Economic abuse and control – including stopping a partner from working or taking away their access to money – is set to be legally recognised as a form of domestic abuse for the first time, in a move that has been welcomed by campaigners.
The draft Domestic Abuse Bill has widened the government’s definition of the term to include both economic abuse and controlling non-physical abuse, with the aim of encouraging more victims to come forward and making it easier to prosecute offenders.
On publication of the bill, home secretary Sajid Javid warned that domestic abuse can “happen anywhere, to anyone”.
But what is economic abuse, how do you recognise the signs of this kind of financial coercion and what can you do if you think you’re a victim – or if you’re worried someone else is?
Economic Abuse Can Take Many Forms.
Economic abuse comes in many guises. It can include an abuser preventing their partner from accessing their own money or a joint bank account, forcing their partner to give up work, redirecting their partner’s wages or benefits payments directly into their own account, and taking out loans and credit cards in their partner’s name.
It Can Make Victims Feel Trapped.
Sian Hawkins from Women’s Aid told HuffPost UK that economic abuse can often start off small before growing into a problem victims feel they can’t escape. ″Women will often be left with no access to money... and they become more and more financially reliant on the perpetrator of abuse,” she said.
“Lots of women we talk to are in huge amounts of debt taken out in their name, which leaves them in a hugely vulnerable financial position and makes it incredibly difficult for them to leave – we know that financial concerns [are] one of the main reasons women feel trapped.”
Hawkins said abuse can often start off “very slowly” and subtly, but that victims often find themselves isolated from other people. A partner may constantly monitor who you speak to or where you go, for example, or make you justify your spending and even provide receipts as proof.
“All in isolation [some things] can feel trivial, but when you put it into a wider pattern of behaviour that starts happening frequently, and then every day, and then starts taking over your life, that’s where the abuse has really escalated,” added Hawkins.
If You Think You Are A Victim, Or Know One, Seek Help.
The best thing you can do – whether you suspect you might be a victim, or are concerned someone else is – is to phone a helpline and seek advice from people who are trained to help you take the next best step. If you think someone is at risk, call the police.
Hawkins said the charity’s national domestic violence helpline gets called by worried friends and relations, even neighbours, as well as by victims of abuse.
The number for the freephone, 24-hour domestic abuse helpline run by Women’s Aid is 0808 2000 247.
Domestic abuse can also affect men. The Men’s Advice Helpline is open 9am-5pm during weekdays and can be contacted on 0808 801 0327.