Financial abuse – the hidden storyline

Archers grabWhether a stabbing was the best cliffhanger for the domestic abuse storyline on Radio 4’s The Archers is still being hotly debated.
But for us at Money Fight Club the screaming and the violence mask a more pernicious and malevolent type of abuse that leaves no bruises but scars its victims in ways that may never heal.

Financial abuse

Financial abuse can start quite subtly and often masquerade as sensible money management. Sharing the bills and sharing a bank account can make perfect financial sense for couples saving for a home. Cutting up credit cards or curbing independent spending decisions can sound like wise advice when money is short.
But rather like the business end of a hot iron or the buckle on the end of a belt, even reasonable things become very unreasonable in the hands of an abuser.
The level of control often builds up over time and an abused partner can become conditioned into thinking they’re the unreasonable one. Their self-esteem and confidence in their financial abilities become eroded, so that it seems perfectly reasonable for the abusive partner to control both the money and them.
Attempts to change things are met with anger and aggression from the abuser. Being abused on a financial and emotional level can be so exhausting that there is little energy left to fight back. Often the picture (and any escape route) is further complicated by young children.

Controlling the ability to earn

fearFinancial abuse can take many forms. Financial independence is often underpinned by earned income so controlling someone’s ability to earn their own living, or making it hard for them to hold down a well paid job – or go for promotion – can be a type of abuse.
There’s a world of difference between abuse and a situation where one partner in a loving relationship willingly decides to be a primary carer, or put their own career on hold so the other partner has a chance at their dream job half way round the world.
In much the same way, there is a a huge difference between one partner slipping into financial debt due to poor financial management, or a life event such as redundancy and an abusive partner who siphons money out of savings accounts, or squanders joint cash on harebrained schemes and investments, damaging credit scores and ensuring there is never enough free cash to make it easy to exit the relationship.

Of the 120 individuals who took part in a pilot study, 94% experienced some form of economic abuse,  79% experienced some form of economic control, 79% experienced economic exploitative behaviours, and 78% experienced employment sabotage. Understanding economic abuse in the lives of survivors 2011 (Postmus JL1, Plummer SB, McMahon S, Murshid NS, Kim MS.)

Interestingly in the Archers’ storyline, Helen is coerced into placing an inheritance in a joint account where it is rapidly run down. She is also badgered into paying her salary into a joint account, as part of her abusive partner Rob’s more coldly strategic plan to usurp her job.

Financial abuse – the Serious Crime Act

The Serious Crime Act 2015 received Royal Assent on March 3, 2015. The Act creates a new offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships (Section 76).” The new offence closes a gap in the law around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour in an ongoing relationship between intimate partners or family members. It carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.
The patterns of behaviour, cover 17 separate areas, including isolating a person from their friends and family, monitoring a person via online communication tools, or using spyware and taking control of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and even when they can sleep.
But the behaviours covered also include financial abuses such as control of finances and preventing a person from working.

Financial abuse can be a feature of controlling or coercive behaviour forming a pattern of abuse alongside physical abuse, or in many instances as an independent form of abuse. An assessment of the power dynamics in a relationship should consider the control and access to finances as this can be a feature of controlling or coercive behaviour. For example, older women who have not worked and who do not have a pension in their own right may be
even more financially reliant on abusive partners. Those who are being cared for by a relative may face barriers to reporting financial abuse by that relative. Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship, Home office Statutory Guidance Framework

After the abuse ends

Financial capability is critical for those in, or survivors of, domestic abuse. Work done in the United States by the Allstate Foundation and the National Network to End Domestic Violence demonstrates that improving a survivors financial management skills also improves a domestic violence survivors’ financial wellbeing. The two organisations developed a financial curriculum for survivors and research demonstrated that those who accessed it improved their financial knowledge, financial intentions, financial behaviours and a showed a decrease financial strain. The impact persisted over time.
There are a range of organisations providing much needed support for those escaping domestic violence in the UK but we’d like to think the Archers’ storyline may also prompt other institutions, particularly financial institutions, to ask themselves a couple of questions:

  1. How do we respond to survivors of this type of abuse?
  2. And… could we do more?

Useful links

RISE – providing sanctuary and support to domestic abuse survivors in Sussex
National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247
Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship Guidance Framework PDF

Financial abuse and the Archers’ storyline is one of the subjects we tackled on Share Radio this week