Financial Abuse: A Survivors Story
Financial Abuse – survivors’ story
During Christmas 2017, my world came crashing down around my ears. Shortly before this happened, friends and family would have believed I had the ideal life. I had a great career as a marketing manager and was making lots of additional money in bonuses, I had what appeared to be a charming, good-looking , highly intelligent and financially successful husband, we were still renting but planned to buy a nice home soon, it all appeared perfect – even to me at times.
I married Jozef in 2014, two years after we’d met through work and he initially seemed perfect. He was very charming and made me feel good. Looking back, I realise he fast tracked our relationship and I now know this to be a sign of an abuser, but I was in love with him and flattered by his attention and happy that he showered me with affection. Jozef was from Poland and I also imagined that his culture played a part in his intensely affectionate behaviour in the early stages of our relationship.
After we married, Jozef took control of a lot of things including our finances. I trusted him; I had no reason not to. I had high earnings and bonuses and Jozef invested my earnings, insisting he could get better rates of interest by investing in Poland. I never questioned his judgment or asked for details of the investments, I believed he was saving for our future together.
As our relationship progressed, Jozef became increasingly controlling, not just financially, I was fine about that, but he started to become controlling about where I went and who I saw and would often question me about my movements. I didn’t like this but trying to make sense of the situation I told myself he was jealous because he loved me so much. I didn’t want to face up to the fact that the man I had married was abusive. Jozef also became increasingly emotionally and verbally abusive, this I found more difficult to rationalise but I’d try to put it down to his culture. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I’d made a terrible mistake in marrying him, so I’d find various different ways to justify his behaviour. After all, he never hit me so I told myself it really wasn’t that bad.
In late 2017 due to an accident a work that wasn’t my fault, I was forced to leave with a substantial compensation package. This was a traumatic time in my life and I was also left with an injury to my back that made it difficult to sit for longer than 20 minutes. I became quite low at this time and I relied on Jozef more then. I was happy for him to invest my lump sum, I wasn’t interested in the stock market, particularly in Poland and I wanted to focus my mind on getting better and finding another job.
For the past couple of years, we’d been house hunting. We’d stock piled lots of money (or so I believed) and spent time searching for the perfect home. We’d been on the brink of buying on three occasions, however at the last moment something went wrong and the sale fell through. Of course, Jozef insisted in taking charge of the details so he would give various explanations as to why the sale collapsed. Someone else came in and offered more, the vendors changed their minds and decided to stay, I don’t recall the third excuse but I believed it. The reality of the situation would never have occurred to me, I still trusted Jozef, the thought that he might have been lying to me would have been too traumatic to contemplate.
Over Christmas 2017, I realised the rent was not being paid. I never had control of this and any communication from the landlady had been by letter to Jozef, but this time, evidently exasperated by his lack of reply to her increasingly urgent correspondence, she came to the house, Jozef was at work at the time. I was completely horrified to learn we hadn’t paid any rent for four months and an eviction was imminent. I could offer no explanation other than that my husband deals with the bills. I told her I imagined there’d been some banking error, I was certain the situation would be resolved, that we actually had lots of money. She looked at me in disbelief and told me we needed to pack up because the eviction would go ahead unless she was paid in full by the end of that week.
Upset and confused, I texted Jozef as soon as she’d left. I was still clinging on to the futile hope that there had been some terrible mistake that could easily be rectified. I was desperately seeking reassurance from Jozef that all was well, that some banking oversight could easily be sorted. I had no reply. Jozef didn’t return home either. I have not spoken to him since he left for work that morning, just ten days before Christmas. My world started to implode that day as the enormity of his financial abuse became apparent to me. I soon learnt that Jozef fled to Poland. No explanation, no apology, nothing.
How I survived that Christmas I will never know. I was evicted, the locks were changed and I was allowed no opportunity to recover my furniture or clothes. I owned quite literally what I stood in. At the age of 33 I had no choice but to move back in with my parents. A successful career, 13 years of accumulated wealth and a husband and future all gone.
