With Britney Spear’s conservatorship in the spotlight following the 13 years of being controlled by her father, lawyer and trustees, we can only imagine how many people out there are suffering the same abuses. Britney was fortunate to have been thrust into the limelight at such a tender age after the success of “Hit Me Baby” but her early success also caused her string of mental breakdowns after her failed relationships. In reality, there are many amongst us who are smart and educated but unwittingly go through financial abuse because it is not recognised as manipulation or abuse. The power and control wielded by the perpetrator is a form of domestic violence which is in need of a deeper conversation to address.

What is financial abuse?

This is a situation where one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s access to economic resources or financial income causing the victim to be unable to support themselves forcing them to depend on the perpetrator financially. This can happen in a marriage or to the elderly who are dependent on the perpetrator. The majority of domestic violence is related to financial abuse which starts gradually eg: controlling the victim’s monthly allowance to destroying one’s credit worthiness.

How to identify financial abuse?

Financial abuse can vary from situation to situation since there isn’t one way to handle money in a relationship. This makes identifying abusive tactics more difficult, as abusive partners may argue that “this is just how the relationship works.” There are some common ways to identify if you are a victim of financial abuse. Your caretaker or partner:

  • Gives you “allowances” or “budgets” without your input
  • Requires you to account for everything you spend on
  • Pressures you to quit your job or sabotages your work responsibilities
  • Feels entitled to your money or assets
  • Spends your money or takes money from a joint account without your knowledge
  • Controls how all of the household finances are spent
  • Limits you from taking part in personal growth programmes or attend job training, pursue higher education, or otherwise advance your career
  • Limits your access to your own bank account or mutual bank accounts
  • Lives in your home without working or helping with household tasks
  • Maxes out credit cards in your name (and then doesn’t make payments on those credit cards)
  • Threatens to cut you off financially when you disagree
  • Uses funds from your children’s savings account without mutual agreement
  • Prevents you from working by hiding your keys, or offering to babysit and then not showing up
  • Engages in other forms of abuse like belittling or physical abuse when they get angry over your spending habits

Effects of financial abuse

Financial abuse can be devastating mentally as well as financially and yet, it is not ‘illegal’. A person who maxes out their partner’s credit card and refuses to make payments ruins that person’s credit worthiness and ability to find housing, purchase a vehicle, or obtain loans. Without access to economic resources, survivors often face a new set of challenges to rebuild their credit worthiness and to feel financially secure again.

To get out of any financially abusive relationship, you need proper planning and your own support network. This includes keeping all your bank statements, credit card and IDs in a safe place and without your partner’s or caretaker’s knowledge that these individual accounts exist. For more information, please refer to your local shelter/legal aid/ women’s organization ie https://wao.org.my/

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