Domestic violence remains a significant concern in South Africa, with common assault cases related to domestic violence comprising approximately 34% of the total reported common assault incidents during the 2022/2023 fiscal year. As we observe 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Children in South Africa an often overlooked but damaging aspect of domestic violence is financial abuse.
This is according to Somila Gogoba, a financial legal expert and Team Leader from Milaw Legal, who said economic abuse compromises a woman’s financial stability, yet less than 60% of countries have laws to combat it, as reported by the World Bank.
Gogoba said that financial abuse in relationships is evolving. “In South Africa, where 38% of households are led by women who are often the primary earners, research by University of South Africa scholars Bianca Rochelle Parry and Puleng Segalo shows these women still face financial abuse. Despite being primary breadwinners, they also shoulder domestic and childcare duties, due to the persistence of stereotypical gender roles in modern society.”
“Also, in many of these financially abusive relationships, some partners deliberately avoid employment and rely entirely on their partner for financial support without valid reason even when the overall financial circumstances of the household do not warrant it. This is a form of financial abuse because it involves manipulating financial circumstances to control and harm another person,” said Gogoba.
She said abusive behaviour severely impacted women’s mental, physical, and financial health, often leading to long-term debt issues with these women stuck in the vicious debt cycle. A 2023 report from National Debt Advisors revealed that most of their female clients seeking debt assistance have unsecured debt, unlike their male counterparts who primarily amassed debt from acquiring assets. Specifically, 80% have personal loans, and nearly 50% struggle with credit card debt, highlighting the unique financial challenges women face in abusive situations.
Gogoba encouraged women to seek professional help for any form of abuse and offered the following steps for recovering from financial abuse:
· Prepare for the Future: If leaving the abuser immediately isn’t feasible, subtly save funds by opening a new bank account, concealing cash out of the abuser’s reach, and seeking support from trusted friends and family.
· Self-Protection: Update your bank and credit card account details, like PINs and access codes, keeping them secret, and request a free credit report to check for any unauthorised accounts or credit lines in your name.
· Credit Protection: Set up fraud alerts on your credit with major bureaus, valid for two years and extendable to seven with a police or identity theft report or opt for a credit freeze with each bureau to block new accounts from being opened in your name.
· Credit Score Improvement: To boost your credit score, prioritize timely bill payments, manage credit utilisation wisely, maintain a long credit history, and most importantly seek professional help.
“One out of every three adults in this country have experienced financial abuse at the hands of a current or former partner. While seldom spoken about, this form of domestic violence has evidently impacted thousands of households leading to not only lifelong financial trauma, but also a momentous debt crisis,” said Gogoba.