April 20, 2024

What Is It, What Are The Signs & How To Protect Yourself

One in six women in the UK has experienced financial abuse by a current or former partner, according to charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA). Whilst domestic abuse is often still associated with violence or verbal attacks, there’s another form of abuse going on behind closed doors and it’s time to start paying attention.

According to leading charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), they’ve seen a 150 per cent increase in its website user numbers since April 2021. The worrying rise in traffic shows that financial abuse cases may be on the rise, with research from Aviva revealing that two in five adults have suffered it.

For the millions of economic abuse victims, the pandemic exacerbated the situation with more hours at home, cutting off support networks and leaving women more vulnerable to financial abuse than ever before. But three years on, many are still being financially exploited.

“It’s likely that you know someone who is experiencing economic abuse,” says Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, founder and CEO of charity Sea (Surviving Economic Abuse). “It can look different in every relationship because perpetrators tailor the abuse to exert control over victim-survivors. ”

So, how can we spot the signs of financial abuse, and what can we do to protect ourselves?

What actually is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a form of economic abuse, now recognised in law by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Economic and financial abuse have many similarities, however financial abuse specifically refers to control of a victim’s finances, whether that’s restricting access to money or coercing them into taking on debt. Whatever the form of control, the abuse usually leaves the victim in a precarious financial situation.

For many victims, financial abuse co-occurs with other forms of domestic abuse. Yet one of the main reasons why financial abuse goes unnoticed is that it’s often difficult to identify, both for the person experiencing abuse and third parties seeking to help victims. Unlike more visible forms of abuse, financial abuse can start subtly which means that victims can find themselves in abusive relationships without realising. Additionally, the nature of the control exerted by abusers over victims makes it difficult for victims to raise the alarm, as abusers will often cut off access to money and leave the victim dependent on them to survive financially.

Red flags to watch out for

Many of the signs of financial abuse can look innocuous at first glance. Certain actions might seem well-intentioned — such as offering to manage all of the household finances alone — yet the combination of behaviours can lead to a pattern of abusive behaviour. Concerning behaviours might include sabotaging a victim’s ability to earn their own money, limiting access to bank accounts or exploiting a financial situation for their own benefit.

Emma Willing, Partner in the Family Department at Mishcon de Reya, warns that there are a number of red flags to look out for which might indicate financial abuse.

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