Surviving Economic Abuse
By Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Director, Surviving Econmic Abuse
Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) is the only national charity dedicated to raising awareness of economic abuse and transforming responses to it. We exist to build the capacity of anyone who comes into contact with victim-survivors to help create ‘economic safety’.
The first step towards creating economic safety is recognising economic abuse. Economic abuse involves behaviours (control, exploitation, sabotage) which interfere with a partner’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources. It can reinforce other forms of coercive and controlling behaviour such as creating isolation – for example, preventing a victim from using their car. Economic barriers to leaving are a reason why many victims stay with an abuser as they do not have access to the resources they need to leave and live independently. Similarly, lack of access to economic resources is a reason why many victims return.
Until recently there was no national definition of economic abuse which means that there is no national measure of how prevalent it is. Research undertaken by SEA in 2017 analysed successful prosecutions of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence and found that economic abuse was present in 6 in 10 cases. This suggests economic abuse is more likely to be present than not.
Housing professionals may come across signs of economic abuse in many different ways. Rent/mortgage arrears can indicate that someone is experiencing economic abuse; similarly not being aware of what a partner earns or how much money is coming into a household/whose name is on the lease or mortgage can be signs that economic control is being exerted. The property itself may be in state of disrepair. Damage may have been done to the property by the abuser, including the destruction of valuable items within it.
Economic abuse can also involve a partner refusing to contribute to the running of a household/care of children and expecting their partner to provide for them economically, even though they also have an income. This can lead to victims having to borrow money and get into debt in order to make ends meet. Indeed the abuser may have an affluent lifestyle, and insist on only eating the best quality foods and using expensive toiletries, whilst insisting that their partner/children only eat and use ‘value’ goods.
If a professional recognises economic abuse it is vital that they respond in a non-judgemental way that does not blame the victim. Economic abuse commonly takes place alongside psychological, physical and sexual abuse so it is important always to let individuals know that specialist services exist and refer them to sources of support such as the National Domestic Violence Helpline.
This is not to say that housing professionals can’t provide practical support. It is important to help a victim maintain the economic resources they do have and also to take measures to help them maximise their economic resources. Similarly, if a victim has linked financial arrangements with an abuser, then this can be a mechanism through which they continue to exert control, even after separation. If action can be taken to ‘de-link’ them then this should be pursued where it is safe to do so.
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