Financial support and resources for victims of domestic abuse

Andrew Munro 9 November 2016

Using support services is an important part of domestic violence exit plans.

Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical attacks, mental or emotional abuse and financial abuse. These are all forms of domestic violence, regardless of whether they are used in isolation or together. For people in an abusive relationship it’s rarely as simple as just packing up and leaving, as a lack of financial options or anywhere else to go are common problems.

If you have left or are preparing to leave an abusive relationship, there is a range of government resources and assistance available. These can be incredibly helpful and are worth looking into. Unfortunately, even with these it can still be hard to achieve financial security if you’re coming out of an abusive relationship.

Being financially secure is an important part of domestic violence exit plans. Without it, many survivors have little choice but to return.

If you are about to leave, remember to take all possible steps to ensure your safety, that you are not followed and that you have somewhere to go. The most severe domestic violence, including homicides, often occur when the victim tries to walk out the door. If you are ever in immediate danger, your only priorities should be to get to safety and call 000.

Financial challenges faced by survivors of domestic abuse

Victims and survivors of domestic violence often face a range of financial difficulties, both before and after leaving a relationship. It can help to be aware of these before planning your exit strategy.

Coerced debt

An abuser might take out a credit card in their partner’s name and rack up large debts on it, or take out a home loan or other financing in their partner’s name. The victim may have been coerced into it, or might not even know that it happened until a collections agency comes for the money. This can have the added effect of damaging a survivor’s credit score, making it even harder for them to find housing or employment, buy a car or secure financing later.

  • If this happens you can justifiably take legal action against the abuser. In practical terms this is a difficult course of action due to high legal fees and the difficulty of finding free legal representation.
  • You can check your credit score if you suspect your partner may have taken out debt in your name. This credit check tool is free to use. Note that it will require you to enter personal information (which will remain private), might take some time and will send results to the email address you specify.

Limited access to money

A financially abusive partner may have taken control of all economic aspects of the relationship, which can be difficult to get rescinded after separation.

  • Familiarise yourself with any financial assistance programs you can use after leaving. These can be both standard welfare programs and special assistance for survivors of domestic violence. Some of these are listed in the next section.
  • Consider building a mental (or written and safely hidden) list of people you can depend on for help, in the form of a place to stay or anything else.
  • If possible, create and take advantage of opportunities to put some money away for yourself. This might be skimming money from what you’re given, donations or loans from family or friends or a secret job. Doing paid surveys online can be a relatively easy and confidential way of quietly making small amounts of money at home. Secret bank accounts are generally a safe place to keep the money, but be sure the bank won’t mail any statements or other correspondence to your home.
  • A bank account with no fees may be a preferable option if you don’t know how much money you might be able to hide away, or how long it will be until you have enough to leave.

Housing difficulties

Finding safe and affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing survivors. In many cases they will not have a rental history, or will be burdened with coerced debt. Sometimes the only affordable options are too far from work, too close to the abuser or otherwise unsuitable. Survivors will often not have their name on the property lease, which may give the abuser further leverage.

  • Support services for survivors of domestic violence can include accommodation support, and there are special shelters dedicated to helping survivors who have left abusive relationships. If you expect to be followed, think about where the abuser will look first and consider finding somewhere else. For example, you might opt for the second-closest, rather than the closest, domestic violence shelter.
  • Try to plan where you will stay after leaving, but remember to also consider how you will get there. Planning a lift with trustworthy family and friends can be a good choice, as can long distance buses and trains. If your exit plan involved booking tickets remember to make sure the details won’t find their way to the abuser.

Unfair divorce settlements

Financially abusive relationships are largely characterised by the abuser taking control of financials for both and holding all assets in their own name. This can give them an upper hand in divorce and related legal proceedings. This may be compounded by the fact that abusers may be prepared to fight for every cent while victims mostly just want to leave.

  • Prioritise your safety and err on the side of caution when deciding on the right time to initiate divorce proceedings. If there is a chance of your spouse becoming physically violent, get to a safe place before announcing your intentions to divorce.
  • Abusers have been known to deliberately withhold support payments in order to make the survivor contact them. Ongoing payments, including child support, can be a very big help, but can also make it more difficult to permanently cut ties with the abuser.

