COVID-19 and the Violence of Money
A pandemic is not a time to live with your abuser.
COVID-19 with its lockdowns, restrictions on movement and isolation from friends and family is an incubator for coercive control. COVID-19 has led to increased calls from women experiencing family violence. More worrying is the silence of women who are trapped. Economic abuse, often invisible, will become overwhelming with increased economic fragility. COVID-19 will decrease women’s options for leaving and surviving economic abuse.
Women have been more disadvantaged by the pandemic. They have lost more working hours than men. They are less entitled to benefits as more women than men work in insecure casual jobs in the industries that are adversely affected. A superannuation fund reports women are withdrawing a higher proportion from their superannuation funds. More women are closing their superannuation accounts. At the same time, women are working more unpaid hours at home (Wardell-Johnson, 2020; Wilkins, 2020; Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2020).
With international borders expected to remain closed for a while, migrant women are more unsupported and vulnerable. Isolation, fear and entrapment are key elements of coercive control at the centre of family violence. Coercive control was criminalised in England and Wales in 2015 and in Ireland and Scotland in 2019. Criminalisation is still being discussed in Australia. Perhaps COVID-19 will make clearer the ravages of coercive control.
Once women feel safe to call and have the option to leave, we will be able to better judge the effects of COVID-19. Will joint accounts be more abused? Will women be denied money? Will expenditure be more closely monitored? Will coerced debt increase? Will there be an increase in online gambling? Will the man send more money home without consultation leaving his family in Australia doing without?
It is particularly worrying if a woman loses all her paid work, because a break in paid work makes it more difficult to achieve financial resilience when she leaves.
If you are suffering family violence, it is important to remain in daily touch with at least one friend or family member. Tell them you need to touch base so that you can remain connected and feel less alone. They will also be comforted to know you are safe.
Analysing the stories of 12 women who have survived economic abuse in a book I am writing entitled ‘The Violence of Money’, I have found it helps if you can recognise and name economic abuse. Most people associate family violence with physical assault. Sometimes they learn only incidentally that they are suffering economic abuse. They see a poster in a clinic, attend a talk or a friend points it out.
Economic abuse is gendered. It is mostly men using it to ensure their sense of entitlement. If the perpetrator controls or exploits your money and assets as well as sabotages your paid work so that he can control your life, you are suffering economic abuse. Economic abuse happens to women who are educated and uneducated, migrant and non-migrant, urban and rural. This does not mean you lack financial literacy or capability. It happens to women who are the main earners in the household. In Australia, the 2.2 million women who suffer emotional abuse also suffer economic abuse.
It can be a relief to give economic abuse a name. You then know your distress is not because you lack ability. You are not losing your mind or becoming obsessive about money, as he may have told you. Once you can name economic abuse, you can begin planning the next steps. These may include counselling and/or a plan to leave safely and well. COVID-19 may be a good time to increase your educational qualifications and certification online, particularly if you have been out of paid work for a while. This is important whether you plan to stay or leave.
Get in touch with professional services when you can to seek help for housing, utility, rental and insurance issues, emergency funds, alleviation of coerced debt and visa problems. This professional help, together with the emotional support of family and friends can convert survival into empowerment.
Wardell-Johnson, G. (2020, 23 July 2020). Gender Impacts of COVID-19: Budget update. Retrieved from https://newsroom.kpmg.com.au/gender-impacts-covid-19-budget-update/
Wilkins, R. (2020). Who’s hit hardest by the economic effects of COVID-19? – Evidence from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey on the characteristics of people likely to be experiencing the worst economic effects of COVID-19 Retrieved from Melbourne: https://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/3387039/ri2020n10.pdf
Workplace Gender Equality Agency. (2020). Gendered impact of COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.wgea.gov.au/topics/gendered-impact-of-covid-19