Domestic violence is at crisis levels in Australia. For victims, it’s often not having the money to fund a lasting escape that keeps them stuck in an abusive relationship.
It’s estimated that one woman dies every week, and one man dies every month because of domestic violence (DV) in Australia.
Earlier this month, four of the five top stories on a major newspaper’s website related to women who had been killed in their homes.
All of these women leave behind children. One was about to be a first-time mum. All suffered differently.
Domestic violence isn’t just physical; it can be emotional, financial abuse, or a combination.
Some examples of financial abuse include denying a person financial independence through bank accounts or threatening to withhold financial support for meeting reasonable living expenses for themselves and children.
In light of the tragic statistics on domestic violence, the number of support services and resources to help victims fund their escape, are growing.
We identified a number of steps that can help victims reclaim their lives.
Safety is the most important thing and the reality is that if your life or that of your children is under threat, then money is secondary. No amount of savings is worth waiting for.
So, have a safety plan for yourself, and children, and act accordingly.
Taking stock of how an abusive partner or ex-partner behaves and what their reaction might be if you leave is a critical first step.
“Abuse is all about power and control,” says Laura Bos, business mentor and founder of young women’s movement She’s The Bos.
“I urge all girls to stay independent and be financially literate. It changes the dynamic in relationships. Of course it is not to that say you don’t contribute to joint goals if you want to do so.”
Assess your financial situation
It’s really important to educate yourself on your financial situation.
If you have never handled the money in the relationship, if you have lost control of it, or if you have joint accounts, there are steps you can take to get back on top of things.
- Try to find out as much about your financial situation as you can.
- Make copies of everything that identifies you or with your address on it – photo ID, passports, bank statements, mortgages, credit cards, superannuation, telephone and utility bills as well as any subscriptions with your name on it.
- Change to SMS or electronic email statements or bills, as much as possible over direct postal mail. Change your forwarding address of important mail if you know where you are leaving to, and if you cannot use or access a private email account.
- Contact your financial institutions and ask to speak with someone who handles domestic violence issues. Most of the big banks have services to help protect victims from abusers. National Australia Bank is one of the big banks that provide specialist assistance in this space.
- Stash all of your private financial or other important information or items with a trusted friend or in a safe place that your abuser won’t get access to ahead of your leaving.
Marion Mays, the money mentor and founder of the Thalia Stanley Group, recommends that victims of abuse try to work with their banks to see what assistance for DV might be available.
“If there are major joint debts you must contact the lenders and pre-prepare your letters to lodge the day you are leaving and advise you are leaving a DV situation and would like a stay put on all loan or debt repayments.
“Also consider putting monitoring on your credit file so that you are alerted if any applications or changes are made to your credit file,” she says.
Build your emergency savings
It’s not always possible to save money when you are in an abusive relationship because you may not be in control of your own cash flow.
But if you are able to save some money with the knowledge that you intend to leave, or that it’s a possibility that you will, then the more money you can save to cover the basics such as rent, food and travel costs, the better.
Financial experts often recommend having up to three months in savings in an emergency rainy day fund that only you can access. The same could be applied to domestic violence situations, although it may be extremely difficult to achieve when your earnings capacity is restricted.
If this is the case, some simple tips to earning extra cash are:
- Selling items you don’t need via an online platform where you can’t be identified such as Facebook, EBay or Gumtree.
- Taking out small amounts of cash as part of a grocery shop, and hiding it.
- Starting a side job where you are paid cash or into your own private separate bank account.
Talk to your employer
Because earning an income is an important part of being financially independent and feeling confident enough to leave an abusive relationship, your ability to earn an income needs attention.
Often you may have no choice but to quit your job if it means leaving town to escape an abuser, or resort to finding other work entirely.
But given the government’s August introduction of up to five days leave for victims of domestic violence, it might be appropriate to let your human resources (HR) department know what is going on at home.
They may be able to help you in terms of ensuring your pay goes into an account in your name that you control and give you a ‘blame the company policy’ excuse.
“I have seen some HR departments do some amazing things to support their staff during periods of domestic abuse,” says Ms Bos. “I know they [HR departments] cop a bad wrap, but most will do whatever they can.”
Know where you’re going and what it’s going to cost
Having somewhere to go when you leave an abusive relationship is a must.
Often women move in with trusted family or friends, or even women’s shelters as they try to work things out and rebuild their lives.
Sometimes they are forced into paying for cheap accommodation, and this is where having your own emergency savings fund and being in an area that enables you to earn an income can really help.
Know your legal options
Finally try if you can to get legal advice through legal aid first before going to a lawyer.
This is important as legal aid can only represent for one party and if you are registered they cannot act for your partner in the same matter.
Legal aid is free and a lawyer very rarely is.