Family Violence Financial abuse “Im still paying off the debt 15 years after leaving”

Financial abuse not only negatively impacts the financial security of women when they are in the abusive relationship but well after they have left the abusive relationship. This leaves many women and their children in poverty and vulnerable to homelessness.

“Although there is no exact measure, research indicates that financial abuse in intimate relationships is widespread and common. It is known that a majority of women (between 80 – 90 per cent) seeking support for domestic and family violence have experienced financial abuse (Potmus et al, 2013; Sharp 2008; McDonald 2012:12).”

Family violence not only negatively impacts women’s financial security when they are in the abusive relationship, the lack of financial security continues post-separation. Many abusive men continue to financially abuse their ex-partners and exert control by abusing the courts and other government institutions such as the Child Support Agency.

“On an individual level, domestic violence creates complex economic issues for women and their children and disrupts their lives over the short and long-term. Regardless of their prior economic circumstances, many women experience financial risk or poverty as a result of domestic violence. These difficulties hamper their recovery and capacity to regain control over their lives.

Domestic violence directly affects women’s financial security in key areas of life: debts, bills and banking, accommodation, legal issues, health, transport, migration, employment, social security and child support.”  

In WIRE’s 2014 research report Relationship Problems and Money: Women talk about financial abuse, WIRE spoke to 59 women in focus groups about their experience of financial abuse and 145 women participated in an on-line survey.

Our findings clearly show that women’s financial security is negatively impacted in the short and long-term as a result of financial abuse.

“I had about $32,000 saved up in cash. I was working and I was working a lot, I was working a lot of hours and was doing a number of jobs going at the same time. I had plenty of money, probably for the first time I was sort of peaking in what I was earning. And also because the relationship was so abusive, my capacity to work went down as well and my income actually dropped because I wasn’t able to juggle everything and my energy levels just weren’t there.

And when I left I was about $7000 in debt and it was a bit heartbreaking because it’s so hard to save that amount of money.”  

In addition financial abuse often continues even after the intimate relationship has ended.

Our findings included that for many women the financial abuse manifested itself in many ways post separation including:

• Non-payment of Child Support payments

• The perpetrator acting as a vexatious litigant causing their ex-partner to use any savings they have to fund legal costs

• Perpetrators withholding money to pressure their ex-partner into financial deals that disadvantage them in the short and long-term.

“Well my ex-husband is definitely, blatantly, obviously using the system to abuse me. Like I said I am about to go to court for the eighth time for child support. He is taking me to court. He has a [child support] debt; he won’t pay it. He is not going through the child support system because he has already appealed it and they have said no. So he is going through the legal system because he has the money and he is spending more on legal fees than the child support.

It is just a control thing and it is just about breaking me down and he is doing all sorts of things within the system to abuse me.”

The financial abuse that women experience is further compounded by the gender pay gap which amounts to women on average earning 18.2 per cent less than men. This financial abuse is exacerbated by women having to juggle work and family due to primary care responsibilities for dependent children, limiting their access to employment and in many cases to more highly paid career options.

Innovation in providing support to women who have experienced financial abuse WIRE has built on its 2007 research ‘Women’s Financial Literacy Report ’ in order to provide a gendered response to financial abuse in the context of family violence.

This approach is both preventative as well as restorative. In this research it was determined that women’s relationship with money and the societal expectations of women as poor financial managers had a significant impact in how women respond to money issues and their perception of themselves as a good financial manager.

omen repeatedly told us that their partner would ridicule their skills as a financial manager as a way of perpetrating financial abuse and using money to control them. Women often cited that it was their relationship with money and what they believed to be the cultural or community norm that made them more vulnerable to financial abuse.

WIRE’s work in this financial abuse space includes working with women and understanding their relationship with money and how perpetrators exploit stereotypes of women being poor money managers.

WIRE along with other organisations from 2011 to 2013 received funding from a variety of sources to provide workshops and financial information to women that identified as currently experiencing financial abuse.

Generally these programs had very poor reach, with few women participating. As a result of these programs not meeting expectations WIRE undertook its 2014 research, Relationship Problems and Money: Women talk about financial abuse to build knowledge and understanding of the nature and impact of financial abuse in the context of family violence, to identify the barriers that prevent women from accessing their financial entitlements and other information that would improve their financial security outcome. T

he research findings included identifying strategies to overcome these barriers. As a result of the findings from our research and through collaboration and information sharing with other organisations in the financial abuse space, WIRE is in the process of undertaking new innovative projects that take into account all new available information regarding how best to work with women who have experienced financial abuse.

WIRE’s innovation Reducing financial abuse needs to occur at multiple levels – at the preventive level as well as the recovery level. To this end WIRE is doing the following:

Prevention:

Providing information and support to women entering new intimate relationships on engaging their partner in constructive money conversations.

