UK Banks Need To Protect Victims Of Domestic Abuse

22/09/2017 11:00 BST | Updated 22/09/2017 11:00 BST
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Abusive men come in all shapes and sizes. Their tactics are less varied. The reason abused women can sit together and discuss abuse so easily is because the men abusing us are very similar. Women easily believe, though many men do not, in financial abuse. We nod a lot during those conversations and support comes in a knowing look.

Financial abuse, like all other types of intimate partner abuse follows very specific patterns. An abusive man may typically do some or all of the following. He controls finances and says what can be bought. He prevents a woman from working in a variety of coercive ways from ridicule to rape. He may steal a woman's finances/wages. He runs up debt that she is tied to. He spends joint finances frivolously. He makes a woman feel economically worthless and calls her a scrounger or prostitute. He prevents a woman from educating herself, which would allow her escape. There are countless other ways. I wrote about this in more detail here.

Once a woman has left she may apply for a harassment/restraining order etc. She may feel free of his physical and emotional violence and be recovering. Sadly the one avenue still open to an abuser is that of financial violence. I term it "violence" because it has the destructive power of being hit. An abuser uses the weapon he has left and women cry with frustration at every financial blow he inflicts.

Less well-known is that banks are not always adequately protecting victims of domestic violence against financial abuse. Whether they do it knowingly or through ignorance, women are being hurt. Sometimes a lack of safeguarding policy is hurting women. Other times abusers are laughing at banks and how easy it is to manipulate them. In my experience I have found that staff are not properly trained in aspects of financial abuse, so don't take sufficient steps to protect vulnerable victim/survivors of intimate partner violence.

Earlier in the year my bank sent me a series of terrifying texts. They updated me of the bank balance of my abusive ex even though our finances are totally severed. Or should have been. My first paralysing thought was that he had somehow hacked my online banking. In an abusive relationship, a man who sees a partner's finances could kill her. This is not an overstatement. Women have been killed by partners and ex-partners for far less. Even during the last year. Just for "yapping". The bank apologised. It was a bank error. Like the paying in book they sent for my account to his address. Stupid, but also potentially life-endangering. They donated some money as compensation to my Ride For Murdered Women. They subsequently texted another balance of his account. They have not apologised further. This kind of error in reverse could prove fatal.

More recently, my abuser used the banks directly. In a court consent order he was instructed to discharge the finance on my car. He had persuaded me to give him my van which had approximately £11,000 of equity in it. He traded that in for a Porsche. White. Red leather seats. I can hear you all sniggering from here you know? He "persuaded" me to accept a car in exchange which had finance attached and the court agreed he should pay it off in a split of our assets. He did not. Deliberately. In fact he lied and said that he had. Another bank sent a repossession agent to pursue the debt. The abuser handed him my details. I was afraid when contacted by the agent for the bank. He said that he had obtained my details from the electoral roll. This isn't possible and I had to contact my electoral officer in fear. He confirmed this was impossible. The agent finally admitted that my abuser gave them to him but had requested that he did not tell me. This is because he is already subject to harassment orders and feared another. This was utterly unacceptable. I have contacted said bank who said they were sorry and promised to do something. I've heard nothing further.

Now I have been contacted by a loan company attached to my bank. The abuser has defaulted on some payments for machinery in the business it seems. I have not been involved with him or his company in any way since the court split our assets nearly two years ago. It was agreed that he would keep the business and indemnify me of all further responsibility attendant to it and I have no idea what he has done with the remaining assets. The whole point of our financial court order was that he would no longer be able to terrorise me via our finances. I was desperate to extricate myself from any involvement with him and attempted to sever our financial connection in court and in person with the banks. Banks are being used to facilitate the only avenue of abuse he has left. They must tighten policy and be proactive against abusers.

My abuser is using the banks to perpetrate financial abuse and the banks don't seem to care. We need banks to take safeguarding of domestic violence victim-survivors seriously and act accordingly with policy, rigorous training, sanctions for poor practice and appropriate communication.

Financial abuse is still abuse. When it is all an abuser has left it becomes a powerful weapon that he sharpens with sadistic glee.