Content warning: this article contains description of domestic violence and abuse
I’ll never forget the familiar, chilling way that my husband, Rakesh*, would fix me with his eyes. That look was a warning. If I dared to question a decision he’d made, there was no telling what the consequences might be.
Looking back, it’s frightening how easily my abuser found ways to destroy my financial independence. I didn’t realise I was experiencing economic abuse, and a decade later, I’m still dealing with the devastating impact.
I met Rakesh at university. We worked in a bar together and he was so confident. On nights out, he’d order bottles of expensive champagne for everyone then a few days later he’d be asking those same friends if he could borrow money.
After university, I found work as a children’s support worker, while Rakesh drifted between different jobs. Rakesh proposed, but he’d brought the engagement ring on credit in my name. He pushed me to get a new sofa on credit and also insisted I ask my parents for money. Then, every now and again, Rakesh would swoop in with a large wad of cash. There was no explanation for where the money had come from, but he’d make it seem like he was my ‘saving grace’ – meanwhile stacks of loan statements and credit card bills would regularly land on the door mat.
He made me feel worthless. If I displeased him, he’d stay out all night with other women and withhold affection. Sometimes, I’d wake up in the night to find he’d started to have sex with me without my consent.
Degraded and ashamed, I didn’t know what to do. Rakesh would slap me during arguments, and he continued to force me into spending money because the fear of saying ‘no’ was so intense. When I fell pregnant, I was scared for my unborn child, too.
Snowed under with debt and when my son was six months old, Rakesh attacked me because I hadn’t made his dinner. That was it – I knew I had to get away.
One day, Rakesh insisted we buy a new family car. Showing off, he chose an expensive BMW and put my name on the paperwork. Reading the agreement, I froze with panic. But as I glanced at Rakesh, he gave me that same ‘warning’ look. Either I complied, or there was no telling what he might do.
We were snowed under with debt and when my son was six months old, Rakesh attacked me because I hadn’t made his dinner. That was it – I knew I had to get away. I contacted the police and received support from a local domestic abuse charity. My self-esteem was shattered and with debts totalling £40,000, I had no idea how I’d provide for my son.
All I wanted was to give my son the life he deserved, but no-one could help me. I’d phone loan providers and credit card companies, telling them how my ex had used manipulation and abuse to strip away my financial choices and economic stability, but it fell on deaf ears. I didn’t know what to do. Hanging up the phone, it took all my strength not to burst into tears.
For ten years, I was still paying my ex’s debts. Creditors expected me to justify every incoming and outgoing transaction in my bank account, but I didn’t give up. I worked overtime and I was promoted to a managerial position. My parents helped with childcare and I gave them cash savings to put in a separate account for holidays and special occasions.
It was incredibly hard. I wondered if I’d ever escape the impact of my ex’s abuse, but now, I finally have financial independence. My debts are cleared, and I’ve bought a new home.
I transformed those terrible experiences into a wonderful, new life, but I cannot emphasise enough how much easier this would’ve been if banks, financial service institutions and credit reference agencies had offered support to survivors like me. They need to understand the crippling reality of economic abuse and ensure that survivors stop paying the price.
Without this, fewer women will be able to safely escape their abusers and rebuild their lives.
My ex can never use money to control me again and I want every woman reading this to know that support exists.
Refuge’s landmark ‘Know Economic Abuse’ campaign with the Co-operative Bank, which shows just how prevalent and destructive this kind of abuse is – their findings show that 16% of adults in the UK self-identify as being a survivor of economic abuse, and there are several recommendations financial services can take on to support survivors. It highlights how economic abuse rarely occurs in isolation, and that many women are also experiencing other forms of domestic abuse – just like I was.
The report also shows that for many women, the Covid-19 crisis is likely to reinforce the power their partner has over their finances. The financial repercussions of Covid-19 have given abusers more opportunities to control and exploit their partners’ economic resources, with statistics from Refuge demonstrating that 1.6million people experienced economic abuse for the first time during lockdown. Any woman experiencing abuse must know that they are not alone. No woman should be forced to stay with an abuser because of economic instability and support is available
I know that my ex can never use money to control me again and I want every woman reading this to know that support exists. You can find the future you deserve.
Jenny* is an economic abuse survivor, writing under a pseudonym. *Names have been changed.
Have a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321
More from HuffPost UK Personal
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.