Recognising and responding to economic abuse was one of the focus sessions at the annual Financial Counselling Australia conference, last week in Sydney.

Sue Fraser from Kildonan Uniting Care and Tanya Corrie from Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service, drew on a significant body of recent research (‘Spotlight on economic abuse’) to be released jointly by Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service and Kildonan Uniting Care on 29 May.

“Economic abuse is a form of domestic and family violence that prevents and undermines a person from becoming economically independent,” said Sue Fraser, Kildonan’s Senior Manager of Social Advocacy Services.

Material deprivations such as withholding money or controlling income, and financial isolation such as preventing access to financial information or services, are common forms of economic abuse.

“Financial counsellors can play a significant role in preventing and addressing economic abuse and this is why this important topic is included in the conference agenda,” said Fiona Guthrie, Executive Director of FCA.

As numerous studies have shown, relationship breakdown can lead to financial difficulty for both parties as assets are divided and individual living expenses rise. But financial difficulty can also be used as a control tool to prevent women, and sometimes men, from leaving an abusive relationship.

“The Spotlight on Economic Abuse project aims to identify systemic issues so we can better address and prevent economic abuse in Australia,” said Ms Fraser. “I hope that some of the learning outcomes from our Wednesday focus session will help financial counsellors to identify clients experiencing economic abuse, understand how economic abuse is defined in law as a form of domestic and family violence and recognise opportunities and pathways to support clients experiencing economic abuse.”

“If your partner has run up debts in your name, resulting in you having a bad credit rating and if you simply can’t see a way clear to provide shelter, clothes and food for yourself and your children, then economic abuse can be yet another invisible tie to a violent relationship”, said Fiona Guthrie.

“Economic abuse is a relatively new addition to Australian domestic and family violence laws. It’s a welcome addition, but probably also rather overdue as Australian research suggests that economic abuse is a common form of violence against women who seek assistance.”

Good Shepherd Youth & Family Service researcher Tanya Corrie has welcomed the community sector’s willingness to work together to tackle economic abuse.

“The research highlighted the negative and long-term impacts of economic abuse on women, and that the financial hardship caused by economic abuse is a major reason women stay in or return to violent relationships,” she said. “A whole of community approach is needed to deal with this issue and we have been heartened by the response from all quarters – corporate, government and community.”

The public can download a copy of the report at www.kildonan.unitingcare.org.au.

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