The Women’s Legal Service provides free legal assistance to women in Queensland who are experiencing domestic and family violence. This year, they’re a recipient of Bank Australia’s Community Customer Grants. We speak to CEO Angela Lynch about what this funding means for them.
For women experiencing domestic and family violence, seeking support and preparing to leave an abusive relationship – which, on average, can take up to seven attempts – can be the first of many difficult steps to take.
That’s where Queensland’s Women’s Legal Service comes in. The community legal centre provides free legal advice and assistance to women throughout Queensland in the areas of domestic violence, family law (which includes custody, property settlement and child support), child protection, financial abuse and sexual violence.
This year, the Women’s Legal Service are among the recipients of Bank Australia’s Impact Fund Customer Community Grants. The funding means that the service can produce a series of videos to connect women experiencing financial abuse with accessible information and services.
Financial abuse is an insidious, yet common form of domestic violence. “It usually forms a pattern of abuse where somebody in a relationship exerts themselves over another person,” says Angela Lynch, CEO of the Women’s Legal Service. “It’s when someone controls the household money completely, makes decisions about the money without someone else’s permission. They may just take all the money, they may make you fill out loan documents that you don’t want to, or sign off on documents without knowing what they are, or you’re too scared to say no.”
It can also involve handing over passwords, so the perpetrator has complete control over money coming into the household. It can be preventing someone from working, which undermines the chance for a woman’s financial independence. It can be sexually transmitted debt, where women take on their partner’s debt, because they value the relationship. It can be providing the woman with a small amount of money to live off, while they may buy themselves whatever they want. “We’ve had women who haven’t even had enough money for new clothes, so they’re wearing their children’s clothing,” Angela explains. “This sort of abuse locks you into a relationship, making it very difficult to leave.”
The videos being produced by the Women’s Legal Service will provide women with easy references on how to secure finances when you’re looking at separating, and what you cwan do to protect yourself. They’ll help survivors of financial abuse identify their experience while providing referrals to support services, such as how to find a financial counsellor. “The videos can give real – and practical assistance – to women in relation to credit and debt issues, and how to respond to financial abuse,” says Angela. “We’ll outline where you can find a financial counsellor, and how to prepare to go and see them.”
The funding from the Community Customer Grants will have a lasting impact on women and children experiencing financial abuse, helping them build safer lives for themselves and their families.
“We really thank Bank Australia for supporting us on this important issue,” Angela says. “The banks have taken a very positive, proactive position on the issue of financial abuse. This isn’t just something for the domestic violence sector to respond to; all community members have a role to play.
“Banks are often at the frontline; when a woman walks into a bank and says she hasn’t got enough money or doesn’t know her passwords or can’t access her money, it’s extremely serious. So being able to ask some key questions, in a kind and empathetic way, and then refer these women to the appropriate specialist services can be life changing. And in high-risk matters, it can be life-saving.”
Find out more about Women's Legal Services on their website.
If you are worried about unhealthy, abusive or violent behaviour in any of your relationships, or or someone you know, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au for online chat counselling, information and referrals. This service is free, confidential and available 24 hours, 365 days.
In an emergency, call the police on 000.