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Breaking free from economic abuse

To live a good life, people need to be free from abuse in all its forms. Economic abuse is insidious and damaging, and we need to get better at recognising and responding to it.

Economic abuse by a partner is cited as one of the main reasons that women remain in or return to violent relationships. Almost every woman who presents to a family violence support service has experienced economic abuse, and even after a woman’s physical safety is protected, financial issues often make it very hard to break free from the stranglehold of abuse. The economic consequences of family violence can be debilitating for years after an abusive relationship has ended, and can hijack any chance of moving on and living a normal life.

Timely and integrated legal help can break this cycle. It can remove a debt accrued by an abusive partner, or avert homelessness by securing a rental home. It can help provide the financial freedom to live independently.

The Restoring Financial Safety project, delivered by WEstJustice in partnership with McAuley Community Services for Women, is an initiative providing this kind of help. By bringing together legal assistance, financial counselling and family violence experts, the project enables women to regain financial control of their lives.

WEstJustice works with private companies to change the way they deal with customers who are experiencing family violence. There are many knowledge barriers to overcome in this work, and attitudes that need to change, including:

  • Not acknowledging family violence as a ‘hardship’
  • Requesting proof that a person experiencing family violence can’t access
  • Not knowing what to do if family violence is disclosed or ‘warning signs’ are present
  • Not recognising the safety risks associated with disclosure of information
  • Misinterpreting common indicators of abuse and trauma as fraudulent behaviour.

WEstJustice works with industry partners – regulators, ombudsman schemes and large private companies in the financial services, debt collection, water, insurance, communications and energy sectors – to help improve understanding of and corporate responses to people experiencing family violence.

By contributing to a range of industry changes of practice, and developing an early intervention and holistic casework service, the project has:

  • prevented escalation of legal and financial problems arising out of family violence through early intervention
  • provided legal and financial counselling support to 24 victim/survivors regarding the complex processes and laws related to family violence
  • saved clients over $100,000.

The Restoring Financial Safety project provides a glimpse of how legal service in Victoria could be delivered. It highlights the importance of integrated, wraparound multi-agency support, helping people move forward into a good life. The Victorian Government can reduce the impact of economic abuse by increasing investment in free legal assistance and bolstering community legal services.