While the Trump administration is stripping away the rights of victims of domestic violence, politicians in the United Kingdom are seeking ways to expand protections for victims. Months after the Department of Justice dangerously oversimplified its definition of domestic violence to mean physical violence, language in a new draft domestic violence bill in the U.K. recognizes that domestic violence has “psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional” components.
Notably, the bill acknowledges an often overlooked aspect of abuse: how abusers use money to maintain power and control over their victims. Research suggests that women in relationships with financial strain are more likely to suffer from repeated abuse, and that financial strain can trap a woman in an abusive relationship. That’s exactly what happened to Rebecca Beattie, who told the Guardian about a relationship with an ex-boyfriend who was controlling, jealous, manipulative, violent, and left her with debt and unpaid child support:
During their five years together, she struggled to provide the basics for her son and herself with child benefits and minimal support from her partner, who owned a bike shop. He was secretive with money, he gambled, he loaned cash to his friends. He helped himself to her bank card to withdraw money and made her sign up for store cards. He frittered away that £6,000 loan in months. “It went so fast,” she says. “The only thing I got to show for it was our son’s first bed.”
... This – along with her ex’s constant failure to pay regular maintenance for their 10-year-old son – has been her hardest battle. “The economic consequences are with me every single day, a cloud hanging over me,” says Beattie, who has started a business dedicated to raising awareness of domestic abuse. “He gets to move on and I’m caught in this invisible chain pulling me back and dragging me down.”
An abusive partner can also affect a woman’s ability to stay employed: according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, between 21 and 60 percent of victims of intimate partner violence “lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse,” which can include experiencing physical and mental health problems that could affect employment. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence notes that abusive partners “may deliberately sabotage women’s efforts to find and sustain work.”
After seeking input from the public, in late January, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice published a draft domestic abuse bill that seeks to help people in Beattie’s position. “Economic abuse goes beyond financial abuse and can involve behaviours that control a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources. This may include money, food, transport and housing – for example, restricting the use of a car or ruining credit ratings,” the draft reads.
In addition to expanding the definition of domestic violence to include economic abuse, the bill would establish a “domestic abuse commissioner” to oversee public assistance for victims of domestic violence, would offer survivors automatic protection throughout a criminal trial against their abuser, require domestic abusers into rehabilitation programs, in addition to other provisions.
“Speaking to survivors, economic abuse just threaded through everything,” Dr. Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, founder of nonprofit Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) and one of the advisors for the bill, told the Guardian. “It may have controlled someone’s everyday life, like where she was able to go or what she could eat. It fed into emotional abuse, as it was degrading, infantalising, reinforcing the message of worthlessness. It put people in physical danger as they didn’t have the resources to leave. And it could very seriously impact their ability to rebuild life post-separation.”