UNSW Sydney has joined a national pledge to disrupt the rise of financial abuse in Australia.

UNSW is among Australia’s first movers alongside Optus, Suncorp, IAG, tech start-up BillWill and 16 Australian banks to support the respect and protect initiative designed by social enterprise Flequity Ventures. Each business or institution has agreed to ban the misuse of their products and services for financial abuse, with an update to their terms and conditions or policies.

Financial abuse is a hidden epidemic in Australia. It is when money is used to control another person, leaving them with no control over their own finances or ability to access essential services, and is the reason many women, in particular, face the stark choice between violence or poverty.

Businesses may unintentionally help financial abusers. Without proactive steps, their products may be misused as a tactic of coercive control and manipulation.

“Perpetrators misuse services like telecommunications, banks, insurance, superannuation, energy, water and technology to threaten victim-survivors or accrue debts in their name, leaving them financially decimated,” says architect of respect and protect and Flequity Ventures founder Adjunct Associate Professor Catherine Fitzpatrick from the School of Social Sciences at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture. “These industry leaders are standing with us to send a strong, united message from corporate Australia to perpetrators of domestic and family violence.”

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Deloitte Access Economics, 2022 estimates financial abuse costs victims $5.7bn – more than the $4.8bn the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission reported Australians lost to scams in 2023.

A/Prof. Fitzpatrick urged the public to get involved to anonymously acknowledge any business that helped them, a loved one, a friend, or a colleague navigate financial abuse or nominate other businesses that they want to follow the first movers.

“We want others to join us,” A/Prof. Fitzpatrick says. “No business wants to be a safe haven [for] abusers.”

Professor the Hon. Verity Firth AM, Vice-President of Societal Impact, Equity and Engagement at UNSW, says these forms of systems abuse should never be tolerated.

“UNSW has scholars committed to understanding the impacts of technology-facilitated and financial abuse, and their research clearly demonstrates how devastating it can be,” Prof. Firth says. “It is important that our academic community show leadership against domestic and family violence.

“We’d urge every university to join with us in support of the respect and protect initiative.”

Economic abuse affects 2.4 million Australian adults, including 1 in 6 women and 1 in 13 men, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2023 Personal Safety findings.

“Financial abuse is pervasive and destroys many more lives than people realise, most of them women,” A/Prof. Fitzpatrick says. “This campaign aims to advocate for every business in Australia with joint accounts or digital access to services to make it clear that they promote respect for women and protect against financial abuse.”

Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commissioner Micaela Cronin says Australia is facing a national crisis of violence against women.

“Everyone has a role to play and this action from businesses is essential if we are to end domestic, family and sexual violence in a generation,” Ms Cronin says. “I encourage all businesses to understand the important role they have to respect and protect their customers.”

Find out more about the respect and protect initiative: respectandprotect.au.