Economic abuse ‘hidden in plain sight’

A report was published by the charity Surviving Economic Abuse to coincide with its official launch on Monday 4th December.

‘Into Plain Sight’ presents an analysis of successful prosecutions of controlling or coercive behaviour. In two-thirds of cases, researchers uncovered examples of economic abuse, yet in none of the cases was this form of abuse named. Victims were prevented from going to work and earning an income or coerced into handing over thousands of pounds to their abusive partner, including one woman being left with a debt of £50,000. Other abusive behaviours included controlling women through their access to housing, household goods, mobile phones and transport.

The charity’s founder and Director warns that, until the scale of economic abuse is recognised and given the attention it deserves, then responses to it will remain inadequate. Surviving Economic Abuse believes that the upcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is a significant opportunity for Government to address this by making economic abuse part of the new legislative definition of domestic violence. Given the widespread nature of economic abuse, the charity would also like to explore making this form of abuse a criminal offence, in line with other countries.

The report’s author, and founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, Dr. Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, said:

“Economic abuse is widespread and damaging but overlooked. Perpetrators of economic abuse and their crimes, but most importantly their victims, are hidden in plain sight. In the past decade, significant progress has been made to improve the legal protections for victims of all kinds of abuse, yet using access to economic resources as part of abusive behaviour continues to go under the radar.

“Our research shows that victims of abuse are made to be economically dependent making it hard for them to access the resources they need to escape and rebuild their lives. Some women are left paying back debts that they were coerced into taking out, for many years after leaving. The recent and welcome controlling or coercive behaviour law was a watershed in acknowledging that domestic abuse does not have to leave a bruise to cause lasting harm. We look forward to working with the Government to explore ways in which the upcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill can recognise economic abuse in all its forms.”

The research makes the following recommendations:

  • For economic abuse to be included in the new definition of domestic abuse to be included in legislation early next year.
  • For economic abuse to be defined in the new legislation and to be made a criminal offence.
  • For economic abuse to be introduced into statutory guidance for the existing controlling or coercive behaviour legislation.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 Today Nicola Sharp-Jeffs said:

“When we talk about domestic violence, the images that we conjure up still are women with black eyes and injuries, and we don’t understand that one way in which women are controlled is through finances and access to economic resources. Another thing we hear all the time is ‘why didn’t they just leave?’ – but if they don’t have access to a car or some money for a train ticket or somewhere to go, or the means to an income to be able to support themselves and any children that they might have, then we start to realise how much economic abuse poses as a barrier to women who need to escape their abuser.”

‘Rachel’ a survivor of economic abuse said:

“People recognise slavery, but they don’t understand this is on the same spectrum …you’re utterly trapped.”