The long-term impact of economic harm

November 20, 2023

“I didn’t know emotional abuse was considered domestic violence. I didn’t know economic harm was a form of abuse.”

These are things we hear all too often and it was no different with our client, Rebecca, who experienced physical, emotional, and economic harm during her marriage.

Economic harm, sometimes called economic abuse, is behaviour towards a person that controls, restricts or removes their access to money, economic resources, or participation in financial decisions.

For Rebecca, this was a gradual process, both Rebecca and her husband worked in good jobs and lived a nice lifestyle. They were married for 20 years and there was trust in their relationship but over time he began gambling and using drugs and became physically and emotionally abusive.

While it’s natural in a household for one person to look after the finances on behalf of the family, for Rebecca, this went further than managing the bills. Her ex-husband controlled her bank accounts, accessed her email without her knowledge and was able to reset her banking password to take money directly from her. He stole valuable jewellery from Rebecca and pawned it off to pay for his addictions.

“In my culture, you just don’t leave your husband, even when there is abuse happening.”

When Rebecca realised how bad things were and wanted to leave, her family encouraged her to stay and work on her marriage.

Even as a first-generation New Zealander, these cultural norms were entrenched for Rebecca and her family.

After she separated from her ex-husband, the family home became caught up in a prolonged court process, which left Rebecca exhausted and with minimal funds to support her family. “I had no fight left, I had to walk away”.

Because of her situation, Rebecca was struggling to support her children so started up a small business on top of her day job to survive. She still had to rely on foodbanks and community support.

Over the next year, Rebecca worked with her bank to use the proceeds from the relationship property to buy her own home. The process was almost complete when a credit check found over $40,000 of debt taken out in her name that she had no knowledge of.

This was when she was referred to Good Shepherd’s Economic Harm Support Service and met Vanessa.

Good Shepherd’s Economic Harm Support Service provides advocacy and information specific to addressing economic harm. Specialists like Vanessa can help negotiate with creditors to reduce repayments, write off debts or come up with new repayment arrangements, and support to access family violence hardship provisions.

Vanessa worked closely with Rebecca, advocating for her with her bank and the other creditor to get an agreement on resolving the debt. Once a resolution for the debt had been found, Rebecca’s bank agreed to give her a home loan.

Getting a solution for the debt enabled Rebecca to get a home loan with her bank and buy her own house.

“I never thought I could do this in my life, but I did it. I can breathe again”

While Rebecca was in the process of setting up the utilities in her new home, she received a call from a debt collection agency about another debt of over $10,000 that again had been taken out in her name. The utility company that she had used for over 3 years declined to supply the home after a credit check showed a default to the debt collection agency.

Rebecca contacted Vanessa again, who worked with the utility company on a resolution for the debt. After a solution had been found for this debt, Rebecca was able to get utilities in her new home.

Stories like Rebecca’s highlight the long-term impact of economic harm, even after the relationship and other forms of abuse have ended. Good Shepherd will continue to raise awareness of this issue and encourage businesses and organisations to develop appropriate responses for their customers and clients, so we can all play our part in eliminating family harm in New Zealand.