Coronavirus and the spread of financial abuse

Author Verve Team
Posted on 24 March 2020
Coronavirus and the spread of financial abuse

COVID-19 will lead to increased rates of domestic violence in Australia, and self-isolation during the pandemic can be dangerous for those in abusive relationships. Escalating levels of financial control may be one of the first signs that a loved one is in increasing danger; here’s how to spot the warning signs. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic has been trending in China, with domestic violence tripled since cities went into lockdown

As Australia ramps up its response to COVID-19, experts are telling us that the coming months will also be a very dangerous time for many Australian women

Past national disasters have shown us that men increase their perpetration of violence against women in the home during times of crisis. As an example, during The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria there was a significant spike in women experiencing violence for the first time, as well as an escalation of violence for those already in abusive relationships.

According to domestic violence service, ‘the Lookout’, COVID-19 is also leading to a convergence of several other factors known to contribute to family violence, including: increased financial insecurity, unemployment, housing insecurity, and alcohol abuse.

Women may face additional challenges if they attempt to flee family violence amid COVID-19 and there is also reduced access to support and community networks if schools and services are closed for containment. 

For some women, isolation within the home will mean days, weeks, and maybe even months in close proximity to an abusive partner. 

Financial abuse is insidious but, like verbal abuse, it often precedes or escalates into physical violence. That’s why it’s important to know how to identify these behaviours

As we go into lockdown, here’s what to look for and where to go, if you suspect that you or someone you know is being financially abused. 

What is financial abuse and how to recognise it?

Financial or ‘economic’ abuse is defined as having your access to money taken away by another, who manipulates your financial decisions, or uses your money without consent. It is estimated that about 15% of women are financially abused by a partner, we know that financial abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of your level of income or your postcode. Signs of financial abuse in intimate relationships include:

Controlling your money:

  • Taking control of your finances (e.g. being in charge of all the household income and paying you an allowance).
  • Controlling how all of the household income is spent.
  • Forcing you to claim social security benefits like Centrelink.
  • Making you go guarantor on a loan or take a loan out in your name.
  • Making you take out a second credit card.
  • Forcing you to work in a family business without being paid.
  • Filing fraudulent insurance claims.

Stopping you from earning:

  • Stopping you from getting a job or going to work.
  • Stopping you from going to work or important meetings by keeping you up all night or physically hurting you.
  • Stopping you from studying.

Limiting your access to money:

  • Not giving you access to bank accounts.
  • Denying you access to money so you can’t afford basic expenses like food or medicine.
  • Destroying or damaging or stealing your property.
  • Racking up debt on shared accounts or joint credit cards.
  • Withholding financial support like child support payments.
  • Refusing to work or contribute anything to the household income.
  • Gambling away your money or shared money.

There are many more signs of financial control and abuse, you can read more through WIRE (Women’s Information and Referral Exchange).

What to do if you are concerned you are in a financially abusive relationship?

If you think you are in a financially abusive relationship, there are services and support options available to you – many of these are available online or via the phone.

Talking to someone you trust could be a good start, whether that’s a friend, relative, a counsellor or psychologist. We have included a list of support services below. 

What to do if you are concerned for someone you know?

During this global health crisis, each of us have more of a responsibility to care for those who are especially susceptible — older people and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. We can also be more attentive to our friends, neighbours and loved ones who are in abusive relationships and feel especially vulnerable in a time when financial strains are significant and social distancing is the new normal. 

If you notice or hear anything troubling, you can reflect it gently and kindly back and hold space to listen with non-judgment. You can then provide resources or the contact details of support services.

At Verve, we will be joining other women’s organisations like Women’s Safety NSW and advocacy groups in calling on the government to invest in urgently needed social support services. It is also imperative that leaders fund emergency accommodation for women escaping abuse, or put necessary measures in place to keep women in their homes and remove perpetrators. 

We want to see all State and Territory governments following NSW’s lead by covering the costs of temporary accommodation for women who need to self-isolate but are worried for their safety. 

Accessing support services 

If you, or someone you know, would benefit from confidential support, crisis counselling or general assistance relating to domestic violence or financial abuse, here is a list of free, state-based and national support services.

1800 RESPECT: Free, confidential family violence and sexual assault counselling service. Phone: 1800 737 73

Family Relationship Advice Line: Information and advice on family relationship issues and parenting arrangements after separation. Phone: 1800 050 321.

Lifeline: Provides crisis support services. Phone: 131 114, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

National Debt Helpline: Free information and resources that can help if you’re struggling with debt Phone: 1800 007 007.

By state or territory

Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline (WA): Information, referral and telephone counselling. Phone: 1800 007 339 (free call 24/7)

Safe Steps (VIC): For confidential support and information please call the safe steps 24/7 family violence response line. Phone: 1800 015 188

Safe at Home – Family Violence Response & Referral Line (TAS): Crisis counselling. Phone: 1800 633 937

Domestic Violence Crisis Service (SA): Crisis counselling, support, and referral to safe accommodation. Phone: 1300 782 200 (24/7)

DV Connect Womensline (QLD): Crisis counselling and support for women affected by domestic or family violence. Phone: 1800 811 811 or TTY: 1800 812 225

Crisis Line Phone (NT): General and domestic violence crisis counselling. Phone: 1800 019 116 (24/7)

Domestic Violence Crisis Service (ACT): Telephone counselling and support and access to safe accommodation. Phone: 02 6280 0900

NSW Domestic Violence Line (NSW): Telephone counselling, information and referral for women and same sex partners who are experiencing or who have experienced domestic violence. Phone: 1800 65 64 63 or TTY: 1800 671 442

WIRE (Vic): Victorian free information support and referral service for women, conducts research into women and financial abuse. Phone: 1300 134 130.