“Sometimes it starts with a boyfriend who stays overnight at first, then stays for longer and longer periods of time and doesn’t contribute to the cost of living,” says Sonya Conrad, Financial Counsellor Manager at Zahra Foundation Australia.
“Other times it might be that the partner restricts access to bank accounts, builds up debts in his partner’s name, or says one salary will go towards household costs and the other one will be used at his discretion.”
Financial abuse and coercive control can take many forms and is an under-acknowledged form of family violence. It leaves those who’ve experienced it feeling vulnerable, isolated, anxious and dependent.
Sonya says financial abuse can happen “to anyone at any time. Our clients come from every walk of life, from every suburb and from every occupation – it’s not limited to any socio-economic or geographic group at all.”
The Zahra Foundation helps women achieve financial independence by providing two service pathways. The first is supportive financial counselling for women and non-binary people who’ve experienced family violence or domestic violence; the second is a nine-week Pathways to Empowerment course that helps women lay the foundations for new training or employment horizons.
The Wyatt Trust supports the work of the Zahra Foundation with capacity grants that add an extra level of flexibility and tailored response to the financial counselling service. Sonya says she has seen firsthand how the rapid and agile nature of the capacity grants makes a significant difference to the lives of her clients.
“We’ve been able to use these grants to make payments to financial priorities identified by the clients and we’re able to issue the funds more quickly than other grants, within a week and sometimes within a day or two, so the immediacy of the assistance is very valuable.”
“We’ve been able to replace glasses, pay for urgent dental treatment that’s outside of the public dental system, get cars registered so that clients can get to work or take their kids to school” Sonya continues. “We’ve paid for car servicing and repairs, utilities, training costs, bond and rent.
Though the monetary amounts may not be large, being able to respond to individual needs is priceless, Sonya says.
“Being able to help with one-off payments has meant that these women get a breather for a period of time and they can manage paying for food and other essentials and get back to managing their budgets. It’s a huge mental burden lifted from them.
“The joy and the relief they feel when they’re no longer distressed by money is just a magic moment we get to see as financial counsellors.”
Zahra Foundation’s financial counsellors use a trauma-informed framework and “gentle, caring conversations” about financial literacy, budgeting and managing money. For many clients, it’s the first time they’ve participated in such a conversation.
“There are not very many women who’ve experienced domestic violence who have not been subjected to financial abuse and coercive control,” Sonya says.
“Sometimes having another person outside of their family and friendship circle to talk about these things with makes a big difference. They tell us about their concerns and we listen.
“We identify priorities together, work out a budget and a plan, identify waivers or grants if appropriate, refer to other services such as legal advice or psychological support, and we stay with them until they’re back on their feet.
“Seeing a client move from being overwhelmed by their situation and they’re afraid to open their mail to being able to manage their situation and be confident and independent with a sustainable money plan in place is such a gratifying part of my job,” says Sonya.
“They’re effectively protecting themselves against future financial abuse and coercive control.”
Learn more about the work of Zahra Foundation Australia here.
More resources and information about financial abuse and coercive control are available at: