Fear silencing women as financial abuse continues to climb

27 November 2023

Financial abuse continues to spread as a silent scourge in Western Australia, with Bankwest’s Hidden Costs Report highlighting that more than a third of residents have experienced the abusive behaviour in their relationship.

The Hidden Costs Report canvassed more than 1000 WA adults and was released to mark 16 Days in WA, which is a State Government-led initiative to end violence against women, of which Bankwest is a key supporter.

Bankwest each year commissions the independent Hidden Costs research to raise awareness of financial abuse, a form of Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) in which money is used to gain power and control over someone.

The 2023 report highlighted a concerning trend of increased experiences of financial abuse reporting since the launch of the research, with each year’s data showing a growth in those people reporting to be victim-survivors.

More than a third (36%) of WA residents reported they had experienced financial abuse, which was a three per cent increase from the 2022 report (33%), and up seven per cent from the research conducted in 2021 (29%).

The most common forms of abuse were a party using all their partner’s pay for joint expenses but retaining theirs for personal use (62%), refusing to contribute financially (52%), and exerting complete financial control (50%).

The prevalence of experience was accompanied by a concerning number of respondents who self-reported as perpetrators, with one-in-six men (16%) and one-in-10 women (11%) saying they had committed financial abuse.

The research also showed the issue of financial abuse generated more concern among WA women with 55 per cent stating they ‘completely agree’ it was a widespread problem in Australia, compared to 41 per cent of men.

Women also harboured a sense of vulnerability in seeking support in a financially abusive situation, with 68 per cent feeling it would be hard to reach out for help, compared to 52 per cent of men who felt it would be difficult.

The most common barriers people felt would deter them from seeking support were the risk of the perpetrator finding out (73%), retaliation from the perpetrator (73%), and feeling embarrassed (67%).

Those fears were also reflected in reality, with more than a third (34%) of women who reported they were victim-survivors of financial abuse having not sought support, compared to one-in-five (22%) of men.

That figure remained stable for men year-on-year (21% in 2022) but rose considerably for women from 23 per cent.

Quotes
Attributed to: Jodene Murphy – Bankwest General Manager Customer, Marketing and Communications

“Bankwest has been part of the fabric of WA for 128 years and we remain as committed as ever to the communities of our home state.

“We’ve been supporting the State Government’s 16 Days in WA since its inception, because ending violence against women is a critical issue, and financial institutions are often among the first to be contacted by victim-survivors.

“Financial abuse is a form of Family and Domestic Violence and Bankwest’s Hidden Costs Report has become an important source of information on the prevalence of this silent scourge within our communities.

“The obvious standout concern is the consistently increasing rate of Western Australians reporting to have experienced financial abuse, which correlates with the increasingly challenging economic environment we’re in.

“The research has also shown a clear disparity between the experiences of men and women when it comes to financial abuse, with the latter clearly feeling – and perceived as being – more vulnerable to abusive behaviours.

“That’s one of the reasons why awareness is critical, because we also know from the research that more than half of those who reported having committed financial abuse only realised once presented with the definition.

“Bankwest is committed to supporting customers who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances, and I urge anyone experiencing difficulties to get in touch when it’s safe to do so, so we can support their individual needs.”
 

Attributed to: Hon Sabine Winton – Minister for the Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence.

“Family and domestic violence can take many forms and is not limited by post code, education or social status. Financial abuse is a silent abuser that many people find hard to identify and even harder to know where to get help.

“Seeing a gradual increase in the number of people reporting financial abuse suggests greater awareness of this form of abuse and people’s willingness to reach out for help.

“Financial abuse can also take many different forms, from controlling another person’s spending to exposing their partner to unmanageable debts.

“I encourage anyone who suspects they may be experiencing financial abuse to contact a free financial counsellor or call the National Debt Helpline.”
 

Attributed to: Hon Sue Ellery – Minister for Finance, Commerce, Women’s Interests

“Financial abuse is a serious and deeply concerning issue. It can happen to anyone, regardless of age, income or financial capability.

“The recent launch of the Economic Abuse Reference Group aims to address the issues related to financial abuse in WA.

“Furthermore, there is the 2023-24 iteration of the Consumer Justice Strategy which sets out Consumer Protection’s guiding principles. One of its priorities is working collaboratively with Government and community-based organisations to improve the financial literacy of survivors of family and domestic violence.”