Employment challenges

Abusers have a motivation to prevent their victims from achieving financial independence. This can extend as far as deliberately sabotaging employment opportunities by showing up at their partner’s job and causing trouble or demanding that they skip work to do other things. Sometimes victims might need to skip work to hide their injuries, and may through no fault of their own be labelled as a poor employee. If the survivor entered into marriage at a young age they may also be left with no employment history or work experience to fall back on.

  • A long-term exit strategy will ideally include a plan for finding a job. If you think a lack of qualifications or experience might be an obstacle, it might be possible to find online courses to bridge the gap.
  • Employment programs are available through government assistance, and may also be available through community groups.

List of assistance and support services for victims of domestic violence

You can access government domestic violence support services by calling 132 850 or going to one of their offices.

The Australian government offers a range of financial assistance and other support for survivors of domestic violence.

  • Income support payments
  • Crisis payments
  • Exemptions from “seeking employment” welfare requirements
  • Assistance collecting child support

You may be eligible for government support if:

  • You have had to leave your home due to violence
  • You are in a financial hardship situation resulting from domestic abuse
  • You are unable to look for work as a result of the temporary or permanent injuries or illness resulting from domestic violence
  • Applying for child support would put you or your family’s safety at risk
  • Another adult or child needs to be removed from or added to a Medicare card

You are also able to access the services of government social workers. They can provide:

  • Short-term counselling and support
  • Information about available government and community support services
  • Support if you are having difficulties meeting the requirements of these services

Other community and government assistance programs include:

1800RESPECT

This is the national family violence and sexual assault counselling service. Operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can call 1800 737 732 to access free and confidential professional counselling services.

Daisy

This app is able to connect you to helpful services in your local and state areas, including legal, housing, financial and children’s services. It explains what to expect when you get in touch with different services. Family and friends can also download the app to gather more information and help you out.

Lifeline

Call 131 114 any time for domestic violence crisis support.

MensLine

Men are also victims of domestic violence, and can call 1300 789 978 for family and domestic abuse support.

White Ribbon

You can find a more complete list of national and state-based support and assistance programs at White Ribbon.

What does psychological and financial abuse look like?

An abusive relationship doesn’t always start off that way. It can sometimes be difficult to tell when one’s partner is being abusive. Similarly, it can also be hard to tell when someone you know might be in a violent relationship.

This is particularly true of financial and psychological abuse. These are just as much domestic violence as physical assault is, and can be equally relevant indicators that a relationship has broken down.

What is the definition of economic abuse?

Economic abuse is defined as behaviour that is coercive, deceptive, manipulative or otherwise unreasonably controls another against their wishes and deprives them of financial autonomy. Some examples of economic abuse are:

  • Forcing a person to give up control of their assets or income
  • Claiming someone else’s social security payments or other payments against their wishes
  • Making someone sign over control of their finances or assets
  • Forcing a person to take on debt or sign any other type of financial contract against their wishes
  • Preventing someone from keeping a job, such as by threatening them or deliberately getting them fired, or preventing someone from looking for work
  • Removing, keeping, disposing of, preventing access to or otherwise messing with their partner’s property, whether it’s money or anything else, without consent

If a partner is doing any of these it may qualify as domestic violence. Note that economic abuse is not exclusive to couples, and can also be perpetrated by carers against their charges, parents against children or between other parties.

 What is the definition of psychological or emotional abuse?

Psychological and emotional abuse can very broadly be defined as offensive, harassing or intimidating behaviour towards another person. The precise definition depends on the circumstances, but may include behaviours like:

  • Stalking someone, either by following them or hanging around places they know the victim will go
  • Repeatedly contacting someone against their wishes, regardless of how threatening or non-threatening the contact is
  • Repeatedly taunting or insulting someone, including comments around ethnicity, sexuality or anything else
  • Blackmail, including threatening to disclose information about a person to their friends or family without consent
  • Threatening to withhold someone’s medication
  • Stopping a person from making or keeping connections with their friends or family, or their culture or religion

Spotting emotional and psychological abuse can be difficult, even in one’s own relationship. One simple way of identifying it is by what happens when the abuser is asked to stop. If they refuse, respond with threats or do anything other than stop, it may be qualified as domestic violence.

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