How to spot signs of economic abuse and what to do about it

how to spot economic abuse

Domestic and family violence is a difficult topic to talk about. People tend to only think of the physical and emotional trauma. However, many victims also experience economic abuse and it often flies under the radar.

Here, we take a closer look and consider some resources to help.

What is economic abuse?

Economic or financial abuse is a form of family violence. According to the government-owned financial advice website Moneysmart, those who experience economic abuse lose access to their money, have financial decisions made for them or can’t use money without consent from another party.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says women are twice as likely to experience economic abuse than men. 

While this form of abuse is common, no federal Australian legislation makes economic abuse a criminal offence. Nor is it recognised by police, lawyers, or courts as a form of abuse. The only state that has criminalised economic abuse is Tasmania, but it’s rarely prosecuted. 

The lack of government legislation and discussion has made people who fall victim to economic abuse unable to see the signs until they get out of the situation.

But all is not lost! Below we’ve highlighted common signs of economic abuse according to Moneysmart, which is the first step, then we have some information that can help you move toward a more positive future.

Common signs of economic abuse

Economic abuse can present itself in many forms and may be difficult to spot, depending on the circumstances. However, below are some signs to look out for:

Someone controls your access to money by:

  • Restricting your access to bank accounts, credit cards or cash
  • Requiring you to ask for permission to spend money
  • Denying you enough money to cover living expenses or child care costs.

Someone uses your money without your permission by:

  • Forging your signature on cheques
  • Using your credit card
  • Hiding bank or credit card statements
  • Withdrawing from your bank account.

Someone signs legal documents by:

  • Taking out personal loans, credit cards or debt in your name without your consent
  • Forcing you to change your will
  • Pressuring you to take out loans or debt on their behalf.

Someone threatens or punishes you by:

  • Making you feel guilty for not giving them money
  • Isolating you from friends and family if you don’t give them money
  • Questioning your spending 
  • Saying you can’t be trusted with money.

These are just some examples of how financial abuse might look, but a general rule of thumb is if you’re not allowed to have financial control, something isn’t right.

Stepping stones for independent financial control

Becoming independent takes time and effort, but it’s possible to get there with the right foundations. Above all, remember to prioritise your safety and well-being in the process.

Here are three steps to get you started.

  1. Assess your financial situation. Do you have access to a bank account and your own money? If not, consider opening one (often it's super easy to open an account online). Then assess your income, expenses and assets. This information will help you create a budget and understand how long it’ll take to become independent.
  2. Create a plan. Understand how much money you’ll need to break away from an abusive situation and where you could go once you do.
  3. Seek support. Find a trusted friend, family or professional counsellor to support you through his time. They could help you focus on your financial goals and provide emotional support.

Getting help and support for economic abuse

If you or someone you know is experiencing economic abuse, we’ve gathered some free hotlines that can provide confidential help:

Family violence, abuse and sexual assault counselling 
1800 737 732
24 hours
1800RESPECT Online Chat

Family counselling, mediation and dispute resolution services

Relationships Australia
1300 364 277

Elder abuse victim support

1800 ELDERHelp
1800 353 374

Help to get back on your feet

Good Shepherd Australia Financial Independence Hub 
1300 050 150

Remember, economic abuse is a serious form of domestic violence and it’s not your fault. You deserve to be safe and in control of your finances.

Check out Mozo’s savings guides for more tips on creating budgets and saving money.