As we retreated inside our homes after lockdown measures were introduced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, reports subsequently showed an alarming increase in the hidden and existing epidemic of domestic and family violence (DFV)[i].

Domestic and family abuse is Australia’s secret shame. The Bureau of Statistics estimates that 1 in 6 women (and 1 in 17 men) have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner[ii]. But while physical and verbal abuse is well documented and are commonly known forms of violence, there is a severe lack of understanding and awareness of financial abuse.

With job insecurity and financial instability accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic, instances of financial abuse, a lesser-known form of DFV, may have increased too.

According to a survey* CBA released during the first wave of the pandemic this year, 40 per cent of the adult population have experienced or know someone who has experienced financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs when one partner uses money as a means to control or exploit their partner and limit their financial independence. This can involve behaviour including, but not limited to, a perpetrator preventing a victim-survivor from accessing bank accounts, using funds without consent or manipulating their financial decisions.

That same research found nearly 80 per cent of Australian adults could not recall the support available while those who experienced financial abuse, sadly only 54 per cent sought help. 

During this year’s UN Women’s UNiTE campaign – 16 Days of Activism to end Gendered-Based Violence – it is imperative we work together and continue to have conversations in our society to increase awareness of this hidden epidemic.

Since 2015, we at the bank have been working closely with a range of DFV community organisations, experts, and academics to address this issue and better understand how we can best respond to help victims and survivors of such violence and abuse.

Over this time, it became apparent just how big a problem this is.  As the bank for all Australians with a publicly declared purpose to improve the financial wellbeing of our customers and communities we have a responsibility to bring this issue into the open and to do something about it. 

Banks are uniquely placed to lead the way in addressing financial abuse specifically because we often see first-hand when our customers are experiencing financial abuse. In fact, financial abuse can be a reason a customer may disclose experiencing domestic and family violence to their bank. It’s therefore important that all banks have ways of helping these customers with appropriate sensitivity and support. 

Earlier this year we expanded our support for people impacted by financial abuse with the launch of the CommBank Next Chapter program. Through this program we are bringing a range of services, support, resources and research to the market to make it easier for victims and survivors of financial abuse to achieve long-term financial independence.

DFV is a community issue and a complex one. Unfortunately, there is no one, straightforward answer for how we tackle this. But the best course of action will require a whole-of-community effort to make a difference.

A big part of tackling this effectively is ensuring that we’re talking about it as a society, openly and honestly across community, business, and government. This means talking about what financial abuse is, what the signs are, and where to get support. 

By taking action – involving coordinated education campaigns and new services – banks and, more broadly corporate Australia, working together with government and sector experts will increase community and industry understanding of DFV and help tackle this insidious stain on our society.

The 25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. A day that also marked the beginning of the UN Woman UNiTE campaign: 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence annual international campaign, running until 10 December, Human Rights Day.


[ii] 1 2016 Personal Safety Survey, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017