Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Financial abuse

The financial impacts and consequences of domestic abuse were recognised from the early refuges which opened for those who had nowhere to live when fleeing from domestic violence and abuse with their children. However, women who leave abusive relationships often end up in poverty, because of actions taken by abusive partners. Partners often take a woman’s money, limit access to joint accounts and resources, and in some cases, build up debts for which the woman is then liable. 

Women we interviewed described how their partners gradually took control over more and more areas of their lives, which had the effect of curtailing their freedom (see ‘Coercive controlling behaviour’). A powerful form of controlling behaviour was when men took charge of household finances and limited women’s access to money. Ella thought it was ‘normal’ to hand over her wages to her partner. She said:

‘Because I didn’t know that there was financial abuse, I just thought that was normal, that you had to give your money and things like that because you were living with somebody.’


Tasha gradually realised that, although her partner never hit her, he abused her sexually, emotionally and financially.

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Age at interview: 40
So your ex- used to have, like you say, have control over …

Over the money.

… over the money. Did, I mean, did you ever have any money of your own? Or did he have …

No we had a joint account but I mean he used to pay the bills We would go shopping together like the food shop and like I did use to go to like bingo and stuff so I, you know, I had sort of money for that but I always had to sort of ask for it. Give reasons why I wanted it and even though it was our money he was the one in control and I just thought that was fine, it’s like, you know, can we afford to do this? Because obviously I didn’t know what bills were going out and how much we were paying on what or anything like that, that was just, and it was act.., after he left that I thought, “Well, where’s all my money been going?” Because, you know, actually by the time all the bills are paid we’re not that bad off. And I managed to save money within like a few weeks of him leaving. And we could never save before.

So, as I said, until I left I sort of realised what had been going on with the money. Didn’t click that he was having all the brand new games that were going out and, you know, he had subscribed to all these different things and stuff. That obviously he had to pay for but, you know, it was quite an eye opener. 

And at the time, how did it feel for him to have control of all the, all of the money, how did you feel about that?

I just thought he was taking care of, you know, of the household bills and stuff …


… and he was, yeah, I didn’t think anything of it really. I just thought he was doing everything, as I say, everything he did was for my benefit. 


You know? 


And he to well, so I didn’t have to help me, like, you know.

For you?

Witholding money as a form of control

One woman we interviewed said the only clothing that she was allowed to buy was a pair of jeans on her birthday. Others frequently talked about having to behave in certain ways to be ‘allowed’ money. Jane, despite having a ’joint’ business with her husband had all her expenditure scrutinised.

Jane’s husband occasionally took her shopping with cash in hand if she’d ‘been good’.

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Age at interview: 46
But it becomes a way of life. You start to think like that and you start to think that he’s right in everything he’s saying, and it’s easier to change your habits to change the person that you are, rather than admit that this relationship isn’t what you expected, what you wanted, and how do you even begin to get out? You know, most people probably would have walked away at that point. But because I had a shop and my name was on the lease for nine years, and because I didn’t have a job, I wanted to stay in [Name of city] so, you know, this was where I wanted to stay, so I didn’t want to go home to, to [Name of county in England], so I just put up with it, thinking that, “Well, it’s just an off day. It’ll get better.” By that time, you know, you haven’t got any money. It’s all joint finances, he’s looking after the money, he’s doing all the cashing up you know. If you want something you have to ask him for the money to go and get something. And then, you know, “Why do you want that?”

Yeah, yeah.

Everything was scrutinised, you know, even stupid little things. And then another time he’d just pull out £100 in his pocket and he’d say, “Come on then, we’ll go shopping,” you know. But it was very much you felt like you had to be grateful for that, like you’d deserved it because, you know, you’d been, you’d been good. So, you know, all of a sudden, yeah, he’d keep saying, “We haven’t got no money, we haven’t got no money, we can’t do this, we can’t do that, we can’t go there, we can’t go this,” all of a minute £100 comes out the pocket and it’s, “Get yourself whatever you want.” Obviously we went shopping together but, you know.

