The smart career woman who became a broken single mother

Recognising the signs of the widespread hidden pandemic.
Recognising the signs of the widespread hidden pandemic. Photo: Supplied.

Presented by proud partner, Commonwealth Bank

 Jane* had an enviable career and was financially independent. Then she met Paul*. Over the following six years and one child later, Jane lost her job and home, and found herself deep in debt – but not before experiencing domestic violence and financial abuse at the hands of her then partner.

Approximately one in four Australian women experience domestic violence, and 90 per cent of these women also experience financial abuse, according to Domestic Violence NSW's Renata Field.

"It's a widespread hidden epidemic," explains Field. "But only a fraction of people report domestic violence and financial abuse, which often go hand-in-hand: perpetrators control the money, so the woman can't leave the relationship."

Despite its prevalence, financial abuse can often be difficult to recognise because it is hidden or minimised. This was certainly true for Jane, who says the domestic abuse escalated gradually, while Paul concurrently depleted her bank account.

Here, Jane shares her story in the hope of helping other women.

In the beginning

"I was always ambitious. I moved to London in my twenties to pursue career opportunities, and bought a great apartment. I met Paul through work. We'd dated for a year when he lost his job for harassing a colleague and without work references, he was unemployable. He said we'd have to move back to Australia, so I sold my apartment, made a $550,000 profit and we relocated," says Jane.

Since Paul was unemployed Jane began paying for all of their shared expenses including the relocation, accommodation and food. "I also bought a place in the country and put it in both our names. We'd decided to try for a baby, so I didn't mind. I thought that's what couples do, share, but being unemployed made him resentful."

When Jane fell pregnant and her job was made redundant her and Paul moved to their country home full time. "I was isolated. [Meanwhile] Paul used all my money to set up his business. I didn't tell my family and friends because I felt ashamed," she says.

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Then the abuse began. Paul started berating Jane – hurling insults at her and targeting her change in appearance due to pregnancy. "He began criticising me and I started questioning myself and believing what he was saying, gradually losing my confidence."

"The first time he hit me was because I couldn't have dinner with his friends. I attributed it to stress, as he was his usual charismatic self the next day," Jane says. "It gradually got worse, grabbing me forcefully and frequently punching me and threatening my life. I had zero confidence and nowhere to go."

Her child was six weeks old when they escaped in the middle of the night with nothing but a nappy bag and the clothes they were wearing. "It was the threats against [my child] that made me flee. I landed on my brother's doorstep at 3am in tears and had to explain everything."

Continued control

Even once Jane had left, Paul continued to exercise control over her finances. "He refused multiple house sale offers so he could live rent-free and delay a financial settlement; is challenging me in court over custody; ignores my lawyer's letters so I have to pay for multiple correspondence; and he engaged a notorious lawyer to defend him against the domestic violence charges, which resulted in his acquittal. I'm now deep in debt to lawyers."

Jane is still in the process of recovering financially and emotionally from her experience, and continues to deal with the aftermath of Paul's abuse. Unfortunately, Jane's story is not unique.

Field says post-relationship financial abuse is challenging. "We want women to leave, but there is a large amount of systematic abuse that continues. There's [also] an element of misunderstanding around domestic violence and financial abuse. People wonder 'why didn't she just leave?' Or 'how did she get into a relationship like that?' But the reality is no one wants a relationship that is violent or controlling. This is a stigma that we need to address as a society."

Most importantly, Field encourages victims of financial abuse to reach out for support. "Know that help is always there. There's many great support services available, including helplines, Ask Izzy, free legal advice and support groups to help," she says.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Proud partner, Commonwealth Bank. Always consider your personal circumstances before acting on financial advice.

If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Financial abuse occurs when someone uses money as a means to gain power or control their partner. To address this serious issue, CommBank has designed the Recognise and Recover Guide to help you identify and find support when experiencing financial abuse. It includes information about financial abuse, strategies for recognising financial abuse and direction to resources that may be helpful to support your recovery.

Instances of domestic and family violence often increase in times of disaster. The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be no exception globally, with financial abuse also likely to increase. CommBank has also produced a guide about the impact of the coronavirus and domestic and family violence; with helpful information about financial abuse, pathways to support and useful suggestions about staying safe and staying connected.