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How Financial Abuse Left One Woman $300,000 In Debt

The choice between violence or homelessness can be an awful one women are forced to make.

Sally Miller* met her former husband when she was 30 years old and working as a successful consultant in Melbourne.

She remembers her ex as "charming", claiming he supported women's rights and loved her being "an independent woman".

While Sally was financially established, her partner was "broke" with what Sally believed was a credible excuse, insisting he had lent money to a failed family business.

Image: Getty Images

"He came with a story, and by the time I realised that it was really just a story, we were married and had kids," Sally told 10 daily.

She soon discovered that her partner had gambling problems and he'd made sure everything was in her name, spending her money while she earned.

He worked sporadically as a warehouse operator while refusing to assist with childcare costs, forcing Sally to work from home and supervise the kids.

SEE MORE: The Domestic Violence Signs That Are Still Overlooked

SEE MORE: Domestic Violence Is a National Crisis Leaving Children Without a Voice

"Usually he’d just stonewall, become sarcastic or enraged if I questioned his spending or the amount of time he was spending at the TAB. You just learned to keep your mouth shut because you know you were to cop it if you questioned him," she said.

She told 10 daily she was afraid to end the 20-year relationship after her ex-husband almost killed her when she tried to leave.

"Behind closed doors, he turned out to be a very abusive person in all respects, emotionally, physically and financially," Sally said.

Image: Getty Images

Sally said it felt like there was "no way out" but she was able to finally escape on a day when her ex wasn't home, seeking assistance via the national 1800 Respect line.

After she left, she said her partner bled her bank account dry, maxed out her credit cards and dragged her through the family court system for five years.

She ended up $300,000 in debt, she told 10 daily, and with significantly less assets.

Sally is not alone. A shocking 90 percent of domestic violence victims experience financial abuse, with fear of poverty and homelessness some of the most cited reasons for remaining in abusive relationships.

One woman is murdered every week at the hands of a current or former partner.

In Tuesday's federal budget, the government announced it would provide a record $328 million for domestic violence, including the early release of superannuation and additional funding for financial support services.

SEE MORE: What Happens To Couples When Women Earn More Than Men?

SEE MORE: Why You Need To Talk To Your Partner About Money

SEE MORE: Men Kill Women In 80 Percent Of Domestic Violence Deaths

An app developed by Women's Legal Service Queensland CEO Angela Lynch helps provide women leaving domestic and family violence with practical financial advice.

Financial abuse is "insidious", Lynch told 10 daily, and abusers use money to control, intimidate and dominate their partners, with the abuse often accompanied by physical assaults and emotional manipulation.

"Women can leave these relationships, get saddled with debt and be driven into homelessness. Some women may have a choice between homelessness and returning to the abuser," Lynch said.

"We wanted to develop a practical tool for women who were leaving or thinking of leaving domestic violence relationships," she said.

PENDA is named after the Golden Penda, a native  rainforest plant which represents "renewal, growth, hope and resilience". Photo: PENDA.

There are many ways that perpetrators control their partner through economic means.

This can include bullying them to quit their job, asking them to take out loans, running them into debt, or not providing enough money to cover living expenses.

SEE MORE: AVO Out Against Man Who Allegedly Stabbed His Former Partner To Death

SEE MORE: Ireland Just Criminalised Emotional Abuse. Here's Why Australia Should Too

Sally survived leaving her husband, but found herself, at 54 years old, with no superannuation and $300,000 in debt.

But despite the brutality and harm she's endured, Sally is grateful that she's been able to recover financially.

"Fortunately for me I’m able to make money and support myself because I’m educated and highly skilled. My situation is probably better than a lot of women," Sally said.

*Names have been changed.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 000 and do not download the PENDA app unless it is safe to do so.

If you need help and advice, call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

A range of domestic and family violence resources based around the country can be found here

Feature Image: Getty Images 

Contact the author at egillespie@networkten.com.au