A Southampton domestic abuse charity has launched a new course to help women achieve economic independence after an abusive relationship.

Most people are familiar with the categories of physical and emotional abuse. We readily imagine the force and tactics of the abuser.

Unfortunately, far fewer are familiar with the ways abusers use economic control to prevent their victims from leaving these abusive situations.

In fact, issues of financial empowerment and domestic violence are fundamentally intertwined.

Research shows that abusers use the silent weapon of financial abuse to trap a partner from leaving in 99 percent of domestic violence cases.

In 2017, financial abuse was reported by one in three women accessing Southampton Women’s Aid one-to-one advocacy services.

Financial abuse plays a huge role on maintaining control over someone else. Being financially abused increases the risks for women and children: a survey done by Southampton Women’s Aid in 2017 within their former service users, around 80 percent of them said that their main concerns when thinking about leaving an abusive relationship were housing and financial stability.

The effects of economic abuse are psychologically and emotionally devastating, long-lasting and have a massive impact on the probabilities of a woman leaving the relationship.

By restricting opportunities for a woman to exercise financial autonomy, the abuser reinforces his sense of all-powerful, creating an omnipotent presence in the woman’s life. Moreover, it affects her sense of confidence to make decisions on her own life.

Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship.

Whether subtle or overt, there are common methods that abusers use to gain and maintain financial control over their partners.

These can include forbidding the victim from working, sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose their job by physically abusing the victim prior to important meetings or interviews, controlling how household income is spent and withholding money or giving 'an allowance'.

Financial abuse can easily escalate to extreme manipulation and lead to extortion, using money needs to force one of the part to do things she/he would normally wouldn’t agree to.

Once women are out of an abusive relationship, they often find themselves fighting to overcome the multiple negative impacts that abuse has on their mental, emotional and social wellbeing and they may not be sure where to start to move forward.

That is why Southampton Women’s Aid recently launched a new course, Next Steps, a psycho-educational course aiming to support survivors of domestic violence.

Next Steps is a self-empowerment course designed to support women to break the circle of abuse and achieve a positive and lasting change in their lives. The sessions cover the multiple barriers to financial independence and work on developing and strengthening our sense of agency and initiative-taking; how to deal with negative thoughts and feelings like anxiety, fear of failure and stress and will provide useful information to make informed decisions regarding benefits, childcare and support services available.

This course is a six-week educational programme that combines a psychological and mindfulness approach to support women to take control of their lives by setting goals, making positive choices and developing personal skills and strengths.

Since September 2017, Southampton Women’s Aid and the employment team at Southampton City Council have been working together on tackling financial abuse. In October 2017, the employment team delivered a 3-day-course called Employability Course for Southampton Women’s Aid service users.

At the end of the course, all the participants said they have learnt how to recognise their strengths and improve their skills. Also, all of them agreed that this boosted their confidence in looking for a paid / volunteer position.

The next Employability Course will take place in May. For more information or to be referred to a Next Steps course, contact Women’s Aid on 02380-248116 or info@southamptonwomansaid.org.uk