It has been described as the ‘hidden assault’, but Wagga’s domestic violence advocates are working hard to keep financial abuse on the national agenda.
Up to 16 per cent of Australian women will experience some sort of financial abuse in their lifetime. Often it occurs when the abuser restricts access to bank accounts to control their partner.
More than 90 per cent of women who have experienced physical or emotional violence, will also be kept in financial abuse.
Helen West from the Wagga Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services believes those figures are not entirely representative of its prevalence.
She estimates the number to be a lot higher than 16 per cent in Wagga, because many are unaware of the abuse.
“So many people we work with end up with issues from being coerced into taking their partner’s debts,” Ms West said.
“Their partner may have a bad credit rating, so they take out the bank loan in their own name, then when the relationship ends they’re left with the debt.”
Despite its ubiquity in society, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
“It is very hard to get an AVO for financial abuse, as it is with emotional or psychological abuse,” Ms West said.
“Because there may not have been any physical abuse, women will often say to us, ‘I’ve got no proof, the police won’t believe me.’.”
The problem is particularly apparent for middle aged women, who are becoming over-represented in homelessness statistics.
As Homelessness Week ends, Ms West would like to continue the national discourse.
“So many women get into debt and can’t afford private rentals,” Ms West said.
“The waiting list is so long for housing commission homes that there often isn’t another choice, especially if she also has a companion animal. These are the ones who end up living in their cars or on the street.”
With the Royal Commission into the banking sector highlighting lending policies among the big four companies, the advocacy’s financial adviser Nick Georgiou hopes change will come.
“There are many ways banks can help people free themselves financially from situations that are physically or emotionally abusive as well as financially controlling, unfair, and inequitable,” Mr Georgiou said.
“For example, a bank might assist by providing an emergency overdraft, made available to separate payment card that can [be] posted to a safe address, to help cover relocation expenses.”