The project is a financial capability project rather than a financial abuse project.By working with women and providing a space for them to understand their relationship with money and build their confidence and skills to talk to their intimate partner about money issues, women have the opportunity to take action if they see the early signs of financial abuse.

The second phase of this project is yet to be funded and includes creating a website for women on having money conversations with their partner.

As a prevention strategy this project has several advantages:

o Women do not have to identify as experiencing family violence to participate.

o The project is aimed at women who are entering or have newly formed relationships and thus a relationship in which the norms are being established.

If financial abuse is indicated by the woman’s responses to assessment questions about her financial relationship with her partner, the website will inform her that what she is experiencing may be financial abuse and that financial abuse is a form of family violence, and provide information regarding where she can seek support. This once again reaches women who may not have sought assistance for financial abuse.

Reducing the impact of financial abuse: WIRE will in 2015 commence an innovative program called New Beginning: Steps to a more secure financial future.

This program aims to enable women who have experienced family violence to improve their short, medium and long-term financial security outcomes by decreasing their financial recovery time.

The project provides women throughout Victoria with financial capability support through oneon-one support and workshops. Like the Strong Beginnings- Financial Equals project this program will provide women with information to enable them to assess their relationship with money and understand the tactics perpetrators use to control women and children through money.

These workshops and support will be provided by staff who have a Definition of financial capability: Financial capability is the combination of attitude, knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to make and exercise money management decisions that best fit the circumstances of one’s life, within an enabling environment that includes, but is not limited to, access to appropriate financial services, understanding of financial capability and work within a strength-based, trauma-informed and gendered framework; thus enabling the support to be tailored to the needs of women that have experienced family violence.

• Training to the community services sector: WIRE is a recognised expert in the field of financial abuse and is also a registered training organisation with a long history of providing accredited and non-accredited training to the community sector.

To enable more community sector workers to recognise financial abuse and thus take appropriate action in concert with their clients, WIRE since 2011 has been delivering professional development training regarding financial abuse in the context of family violence.

Family violence and employment “[It} was a city of 10,000, so everyone knows everyone; we were in a high profile business so that definitely had a play. I mean it had a big impact on me being able to get work because my ex-husband retained the business and it was one of the largest businesses in town and he said to me, ‘Look I have blackened your name everywhere, you won’t be able to get employment because no one will be game enough to employ you because I will pull the business away from them and no one will be game enough to hire you’ and it was true because I applied for several jobs and I didn’t even get an interview so we moved cities … So I lost my career in that my qualifications weren’t transferrable and I didn’t realise that when we split and so I lost the business and my home and our farm and all the assets but I was lucky enough to retain enough to have a house.”

•••••• Any strategies developed to protect the financial security of women who have experienced family violence must enable women to acquire decent and secure employment. We have already established in this submission that women and their children who experience family violence are far more vulnerable to poverty, financial insecurity and homelessness.

The most effective way to counter poverty is meaningful and decently paid employment. “Gaining and maintaining paid work is pivotal in creating a secure financial future for victims of domestic violence and their families.”

However, participation in employment can be seriously undermined by ongoing abuse and its subsequent effects. Australian researchers, for example, found that some women had not been allowed to work while in a violent relationship and found it difficult to enter or re-enter the workforce post separation.

These findings are echoed in overseas studies, which highlight how domestic violence not only acts as a barrier to education, training, and employment but also can escalate when survivors seek or participate in such activities. In order to maintain control over their partners, abusers may interfere with women’s efforts to become self-sufficient.

Women affected by domestic violence are also more likely to have a disrupted work history and are more likely to occupy casual and part-time work than women with no experience of violence. In short, women escaping and experiencing domestic violence are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the labour market.

Some researchers argue that the dominant approaches to domestic violence in Australia have been crisis oriented and focused on providing accommodation, welfare assistance, and emergency support services to women and children without looking towards job search and training to facilitate financial security independent of social service agencies.”

National Domestic Violence and Workplace Survey (2011) noted that two thirds of family violence survivors are in paid employment. This statistic highlights the importance of enabling women affected by family violence to continue their employment.

Apart from providing crucial financial security, employment often also provides support networks to women who are experiencing family violence. This strategy aimed at retaining women in employment is critical. The ACTU is presently running a case to insert Domestic Violence Clauses (including paid leave) into Modern Awards.

As of November 2013 over 1.2 million workers in Australia now have access to paid Family Violence leave. WIRE supports all employers incorporating the ACTU’s Domestic Violence Clauses into their industrial Agreements and policy documents. Some women may need to give up their employment to escape their abuser; others may not have had an opportunity to work whilst in an abusive relationship.

