Financial Literacy in Preventing and Recovering from Domestic Violence

Time to break free of financial abuse. Source
Time to break free of financial abuse. Source


When it comes to leaving an abusive relationship, money can be a key reason women find leaving difficult.

It can be either their access (or more so their lack thereof) to money or the ability to acquire it and manage it once they have left. This knowledge about money is known as financial literacy.

Financial literacy is a person’s ability to understand how money works in the world including how to earn it, manage it, and invest it. Many victims of domestic violence have never had this knowledge or control, or if they did, they had it taken from them and can struggle to get it back.

A lack of financial literacy in women can prevent them from leaving an abusive relationship, or if they do make the break, they don’t have the confidence to deal with money and the temptation to go back to the abuser for that security can be tempting. Better the devil you know, right?

Coming out of the other side of two extremely abusive (including one very violent) relationships, I consider myself to be one of the very lucky ones. Why?

I was an independent and educated woman before I became involved in these toxic relationships. I have three University qualifications in accounting, including a PhD, and I’m a certified practicing accountant. How could I end up in an abusive relationship and be financially abused as well?

It’s really not that hard; domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. Some of the most educated and independent women can fall victim to domestic violence. I was once told by a women’s refuge worker that women of this nature are actually targeted by perpetrators because they are seen to be more of a ‘challenge’.

Money can stop people from leaving. Source
Money can stop people from leaving. Source

The issue of money in relationships is an extremely important one. We all need money to get by in day-to-day life. Without it, we can’t do anything, go anywhere, and buy food, fuel for a car, ticket for a bus/train. What better way to control and/or abuse a person by taking their money away from them or prevent them from obtaining/earning money themselves.

This is the situation many women in abusive relationships find themselves in. Where children are involved, the situation becomes further complicated because a mother has to consider her children, and their needs, in all of this.

Leaving an abusive relationship without any money in your purse/account is a very scary concept. How will you survive, how will you feed and clothe your children, how will you get a job to earn again, how I will I cope once the restraints are lifted and I am in control again?

Some women have been in abusive relationships for so long that they have no idea of what it’s like to be in control, and it is a scary concept for them. They have no confidence left and most likely have been told for a long time just how useless and hopeless they are.

Many women don’t have the financial literacy to know that everything will be alright and that the help is there.

Just get out and deal with it step by step. Everything can be sorted out.

Taking that leap of faith and just getting out is not easy. I was financially educated, yet my money situation and assets initially stopped me from leaving my abusive husband. It took being on the edge of being killed for me to realise I needed to just let go of my concerns and get out.

I wouldn’t be able to do anything if I was 6-feet under. I could sort the rest out once I was away from him and his control. I always had good money management skills; I had them before my toxic relationships. I had never forgotten this.

Once I was in a women’s refuge where I was safe and not constrained by my husband, I was free to take control back and come back into my own.

I was facing debts of over $65,000 plus a mortgage on a unit that my abusive husband was effectively squatting in and I had no job because I had to leave my career.

That’s where the leap of faith came in. I had to walk away from my property and trust that I could sort it out when I was in a safe place.

My protection order had him ousted from the unit, which enabled my parents to clean it up and get it ready to sell. It sold quickly, but I only cleared the debts associated with the property. No more to go towards the other $65,000 I owed in loans and bills which had built up as a result of my husband spending all of my money and bullying and threatening me into taking out more loans.

Next, out came my accounting and negotiation skills. I spent four weeks phoning creditors, explaining the situation, and negotiating payment plans. I was determined to save my credit rating – I would not let him take that from me as well.

He had taken everything else (he always said he would make me lose everything), but he was not going to damage my financial future. I would have to say that the majority of creditors were very understanding and helpful.

I also had access to a financial counsellor while in refuge, who helped with some of my negotiations. Where payment plans are outside of the norm, usually because the payment amounts are a lot smaller than normally accepted, a financial counsellor is needed to show that you are making an effort to get assistance with your financial situation.

Financial counselling was a free service I could access through St.Vincent De Paul’s.

Unfortunately, six months after leaving the women’s refuge, I found out the government had cut funding to these financial counselling services. My financial counsellor, among others, had lost their jobs because they were dependent on the financial support of government.

There are still many more women the will rely on these counsellor’s assistance to help them sort out their financial situation so that they can have the best opportunities available to them in their future of freedom.

I have now been happy and free from my husband (now ex husband – I paid for my divorce all by myself too!) for two years. My finances are under control; under MY control. Sure, I still have over $40,000 in debt, but I have a new career and I am paying this debt off.

As I said, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones when it comes to recovering from my abusive relationship. I already had the knowledge to sort out my financial mess and get back on top and know how to stay on top.

So many women coming out of abusive relationships don’t have this luxury. Some of them have claimed bankruptcy, or were planning to do so. I was asked to consider it, but, it had the effect of making me even more determined to not allow it to happen.

Creditors are happy to accommodate you and your needs provided you make the effort of paying them something regularly and show them that you are committed to paying what you owe.

Financial cost of the heart. Source
Financial cost of the heart. Source

After spending time in a women’s refuge, and becoming friends with fellow victims, I think that there needs to be much more education in schools and the community about how to manage money in real life, as well as educating women coming out of abusive relationships about money, to give them back their financial confidence and to prevent them from going back.

The women I stayed with in refuge are smart, intelligent women. These women are not idiots or stupid by any means, which is what society seems to think they are due to the situation they have ended up in. If anything, they are more switched on and aware because of what they have been through.

They haven’t had the best run in life, but with the right help they have the ability to go on and do amazing things and live a happy and fulfilling life. The support needs to be there when women leave so that they can see that they can take control and take their life back.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs in the United States, found that the financial education of domestic violence survivors led to smarter behaviour and less financial stress.

There is a program called “Moving Ahead through Financial Management” that teaches survivors how to recover financially from abusive relationships.

Australia needs to put more funding into support services like these for domestic violence survivors, but also needs to take a preventative approach and teach these crucial life skills in school to prepare our youth for adulthood and the trying circumstances that they will come across in life.