Over the next few days and weeks, the debts started being revealed to me. Unpaid council tax, unpaid gas and electricity bills, my two credit cards with £6,000 to pay on them, a phone contract in my name for Jozef’s phone, various unpaid store card debts in my name. I realised that Jozef had used my personal details to get credit. I felt desperate and completely shocked, I couldn’t see a future for myself. It wasn’t just the money either, I couldn’t understand how Jozef had done this to me. My parents didn’t help by repeatedly asking how I’d failed to check anything and allowed it all to happen. Within the tense confines of the house my relationship with them deteriorated.
I gained access to Jozef’s main bank account and found what he’d spent much of the money on – Casino.com, Mansion Casino, PaddyPower Casino. Tens of thousands, mostly of my money. Discovering his addiction didn’t make it any easier for me, I don’t suppose it mattered what he’d used it for, the humiliation for me was just the same.
Thankfully I’m a survivor, I have a tough streak running through me that has helped me work through this. I also have some good support around me. Although I was traumatised by what had happened, I knew I needed to take action to sort my financial mess out. I began with an appointment with a CAB debt advisor. She was really helpful. She made contact with my former landlady to establish what her intentions were. Luckily for me, the eviction had been unlawful, no proper processes were followed, or notices served, this meant that the case could not be progressed to a small claims court, the debt was written off. The CAB also made contact with the Council regarding my council tax arrears and helped negotiate a payment plan. My CAB debt advisor also signposted me to Broxtowe Women’s Project where I was able to access specialist domestic abuse outreach support.
My BWP outreach worker Sandra helped me prepare an email for the police to report the fraud I’d been subjected to. The police have taken my case seriously and are actively trying to trace Jozef. Also, because the fraud involving the credit cards taken out in my name was recognised by the police and allocated a crime number, the credit card companies have acknowledged this fraud and these debts have now been withdrawn. Broxtowe Womens Project also put me in touch with Payplan, a free debt management company who she thought may be able to help with some of my other debts. I had excellent support from Payplan, they made contact with various companies on my behalf, payment plans were agreed with some of the debtors but other debts they managed to get written off for me. I was delighted with their sensitivity, efficiency and non-judgmental professionalism.
From being a high earner with a very successful career, I am left with nothing. Despite this I have managed the financial mess I was left in without the need for bankruptcy or IVA, for this I feel proud. I’m in my mid 30’s and despite everything, I have to remind myself I have another life ahead of me and the potential for achieving so much. I’ve been successful before; I can do it again!
I have very strong emotions around gambling, in particular online gambling. I’m not making excuses for Jozef, what he did I find unforgivable, but I do understand that many people who can ill afford it become addicted to online gambling. It wrecks families and lives and I believe there should be stringent controls on it.
It has not been at all easy, some days I still feel traumatised by the shock of it all. With the support of Sandra’s from BWP’s, though I am able to understand that none of it was my fault, I could not have foreseen that this could happen to me, I should expect to trust the person I’m married to. Sandra has helped me to review other aspects of my life, set goals and future challenges. I am now working towards self-employment within the beauty industry. I also have other self-employment dreams I’d like to fulfil using the skills I had in my previous occupation. I want to feel in control of my future and my finances, I have so much to look forward to and to live for!
I very much wanted my story to be shared. I understand that financial abuse is very commonly a feature of domestic abuse and is an aspect of coercive control. If any of this information resonates with anyone reading my story, I would encourage you to seek help. There is lots of support available and whatever your situation, things can be improved. I feel very thankful towards my CAB debt advisor, Broxtowe Women’s Project and Payplan.
Broxtowe Women’s Project are still supporting those affected by domestic abuse in Nottinghamshire. If you are experiencing Domestic Abuse or are affected by past Domestic Abuse we are here to support you contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our mobile support line on 07914634190