Exploring how economic abuse manifests in young adult relationships

Kutin, J 2019, Exploring how economic abuse manifests in young adult relationships, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Exploring how economic abuse manifests in young adult relationships
Author(s) Kutin, J
Year 2019
Abstract Purpose -  Money is an inescapable part of everyone's life, but violence and abuse should not be. Economic abuse is about financial control, financial exploitation and work and/or study sabotage. This research focuses on young adults aged 18-29 years in their relationship-formation phase, to gain greater insights that inform prevention-based social marketing campaigns.

Research questions - The main research question was: How does economic abuse manifest in young adult relationships? There were three sub-questions: What is the prevalence of economic abuse among young adults? What is the lived experience of economic abuse in young adult relationships? And what factors are associated with economic abuse among young adults in relationships?

Design/methodology - This thesis used mixed methods. Importantly, the research adopted a social-ecological framework that allowed for the complexity of the problem to be explored at the individual, relationship, community and societal levels. I conducted three studies to address the research questions: an analysis of a large cross-sectional survey; interviews with 24 practitioners; and interviews with 24 young men and women.

Findings - Nationally, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 14 men were victims of economic abuse. Financial stress, emotional abuse, physical abuse, low education level and living with a disability were all significant factors. One in 10 young women and 1 in 20 young men have been victims of economic abuse.

The young adults interviewed described being victims of economic control, exploitation, and work and study sabotage. They were denied basic necessities. Their possessions and homes were destroyed or damaged, rendering them at risk of homelessness. Their mobile phones were often the target of this property destruction. Their attempts to commence or participate in education were sabotaged by their partners either directly or indirectly. They became adversely economically entangled with the perpetrator through rental leases, hire purchase or loan arrangements. A common tactic was the control of access to financial information (asymmetric information).

The experiences of young adults were analysed to reveal the underlying factors associated with economic abuse. Consistent with the practitioners¿ views, the young adult participants did not recognise economic abuse and were not aware that it was `a thing'. They believed that if they were not the victims of physical violence (which needed to be `bad enough'), then their relationships were not abusive (enough) to warrant seeking assistance from family violence services. The young women interviewed commonly blamed themselves for being victims of abuse: they thought themselves too generous, too trusting and too loving.

The young adult women interviewed did not evidence a lack of financial capability when it came to the day-to-day management of their finances; rather, their financial capabilities were sabotaged by their abusive partners. They either had no or limited access to their own funds or were being used as an unending source of cash. The evidence from this study shows that young adults do experience economic abuse in their relationships and in ways that are different from those impacting other age cohorts.

Reflecting on their relationships, the young adults interviewed felt they were too young and inexperienced when it came to relationships and that they had rushed into living together. Most were prepared to be generous or tolerant of money management differences because they were in love and committed to the relationship. Love was thus more important than money. Fear was also ever present - they feared violent retaliation or conflict, and losing the relationship.

The young adults were struggling to manage the disconnect between their own and their partner's romantic and financial expectations in their relationships. Yet their primary focus was on love and trust. If someone loves and trusts you, why would they exploit or control you? How can you be supported without being controlled, and how can you support your partner without being exploited?

The factors that increased dependence, vulnerability and premature economic entanglement (such as moving in together, having a baby and unemployment) placed young adults at greater risk of economic abuse.

The practitioners noted that young adults do not recognise economic abuse as a form of partner violence, they value their relationships more than their bank accounts, and they are still very much influenced by gender-based stereotypes when it comes to money management in relationships.

The practitioners were of the opinion that young adults would benefit from financial education, having access to financial role models and mentors, and more education about relationships. Not only would awareness-raising about economic abuse assist young adults, but it would also have a positive impact on those who are connected with young adults. The practitioners stated that it is also important that the finance and other sectors protect young adults from economic abuse by not having systems that facilitate the perpetration of economic abuse. Gender inequality underlies the behaviours and attitudes associated with economic abuse. It was indeed clear that the young people interviewed were largely influenced by gender-based stereotypes which continue to perpetuate economic abuse.

Research implications - This research has contributed new knowledge about the experiences of young adult victims of economic abuse. There is scope to develop or improve existing scales that measure economic abuse so that they are more relevant for young adults. Further research could explore in more detail how young adults manage their financial and relationship transitions in order to better understand the development of economic abuse.

Policy and practice implications - The prevention of economic abuse must include awareness-raising, not just in the community but through government sectors and services - and herein social marketing can play a significant role. An economic abuse and a young adult lens is needed in documenting, discussing, and developing family violence interventions and policy. Strategies should also enhance the capabilities of young adults in navigating their finances as individuals and also within relationships. In doing so, they need to acknowledge the interplay between love, trust and money. Ignoring this holistic contextual approach will only serve to perpetuate (the hidden nature of) economic abuse. Young adult focused services should be considered in the suite of family violence interventions.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Economics, Finance and Marketing
Subjects Finance
Marketing Management (incl. Strategy and Customer Relations)
Keyword(s) economic abuse
financial abuse
emerging adulthood
young adults
social-ecological model
intimate partner violence
intimate relationships
financial capability
social marketing
financial education
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Created: Wed, 17 Jul 2019, 14:49:06 EST by Keely Chapman
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