Landmark survey reveals hidden costs of financial abuse in WA

25 November 2021

Bankwest’s landmark Hidden Costs survey into community attitudes towards financial abuse has revealed a third of West Australians have experienced the silent scourge, yet the vast majority do not know where to turn for help.

The Hidden Costs survey canvassed more than 1000 West Australian adults and was commissioned by Bankwest to raise awareness of a covert epidemic impacting vulnerable customers and the community across the state.

Financial abuse is often a hidden cost of Family and Domestic Violence (FDV), and occurs between a person and their partner, or intimate partner, when money is used as a means to gain power and control over that person.

The survey found that almost a third (29%) of WA residents reported having experienced financial abuse personally, and a quarter (25%) of people said they knew someone – not including themselves – who had.

However, despite its prevalence and the vast majority (80%) of West Australians agreeing financial abuse was a widespread problem, 78 per cent of respondents reported not knowing where to turn for help on the issue.

The data also reinforced one of the common characteristics of FDV and financial abuse survivors, as a third (34%) of those who had experienced financial abuse reported that they had not sought, or would not seek, advice or help.

The data also revealed that more than one-in-10 (12%) West Australians admitted to committing financial abuse, split evenly between those who did so knowingly, and those who recognised their crime once given the definition.

The most common forms of financial abuse experienced were: a perpetrator who uses all their partner’s wages for household expenses, while spending their own money on themselves (59%); destroyed, damaged, or stolen property (58%); or refusing to contribute financially to their family (58%).

A concerning lack of community awareness of the issue was highlighted by almost a third (30%) of adults saying they were unfamiliar with, or unclear on, the term ‘financial abuse’ in contrast to the almost unanimous (98%) familiarity with ‘family and domestic violence’.

The release of the Hidden Costs survey, conducted by YouGov, comes during the WA Government’s fifth annual 16 Days in WA ‘Stop Violence Against Women’ campaign, which Bankwest has supported since its inception.

The 2021 campaign’s theme is 'Active Bystander', and begins on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Bankwest Chief Operating Officer Louise Tovey said: “Bankwest has been part of the fabric of WA for more than 125 years, and we’re committed to being there for our customers when they need us the most.

“We're passionate about supporting the 16 Days in WA campaign – as we have done since its inception – as we can often be among the first contacted by someone experiencing family and domestic violence or financial abuse.

“Financial abuse is one of the hidden costs of family and domestic violence, where someone uses money to gain power or control, and is a powerful way for abusers to trap a partner or family member in an abusive relationship.

“Despite its prevalence, financial abuse can be difficult to recognise, because it can take many forms and can affect anyone – as the Hidden Costs results show – and it’s common for victims and survivors to stay silent.

“This survey has shown one of the enablers of that silence is people clearly don’t know where to go for help, so it’s critical we raise awareness for services such as 1800RESPECT and Good Shepherd’s Financial Independence Hub.

“The findings also reinforce the importance of this year’s campaign theme, ‘Active Bystander’, because with a third of victims remaining silent, it’s important for others to support them – call it out, challenge it, and don’t stand by."

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

  Have heard the term and understand its meaning (%)
Have heard the term, but unclear of its meaning (%)
Unfamiliar with the term (%)
Net: Unfamiliar/unclear (%)

Family and domestic violence
Financial abuse

Reported experience of financial abuse

  Have personally experienced (%)
Know someone (not self) who has experienced (%)
Reported being a perpetrator, either with or without knowing (%)
Financial abuse

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

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
A partner or intimate partner has destroyed, damaged or stolen from your property
A partner or intimate partner refused/is refusing to contribute financially to you or to your family

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

  Completely agree (%)
Somewhat agree (%)
Neither agree nor disagree (%)
Somewhat disagree (%) Completely disagree (%) Don’t know (%) Net: Agree (%) Net: Disagree (%)
Family and domestic violence
2 1 3 87 3
Financial abuse 47 34 9 3 1 7 80 4

Perception of ease/barriers of seeking help for financial abuse

  Unaware of any services (%)
Have experienced, and have sought help (%)
Have experienced, and have not sought/would not seek help (%)
Financial abuse

Support for people experiencing financial abuse

  It would be easy (%)
It would be somewhat easy (%)
It would be somewhat hard (%)
It would be very hard (%) Don’t know (%) Net: Easy (%) Net: Hard (%)
Financial abuse
22 15 23 62

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

Perceived barrier
Proportion of respondents who perceive as barrier (%)
Risk of retaliation from the perpetrator
Risk of the perpetrator finding out
They may feel embarrassed 65

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