“We’re seeing a lot more financial abuse during this pandemic, maybe one partner has lost a job and the other partner is controlling the money to the extent that it affects the physical well-being of the other partner. In some instances, partners regularly take money, social assistancep ayments, Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) from women,l eaving them with very little or no money. Most survivors also have accumulated debt because their partners used their credit cards, took loans out, or put bills in their names, and then did notp ay them.” Meseret Haileyesus, Executive Director of Canadian Center for the Women Empowerment (CCFWE)
Our blogger, Nathasha Bulowski, spoke to feminist lawyer Pamela Cross about ways the pandemic is exacerbating situations of economic abuse for women.
Heightened Financial Stress:
According to May’s Labour Force Survey, 2.7 million Canadian’s have lost their jobs since February and nearly as many have lost over half of their hours. For survivors of economic abuse, job loss or reduced income can contribute to an already abusive environment, says Cross.
“If there is already economic control or abuse in that relationship it will continue. If the family’s economic situation has become worse due to the pandemic because one or both people have been laid off from their jobs then the economic abuse is going to worsen.” – Pamela Cross
CCFWE board member Niha Shahzad explains that unemployment for either partner creates a lose-lose situation. When a woman loses her job she experiences reduced financial independence which makes it almost impossible to leave or secretly save money. If the abuser becomes unemployed they may desire even more control over her income and finances, increasing the abuse.
One of the biggest concerns is that women experiencing reduced income will have an incredibly difficult time leaving an abusive situation and be forced to depend on their partner for the foreseeable future.
The pandemic can force women to delay leaving an abusive situation for financial or health reasons. Women must choose whether to stay with their abuser or leave them and have to contend with the risks of contracting COVID-19, finding housing and providing for themselves and/or their children. The pandemic can also cause increased financial dependence because of prolonged unemployment and economic hardship.
“When women do not have an independent income, it is much more difficult for them to leave, especially if there are children,” Cross says.
Women with secret savings may have to spend that money on necessities and, because of unemployment, will be unable to save enough to leave their abuser. Women who were able to squirrel away some of their paycheck run the risk of their CERB cheques being taken by their abuser with no way to save any for themselves.
“So cash that she may have assumed she would have by now, who knows when she’ll have that cash? Will that result in her returning to the abuser? It’s entirely possible that it will. If her job is permanently defunct or long-term defunct because of the virus will that keep her with her abuser longer or result in her returning to him? For sure.” – Pamela Cross
Social Isolation and Privacy:
“For women who are still living with the abuser it’s all but impossible for them to have the privacy that they need to have frank conversations with a lawyer,” Cross says.
When women are unable to have those private conversations with lawyers, support groups, family or friends, not only does the abuse continue, but it often worsens. Social isolation makes it easier for abuse to continue unnoticed by family and friends, and makes it harder for women to seek help. Economic abuse is already a hidden type of abuse, and when contact with family, friends, and resources is limited the signs get even harder to spot.
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Not all survivors of abuse seek legal recourse, but those that do face even more roadblocks because of COVID-19. In Ontario, courts are only hearing matters they deem to be urgent and will not resume regular operations until at least July 7, 2020. Financial issues are generally seen as less critical, says Cross, so women dealing with economic abuse are less likely to get a court intervention at this time.
Even once regular operations resume, Cross anticipates that courts will be struggling for quite some time:
“As the courts begin to open up it’s going to be like bursting floodgates because all of these cases that have been scheduled for March, April, May and now June have just been put on indefinite hold. So there’s going to be a huge backlog for the court to catch up with and there will be, I’m sure of it, a wave of new cases as women in abusive relationships in particular who have felt they couldn’t leave now make the decision to leave.” – Pamela Cross
The Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) is established to respond and advocate against economic abuse. CCFWE aim to provide a webinar for women experiencing the consequences of economic abuse.
For victims of domestic violence, efforts to obtain financial education are often hindered by abusive partners. For victims in all socioeconomic brackets, financial education is essential to breaking the cycle of violence. Financial matters become infinitely more complicated when compounded with the need to protect oneself from an abusive partner. Self-care and healing during COVID-19 at support groups will help walk women through the dynamics of grief as we deal with loss and uncertainty, as we let go of the shame and guilt related to stigma around mental health.
The CCFWE webinars provide interactive forums, group counseling and one-on-one mentoring for women with moderate depression, anxiety, stress or worry, with the support groups below:
“To date dozens of women have attended the virtual support groups, which are led by professional facilitators and focus on topics such as self-care, trauma recovery, or parenting during COVID-19. The groups will continue provide education on understanding economic abuse, mastering credit basics, and long-term financial safety planning “ Meseret Haileyesus
There are two separate support groups: one specifically designed to address the needs of African, Caribbean, and Black Women, and one for all Canadian women (including ingenuous and BIPOC). Each sessions lasts approximately one hour. For information and to register for a session, email email@example.com.
The Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) Supports the challenging healing journey of survivors of domestic violence. The program provides coping mechanisms to deal with emotional stress, feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, helplessness, and hopelessness. We match a recent survivor of domestic violence with a woman who has been on the healing journey for a long time. We will consider several criteria to realize the matches which are coordinated by CCWFE.
All sessions are free and entirely confidential.
For more information visit www.ccfwe.org