The most commonly recognised forms of abuse are physical, verbal, emotional and sexual – but it is equally important to acknowledge the mental and economic abuse of women as well, this is according to Moeshfieka Botha, head of research and consumer education at National Debt Advisors (NDA).
Botha said the Covid-19 pandemic, subsequent lockdowns, job losses and having people work together from home – has undoubtedly added strain to relationships and added to the increase in domestic violence.
The United Nations 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children Campaign (which takes place annually from 25 November - International Day of No Violence against Women - to 10 December (International Human Rights Day) shines a necessary spotlight on gender-based violence.
According to Botha: “Based on our interaction with women seeking debt relief, it is evident that many do not notice the red flags, or identify their situation as financial abuse. They work and earn money – but do not have control over their money.”
She said women found themselves in a position where access to their own bank accounts and credit agreements is limited. “Some have partners who spend their money, incur debt in their name, and damage their credit records”.
Botha said that a large percentage of the women who find themselves victims of financial abuse start out believing that their partners want to take care of them, and take control because they love them. “Sadly, more often than not – this becomes part of further abuse in the relationship. Many women who are financially dependent on their partners end up staying in an abusive relationship.”
Botha says that there are different types of financial abuse:
1. The “CFO’ scenario takes place when one partner in particular is in charge of the household finances. Whilst this can work very well in a good, solid relationship, it can strip away the economic self-sufficiency of women and make them completely dependent on their partners.
2. Economic sabotage takes place when the abuser prohibits the woman from going to work, looking for jobs, attending interviews and earning money, thus keeping the woman dependent on them. In many cases, the abuser might even go to the woman’s workplace, cause a scene and sabotage her employment. Once an abuser blocks a woman’s access to money, isolation from family and friends, other forms of abuse often follows.
3. Financial exploitation is probably one of the worst forms of financial abuse, as it often involves entirely destroying the victim’s financial footprint. Many abusers force women to make loans and take on debt for their benefit – and don’t take any responsibility in repaying it. Many women find their credit profiles and relationships with family and friends (who they went to borrow money from) negatively affected.
Botha said: “There is no doubt that getting out of any type of abusive situation is easier said than done. Every victim and situation is different.”
In order for women to take back the power back in their financial lives, Botha shared some top tips on how to cope with and get out of a financially abusive situation:
· Start gathering physical and electronic documents for any credit agreements that are in your name.
· Make sure that the contact details (phone, email etc.) on any agreements are yours and that correspondence comes directly to you. You have the right to request this from your creditors and service providers for any agreements linked to your name and identity number. No one else may give instruction or receive information on your bank accounts or credit agreements other than you – unless they have legal power of attorney.
· Draw a credit report and find out exactly what your debt exposure and credit-worthiness looks like. You are entitled to one free credit report from every credit bureau once a year.
· Become financially informed. Visit sites that can financially educate and empower you about your rights.
· Find someone who you can trust, and talk to. You are not alone –even if that is what your abuser would want you to believe.