A recent article in the Guardian told the chilling story of a woman who had suffered financial violence at the hands of her husband. Emma (not her real name), who had a successful career as a real estate agent, was left a virtual recluse after he took control of all finances once they wed. Her husband was also jealous and possessive, although he never physically laid a hand on her.
Emma told the Guardian: “It happened slowly, it’s like the frog in boiling water thing, but after a few years I was only allowed to have £50 a week. I’d need more than that for petrol, but he wouldn’t let me have it. He had access to all my bank accounts and every time I got paid he’d take the money out. He told me I was no good at managing money and the only way we’d stay financially secure was if he did it all. All my savings were gone. We had the big house and the European cars, but I couldn’t buy my sister a birthday present”.
Economic abuse (also known as financial abuse), is an incredibly common, but little talked about side of domestic abuse. Like all forms of domestic violence, it is about one person exerting control over another. In cases of economic abuse, the scars are caused by shame and neglect rather than punches and kicks.
Financial abuse falls under ‘coercive control’, which is a pattern of controlling, degrading and/or threatening conduct which takes away the victim’s freedom. Like most forms of abuse, and as illustrated by Emma’s account, financial violence is usually accompanied by other forms of abuse; mental, emotional, and/or physical.
Women’s Aid has studied the lives of 126 survivors of economic abuse and found:
- 71% did not have enough money to purchase essentials such as food and clothing
- 61% were in debt and 37% had a negative credit rating
- 52% did not have the money to leave their abuser
The criminal offence of coercive control
Coercive control is a criminal offence in England and Wales. Aside from economic abuse, coercive control can include:
- refusing to allow you to see family and friends
- making you ‘check-in’ all the time and controlling your movements
- constantly putting you down, humiliating you and/or degrading you in private and public
- threatening to harm or kill your child or a pet
- stating they will publish negative comments about you or report you to the authorities
- damaging your property
- making you take part in illegal activities
The following needs to be established to prove coercive control:
- you have a personal connection to the perpetrator,
- their behaviour has a serious effect on you, and
- the perpetrator is aware or ought to be aware of the serious effect his or her behaviour is causing
Serious effect is defined as:
- you have been afraid that violence will be used against you on two or more occasions, or
- you have experienced considerable fear or distress, and this has affected your day to day life or has changed the way you live. For example, you may avoid seeing your family or friends for fear of what the perpetrator will do to you. Or you may have been forced to quit your job because the perpetrator will not give you the money to get to work.
Escaping financial abuse
As an element of the offence of ‘coercive control’, if you are being subjected to financial abuse you can report the matter to the police. They can give the abuser a warning or arrest them.
You can also apply to the Family Court for a Non-Molestation Order and/or an Occupation Order. These are domestic violence injunctions which can protect you from your abuser.
A Non-Molestation Order is used to protect you from actual or threatened physical violence. The protection offered by a Non-Molestation Order also extends to any children you have.
An Occupation Order gives you the right to remain in your home and restrict or prevent your abuser from entering it. You must have a legal right to be in the property to apply for an Occupation Order. This can be critical for a victim of economic abuse because they usually do not have access to the money they need to move away from their abuser.
Applications for Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders can be made ex-parte, which simply means you will appear before a judge without your abuser being present. Any order granted ex-parte is only temporary, a full hearing must take place at a later date. Because Occupation Orders are seen as draconian in their nature, it is rare for them to be granted without notifying the other party, so they can present their side of the story to the court.
Breaching a Non-Molestation Order is a criminal offence and can result in up to five years in prison. Although breaching and Occupation Order is not a criminal offence; a power to arrest can be attached to the order by the court.
Getting help for financial abuse
If you are a victim of financial abuse, or any other type of coercive control or domestic violence, you can get help. Contact a family law solicitor, who can advise you on your best options and represent you in court. There are also several organisations who can help you find safety, including:
National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) – 0800 970 20 70
Refuge – 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)
Women’s Aid 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)
ManKind – 01823 334 244
Galop LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm in Central London. We have years of experience representing people in divorce proceedings involving domestic abuse. For confidential information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.
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