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Financial abuse and women

21 April 2015

Ruby has often spoken, especially through Larke Riemer (Director of Women’s Markets), and in its own way, about what the researchers call “the feminisation of poverty”.

For example, there is our obsession with superannuation and the looming crises for women who have had broken work careers because of caring roles, etc. and/or divorce and separation, leaving them way behind the eight ball when it comes to super contributions and their retirement.

Larke Riemer the Director of Women’s Markets also has a great deal to say about relying on the notion of Prince Charming, and how losing control of your finances, or relinquishing control of them, can lead to personal ruin. She has also used STDs (Sexually Transmitted Debt) as another way of grabbing the attention of audiences to discuss the importance of remaining equal in a relationship when it comes to being able to sit down and discuss and administer joint and personal finances with your partner. Her tips include: stay connected to what is happening with your finances and your partners and discuss joint decisions. If your partner is off to see his financial planner, ask to go along and get a copy of the statement. It’s important to keep in mind the majority of partnerships/marriages split up – you can’t assume your partner will always be there and looking after you. That is why it is important to look after yourself and keep abreast of the finances.

On a more serious note, WIRE - Women’s Information and Referral Exchange Inc, which is a Victoria-wide free generalist information, support and referral service run by women for women, has released a report Relationship problems and money: Women talk about financial abuse. The report, released in 2014, focussed on “a range of financially abusive behaviours that are typically linked to psychological, emotional and/or physical abuse”.

Each year WIRE answers over 12,000 requests, according to its website statistics, using any number of communication platforms. WIRE also carries out research to better embed recommendations to government in fact and inform the community about the issues women face. The research is also used to advocate for women’s issues such as financial literacy and economic security, out-of-school-hours childcare, work-life balance and violence against women.

According to the Relationship problems and money report: “The financially abusive former partners of the participants fall into three broad types: the controllers, who use a combination of abusive behaviours to exert their power over their family; the exploiters, who eschew all responsibility but also use a variety of forms of abuse to financially exploit their partner for their own financial needs; and the schemers, the men who had a specific plan to systematically steal the woman’s financial resources and leave. Whilst the controllers and exploiters use financial abuse as part of a range of behaviours to control their partner and get their needs met within the relationship, the primary goal of the schemer is to use the relationship to take her money and assets. Whichever type of financial abuse the research participants experienced, the impact on their lives was devastating.”

Most worryingly, the report found: “Over the course of the research, the women’s stories constructed a vivid picture of the ways in which social and personal norms and values combine to create a platform for financial abuse in intimate relationships. These powerful influences work to hide financial abuse in plain sight. Social and personal beliefs about love and trust in intimate relationships mean these women trusted their partner to act in the best interests of their family. Traditional stereotypes about gender roles and attitudes to money make fertile ground for controlling, exploitative and abusive behaviours regarding finances. The women in this research [and the y came from all walks of life and socio-economic levels] graphically describe the confusion and mixed emotions they felt when their love and trust was betrayed. The psychological impact is evident as they speak of their loss of confidence, guilt and shame.”

Following on from the report’s findings and recommendations WIRE is currently running research to find out why many people find it difficult to talk to their partners about money and the strategies that can be developed to help start “money” conversations. The project is national with the aim of supporting individuals in relationships to discuss their finances with one another. The assumption is that by increasing a person’s confidence to discuss shared finances and financial issues with their partners, as well as participate more closely in the administration of their finances, you will see a reduction in the sort of financial abuse some people experience at the hands of their partners, and highlighted in the 2014 report.

You can also support WIRE through its WIRE Appeal 2015: Invest in a Woman’s Future.