Thus many women who have experienced family violence will require additional assistance finding employment. Assistance provided to women who have experienced family violence needs to incorporate job search expertise, a strengths based approach to working with women and additionally have a strong understanding of the impact of family violence on women and children.

WIRE runs weekly job coaching for women. Often women who have experienced family violence attend job coaching to get support and advice on how to find employment.

Women who have experienced family violence often present to job coaching with multiple barriers to overcome which includes but is not limited to:

For women that have had to change their identity as a safety measure, they are not able to demonstrate a work history or provide referee details or written references to prospective employers.

Many women in abusive relationships are prevented by their abusive partner from working and earning an independent income, and thus they do not have a recent work history.

Many abusive men isolate their partners in order to exert control.

Over time the woman’s network diminishes, leaving the woman with few networks to utilise to find employment.

Women that have accessed security and housing in a family violence refuge must give up their usual routine – this includes any employment they may have had prior to leaving the abusive relationship.

Women are placed in refuges away from their local community; for some women this means moving from the city to a regional centre or vice versa. Maintaining employment in these circumstances is exceedingly difficult.

Women in abusive relationships can have a poor work history as a result of their abusive partner using control tactics which prevent the woman from keeping her job.

Examples of these tactics include:

Taking away the woman’s access to transportation to work

Refusing at short notice to care for children

Stalking the woman at work so that she is unable to perform her work

Women often report being psychologically exhausted by the violence and intimidation to the extent that they had difficulty holding down a job.

Women have increased absenteeism from work as a result of psychological and physical injuries inflicted on them by an abusive partner. These unexplained absences from work are often interpreted by an employer as the woman not caring about their job and being unprofessional. As a result women may lose their jobs.

Women’s confidence is greatly affected by the controlling, disrespectful and undermining behaviour of their abusive partner. This reduced confidence also manifests itself when women are looking for work.

Recommendations for addressing financial abuse and increasing women’s financial security

• Women who have experienced financial abuse to have access to timely and extensive financial counselling and support, that involves exploring women’s relationship with money and the impact that social stereotypes, family and upbringing may have had on a woman’s confidence in financial decision making.

• Women who have experienced family violence having access to specialist employment programs that include but are not limited to intensive job search support and job matching programs.

 • That all employers including the State government make available in their industrial agreements and policy documents the ACTU’s Domestic Violence Clause provisions. Increasing the effectiveness and accessibility of family violence services

Effective response: women accessing family violence support during their recovery phase The effects of family violence do not end when the abuse ends. The road to recovery can be a slow holistic process that encompasses emotional, physical and financial wellbeing.

“I wake up in the morning and I feel physically sick and I think, ‘Where do I start?’ I wake up every morning and I vomit in the shower.” ••••••• -describing having to cope with extreme poverty well after leaving the abusive relationship. -is unable to find work, struggles to find affordable accommodation and provide food for herself and her daughter.

Why doesn’t she just get over it? Unfortunately this is still a question asked by many in the community. The vast majority of family violence practitioners and services understand that the trauma women experience when subjected to family violence often leaves women with deep emotional, psychological, financial and physical scars.

Even so, many family violence services do not have the resources to provide these women with a service. Women that have not received assistance from family violence services at the point of leaving have increased difficulty accessing family violence specific services down the track.

This may be because their needs are viewed as being less critical than women that are at the point of leaving (one of the most dangerous times for women and children in abusive relationships), and most definitely due to the pull on resources to keep women and children that are deemed most in danger, safe.

Not all women will contact family violence services for assistance at the point of terminating an abusive relationship. Some will only seek assistance when particular flashpoints occur after the woman has left the abusive relationship; and others may seek assistance from the point of separation and as flashpoints occur post separation.

Examples of flashpoints include: 

Ex-partner begins to stalk physically or electronically

The woman faces a housing crisis

There is a recurrence of violence or the threat of violence from their ex-partner Ex-partner moves to a location close to the woman and her children

The woman becomes aware that the ex-partner is trying to locate her

There is an issue regarding child maintenance payments

Court hearings

The woman is feeling an emotional strain which is causing her difficulty with functioning at some level.

WIRE speaks to many women that have tried to access family violence services at these flashpoints. They often tell us that once the family violence service has conducted a safety screening, they are told that due to the number of women in crisis, their situation is not considered a priority.

For many women, the experience of being told that they are not a priority or their situation is not serious enough gives the message that they are on their own and they have failed to ‘just get on with life’.  Due to lack of resources and the high demand from women, family violence services are compelled to triage women requests for service.

We need to move to a system that is able to assist women not only at the point of crisis but throughout the recovery and rebuilding process.

