rocks off. He still owns a stake in her house... which he will eventually demand and effectively make her homeless because she cannot afford to buy him out. No doubt even then he will find a way to continue his abuse.
She didn't know what financial violence was. It is a key feature of many domestically violent and/or abusive relationships. These are some of the forms it can take. (I have pieced this together from listening to women and from experience but I'm no expert.)
1. Controlling money within the relationship. Saying what can and can't be bought. Dominating accounts. Preventing the woman from having access to her own money or any joint funds. Criticising any purchases she does make. Making her feel guilty for any spending.
2. Preventing a woman from working and earning her own finances or taking those finances once they are earned.
3. Spending joint finances frivolously in order to keep the family ... in particular the woman... poor and unable to leave. Sometimes, deliberately accruing joint debts.
4. Making the woman feel totally dependent - particularly if he works. If she is at home raising children he will make her feel economically worthless. If she works but earns less he will make her feel economically worthless. Making a woman feel economically worthless makes her terrified too... especially if she has children. It's effective.
5. If a woman tries to work in order to find funds to escape the abusive marriage he may sabotage this.. saying she does not need to work or physically preventing her. Damaging an abused woman's prospects is easy if you physically/mentally harm her so that work is nearly impossible in any kind of capable way.
6. Emotional abuse before and after and even during working hours is common. A phone call or well-placed text can reduce a competent working woman to her knees at an opportune moment. Over time.. this will impact on her career or end it. Many women struggle to work whilst in an abusive relationship for this reason. Physical abuse can obviously make a woman unfit to attend work.
7. Education.... preventing a woman from educating herself in order to gain employment or gain better employment....so that she can escape an abusive relationship. (Often linked with telling her she is too stupid to succeed of course)
8. Rape and coercive sex - rendering a woman unfit for work and the ability to work keep her from financial independence by sexually abusing and manipulating her. This can happen whilst she is asleep or be used to prevent her from sleeping.
9. When a woman considers leaving she must consider the following.... she may need to leave in a hurry and with nothing other than her children, important documents and a few belongings she can carry. She is leaving into a very frightening unknown often and it is usually when she feels least strong and she is most under threat.
She should never be judged for staying. Never. She should never be judged if she goes back. Ever.
When a woman considers this terrifying end prospect at the possible exit of an abusive relationship she has had to look at the very dark future. She has had to look round at what material comforts she and her children have and know that they will be gone. Some of the things she loves will be gone. Some of the things that have on occasion been the only things grounding her will be gone. She realises that when she leaves she will have to fend for herself and as an abused woman she has been taught BY HIM that she is not able to cope or fend for herself. She fears poverty. She fears homelessness. She fears mental health problems. She fears everything about a life on her own. She may also feel angry. Why should she give up her established life and all she has worked for and lived through and endured? It is hers as much as his. She feels angry for her children and she feels guilty. Why should they have less? Should she disadvantage them? Is it right for her to do so? Remember she may not always aware or convinced that she is being abused as he may tell her she is not and that she is to blame for his treatment of her. He will remind her of everything he provides and for which she should be grateful. She is selfish if she leaves ...he has assured her of this. She possibly also still loves him and fears a life on her own because she might be lonely (this one will definitely pass the fastest sisters).
Of course the woman may be the one with money and not all women who are being abused are poor. He will threaten to take it from her if she leaves. Possibly by taking the children and lying about her to obtain custody. The threats themselves are the essence of the financial violence. She may not be reduced to the poverty of many women exiting violent relationships but the financial threats are still the element of abuse that harm her. The terror of a financially violent threat crosses class boundaries and bank account levels.
Women suffering any of this. You are not selfish. You are not guilty. You are not on your own. You are not mad or horrible or unlovable or worthless or stupid or weak or any of the things he is saying.
This is how it works for women. Having children makes you economically weak. Emotionally wealthy often... but economically weak. Abusive men know this. They use it to their advantage at all points in their abuse. Know that when you feel scared it is not because there are things to fear without him but because there are things you fear because of him.
10. Once a woman leaves... he has lost some power. He may still be able to threaten her physically and he will certainly do it mentally - those scars may never heal and are easily opened into fresh wounds. Financial violence for these men is never ending potentially. If there is any reliance on funds from an abusive man....and clearly if a woman has had his children then this is the case.... then he still has a route to abusive power over her.
