Financial Abuse

Today I’m going to write a topic that is very close to my heart. As a health professional, I have unfortunately witnessed this awful phenomenon on more occasions than I care to remember. Often within situations that would appear quite normal to an outsider – between apparently loving husbands and wives, or between families and an elderly relative. There are of course many more circumstances where financial abuse can occur.

I’m prompted to write this post today, after reading a post from a large and well-known US blog (popular within the frugal and money-saving community). The author basically promotes the idea of financial abuse within a relationship, as if it is the healthy and loving thing to do. Let me be clear right now – if you have to ask or have a discussion with your partner before you can buy something as insignificant as a kitchen spatula, then you are a victim of financial abuse.

Financial abuse is a discrete form of coercive control (a pattern of controlling behaviour which can be threatening or restrictive). It is considered to be a form of domestic abuse and as such, is incredibly serious. It involves the use or mis-use of finances, so as to limit a person’s current or future actions and freedom of choice. In the USA, they have identified 3 distinct components to financial abuse under the ‘Economic Abuse Scale’:

  1. Economic control – i.e. monitoring of resources
  2. Employment sabotage i.e. stopping someone working, making them work for free
  3. Economic exploitation i.e. use of money, generation of debts

Despite the many preconceptions, any person, of any gender and income level can be affected, even higher incomes and socio-economic groups. Financial abuse not only comprises of control of money, but also exploitation of income and time, and possibly sabotage of efforts to gain or maintain paid employment. Financial abuse is often accompanied by other forms of controlling behaviours or types of abuse – such as, emotional abuse.

To all intents and purposes from the outside, it may appear as though the finances are being addressed quite normally. But there are often very subtle cues to be picked up on. Such as; someone having to ask their other half before they can make any purchase, or perhaps an elderly person claiming that a family member just takes care of everything for them. This subtle blurring may not be obvious to the victim, particularly at the time. If the victim is living with the abuser, they may find it impossible to leave without means to do so.

In the blog I am referring to, I have noted the following characteristics over time;

  1. Being required to ask the partner before any purchase is made, however insignificant
  2. Reluctance to spend money on things like eating out, drinks out or anything new and having to justify every purchase – no matter how big or small
  3. Being given an allowance for household spending and having to document every aspect of this spending (control tactics)
  4. Not being able to buy new clothes
  5. Then spending large amounts of money and bragging about it to other people
  6. Moving to a remote location, so that one partner has a restricted ability to earn
  7. Money is the mood – everything revolves around money, it underlies everything, every conversation, every decision
  8. Being prepared to spend money initially in the relationship, but then holding back more and more as the years progressed

In the UK this type of behaviour is now recognised as a potential criminal offence and it is crucial if you recognise the signs, within your own relationship or someone else’s that you report it to the police or social services (it would fall under the protection of a vulnerable adult legislation). Financial abuse strips a person of their sense of self, and their personal liberty or freedom. It also commonly occurs with other types of abuse (in over 90% of cases), so it is very important that if you notice the signs – you mention it.

However financial abuse can be very difficult to spot sometimes, or to pinpoint when it started. Then over time, it so invades the relationship that one could be fooled into thinking that behaviour is normal. There are just tiny signs that tip over from normality to abuse. I can speak from experience to say that it can be incredibly hard to bring up with a friend, for this reason – be prepared for them to deny any problem.

References

Unequal, trapped and Controlled. Women’s Refuge. Available from: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/financial-abuse-report/ (Accessed: 12/02/18).