‘I fell in love and then he left financially abused me’

While it’s now widely acknowledged that domestic and family violence that manifests in a physical form is abhorrent, and comes with legal ramifications in keeping with its capacity to destroy lives, our understanding of a less obvious form of abuse is yet to catch up. I’m speaking of financial abuse – a sinister and potentially lethal means by which a person seeks to control their partner in an insidious and often dangerous way. To help shine a light on this frequently misunderstood form of domestic abuse, Body+Soul is uncovering the heart-wrenching stories of Australians who have been directly affected by this – and to share their tales of survival as well as impart practical advice to help others. – Sarrah Le Marquand, editor-in-chief Body+Soul and Stellar

Emily* thought she’d found her love story, but the reality was very different. In a moment of clarity, she realised she could never persuade him to pay back all the money he owed her from their time together. And once Emily closed that chapter of her life, she realised her safety and independence were the most valuable things in the world.

When Dan* was first introduced to me at a party, I was told he was an incredibly successful entrepreneur. He had his own yacht and a European sports car, and he’d won business awards. At the time, I’d just finished a business degree at university, but I was mainly working as a model. I found him impressive and charismatic, but not really my type.

A few months later, he sent an extravagant bouquet of roses to my modelling agency along with an invitation for dinner. There was something about the grandness of the gesture that made me agree. On that first date I felt adored; he hardly spoke about himself at all, but instead seemed fascinated by me. Past boyfriends had all kept me somewhat at arm’s length, and I fell not only for him but also for the way being with him made me feel.

It was all moving very fast but, like many women, I’d fallen for the myth that good romance should be whirlwind.

He very soon convinced me to move in with him, and to work for him. I was actually reluctant to do both of these things, but he was very persuasive. He explained that I’d save money on rent this way. He also promised me I’d only be stepping into his business for a few weeks to help him out while his PA was on leave.

The first time he asked me to put his expenses on my credit card was after a huge dinner we’d hosted for some of his clients. When the waiter arrived with the bill, he casually explained his credit card was overdrawn and suggested he use mine and pay me back. I recall feeling a little apprehensive about that, but I didn’t want to upset him by refusing and seeming unreasonable.

By this stage, I realised he had a temper and he’d get furious if I questioned him. It felt like I was trying to hold together a puzzle, and one by one the pieces were slipping through my fingers. He’d check my bank statements and tell me what I should and shouldn’t be buying with the money I earned – but only because he didn’t want me to waste my money. He hadn’t paid me superannuation in months– but that was just a cash flow issue. He wouldn’t let me catch up with girlfriends for a drink – but just because he needed me focused when I was working for him.

You tell yourself these little falsehoods because you’re aware that things are unravelling, but admitting this even to yourself feels so shameful.

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By the time things had escalated and he was physically abusive, he also owed me a significant amount of money that he’d convinced me to loan him so he could pay his staff their wages. I was trying to think about how I could get away, but I still held out hope that I could persuade him to pay me back first. I was also practically running his business by this stage and was excellent at my job; I knew that if I left, I’d be unemployed.

The night I did eventually leave, a neighbour heard me crying and screaming, and called the police. The officer who arrived pulled me aside and told me he didn’t want to get called back to that house to find me needing an ambulance next time.

Chillingly, he also told me this wasn’t the first time he’d been called to this house to check on a woman distressed at the hands of this particular man.

It was a moment of clarity.

I left without the money he owed me, unemployed. In fact, I left with only the clothes on my back and walked to a payphone, where I called a girlfriend to come to collect me.

I’ve been married to a beautiful, kind man for 12 years now, and we have a three-year-old daughter. The bedtime stories we read her don’t feature any handsome princes who sweep the princesses off their feet. They celebrate girls and women who are independent and brave.

Sian Lewis, group executive, CBA

“Almost 40 per cent of Australians have experienced or know someone who’s experienced financial abuse. Financial abuse could be one reason a customer may disclose domestic and family violence to their bank, which is why we’ve taken this focus on it. Since 2015, we’ve been working with community organisations and experts to address this issue. Through this work, we’ve been able to better understand the size of the issue. It became apparent to us that much more needs to be done. That’s why we launched Next Chapter.” The Next Chapter program involves action in three key areas: leading the industry in providing care for vulnerable customers; expanding support for long-term recovery; and helping to raise public awareness and increase action in response to the issue.

As part of this initiative, CBA has partnered with Good Shepherd to deliver the Financial Independence Hub to help people previously impacted by financial abuse. The program provides free one-on-one financial coaching, safe banking support and referrals to external experts, and is available to anyone who’s been impacted by financial abuse, regardless of where they bank. Within the bank, CBA’s specialist Community Wellbeing team provides customers who have experienced vulnerability, including domestic and family violence, with trauma-informed care and support.

For more information, visit commbank.com.au/nextchapter.

Always consider your personal circumstances before acting on financial advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000.

*Names and all identifying details have been changed to protect identities. Model used in image.