On Monday 4 December 2017, supporters, volunteers and well- wishers gathered for the official launch of the new charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) at the House of Commons.
SEA is the only charity in the United Kingdom dedicated to advocating for women whose partner has controlled their ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources. Domestic violence services report that anywhere between 43–98 percent of the women they support have experienced economic abuse. Dr Nicola Sharp- Jeffs set up the charity at the start of the year with the clear aim of raising awareness of the harm caused by economic abuse and developing more systematic responses to reduce its impact.
The speeches were opened by Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability. She acknowledged the long standing work of charities that have contributed to making sure society has woken up to the horrors of domestic abuse. She also outlined further recent progress with the controlling or coercive behaviour enshrined in the 2015 Serious Crime Act.
However, she said there is more to be done and that importantly, no one should live in fear of violence. “It is wrong to violate the trust of those closest to you and emotionally controlling behaviour will not be tolerated.” She referred to plans for a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill and also a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner to oversee progress as she believes statues will only go so far – behaviours also need to change. This is something around which SEA has already begun by working with members of the banking community in order to better facilitate their responses to women in abusive situations. It is, the Minister said, “Charities like SEA and others that truly know the complexities of supporting victims and their families.”
Stella Eden was the guest speaker at the event – she eloquently shared her lived experience of coercive control through which economic abuse threaded. Her book, “The Right to be Me” details the 18 years of domestic abuse she suffered. She told attendees that she barely slept for 5 years because of her husband’s demands. She was punished by not being allowed to rest – for actions as small as switching on the washing machine without his permission. Her husband would demand she buy things and threaten to damage other property unless he got his own way. When she finally left the relationship, she was thousands and thousands of pounds in debt. She wore a GPS device as she was at serious risk of harm. She found it difficult to advertise her business and her ex tried to orchestrate events which would further limit her earning capacity. She spoke of how she felt devastated by the damaging impact the economic aspect of abuse had on her on-going life and is very happy that the charity is shining a light on this form of abuse.
Charity founder and Director, Dr Nicola Sharp–Jeffs finished the speeches. She noted that it is for women like Stella that SEA has been founded. Economic abuse has distinct impacts which require a specific response. The need is out there – Dr Sharp-Jeffs is flooded with emails after speaking to the media. She is proud to be forging relationships with money advice services, the banking sector, policy-makers and domestic violence services which she is confident will result in wholesale change. The charity has ongoing work funded by the Tampon Tax fund, administered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, tackling the issue of coerced debt – when women are forced into taking out credit and loans for their partner. And also the Crime Commissioner for Northumbria has funded work with Gentoo Housing Group to deliver a project around economic capability. On top of this, Dr Sharp- Jeffs is forming a Survivor Reference Group which underpins the work of the charity. Concluding, she said she is confident that “Together we can and we will make a difference.”
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