When Emily* reached out to a family violence centre for support to leave an abusive relationship, she told the counsellor that the abuse had been going on for two years. In fact, it had been going on for a lot longer than that.
Emily’s partner had been verbally and physically violent towards her for two years, but the financial abuse had been perpetrated since the first year of the relationship.
It began with what Emily thought was a kind suggestion that she leave paid employment to focus on caring for their newborn daughter, while he worked to support the family. Emily did receive Family Tax Benefit but she was not able to update her family’s income estimate because her partner didn’t share with her how much he earned.
He began giving Emily an ‘allowance’ and it wasn’t long before the amount she was given shrunk, and then was used as a weapon of control and punishment.
If Emily prepared a meal he didn’t like, her partner would ‘teach her a lesson’ by withholding money. If she complained about something or made a comment that displeased him, money would also be cut.
Before long, Emily found herself isolated and housebound, unable to afford to meet up with friends or family or even travel outside the neighborhood. She was also silenced, fearful that her words might result in no money to buy baby formula.
Yet Emily, like a lot of people, didn’t consider this to be abuse.
“Economic abuse is a recognised form of violence,” says SSRV Community Lawyer Pamela Taylor-Barnett. “Economic abuse is defined as denying a person reasonable financial autonomy or financial support, and it can be as harmful as any other form of abuse, such as sexual or emotional.”
Economic abuse, Pamela says, often involves incurring debt on behalf the victim. “The victim survivor might be threatened or coerced into taking out loans that she doesn’t want and that are not for her,” says Pamela.
“In the case of Centrelink, which requires reporting of partner’s income, it can involve withholding information or lying to a victim.
“Often, we see clients who receive Family Tax Benefit unaware that their partner’s income means they are not eligible for the payment. It might be years later, often when tax returns are finally lodged, that these overpayment debts are raised. The emotional stress of repaying these loans can go on for years after the relationship has ended.”
Sometimes economic abuse can take the form of the partner pressuring the victim to mislead or lie to Centrelink, saying, for example, that they are a single parent when in fact they are in a relationship, leading to legal issues and the issuing of debt.
November 26 is International Economic Abuse Awareness Day and the theme for 2022 is Making a Difference – and that’s what SSRV is doing.
In addition to raising awareness about economic abuse, SSRV supports victim survivors who have had a debt raised by Centrelink, are being denied access to payments, and who need support to leave violent relationships.
*Emily’s name and some details have been changed for her safety and privacy.