Domestic violence is often more than physical violence alone. A physical assault can be easy to identify but other ways of controlling a person are more insidious and can be harder for victims to recognise. This is often because these controlling behaviours are so embedded within normative beliefs about the roles of men and women. Financial abuse falls into the latter category.
Financial abuse is entwined with traditional ideas and stereotypes; ideas which suggest men should be 'in charge', have a right to earn more and should make the big financial decisions; that women are bad with figures and will spend their money on frivolous things - unless someone is there to 'look after' them.
But make no mistake, financial abuse is a form of domestic violence and the consequences of this type of abuse can be both devastating and long-lasting. Some women are forced to hand over their wages or benefits to their partner every month. Others are prevented from going out to work or completing their education. Many women who experience financial abuse are forced to provide receipts, accounting for every single penny they spend or are given such ridiculously small 'allowances' they cannot afford to buy food for themselves and their children. Some are coerced into taking on debt on behalf of their partner; debts which they can't repay.
One survivor told Refuge: "The financial abuse started very early on. Every pay day, my partner would demand to see my bank statements and I was forced to give him most of the money I had earnt and survive on next to nothing. He also stopped me from going to work - sometimes with violence and sometimes by guilt-tripping me. I kept money secretly hidden away from him, but I still couldn't afford my car finance and insurance bills. Sometimes I would save money by not eating. It was a nightmare and at one point bailiffs were involved."
Refuge, and The Co-operative Bank, have joined forces to carry out the UK's largest study to date on financial abuse in order to understand the prevalence of this abuse in intimate relationships in the UK. Staggeringly, nearly one in five British adults say they have experienced financial abuse in an intimate relationship.
Victims of financial abuse span gender, age and income groups; however 60 per cent of all cases were reported by women. Not only were women more likely to experience financial abuse, the length of the abuse, its severity and the likelihood that they were experiencing other forms of domestic violence at the same time was also far higher. 86 per cent of women experienced financial abuse alongside another form of domestic abuse. This shows that for many women financial abuse is part of a wider pattern of control.
So often I am still asked why a woman does not leave her abusive partner. Financial abuse is not only another method of controlling, manipulating and abusing a partner; it can also provide a very solid barrier to leaving. Having access to money can mean the difference between being trapped with a violent and dangerous abuser, or escaping to a place of safety. When an abuser purposely prevents a woman from being able to go out to work and earn money, or takes all of her pay cheque, or drives her into debt, they know that they are making it harder for her to leave. Where can she go without a home, a job, or any money? Especially if she has children to care for and feed.
In response to this research Refuge and The Co-operative Bank have launched a powerful new campaign My money, my life to raise awareness of financial abuse and call for change across the banking industry to support those who experience financial abuse in their relationships.
We want to raise awareness of this often overlooked form of abuse and let people experiencing financial abuse know that they are not alone and that Refuge is here to support them. Help Refuge spread the message that when it comes to finances, it is your money and it is your life - no-one is entitled to take that control away from another person. Join us in raising awareness of financial abuse by following #mymoneymylife on twitter and sharing the information and support.