Awareness and understanding of ‘family and domestic violence’ and 'financial abuse'

Family and domestic violence
  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
Have heard the term and understand its meaning 93 93 92
Have heard the term, but unclear of its meaning 5 6 7
Unfamiliar with the term
2 1 1
Net: Unfamiliar/unclear 7 7 8
Family and domestic violence
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
Have heard the term and understand its meaning
93
93
92
Have heard the term, but unclear of its meaning
5
6
7
Unfamiliar with the term
2
1
1
Net: Unfamiliar/unclear
7
7
8
Financial abuse
  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
Have heard the term and understand its meaning 69 75 77
Have heard the term, but unclear of its meaning 19 16 16
Unfamiliar with the term
11 9 7
Net: Unfamiliar/unclear 31 25 23
Financial abuse
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
Have heard the term and understand its meaning
69
75
77
Have heard the term, but unclear of its meaning
19
16
16
Unfamiliar with the term
11
9
7
Net: Unfamiliar/unclear
31
25
23

Community perception of victims/perpetrators of financial abuse

  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
2023
Men
(%)
2023
Women
(%)
The majority of victims are female, but males are also significantly affected 45 41 40 36 44
The majority of victims are female, males are not significantly affected 15 16 16 13 19
There is no majority: males and females are affected by financial abuse equally 30 32 33 35 31
Men are more likely to be perpetrators of financial abuse 57 58 53 48 58
Women are more likely to be perpetrators of financial abuse 8 7 8 9 7
There is no majority: males and females perpetrate financial abuse equally 35 35 39 43 35
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
2023
Men
(%)
2023
Women
(%)
The majority of victims are female, but males are also significantly affected
45
41
40
36
44
The majority of victims are female, males are not significantly affected
15
16
16
13
19
There is no majority: males and females are affected by financial abuse equally
30
32
33
35
31
Men are more likely to be perpetrators of financial abuse
57
58
53
48
58
Women are more likely to be perpetrators of financial abuse
8
7
8
9
7
There is no majority: males and females perpetrate financial abuse equally
35
35
39
43
35

Reported experience of financial abuse

  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Have personally experienced 29 33 36
Know someone (not self) who has experienced or are seriously concerned is experiencing
25 29 25
Have personally experienced
(by gender) - Men

28 36 37
Have personally experienced
(by gender) - Women
30 30 35
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Have personally experienced
29
33
36
Know someone (not self) who has experienced or are seriously concerned is experiencing
25
29
25
Have personally experienced
(by gender) - Men

28
36
37
Have personally experienced
(by gender) - Women
30
30
35

Reported being a perpetrator, either with or without knowing - Financial abuse

  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Reported being a perpetrator, knowingly
6 7 6
Reported being a perpetrator, unknowingly 6 8 7
Net: Reported being a perpetrator 12 15 13
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Men 14 20 16
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Women 10 10 11
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Reported being a perpetrator, knowingly
6
7
6
Reported being a perpetrator, unknowingly
6
8
7
Net: Reported being a perpetrator
12
15
13
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Men
14
20
16
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Women
10
10
11

Top 3 most common behaviours experienced by those who have suffered financial abuse - 2023

Financial abuse behaviour Have experienced
(%)
A partner or intimate partner used/is using all wages earned by you for household expenses, while spending their own money only on themselves
62
A partner or intimate partner refused/is refusing to contribute financially to you or to your family 52
A partner had/has complete control of your money 50
Financial abuse behaviour
Have experienced
(%)
A partner or intimate partner used/is using all wages earned by you for household expenses, while spending their own money only on themselves
62
A partner or intimate partner refused/is refusing to contribute financially to you or to your family
52
A partner had/has complete control of your money
50

