Stealing money from bank accounts, forbidding or sabotaging work, controlling or unevenly splitting household expenses: financial abuse in intimate relationships persists in France. Often undetected, it’s frequently linked to physical violence.
Despite the advances of the 2021 Rixain Law, which aims to promote economic equality among genders, more than 200,000 women in France continue to suffer at the hands of their intimate partners due to a lack of early detection and prevention.
According to a November report published by the Fédération Nationale Solidarité Femmes (FNSF) – a nationwide network of nonprofit organisations dedicated to helping women victims of violence – around 26 percent of women in France said they had suffered financial abuse in 2022, a percentage point higher than in 2021.
Handling a total of 93,005 calls last year, the FNSF, which operates the 3919 hotline, noted an increase in the number of women living with financial insecurity.
“This can take different forms, such as the woman being forbidden to work, but also the confiscation of household resources by the perpetrator of the violence, such as family allowances and wages, thus preventing women from leaving the aggressor. And sometimes, they don’t even have a bank account,” FNSF Executive Director Françoise Brié told FRANCE 24.
Twenty euros a week from her husband
“It’s a pernicious form of violence,” Brié said as she related the testimony of a woman who was given a mere €20 per week by her high-income husband to feed herself and her children, as well as provide for all their basic needs.
This type of abuse takes place within the home, but can also continue after a couple separates, with non-payment of child support or repeated legal proceedings against women who have little or no resources.
Financial advisor Héloïse Bolle, the author of the book “Aux thunes citoyennes!” (Here’s to women’s money!), pointed out that unequal financial distribution within the household can also be seen as a form of economic abuse.
“When a person lives with a partner who earns a lot more money and imposes a 50-50 splitting of expenses in spite of this, it contributes to the woman’s impoverishment and prevents her from saving money,” Bolle said.
A survey conducted by research institute Ifop for the feminist newsletter “Les Glorieuses” published in late October revealed that 16 percent of women in France have suffered from this kind of abuse.
The report also noted that 41 percent of the women who had been in intimate partnerships had experienced some form of financial abuse at least once.
“Many have found themselves in difficult financial situations, because they have accepted this type of expense allocation, often without having thought about it beforehand,” Bolle said, adding that many victims were even unaware of the financial abuse they had experienced.
While often undetected, financial abuse can serve as a “risk indicator”, Brié said.
“[Abuses] are often linked to physical violence or can be a warning sign that should not be overlooked,” she said.
To raise awareness, “Les Glorieuses” newsletter has produced an online test, and a special barometer based on the same model as “The Violence Meter“, which is a tool that helps to identify violent behaviour and measure whether a relationship is healthy or violent.
While the FNSF calls for a better definition of financial abuse as well as higher awareness among banks and other financial institutions, “Les Glorieuses” said raising women’s salaries could be another key to addressing the problem, given that a woman is twice as likely to be a victim of domestic financial abuse if she earns less than her partner.
And this is very often the case, as France has a gender pay gap of around 15 percent, according to a study published by the national statistics agency (INSEE) in March.
Recent action undertaken by the French government has helped prevent some of the financial abuse that women often fall victim to.
The Rixain Law, which was passed by the French parliament in 2021, has made it compulsory for companies to pay out wages into individual or joint bank accounts held by their employees.
The law also made it possible to opt for personalised income tax rates, so that rates are in line with the salary level of each spouse.
A new regulation that came into effect October 1 would allow disabled married people in France to perceive an increase of €300 on average in their monthly disability allowance, which is known as the allocation aux adultes handicapés, or AAH.
By no longer taking a spouse’s income into account, the new measure aims to help prevent disabled women from being taken advantage of.
The French parliament also voted in February for an emergency aid that will allow victims of domestic violence to apply for financial support ranging from €250 to over €1,300 – per month, for a limited period – based on the applicant’s financial situation.
Lack of resources for nonprofits
While the French state has increased its support of domestic violence victims, organisations say much more is needed to effectively help women who suffer abuse from their partners.
“Women have done their bit by filing more complaints, and that’s still going on, but we need to be much more effective in supporting and protecting victims”, the president of the Fondation des Femmes (the Women’s Foundation), Anne-Cécile Mailfert, told AFP in an interview.
As France reported a 15 percent annual surge in domestic violence in 2022, nonprofit organisations are struggling to find adequate funding as they are increasingly overwhelmed by the number of victims asking for help.
“We are seeing organisations on the ground at the end of their tether, so overwhelmed by requests that some are going bankrupt,” Mailfert said.
No longer able to offer victims support and accommodation, the nonprofits are desperately awaiting financial support from the state or local authorities, she said.
The 3919 hotline provides information and guidance in 12 different languages: English, Arabic, Creole, Dari, Spanish, Hebrew, Kabyle, Mandarin, Persian, Polish, Portuguese and Turkish in addition to French.
This article is a translation of the original in French.