So he had control of the finances?

Yeah, he had control of the finances.

And you were working all those hours.

Yeah so, you know, I didn’t have no, no money of my own. When, when my eldest child come along, I mean I had the Child Benefit which was paid into our joint account so, you know, I had that money. And I also, later on, had Child Tax Credit money. So that’s when sort of like things started to change a little bit because things started to come out of the bank by, you know, direct debit and that because, because of the Working Tax Credit and because of the Child Tax Credit, so that was something that he didn’t like. He hated that because it was money that he couldn’t see where it was going and what was being spent. And obviously because it was written down in a bank statement he wouldn’t have been able to understand it.

Sara’s friend tried to point out that it was not right that she was scared to spend £1 on a cup of coffee (read by a professional).

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Age at interview: 40
And I wouldn’t have minded if I'd gone off and spent my money in Harrods or even, I don't know any other shop, but when I ... I forgot to mention. When I spent a £1 after I had [son] and, because he'd started using ... checking the card and everything, he went ballistic, like proper and I was just like it's a £1. 

And he went on at me and I was like yeah I'm really sorry and everything and I told my friend about it and she was like, "[Participant’s name removed] really it's a £1, it's £1." I said, "I know but he ..." and she was like ... because she was trying to say, "Oh why don't you do this?" And I was like, "Yeah but I can't because ... " And she's was like, "Why can't you?" And I was like, "Because when I spent £1 before he went off and ..." She was like, "But it's £1." And she couldn’t get that and I was like yeah but. 

And then another time I'd spent £2 because he seemed alright about the £1 after so many months. And then he really went off about that.

So how were you managing to buy food and clothes for your children?

Well clothes would be from the charity shop because he ... I was allowed to buy food. 


I don't know whether in his mind, he thought I might spend it on something else but what was really crazy was if he went and bought food he'd give me the receipt, I didn't ask for it but he give it me. But I never gave him mine because I thought well you should trust me because I trusted him, I didn't want him to give me a receipt to say ah exactly how much was that. So I was a bit confused why he did that. 

So you never really had your own money?

No, no that's one of the things last year my friend said, she was like, "Don't you have any money?" And I said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I'm allowed to go for a coffee sometimes and have some time out." But I had to fight for that.
Lack of access to money made it difficult to leave

Kanya and Ana, both migrant women, left their abusive partners but had to return to them as they had no access to money.

Kanya became suicidal when she realised there was no escape from her partner, who kept the child benefit, when she lost her job.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
He just talked to me like a animal.


Just swearing every word he just say, he swear in everything. So I just and I said to him like, “I’m going to move out. I don’t want to.” And he said, “You can move out, do whatever you want.” I have separated from him about three months before, but I have, I have nothing. So even the kid’s benefit he always take everything, I never have that.

Right, so you didn’t have your own money?

No, I don’t have anything. I only work and then got that money. If I don’t work I don’t have money. He don’t really give anything.

So you separated for three months, but then you went back again?

Yeah, because I find really hard. I had nowhere to live so I had to ask my boss in restaurant like to stay you know, really like garage or something they keep for staff, and then I just got bed in there. And then I bring the kids to stay with me and then I said like, “I need somewhere to live. I don’t want to live with you anymore. So I need some of the benefit and then I will go, help to get somewhere to stay, just me and the kids.” And he don’t want to give me anything. He said, “You can take the kids. You can go.”


And then he just said like and that time he just stay in the house on his own, drinking, don’t care about anything. But he don’t, he won’t give me for the transfer the benefit or anything. Just tried to give me a hard life and, and thinking like, “Let’s see,” and he always said like, “You don’t know anything about England so you’re not English people, you don’t know. You think you know better. No one can help you,” and blah, blah. And he said like, “I can send you back to Thailand any time I want.” And I was just like, “Well, it’s really difficult for me.” I’ve been to ask help and everything but they’re just like, “We’re sorry, we can’t do anything.”

