Financial Abuse: The hidden side of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a topic that we generally haven’t been comfortable tackling as a society until very recently. As recently as the 1980s in Australia a person could not be found guilty of sexually assaulting their spouse. It was only in 1991 that the matter was finally settled by the High Court in R v L in which spousal immunity was removed from the law. Activists such as Rosie Batty have played a huge role in increasing the prominence of domestic violence issues.

While there have been significant government campaigns regarding violence against women targeted at young men and fathers, the potentially more prevalent issue of financial abuse has been comparatively neglected. The effects of financial abuse are more hidden than physical abuse. When considering what domestic violence is, most people think of the physical abuse aspects of domestic violence and don’t consider the other forms.

Financial abuse, despite its hidden nature, can be just as crippling as physical violence. According to the Australian Securities & Investment Commission, financial abuse is where a domestic partner or somebody controls someone else’s access to money or other property without their consent. Financial abuse is often, but not always, coupled with some of the more visible forms of domestic violence including threats of violence and verbal abuse. It is classed as behaviour constituting ‘family violence’ under the Family Law Act (Cth).

An article recently published in The Sydney Morning Herald (link below) notes that financial abuse can be ‘one of the most powerful weapons an abuser can use to wield power’ over their partner. A recent study has found that in their lifetime, 11.5% of Australians have or will experience financial abuse. The study found that for women, this number rises to 15.7%. This translates to about 1 in 6 Australian women. It is often the case that the victims of financial abuse do not recognise that they are actually victims at the time and it is therefore predicted that the prevalence is higher than reported.

The article includes a number of real life examples that show that the victims of financial abuse come from a vast array of backgrounds and is not an issue that affects a particular demographic. It also raises the issue of the Family Court perpetuating financial abuse. Where a financial abuser is withholding funds during family law proceedings, a victim may be forced to make an interim application in order to obtain funds. While the court can and do make such orders, the significant delay and cost associated with Family Court proceedings means that a victim of financial abuse may be forced to spend significant amounts of time and money in order to obtain funds to support themselves and pay legal fees. In turn, this may actually serve to hurt victims as opposed to helping them. The availability of interim applications as a thinly veiled delaying tactic is an area the Family Court needs to look at so that it is helping victims, not abusers.

Financial abuse is clearly quite a pervasive form of abuse and should start to be seen as such. Public discussions surrounding domestic violence should begin incorporating financial abuse and Court processes should be reconsidered such that they don’t perpetuate this controlling behaviour.

Original Article:

The information posted on this blog represents our opinion and should not be taken as legal advice.