He can manipulate what he gives her; how he gives it to her and when. She no longer has the automatic support of the CSA (Now Child Maintenance Service) thanks to the Conservative government. She must pay to access help if he is refusing to pay or go through some sort of "mediation" and "agreement" process..... terms which make an abused woman either snort in derision or scream in terror depending on how long since they exited the relationship. This is handing access to the abused woman back over to an abusive man. It is cruel and it is wrong and it is never in her favour. If she refuses this then she must pay for the privilege of using the Child Maintenance Service to enforce payment. He will pay an extra 20% on the money owed to the woman and children, but she will pay also have to pay them 4% of what they collect.
This can happen many times over whenever he decides to behave poorly over payments. He will probably do this often. A man who enjoys power.... why on Earth would he NOT do this to harm a woman he can no longer harm in other ways?
11. He may use any opportunity he can to make threats to leave her financially vulnerable. He may lose his job, he may hide funds, threaten bankruptcy or send himself bankrupt. He will do anything in his power to take money away that he knows she needs or will randomly threaten to do so.
12. When things get legal .... he will make continuous threats. A woman who has believed his financial ability (and he will have convinced her she is not good with finances) will believe the threats. She may settle for less than she should in any financial remedy she may seek through the courts. She may be convinced there is nothing to have. Or that she is not entitled it. She is still frightened and still unsure of her own ability and thoughts and even needs.
The court process itself is broken. Finances are dealt with after the breakdown of marriage for example by the Family Court. This is a bleak arena for women faced by abusive men. Frequently the results for them are poor because coercive control is ignored.
So...... this all looks very bleak. I have left a lot out. I have looked at this and thought.... shit that makes it all sound really impossible. I must put a positive spin on this. I must somehow tell women it will be alright eventually. But the reality is .... leaving an abusive man is a financial nightmare. The potential for him to continue abusing her through financial means is terrifying.
Which is why.... when a woman leaves she needs real financial support. She needs legal help. Free. She needs somewhere to go and she needs somewhere that will help her get to the next step. Free. She needs a step back into the world of work or education or support if she can't. Free. She needs therapy. Free.
She needs a functional government service that ensures an abusive man behaves as he should financially and has heavy penalties - FOR HIM - if he does not. She needs a Government who will properly take the issue of male violence in ALL its forms more seriously and provide actual institutional, legal and financial assistance rather than rhetoric and empty promises.
She needs this government to stop shutting down anything that would help her. She needs a government that will step up and take her in not spit judgementally at her in every new policy proposal and piece of legislation and "austerity" move. She needs a Family Court system that understands what she has been through and acts to help her be free and stay free.
A woman told me last night that a man reduced her maintenance by the price of a tin of cat food a day when her cat died.
Think about that level of control.
I asked my friend from the beginning of this piece... "looking at how you struggle..do you ever wish you'd stayed?" She smiled. "See this smile. It's all mine. Those children that are waiting for their dinner where we will laugh and chat and solve problems. Mine. Friends like you who come round and cheer me up. Mine. Some things he cannot take from me any more. It will be ok."
N.B... a friend asked 'But is the term "violence" the correct term to use?' I think it is. I think the terror that ensues is the result of a deliberate attempt to harm a woman. Some of that harm is physical if her mental health is affected. It is physical if she endures poverty or vulnerability to attack if she becomes homeless. Going hungry is physical violence if inflicted upon her deliberately by the male perpetrator. It wouldn't be "violence" if it was a "result" of other violence. However, this is mostly a series of calculated and considered acts that the perpetrator knows (hopes) will deliberately hurt a woman. I therefore think the term "violence" is appropriate. "Financial Abuse" .... seems to encompass something more to do with the aspect of wealth/poverty than with the control, threats and intention of this particular aspect of domestic violence and abuse. Feel free to disagree.
[Since I wrote this in 2016 women have worked hard to ensure coercive control including economic abuse will be in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill. Women will wait to see how effective it is in actually producing change - because funds will be needed and if they are not provided women will continue to be abused in these ways]