On 22 September, Women’s Legal Service Victoria was fortunate enough to have Rosie join us to launch our new report, Stepping Stones: Legal Barriers to Economic Equality After Family Violence at Parliament House in Victoria.
The report brings together the experiences of women that we’re helping as part of our broader Stepping Stones program. The program aims to help women in their economic recovery from family violence, and particularly economic abuse. It provides free, integrated financial counselling and legal advice for women fleeing family violence and experiencing financial hardship.
We know that women who experience family violence are at greater risk of poverty, homelessness and are more likely to receive a minority share of the assets of the relationship (than those who do not experience abuse).
We also know that perpetrators of violence can use the legal and financial systems to continue to abuse women when their ability to commit physical violence has been limited. Economic abuse is included in family violence legislation around the country to help address this. However, economic abuse often goes unacknowledged and unaddressed.
We established the Stepping Stones program to help stop economic abuse and highlight systemic barriers women face to obtaining economic well-being after family violence.
The Stepping Stones research report revealed that many women were being pursued solely for joint debts after leaving a violent relationship, had their power cut off by an abusive partner and were having huge debts run up in their name by their abusive partners.
All of this leaves women in serious financial hardship and impedes their ability to regain economic autonomy and provide for their children.
For these reasons it is essential that banks, utility and telecommunications have family violence policies in place. These policies should cover cases of joint debt, include family violence (and economic abuse specifically) as a potential cause of financial hardship and provide for ongoing training of customer service staff to help identify customers experiencing family violence and respond appropriately.
Most banks now have family violence policies that relate to their employees; providing support and domestic violence leave, these policies are extremely valuable. It is now time to ensure that family violence policies are also available for all customers experiencing family violence. These policies need to offer real, practical solutions to the economic barriers and abuse women are facing.
– Emma Smallwood, Stepping Stones Project Coordinator