Economic abuse is a specific type of family violence that is “causing or attempting to cause an individual to become financially dependent on another person, by obstructing their access to or control over resources and/or independent economic activity (UN Women, 2012).” Through a unique action research process, this report provides an overview of what economic abuse is, how it presents within the New Zealand context, what current responses are in place, and what gaps remain. A literature review was conducted, covering research and policy relevant to economic abuse in New Zealand. The core findings from the literature review were then presented to key informants in a series of discussion workshops designed to generate information about and recommendations for the New Zealand context. A total of four workshops were held in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, and included representatives from community services, financial institutions and credit providers, government agencies and legal support services. From this series of robust conversations, recommendations were drafted. These were then presented back to a group of women who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) and economic abuse, and who are now peer mentors with Aviva in Christchurch.
The concept of economic abuse is poorly or not understood for many community members, resulting in low levels of awareness of factors that may indicate a woman is in an economically abusive situation – and further, where to go for support. Victims of economic abuse are subject to a range of negative outcomes, including: poverty; debt, including debt that is itself a form of economic abuse and debt accrued from predatory lenders in order to make ends meet; homelessness; reduced employment or interrupted employment; difficulty in caring for or maintaining custody of children; and reduced access to mainstream financial resources - and negative impacts can continue long after the relationship has ended and extend across the entire lifespan. While economic abuse can happen to women across the spectrum, certain demographics are at greater risk, including women in particular points across the life span such as child-bearing years or divorce later in life; with low socio-economic standing; those employed in a family business; Mãori, Pacific Peoples and/or culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (including those with tenuous immigration status); those experiencing disability or poor mental health; and those who have experienced forced marriage, human trafficking, or other forms of modern slavery. Due to the nature of economic abuse, it requires an informed, coordinated response which starts with a knowledgeable interdisciplinary workforce that can identify it when interacting with clients, and awareness-raising campaigns can also assist women to recognise their own experiences of economic abuse. A lack of clear definition, effective legislation and coordination across sectors has resulted in poor identification, protections and redress.
Key recommendations from this research includes addressing interpersonal and structural considerations; increasing community and sector awareness of economic abuse; focusing on prevention and post-abuse recovery is necessary; addressing structural factors, such as legislation and policy, through a thoughtful cross-sector response that incorporates the lived experience of women and others who are impacted; and trialling practice responses through cross-sector partnerships and using flexible approaches.