Here’s the thing: you might be a victim of abuse without knowing it.
No, I’m not talking about physical violence, but something a little less obvious, more insidious — and just as worse.
Have you ever heard of the term financial abuse?
(While I’ve not experienced it myself, it’s a topic that’s close to my heart not only because I work in the finance industry, but because I’ve seen so many women victimised by it, either knowingly or unknowingly. If this post helps at least one woman out there recognize her situation for what it is, then I would’ve achieved what I set out to write.)
What is financial abuse?
First things first. What do I mean by “financial abuse”? WomensLaw.org, a US website launched to provide legal information and resources for survivors of domestic violence, defines it like this:
Making or attempting to make a person financially dependent, e.g., maintaining total control over financial resources and withholding access to money, are some forms of financial abuse (also called economic abuse).
Purple Purse, a US national campaign focused on ending domestic violence through financial empowerment services for survivors, has the following definition:
Financial abuse prevents victims from acquiring, using or maintaining financial resources. Financial abuse is just as effective in controlling a victim as a lock and key. Abusers employ isolating tactics such as preventing their spouse or partner from working or accessing a bank, credit card or transportation. They might tightly monitor and restrict their partner’s spending. Victims of financial abuse live a controlled life where they have been purposely put into a position of dependence, making it hard for the victim to break free.
The message is consistent: if you’re in a relationship where you’re feeling manipulated or controlled through financial means or when you feel your partner may be limiting your financial independence, you may be a victim of financial abuse.
What are the signs of financial abuse?
According to refuge.org.uk, the following may be signs you’re experiencing financial abuse:
Does/did your partner:
- Prevent you from working, or stop you from going to work?
- Prevent you from going to college or university?
- Ask you to account for every peso you spend?
- Check your receipts or bank statements so they can monitor how much you are spending?
- Keep the log-in details, bank cards or PIN numbers for your joint account so that you cannot access the account?
- Spend money allocated to bills for other things?
- Steal, damage or destroy your possessions?
- Spend whatever they want, but belittle you for spending any money?
- Insist on control of all financial matters?
- Insist that all the bills and loans are in your name (but does not contribute to them)?
- Make you ask permission before making any purchase, no matter how small?
- Make significant financial decisions without you (e.g. buying a new home, car)?
- Place debts in your name?
- Steal money from you, or use your bank card without permission?
If any of these situations feel familiar, you may be experiencing financial abuse.
Even in a country like the Philippines, which was the only Asian country to have made it (at one time) to the World Economic Forum’s ranking of the world’s 10 most gender-equal countries, I suspect the above situations are far too common.
Female participation in the Philippine labor force is much lower at just a little over 50%, compared to 70% in the UK and 67% in the US. This indicates that it’s highly likely that Filipina women are under-utilized in the labor market, and may suffer from inferior work opportunities compared to men, less stable work, or unpaid work burdens (think stay-at-home moms that depend on a single income). Overall, this makes them more vulnerable to financial abuse.
Okay, so I might be a victim of financial abuse. What do I do?
I know it’s very difficult, especially if you’re a stay-at-home mom counting on your spouse’s income, to be truly financially independent. I have read personal stories of women feeling absolutely crippled by being given less money for basic necessities by their partner if they complain about their situation. Your partner may even threaten to leave you, which especially if you have kids, can be devastating.
But — and here’s my attempt at a glimmer of hope — there are some things you can do.
- Start working on your financial literacy. I know (trust me, I know) finance is not the most exciting subject in the world. However, it pays to know at least the basics — how to take stock of your finances, how to make a simple budget, the best ways to save whatever you can, how to prioritize your expenses — for you to be able to properly assess your specific situation. There are plenty of free resources online. The Commission on Filipinos Overseas launched Peso Sense, a nationwide Financial Literacy campaign “designed to encourage improving productive expenditure, improve the capacity for saving and promote entrepreneurship among Filipino beneficiaries of international or domestic remittances.” The Peso Sense website, http://pesosense.com/, contains free e-Learning modules with topics like Basic Finance, Managing Your Money, and a primer on the stock market.
- Ensure you know your own ATM PIN codes, online banking passwords, and similar login information. You can always change them if you feel they have been compromised.
- Have copies of important financial documents such as your bank statements, credit card information, etc. Know which assets are in your / your spouse’s name (bank accounts, credit cards, land titles, etc.).
- Save whatever you can — as Tesco used to put it, “Every Little Helps.” Put away the cash in a location only you know.
- Look for a part-time job or sideline, if possible. If you blog, look for a way to monetize it. Maybe you can start a small online Facebook shop selling on consignment, or set up a makeshift sari-sari store at home.
- Up-skill for free. There are plenty of free resources online if you wish to take courses to improve your skills: think Coursera, edX, or Open2Study, among others.
- Reach out to trusted friends, family, or even your local church. Especially if you feel you’re a victim of abuse, as they may be able to help you and your family get back on your feet.
- Financial abuse may be an indicator of more widespread abuse. You can report / discuss your situation using Violence Against Women (VAW) Hotlines on this link.
To paraphrase refuge.org.uk, remember: it’s your money, your life.
I’m interested to hear if you know of anyone with this experience, of if you have other suggestions of how to cope. Feel free to comment below.
Image credit: Fabian Blank