Estimates suggest that 1 in 6 Australian women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of a previous or current partner. This statistic feels shocking, and often takes centre stage when we consider the issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG), however financial and emotional coercive control also exist as forms of abuse in relationships and can have devastating effects on survivors and their families. Financial abuse is considered a form of coercive control and is a pattern of threatening and controlling behaviour that limits a person’s freedoms. It can include the withholding of finances, taking over of banking information, and misusing a partner’s money, and is often less obvious and hard to spot. This can exist separately or alongside other forms of abuse in relationships; estimates from the Financial Conduct Authority suggest that financial abuse is present in 99% of physically violent relationships. The intertwined nature of these patterns of abuse can mean that it is harder for survivors to leave relationships – and a lack of economic security and financial resources has been identified as a primary reason that women return to abusive relationships.
This case study highlights the excellent work of the online resource Yourtoolkit.com which aims to provide comprehensive support and resources for those facing domestic violence, and the role that collaboration and governmental support has had in their growth and success.
“This was the website that actually helped me get away – this was the most important thing that I found”
Quote from a user with lived experience of family and domestic violence
Yourtoolkit.com – helping women take the first step.
In Perth, Western Australia, a conversation between Rosie Batty AO (Australian of the Year) and Lyn Beazley AO (WA Australian of the Year) began about how important it is for women to have organised personal finances and financial security when leaving abusive relationships. This led to two years of volunteer-run research into the landscape of what information and support was available to women experiencing financial abuse and where the gaps lay; it emerged that there was no single ‘one-stop-shop’ resource for those in need. The subsequent research and scoping resulted in the first iterations of Yourtoolkit.com, a web-based resource which provides free, accessible, practical, and up-to-date information for survivors experiencing financial abuse and looking to escape. It includes information on personal safety, support and referral systems and money matters and provides learning for all stages of their journey from preparing to leave to thriving.
Chair of Yourtoolkit.com Elisa Fear explains: “Yourtoolkit.com is designed to empower those facing domestic violence and support them to reshape and rebuild their lives” she says. “It’s hard for those facing abuse to be safe, change their circumstances, or leave if they chose to, for a range of complex reasons including the fear that the consequences or leaving will be worse than staying.”
Yourtoolkit.com aims to assist those facing abuse through the website which provides comprehensive, relevant information that can be accessed 24/7 on any form of device to help individuals restart and rebuild their lives. The site is easy to access, simple to understand and broken into four sections to take women and survivors through the stages of their journey:
- Prepare – information about how to increase their safety whilst living with their partner and preparing to leave the relationship if they choose to do so;
- Act Now – information about where to go and who to call when leaving an abusive relationship;
- Rebuild – information about getting support and keeping safe after leaving a violent relationship; and
- Thrive – information about money matters for their future.
The website includes downloadable and printable resources, such as ‘How to Support a Friend or Colleague Experiencing Domestic Violence’ and a quick exit button which leads immediately to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
Partnerships to drive support and success
Collaboration and diverse support have been essential to the success and continued growth of Yourtoolkit.com. “We are strong believers that in any field, sector organisations working together for a common purpose can achieve so much more than working in siloes or with isolated approaches” Elisa says. She notes that there is no way the organisation could have achieved so much without the amazing support they have received, which includes private sector seed funding from Demeter Legacy, COVID community support from Woodside and immeasurable support from Chartered Accountants Australian New Zealand who provided essential free office space, amenities, volunteer support and solidified this relationship with a Memorandum of Association.
On a governmental level, assistance has been extended in the form of seed funding and grant awards as well as vocal ministerial support. The state government Department of Communities has provided both seed funding of $20,000 and subsequent rounds of grant funding totalling $300,000, and Lotterywest, the only government-owned and operated lottery in Australia has also provided two grants. The organisation has collaborated with the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety (Consumer Protection division) to understand their legislative reforms relating to tenancy protection for women facing financial domestic abuse, and in 2022 were awarded the Consumer Protection Dick (Richard) Fletcher award for their work raising awareness and supporting consumers at risk. Elisa also highlights the importance that relationships with legislators and government ministers can have; she notes the essential support offered from the outset from Hon Simone McGurk (State Labor Member for Fremantle, and the Minister for Child Protection; Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence and Community Services), which she believes has contributed to the willingness of further government support, such as their Department of Communities assistance.
Inter-agency collaborative efforts can directly benefit survivors. “If a solution can be found so that survivors don’t have to continually repeat their story (and in doing so, relive the impact of abuse) it would be a huge step forward in supporting the recovery of these women, as would collaboration to share overhead and other costs,” Elisa points out. The organisation collaborates with others in the sector by actively sharing social media collaborative campaigns, sharing new thinking and research, and providing a service directory to ensure Yourtoolkit.com users are aware of other support services.
Improving partnerships to create more resilient services
While there have been exciting and rewarding collaboration and support, there are obviously areas for improvement and ongoing partnership. Local and regional governments have an integral role to play in supporting not-for-profits working in the domestic violence and abuse space, as they are positioned to both further awareness-raising efforts and provide much-needed resources. Elisa identifies a few key areas that she feels local councils could support survivors, such as the provision of high-quality public information about financial abuse delivered by councils to better inform people of the signs and implications it can have on survivors. She suggests that governments, where possible, offer financial support and funding for projects working on the ground to actively address and support financial abuse and notes that internally local councillors can provide resources and support for their employees via internal resource hubs in case employees are experiencing abuse themselves.
Celebrating success and looking to the future
There are obviously challenges that arise; for smaller organisations, constant competition for funding can be an ongoing issue and for Yourtoolkit.com, Elisa points out that there is a traditionalist view that an organisation must include an emergency refuge to be considered as providing a credible service. Nonetheless, it is important to celebrate their current successes: since their launch in 2019 the site has seen over 85,000 users and almost 105,000 sessions. From the beginning of March 2022, Yourtoolkit.com has an average of over 800 users per week and over 1,000 sessions per week. A second website refresh was undertaken in August, and they have now two part-time positions within the organisation (CEO and Marketing and communications coordinator), where previously it was solely volunteer run.
Future projects include the development of an interactive self-assessment tool to help women for whom abuse may have become normalised. The tool will also generate data, with scope to inform sector-wide responses to abuse in relationships. Continued website updates will work to enhance user experience, with the inclusion of video content and with expansion of state-based resources that will mean women across Australia have equitable access to Yourtoolkit.com resources. Ongoing awareness-raising through digital marketing and social media campaigns as well as Search Engine Optimisation to help drive traffic. Importantly, Yourtoolkit.com will continue their stakeholder engagement, working with women with lived experience and organisations within the financial domestic violence sector.
There is clearly essential learning that can be taken from Elisa and the exceptional work of Yourtoolkit.com and implemented at a local council level, to support constituents but also internal employees and councillors. Organisations that work with closely with survivors and have included their opinions and needs can be exceptional resources for councillors looking to improve upon their own constituent offerings. Forming relationships with grassroots not-for-profits can build mutually beneficial partnerships that in turn have the potential to have real, life-changing impact for individuals.
The work of Yourtoolkit.com clearly taps into an underserved area of domestic abuse, and their site is providing life-changing support to women in Australia. Their commitment to collaboration and inter-agency working with state government and local private sector organisations has been key to their growth and success and facilitated life-changing support to many women across Australia facing the hidden threat of financial domestic abuse.