When is the right time to talk about money? New research from WIRE

Talking about money is something most of us do every day, one way or other for example purchasing a coffee. The subject of money becomes very personal when discussed in the context of not having enough or family violence.

When is the right time to talk about money? New research from WIRE

In these cases talking about money is accompanied by feelings of shame, embarrassment and frustration maybe even anger. Using the stories and words of over 300 women affected by family violence WIRE’s new research, authored by Dr Nilmini Fernando, When’s The Right Time To Talk About Money?  provides information and recommendations regarding how financial services, utility companies and private business can talk with women about money and embed practices that will enable customer facing staff to have money conversations that enable women to disclose family violence and its impact.

Perpetrators of family violence use financial abuse tactics such as putting debt in their partner’s name, denying access to financial information, denying financial decision making, not allowing their partner to earn income and controlling purchases because it is an effective way to control and exert power over their victim. Financial abuse strips away confidence, strips away decision making capacity and constrains and controls the behaviour of the perpetrator’s victim. Even after the relationship is over, perpetrators of family violence can wield utility bills and loans like targeted weapons. Businesses can stop perpetrators in their tracks by deweaponising their products and services and this research highlights many ways to do that.

15.7% of Australian women will experience financial abuse in their live time. A staggering statistic as  financial abuse is just one form of family violence that perpetrators use to abuse. Our research highlights that family violence is not one single event but systematic abusive, events big and small carried out by a perpetrator that causes harm, devalues, takes away freedom and agency and in some cases kills its victims. One research participant explained the reason for her difficulty recognising the financial abuse she was experiencing was because the abuse,“ (is) slow like water, like waves hitting a rock.” 

The impact of family violence can last a life time and thus it is important that we recognise that women may still be acutely feeling the financial cost of family violence 10 – 15 years after they have left the abusive relationship. This is especially true if abuse has continued post separation through the family court and non-payment of child support. Thus we must all be prepared to have money conversations related to violence at any point in a women’s journey.

In the research the following family violence stages were identified;

  • Pre-crisis – before the relationship begins and when the abuse starts to build. This includes childhood and early adulthood when we learn our attitudes to gender, money and relationships.  
  • Crisis – the process of exiting an abusive relationship this stage can last up to 12 months
  • Early Recovery – relationship ended 1 – 2 years ago
  • Mid Recovery –relationship ended 2 – 5 years ago
  • Long term -  relationship ended 5 – 10 years ago
  • Enduring – relationship ended 10 years ago or more but the impacts of the abuse are still being felt

The financial impacts of family violence is felt acutely, 54% of victim- survivors surveyed for this research worried about affording health care , 48 % are concerned about debts, 42% concerned about utility bills and a shocking 41% were worried about affording food.

What victim – survivors of family violence want

A clear theme throughout the research is the level of overwhelm that family violence victim -survivors experience for prolonged periods of time that can be counted in years not months or weeks. Victim- survivors are usually interacting with multiple services and managing issues such as raising children that have experienced trauma, managing legal processes to manage their safety   and relationship separation, finding or maintaining employment and trying to achieve or maintain financial security. The severity and multiplicity of these issues leave women with a lack of bandwidth to deal with issues. Whilst victim-survivors are strong and resilience their reserves of strength are called upon too often.  This can leaves many victim- survivors at a time when they need to take in complex information, process it and make life changing decision compromised. As one research participant put it, “ I just couldn’t absorb information like normal people.” The compromise of bandwidth must be taken into consideration when developing an organisational response to family violence.

As part of the research we asked 281 victim- survivors, how, when and where they wanted to receive financial information and support. The finding show that we cannot just focus on one  family violence stage we must focus on all. Victim- survivors wanted financial information and support at every stage ,90% wanting support when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, 88%, when exiting an abusive relationship , 70% six month after leaving , 50% anytime during the relationship, 45% any time before, during and after the relationship and 29% 2 years after the relationship has ended. Victim- survivors identified what services could do to assist and this included:,

  • Have a respectful attitude 
  • Understanding family violence
  • Give solutions that they can use
  • Provide time and a space where they can be heard
  • Refer to financial counselling
  • Refer to hardship teams

The ‘When’s the right time to talk about money? report is rich in data and uses the words and experiences of victim- survivors at each family violence stage illuminating the way forward. Below is just a sample of recommendations from the report. 

  • Provide training to all customer facing staff so they recognise and respond to family violence appropriately and in a way that builds women’s agency around financial decision making.  
  • Use human centred design with a gender and family violence lens to develop products and services that cannot be weaponised by perpetrators and will support victim- survivors.
  • Have family violence policy and procedures that clearly articulate the organisation’s stance on family violence and how and what supports are available
  • Provide information to victim- survivors in multi formats and have mechanisms in place so information can be repeated as required.
  • Make the family violence response to the customer as streamlined and uncomplicated as possible
  • Give victim- survivors the information they need to make informed decisions in a manner that builds their financial capability and moves them closer to financial security
  • Marketing materials to portray a diverse range of women as independent strong decision makers.
  • Ensure that gender equality is reflected throughout all the internal and external workings of your organisation.

WIRE has a number of programs relating to financial abuse and gender equality If you would like to know more about this research and what your organisation can do contact WIRE CEO Julie Kun on jkun@wire.org.au.    

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