Fight back against economic abuse

During this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, African Bank is urging people who are experiencing economic abuse to get help.

Essentially, if someone forcibly controls another person’s money or other assets, this is economic abuse.

Such abuse is part of a larger pattern of domestic violence aimed at gaining and retaining control and power in a relationship, and creating dependence on the abuser.

A lack of access to financial resources and support is a central concern for many victims in abusive relationships, and this prevents them from leaving abusive relationships or even reporting instances of abuse.

African Bank’s Mellony Ramalho says: “It is your right to manage your money and be financially independent.”

Sadly, economic abuse is something that is rarely discussed because it often occurs in what may appear to be an otherwise normal relationship.

These are some signs that you may be in a financially abusive relationship:

. You’re forced to account for all money spent;

. Your partner prevents you from owning or using credit cards;

. Your partner has sole access to passwords for financial information such as loans, bank statements and credit cards;

. You’re prevented from getting or keeping a job;

. If you do have a job, your partner demands that your salary is deposited into their account;

. Your partner puts all accounts or bills in your name – making you solely responsible for debt they incur;

. Your partner threatens to force you out of the house; and

. Your partner steals from you or takes your money without your consent.

“[Economic] abuse is a very real issue in South Africa and should be taken seriously. It is not limited to a marriage, but occurs with the elderly, parent-child relationships, between friends and so on,” Ramalho says.

“Elder [economic] abuse, for example, involves someone targeting an older adult, often a parent or other close relative, in the hope of being allowed access to his or her financial information.

"The abuser may act as if they are simply helping manage the senior’s finances, but instead starts limiting access to funds, starts pocketing money and convinces the elderly person to sign legal but detrimental financial documents.

“If someone is denying you access to information about your money or expenses, and is denying you the chance to save, you need to break out of the relationship and call on professionals to assist.

"Don’t be silenced,” she adds.

Magauta Mphahlele, the CEO of the National Debt Mediation Association, says that, from a debt management perspective, they deal with cases of economic abuse every day.

“Individuals are forced to incur debt or to be responsible for debt they did not incur,” she says.

The association is registered as an alternative dispute resolution agent with the National Credit Regulator, which means it can resolve credit disputes between consumers and credit providers through mediation, conciliation or arbitration.

Mphahlele adds that people can investigate the following steps to avoid getting caught in a financially abusive relationship with a partner, and instead promote a financially healthy relationship:

. Before combining your funds, deciding on a marriage regime, moving in together, applying for loans or signing documents, there needs to be a frank discussion about the fair distribution of responsibilities.

. The risks of opening joint bank accounts, joint credit cards, or co-signing any documents need to be discussed and professional advice must be sought if there are conflicts.

. Before partners share any sort of financial products, they need to have a conversation about money. Decide who owns what and who owes what. Find out if taxes are outstanding and figure out how you are going to sort out your finances in a fair manner.

. Keep each other honest by checking each other’s credit reports and agree on a joint strategy to fix problems if any are identified. This means there will be fewer surprises down the line. If there are any financial skeletons in the closet, you can make a plan together to deal with them
early on.

. Have regular chats about how you are doing financially and how you are going to achieve and maintain your financial dreams.

“We recommend that a joint household budget is worked out and each partner is allowed their own money or allowance to use as they see fit,” Mphahlele says.


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