Behaviours correctly identified as financial abuse

(NB: Highlights indicate Top 3 categories in identification gap between men and women)
A partner or intimate partner has … Men
(%)
Women
(%)
Difference
(%)
Complete control of your money 73 88 15
Restricted access to your bank accounts 73 87 14
Used all wages earned by you for household expenses, while spending their own money only on themselves 73 86 13
Coerced you to sign documents, take out loans, debts and/or credit cards in your name or make false declarations 70 86 16
Denied any oversight into the finances 67 82 15
Forced you to work in a family business without being paid 67 82 15
Did not allow you to seek employment or have a job, or sabotaging your employment opportunities 64 82 18
Provided you with only an inadequate 'allowance' 63 81 18
Refused to contribute financially to you or to your family
64 78 14
Hidden assets from you 61 77 16
Destroyed, damaged or stolen from your property 56 71 15
None of the above 1 1 not applicable -
I don't know 5 4 not applicable -
A partner or intimate partner has …
Men
(%)
Women
(%)
Difference
(%)
Complete control of your money
73
88
15
Restricted access to your bank accounts
73
87
14
Used all wages earned by you for household expenses, while spending their own money only on themselves
73
86
13
Coerced you to sign documents, take out loans, debts and/or credit cards in your name or make false declarations
70
86
16
Denied any oversight into the finances
67
82
15
Forced you to work in a family business without being paid
67
82
15
Did not allow you to seek employment or have a job, or sabotaging your employment opportunities
64
82
18
Provided you with only an inadequate 'allowance'
63
81
18
Refused to contribute financially to you or to your family
64
78
14
Hidden assets from you
61
77
16
Destroyed, damaged or stolen from your property
56
71
15
None of the above
1
1
not applicable -
I don't know
5
4
not applicable -

Reported being a perpetrator, either with or without knowing - Financial abuse

  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Reported being a perpetrator, knowingly
6 7 6
Reported being a perpetrator, knowingly 6 8 7
Net: Reported being a perpetrator 12 15 13
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Men 14 20 16
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Women 10 10 11
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Reported being a perpetrator, knowingly
6
7
6
Reported being a perpetrator, knowingly
6
8
7
Net: Reported being a perpetrator
12
15
13
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Men
14
20
16
Net: Reported being a perpetrator (by gender) - Women
10
10
11

Perception of ‘family and domestic violence’ and ‘financial abuse’ as a widespread problem affecting people in communities across Australia

Family and domestic violence
  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Net: Agree 87 86 87
Neither agree nor disagree 7 8 7
Net: Disagree 3 3 2
Don’t know 7 6 6
Family and domestic violence
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Net: Agree
87
86
87
Neither agree nor disagree
7
8
7
Net: Disagree
3
3
2
Don’t know
7
6
6
Financial abuse
  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Net: Agree 80 80 81
Neither agree nor disagree 9 11 10
Net: Disagree 4 3 3
Don’t know 7 6 6
Financial abuse
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Net: Agree
80
80
81
Neither agree nor disagree
9
11
10
Net: Disagree
4
3
3
Don’t know
7
6
6

Support for people experiencing financial abuse

  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Unaware of any services
78 75 75
Have experienced, and have sought help 59 72 68
Have experienced, and have not sought/would not seek help 34 22 28
Have experienced and not sought help (by gender) - Men 31 21 22
Have experienced and not sought help (by gender) - Women 36 23 34
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Unaware of any services
78
75
75
Have experienced, and have sought help
59
72
68
Have experienced, and have not sought/would not seek help
34
22
28
Have experienced and not sought help (by gender) - Men
31
21
22
Have experienced and not sought help (by gender) - Women
36
23
34

Perception of ease/barriers of seeking help for financial abuse

  2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Net: Easy
23 28 27
Don’t know 15 14 13
Net: Hard
62 57 60
Net: Hard (by gender) - Men 56 50 52
Net: Hard (by gender) - Women 67 65 68
 
2021
(%)
2022
(%)
2023
(%)
 
Net: Easy
23
28
27
Don’t know
15
14
13
Net: Hard
62
57
60
Net: Hard (by gender) - Men
56
50
52
Net: Hard (by gender) - Women
67
65
68

Top 3 most commonly perceived barriers to seeking help for financial abuse

Perceived barrier
Proportion of respondents who perceive as barrier
(%)
Risk of the perpetrator finding out
73
Risk of retaliation from the perpetrator
73
They may feel embarrassed
67
Perceived barrier
Proportion of respondents who perceive as barrier
(%)
Risk of the perpetrator finding out
73
Risk of retaliation from the perpetrator
73
They may feel embarrassed
67

About Bankwest
Bankwest’s vision is to be a simple, easy bank for the Australian homeowner of today and tomorrow, and our purpose is to build a brighter future for all. Bankwest provides personal and everyday banking solutions for customers across Australia. We support customers in doing their banking in the ways that suit them, with innovative digital solutions, an Australia-based 24/7 Contact Centre, a passionate broker community, and our WA branch network. Bankwest is a division of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124 AFSL/Australian credit license 234945.

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