Today, the 25th of November, we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. When we talk about this day we find ourselves thinking about all the grim experiences that we, as women, have lived at least once in our lives. However, we often seem to put aside the fact that violence takes many forms. There isn't only physical violence, made of abuse and harassment, or the psychological one, made of stalking and constant pressure.
The coercion of women at the hands of men does not only manifest itself through physical forms of dominance, but often also involves more subtle connotations that are extremely difficult to identify. Women often suffer, in silence, another form of abuse: economic violence.
Economic (or financial) violence is a type of abuse that uses money to create a relationship of dominance, dependence and submission to the detriment of women. The establishment of this dynamic very often starts from behaviors that do not arouse suspicion (because unfortunately rooted in our culture) which see women extraneous to the decision making process and to the economic management of the family. This results in a real relationship of dependence that is hard to leave. In other words, financial abuse involves a perpetrator (man) using or misusing money which limits and controls their partner’s (woman) current and future actions and their freedom of choice. It can include using credit cards without permission, putting contractual obligations in their partner’s name or even gambling with family assets (intended as the consumption of the victim's resources). It can also include preventing a victim from taking steps to improve their situation like finding a job.
The victim of this violence finds herself in a situation of submission and is forced, most of the time, to justify her expenses, made with the money "granted" by the executioner, whose only goal is to obtain complete economic control and at the same time establishing in the victim a strong sense of inferiority.
According to recent data, 1 in 5 adults in the UK has experienced economic abuse from a current or former partner. As reported in The Domestic Abuse Report 2019: The Economics of Abuse, nearly a third (31.9%) of those survivors who responded to the survey, said their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator and a quarter of respondents said that their partner did not let them have money for essentials during the relationship. 43.1% of respondents said they were in debt as a result of the abuse and 56.1% of those who had left a relationship with an abuser felt that the abuse had negatively impacted their long-term employment prospects/earnings.
Although we do not yet have elaborate data on 2020 and 2021, the pandemic is expected to have had a very negative impact on economic violence, contributing to its spread. This is in line with the worsening of the phenomenon of violence against women in general and with the loss of work and economic autonomy affecting many women around the world.
The manipulation of money and other economic resources is one of the most prominent forms of coercive control, depriving women of the material means needed for independence, resistance and escape. As abuse and control through financial means is hard to understand, even for those experiencing it, we tried to identify the possibile red flags to look out for.
There are indeed some behaviors that can arouse suspicion and outline what could then evolve into a serious form of economic abuse. A spokesperson for the charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) told the Independent: “Awareness raising continues to be vital. We know that the majority of coercive controlling behaviour is not reported to the police, and many victims do not immediately recognise what is happening to them. Warning signs included not having enough money for even basic things; having joint finances but not being able to access the shared account; seeming to be in conflict with a partner over cash and making comments like ‘he won’t let me spend money on that’.”
If you are in a financially abusive relationship, you do not have to remain in it. Getting out of this vicious cycle of addiction is possible, even if it may seem difficult. Some of the first steps towards freedom are: gathering your financial information, educating yourself about your finances and even saving your own money. Most importantly, seek help. Reach out to trusted friends and family, or get in contact with any sort of organisation that offers help, such as Refuge, Women’s Aid or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Beyond the legal measures, economic violence, about which we have still little awareness, requires further and specific interventions to protect women's independence and, above all, requires a radical change of mentality from all the players in the field. Especially men who must re-educate themselves in order to avoid behavior of control, domination, revenge against women. Eradicating these behaviors is a long-term goal, but it is also the most effective in reducing economic violence, and every other form of violence, against women.
Written by Miriam Tagini