“It even includes giving very limited amounts of money, as victims are forced to do things to access the money, such as demanding certain sexual acts in order to pay for school shoes for the children.”
In Sydney, lawyer Laura Bianchi meets women like Ella every day at the Redfern Legal Center, where she heads up her state-wide financial operations department, created in response to strong demand for legal assistance from victims of financial abuse.
“The most common thing we see are people who come to us with thousands and thousands of dollars in debt crippling their ability to move forward.”
Cell phone contracts, credit cards, and purchase accounts now paying later using a victim’s name without authorization are the most common pitfalls she sees among her customers, including Ella.
Ms Bianchi was the first lawyer Ella spoke to and was able to advocate on her behalf with creditors to negotiate repayment of some debts and have others waived altogether.
“This is where industry and government play such an important role… there might be very few legal avenues for people with no assets in a relationship,” Ms. Bianchi said.
In July, the Commonwealth Bank launched a range of services designed to support survivors of domestic and family violence affected by financial abuse as part of its Next Chapter initiative, which includes financial literacy coaching and interest-free loans.
Money is often the reason the bank learns about domestic violence situations, said Sian Lewis, director of the CBA group.
“People call and say, ‘I’m in an abusive relationship and want to protect my money,’ or ‘It’s not my debt,’ or they slip away and their financial well-being is greatly compromised.”
The bank is also implementing measures to remove banking services from perpetrators that facilitate technological abuse. It follows an audit lasting more than three months which found that more than 8,000 customers have received Internet transfers containing abusive and threatening messages.
However, she said the bank was aware that the measures taken did not have unintended consequences for a victim, as “the removal of a banking service could mean that a childcare payment will not be made.” .
She added that it was also important to keep records of these threats, as they could support future legal proceedings or apprehended violence orders.
Former Domestic Violence NSW Managing Director Moo Baulch recently spent seven months leading CBA Client Vulnerability and said she has seen a shift in all financial institutions understanding the power of the data they hold on customers.
“I’ve learned that people tell their banks an incredible amount of what’s going on in their lives. It blew me away, what people trust them with.”
She said financial independence was essential for survivors and their children after the violence.
“When we teach children and youth about a respectful relationship, financial independence and literacy should be part of that conversation as well. to prevent the next generation of financial abuse.