A Review of Research and Policy on Financial Abuse within Intimate Partner Relationships

Sharp-Jeffs, Nicola (2015) A Review of Research and Policy on Financial Abuse within Intimate Partner Relationships. Project Report. London Metropolitan University/Refuge.


The financial abuse of women within intimate partner relationships is a means by which abusive men are able to achieve the financial power they previously held by legal default (Littwin, 2012). It was only in 1964 that the Married Women’s Property Act entitled a woman to keep half of any savings she had made from the allowance given to her by her husband. In 1970 the Equal Pay Act made it illegal for employers to pay women lower rates than men for the same work; yet at the same time working women could only secure a mortgage with the signature of a male guarantor. And as recently as thirty-five years ago, women were unable to apply for a loan or credit in their own name.

Whilst it is no longer possible to deny economic rights on the basis of gender, progress towards financial equality has been slow (Littwin, 2012). Finances continue to be gendered, with men still normatively expected to take charge of money (Postmus et al., 2012). Moreover, ongoing structural inequalities facilitate the efforts of abusive men to limit women’s self-sufficiency through playing on the barriers that continue to hinder their financial independence, including part-time work and the gender pay gap (Wilcox, 2006). As Branigan (2004: 8) states, financial abuse as a control tactic is designed both ‘to create and reinforce the economic dependence of women and children on men’.

Thus whilst economic dependency can be a direct outcome of financial abuse, it cannot be separated from women’s lesser economic status. It is, therefore, unsurprising that lack of access to financial income has been consistently identified by women as an obstacle to leaving abusive men (Anderson, 2007; Bell & Kober, 2008; Brandwein, 1999; Lyon, 2002; Jaffe, 2002; WNC, 2003). Analysis of British Crime Survey data by Walby and Allen (2004) indicated that women who reported that it would be difficult to find £100 at short notice were three and a half times more likely to be subject to intimate partner violence.

The widespread assumption that a household income will be shared equitably (Branigan, 2004; Westaway & McKay, 2007) means that the use of money as a source of power is rarely recognised and responded to by political, economic and social institutions. That financial abuse is commonly experienced by women within the context of intimate partner violence suggests that this form of abuse is a ‘patriarchal phenomenon’ intended to ‘wage war on women’s growing equality’ (Littwin, 2012: 981).

The aim of this review is to summarise what research and policy tells us about financial abuse and the ways in which it is used by abusive men to exert coercive control over/limit the options of women that they are/or have previously been in a relationship with. Since this work has been initiated by the Cooperative Bank, it also explores what the research literature tells us about the role of banks within a coordinated community response to intimate partner violence.

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