We’ve created 31 Actions for Gender Justice to raise awareness, spark conversations and take action that transforms gender and power relations, and the structures, norms and values that underpin them. Every day for the month of March we will highlight an action that advances gender equity and justice for International Women’s Day (IWD).
Know the signs of financial abuse
31 Actions for Gender Justice: Day 20
Financial abuse often begins subtly and progresses over time. The aim of financial abuse, as with other forms of abuse, is to gain power and control in a relationship. Financial abuse along with emotional and physical abuse, manipulation, intimidation and threats are all aimed at getting and maintaining control over another person. The purpose is to trap them in the relationship.
- Controlling how money is spent
- Withholding money or “giving an allowance”
- Withholding basic living resources, medication or food.
- Not allowing their partner to work or earn money.
- Stealing their partner’s identity, money, credit or property.
- May justify behaviour as cultural.
Does your partner:
- Steal money from you or your family and force you to give access to your money or financial accounts?
- Make you feel as though you don’t have a right to know any details about money or household decisions?
- Make financial or investment decisions that affect you or your family without consulting or reaching agreement with you?
- Refuse to include you in important meetings with banks, financial planners, or retirement specialists?
- Forbid you from working or attending school or training sessions?
- Overuse your credit cards or refuse to pay the bills?
- Force you to file fraudulent tax claims?
- Prevent you from obtaining or using credit cards or bank cards?
- Withhold physical resources including food, clothes, necessary medications or shelter from you?
- Force you to work in a family business for little or no pay or refuse to work to help support the family?
- Interfere with your performance at work through harassing activities like frequent telephone calls, emails or visits to your workplace?
- Force you to turn over your benefit payments or threaten to report you for “cheating” on your benefits so your benefits will be cut off, even if you aren’t cheating?
- Force you to cash in, sell or sign over any financial assets or inheritance you own (e.g. bonds, stock or property)?
- Force you to agree to power-of-attorney in order to be able to legally sign documents without your knowledge or consent?
If you find yourself answering yes to one or more of these questions, you may be in a financially abusive relationship.
Recognizing this may be very difficult, but there is help available and you are not alone.
What should you do if you are being financially abused?
Step One: Evaluate your personal confidence level regarding finances.
First, work on understanding how your experience of dealing with financial abuse makes you feel about your ability to manage finances. You might not feel confident in your ability to manage your money. However, understand that your abuser probably wanted you to feel this way so that he could maintain his power and control over you and your finances.
With education, assistance and support you can become a successful money manager and work toward setting and achieving your own financial goals.
Step Two: Gain information about your assets and liabilities.
It is a common strategy for an abusive partner to hide assets and information about bank accounts and debts. Consider safe ways of doing some investigative work to find financial documents and make copies of these documents to hide in a safe place.
If possible, make photocopies of information about his income, such as any pay stubs, tax returns, company records and ledgers, bank accounts, investments, and RRSPs. Possible safe places include opening a safety deposit box to store documents for safekeeping without telling your partner or storing copies at a friend or family member’s house.
It’s also important to have copies of other critical documents stored in a safe place, such as Social Insurance numbers (SIN) (for yourself, children and your partner), your marriage certificate, birth certificates and Health Card numbers, bank statements and credit card statements.
Documentation regarding joint property can also be very helpful, particularly if you decide to leave the relationship. Photographs can often be more helpful than extensive lists, so consider taking photographs of any joint property. Take pictures that help to confirm the property was at your residence by including children, family or friends in the photographs.
Step Three: Begin saving money immediately.
Another common control tactic used by abusers is to not allow the victim to have any money on their own. Consider finding a way to save some cash for yourself for emergencies or if you need to escape the relationship on short notice. This can be a challenge, but it is something many survivors have been able to accomplish by using all their resources.
One strategy is to save change from purchases and save it in a safe place or secret bank account. Another possibility is having raises or bonuses from work deposited directly into an account that your abusive partner is unaware of (make sure to have bank statements sent to a special PO Box or safe address). Be creative and utilize your strengths and resources to ensure cash flow for yourself and your children.
Also, consider taking at least half of the money in your joint checking and saving accounts immediately upon leaving. However, remember that abusers frequently increase in their efforts at power and control if the partner is leaving.
Many women survivors of violence who have had to flee their home report being surprised to discover their partner immediately drained any joint bank accounts. This tactic is a purposefully attempt to get women to return and can be a very powerful method of regaining control. Taking at least half of the money is a way of protecting yourself and ensuring that you have the means to take care of yourself and your children. If you are hesitant to do this, remember that you can always deposit it back. Taking care of yourself and any children is top priority.
Step Four: Seek financial independence, one step at a time.
Consider opening your own checking account and applying for a credit card. Having a personal checking account and one credit card in your name ensures that you have your own personal credit history.
Also, remember to change the signature authority on any joint accounts so that both of you must sign for any transaction to occur. One way to do this is by setting up your bank account in the following way: “Jane Doe and John Doe”, rather “Jane Doe or John Doe”.