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Financial abuse: The hidden yet prevalent form of abuse

Financial abuse: The hidden yet prevalent form of abuse

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By Janine Horn

One of the 17 goals from the 2030 Sustainable Development Global Agenda is to achieve gender equality and, among a host of other things – give women access to economic resources.

As a society, women are at the forefront of being victims of gender-based violence (GBV) and the most economically unequal member of society. Gender-based violence is a harsh reality, a rude awakening and a destructive force that needs to be amplified and called out. We are a quintillion miles away from economic equality, mostly because we are the most affected by economic and financial abuse as a form of GBV.

Every year from 25 of November to 10 of December South Africa and the rest of the world shines the spotlight on the crisis through the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign.

Abuse is most often thought of as physical, verbal and sexual. Raising awareness and ultimately fighting against rampant abuse means we cannot overlook another common form – financial abuse.

The Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide speaks of “Accountability, Acceleration and Amplification, NOW!”.

Shockingly, financial abuse accounts for 99% of domestic abuse. According to Divorce Law South Africa, people frequently use the terms economic abuse and financial abuse interchangeably because they entail matching behaviours. However, the reality is that financial abuse is a subcategory of economic abuse. Money is being used to cause economic and financial harm and in some cases destruction.

Financial abuse is when one person in the relationship (usually the man) has power over their partner’s freedom of spending and controls how they distribute money for their own personal gains. Although financial abuse does not cause bodily harm, it should not be overlooked as many women are forced into a financial prison by their partners. The dialogue is one and the same, except not easily identified and recognised.

It is unfortunate that financial abuse is normalised and is often silent. Many people do not even know what financial abuse is. In fact, often both the victim and perpetrator do not even realise this abuse is taking place.

It is also important to note that financially abusive relationships are one of the critical drivers for abuse in relationships. This is why money is one of the main drivers of divorce. Partners who feel the need to control their significant other's finances and even shame them for their financial ignorance are abusers in the truest form of the word. We cannot allow this to continue in our communities.

Although it may not always be obvious, Horn highlights five signs that indicate you may be in a financially abusive relationship:

  • Loans are being taken out in your name and you need to make the repayments or repayments are not being made as agreed to by your perpetrator.
  • Your partner opens an account in your name and controls that account.
  • Your partner urges or even coerces you into leaving your job so you can be financially dependent on them.
  • You are being forced to hand over your salary or any income you earn.
  • You are often required to carry the household’s financial load even though you are both earning salaries.

Financial abuse is usually perpetrated against women, but the truth is that anyone can experience financial abuse.

Financial abuse is not something that gets better over time if nothing is done about it. If you suspect your partner is financially abusive, I urge you to contact someone who can assist you in gaining your financial independence. A counselor, friend, family member or financial adviser would be a good place to start. It is never too late to reclaim, and renew your financial situation.

Janine Horn is a financial adviser at Momentum

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