Family violence services should:

utilize trauma-informed practice

have a strengths based approach

enable women to receive support for the long-term effects of family violence

take into account that some women may require long-term support, others short-term and/or episodic support

recognise that the experience of family violence makes women and their children more vulnerable to homelessness, financial insecurity, and continuing emotional distress; and that this vulnerability can exist for years after the woman has left the abusive relationship.

Proactively reaching women WIRE receives calls from women who have been told by police that they would be contacted by a family violence service, but this contact has not happened.

With the police attending 65,000 incidences of family violence last year WIRE is very aware that family violence providers throughout Victoria are overwhelmed by the increased numbers of L17s.

This is resulting in those services having to prioritise the L17s that they respond to first and the method by which they respond. For some women being told by the police that they will be contacted by a family violence service is their first experience of family violence support services and when that assistance does not materialise it is disappointing and discourages further contact with support services.

The introduction of L17s has been highly beneficial.

It has enabled family violence services to be proactive and contact women who would not have otherwise contacted a family violence service. This has often led to women and children leaving abusive relationships earlier with the assistance of specialist services.

Timely and proactive intervention by family violence services to women involved in family violence incidences attended to by police is a crucial element of Victoria’s family violence response and as such must be appropriately funded.

Recommendations for increasing the effectiveness and accessibility of family violence services:

That services that manage L17s are provided with additional funding so that they can act on the L17s within a reasonable time frame.

Women have access to family violence specific services and are able to engage with the family violence service delivery system on a short-term, long-term or episodic basis.

That family violence specific services are funded to support women who have experienced family violence related trauma and have ongoing issues as a result of the family violence they experienced, and this includes providing evidence-based family violence recovery programs and making support available to women.

Holding perpetrating men accountable for their actions In our community and in our institutions, the responsibility to manage family violence is often left to the women who are experiencing the violence.

It is the woman that holds the responsibility for ending the violence. This culture of blaming the victim needs to end. The culture of blaming the victim enables the perpetrator to have his behaviour excused and tolerated. It must be the individual perpetrating the violence that faces the consequences of their actions at every level of society. T

his includes at work, sporting clubs, churches, schools and in the justice system. All too often women must leave the family home to end the violence. This relocation often results in women losing their jobs and social networks, and removing their children from schools and friendship networks. The loss associated with having to relocate is a significant barrier to leaving an abusive relationship.

Women and children leaving an abusive relationship face a significant risk of homelessness. Women carry the financial burden of ending an abusive relationship. Women who have violent partners find their options are limited to either living with violence, or living in poverty and facing potential homelessness. The choice is not an enviable one.

The perpetrator is often very aware that their partner’s options are limited and uses this to further control the behaviour of their partner.

There are many ways to reinforce that perpetrating men are responsible for their violent and abusive behaviour, and that they will be held to account and experience negative consequences.

Recommendations to hold perpetrating men accountable for their actions:

That the legal system and family violence sector continue to reinforce the concept that the perpetrator should be made to leave the family home, and not the victim

That the perpetrator has financial responsibility for the child raising costs of their children including contributing to accommodation costs after the perpetrator has been removed from the family home

That rent concessions are available to women who need assistance paying rent for the family home after a perpetrator has left. This enables the woman and her children to remain in the family home.

That banks and financial institutions have trained staff to work with women who have experienced family violence, so that debts including mortgages can be renegotiated to assist the women to continue living in their family home.

Perpetrating males who do not have alternative accommodation are relocated to group dwellings where men’s behavioural change programs are compulsory.

All men that are charged with family violence related offences are mandated to attend family violence specific behavioural change programs.

Where appropriate, perpetrators have ankle bracelets to track their movements

All women who have experienced family violence have access to financial support so that they can make their house more secure, for example with CCTV cameras and new locks.

Women having access to workplace entitlements that will support them to continue their employment. This includes paid time to manage their family violence situation.

That if work equipment such as a work phone or car is used to commit an act of family violence even if it is not considered an act in which criminal charges can be laid that the perpetrator will be disciplined by the employer.

If the perpetrator and the victim have the same place of employment, the perpetrator must alter their work patterns to accommodate any Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs).

Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria) WIRE Women’s Information and Referral Exchange Inc.

That from kindergarten upwards within our education system, children are taught appropriate conflict resolution strategies and explicitly taught that family violence is not tolerated and the actions of the perpetrator are never justified.

“I am still paying off the debt 15 years after leaving.

Participant of WIRE’s Relationship Problems and Money

Women talk about financial abuse research 2014 Financial abuse is a form of family violence recognised by the Family Violence Protection Act (2008).

This was first published by WIRE as their submission to the Royal Commission of Family Violence 2015.

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