You may know about physical and emotional abuse in a relationship, but have you heard of financial abuse? Here’s an explanation of what it is, how to recognise the signs and how to get help if you or a loved one are in a financially abusive relationship.

What is it?

According to VeryWellMind, financial abuse refers to behaviour which controls the victim’s "ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources”. Money can be “restricted” or even “stolen” by the abuser. Financial abuse commonly happens in romantic relationships; however, it can happen in any close relationship.

Its impact

On a mental and emotional level, financial abuse creates an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and shame. Much like other forms of abuse, financial abuse can make a victim feel powerless and fearful of their partner. This fear can then lead to more control over every aspect of their lives.

Financial abuse also creates dependency, making it harder to leave an unhealthy or dangerous situation. If a victim is financially dependent on their abuser, they’re less likely to end the relationship, and more likely to return even if they’ve tried to leave. This is a huge cause for concern, especially since abuse is shown to escalate over time.

Financial abuse can also put the victim into debt or financial distress. Because they’re not in control of their personal finances, the abuser can steal money, misuse credit or loans in the victim’s name, leaving them to deal with the repercussions. In some situations, victims have to go for periods of time without even basic necessities such as food and toiletries, since they have no means of buying those for themselves.

How to spot it

According to OneLove, there are a few key ways in which financial abuse happens in a relationship. Here are a few signs to look out for:

Exploiting resources. This involves acts such as controlling the victim’s access to and use of their own money, using cards without permission, claiming to make payments but not doing so and expecting the victim to pay for the abuser’s bills and obligations.

Controlling shared resources. This can include criticising the victim’s financial decisions, making major financial decisions without the victim’s consent or setting “allowances” the victim is forced to follow.

Interfering with the victim’s job. This includes things such as sabotaging the victim’s work responsibilities, harassing them at work and criticising or minimising the victim’s job.

For a full list and detailed explanation of the signs of financial abuse, visit this article.

Getting help

If you or a loved one is in a financially abusive relationship, it’s normal to feel fear and uncertainty about leaving. As with leaving any abusive relationship, it’s important to make a plan beforehand, and reach out to loved ones and other resources for assistance.
Organisations such as People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) provide support to women experiencing abuse. Call the POWA helpline on 083 765 1235 or visit www.powa.co.za.

For counselling services, contact FAMSA on 011 975 7101, email national@famsa.org.za or visit their www.famsa.org.za.

Remember that no one has a right to control your personal finances, and anyone trying to do so is a major red flag. You deserve respect and equality in a relationship- no exceptions.

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