Who did you ask for help from?

I’ve been to the housing and benefit.


And they said, “Everything works by paper. You need to get the kid’s benefit and then, you know, or maybe you have to be homeless,” and blah, blah. And really, really difficult that time, because I have to cope with work and cope with the kids and cope with somewhere to live.

Yes, yes.

So I’d been like that for a year and it was making me so ill, and I’d just like even become more and more. And then I start to feel like I don’t want to live anymore, so I tried to kill myself twice, so that. And then after that I feel, because the kids around here and then I just I can’t again. But that time I just feel like, “That’s it, only way I can deal with this, die, that’s it.”

Yes, yeah I can understand that. So the three months you were just living by the restaurant?


Then you had to go back really because

Yeah, I had nowhere to go.
Many women described having no money of their own which left them feeling trapped and unable to leave their partner.

Sex for money

Several of the women’s accounts revealed a close link between financial abuse and sexual abuse. Being ‘allowed’ money often depended on women having sex when their partner chose.

Ella had to wait and ask for money to put petrol in her car to get to work and then was only given some cash if she had oral sex first (played by an actor).

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Age at interview: 27
Can you give me any other examples of how he controlled you?

Taking my money, financially. If I’d – because I had a car, I was working, oh, in [name of city], he would – I would be paying for the shopping, I’d pay half the rent, because he was on the dole at the time, so the half of the house was paid by the dole. And then he’d have his dole money. He was like sell weed as well, so all his incomings were fine. But mine, I was having to work to pay half of the rent and things like that, so I was putting a lot of money into it. And he used to do things like make me give him oral sex for money for petrol, if I couldn’t get to work, I’m going to get upset now... sorry ... [tearful].

That’s fine, that’s absolutely understandable. Have you got a tissue or something?

No [laughs]. 

[pause to get tissues] 

Thanks, so because then I was trying to get to work, sometimes I, you know, I didn’t have money for petrol and things like that. He used to come back from him training for this sport that he did. At the time I’d started [unclear] for work, so sometimes if I didn’t have any money, I had to wait for it, and I’d say, “Oh, can you lend me £5, £10 just so I can put petrol in the car to get to work?” And he’d make me obviously give him oral sex and then he’d give me the money then. Mmm.
Yasmin had no money of her own and relied on her husband to provide money for basics such as milk and nappies for the children. He became annoyed when she asked and demanded sex before he handed over any money. She talked about being driven to a remote car park and forced to have oral sex before he took her grocery shopping.

Yasmin had to adopt a pattern of paying for anything she needed with sex or, as she put it, ‘sleeping with’ her husband.

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Age at interview: 32
I didn’t have money at all.

Nothing at all?


So he … controlled everything?

Yes. So my son was breastfeeding so he didn’t have to like do lots of … the, on nappies, on milk, or on every other thing I was relying on him, like calling him if you can …

If you can get these things?

These things.

Yeah. Yeah.

And he will get it. But if I say again and again, like if I have like three nappies left …


… and I just keep giving him reminder he will get quite annoyed.


And then if he is annoyed he is not going to buy anything.

So what would happen?

So I was like … more in that pressure. I want that nappies, I want that milk.


And, okay, he … he might buy me the take away, but what I will do … like a few baby foods you have to make with the milk.

Yes of course.

This and that.

Yes of course.

But if … then there was a situation I didn’t have any option, not even nappies or milk. Because he will come home when we are sleeping, early morning, and he will not leave home by four o’clock without talking. Anything. But in order to get things, ask him to do … I have to sleep with him.

Right. Yeah. Okay. Mm.

So that’s the thing I adopted, if I need something I have to sleep with him.

Yeah, yeah.

If I want to see my son to have toys, have food, have clothes …

You had to pay for it with sex?


Yes. So that was what your life was like at that time?


Last reviewed February 2020.

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