Recognise the signs if you are at risk of financial abuse

July marks National Savings Month in South Africa and during this time we are likely to see a number of stories offering tips and advice from financial experts on how women should be investing, spending and budgeting their money. However, one conversation about money which needs just as much airtime relates to financial abuse.

There are many forms of financial abuse such as controlling or denying access to money, denying an earned income or running up debts on joint credit cards. It is another form of power and control where the survivor becomes trapped in a relationship because they are financially dependent and this undermines their ability to leave safely.

Financial abuse therefore must form part of the overall conversation regarding women abuse because the platform, an initiative created by 1st for Women Insurance, believes that the only way to find the right solutions and unite in the fight against women abuse, is to do it holistically. A broader conversation on the different types of abuse must be had so that we can find the right way to address the problem through measures which look at the three pillars of prevention, preparation and provision.

Tennis legend Serena Williams has swung into action by recently taking up this cause in her role as a program ambassador for the Allstate Purple Purse Foundation, where she aims to expand awareness about the impact of financial abuse on survivors in the USA. In a research paper by Purple Purse, financial abuse is present in 99% of cases of domestic violence. In Australia, according to the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, about one in six Australian women have experienced financial abuse in an intimate partner relationship.

In South Africa, while we are familiar with the statistic that one in four South African women will experience some form of abuse in their lifetime, unpacking this specifically in the context of financial abuse becomes more difficult.

One of the key reasons cited is financial abuse can be difficult to detect. It does not appear in the form of a bruised or broken body. And it is sometimes the very thing which prevents women from leaving a physically abusive relationship.

To support women with getting the help they need, the platform was designed for individuals, NGOs and corporate South Africans to connect and collaborate in ways which will bring about the end of women abuse. Survivors of women abuse can quickly and easily get help from NGOs which provide them with the support they need while other members of the public can give help through donations of money, time, skills and resources.

If you or someone you know feels at risk of financial abuse, ask the following questions:

  1. Are you encouraged to not earn your own income, even though it is something you would like to do, but are rather given a monthly stipend which is put into the joint account while the rest of the income resides in your partner’s personal account?
  2. Do you find it difficult to get access to the households’ finances, accounts or budget and when you try, you are told not to worry about it or that it is none of your business?
  3. Have you ever felt embarrassed about buying a personal item which would be considered a treat because of the reaction you might get and being accused of being wasteful or irresponsible?
  4. When a conversation about money, spending or budgeting comes up, does it get changed or diverted, and does your partner show signs of irritation if it does come up?
  5. Does your partner put all of the accounts and bills in your name and take money without you knowing or without your consent while you are forced to account for all money spent?
  6. Do you have to contribute to your partner’s expenses or debts before you are able to save up your own money?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, connect with one of the NGOs on the platform where you can get help and access to counselling.