Worldwide lockdown measures have helped to "flatten the curve" but, sadly, they have also given domestic abusers more power than ever before as abuse helplines report dramatic increases in cases over the last few months. Unwittingly, businesses discouraging or banning cash payments due to coronavirus fears are helping perpetuators exercise one of the most common forms of domestic abuse: financial control.
"By putting cash in people's hands you can create a different power dynamic, and this allows the most vulnerable to be an actor in normal marked dynamics. The interesting part about cash is that it's not only giving people money, but also the power to spend it."
We say "unwittingly" because virologists around the world have testified to the fact that cash is not responsible for the spread of coronavirus and have assured the public that tangible money may be used as usual. Their studies prove how banknotes and coins carry less risk than card readers and mobile phones, making cash bans as unfounded as they are harmful.
Of the few retailers still operating during lockdowns, the ones that continue to accept banknotes and coins should be praised. For someone preparing to leave an abusive situation at home, opportunities for spending and saving change mean they can shop strategically, pocket their leftover coins and banknotes without raising suspicion, and save enough money to escape.
"I packed the car, we left and it was really scary. But it was the best thing we did. It wouldn’t happen if I didn’t use cash."
This is why organizations tackling domestic abuse always mention cash first in their lists of recommended items for preparing to leave a dangerous situation at home and why it is disappointing (to say the least) to see retailers denying cash payments.
Globally, organizations tackling domestic abuse have seen a dramatic increase in cases over the last few months and it seems that many of the traditional escape routes are being cut off. In the USA, where coronavirus has infected the highest number of people per country globally, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that a growing number of callers describe how abusers are using COVID-19 to threaten them: “We’ve heard of some withholding financial resources or medical assistance.”
"Having a lack of access to cash is one of the ways in which women are financially controlled.... Cash is an essential lifeline for women and children... Every opportunity should be available for victims to access cash because without it you are taking away someone's choice and freedom."
In the UK, where 2 million people rely on cash for everyday purchases, calls to abuse helplines rose by 49% and killings doubled only weeks into lockdown, reported BBC. In Australia, where cash use is sharply declining, concern for the vulnerable and particularly those fleeing violence is growing: "They may not have access to credit cards or any other banking opportunities, so that is a very common story."
"Cash is one of the building blocks for personal freedom. Cash is the protection against many intrusions on so many levels."
This is an issue that concerns everyone because domestic abuse can happen to anyone, regardless of age, background, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnicity. Many people, convinced that "cashless is the future", take for granted the feeling of freedom, of being able to spend their money without asking for permission, believing that they would never find themselves in such a situation. Consider that in a cashless society, it would be a privilege, or maybe an impossibility to feel unsupervised
List of references
- Time As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out (Mar 18, 2020)
- BBC Coronavirus: Lockdown exit must take domestic abuse rise into account (May 28, 2020)
- ABC Are we headed for a cashless economy post-coronavirus? (May 18, 2020)
- Financial Times Budget 2020: Future of cash protected (Mar 11, 2020)
- BBC UK lockdown: Calls to domestic abuse helpline jump by half (Apr 27, 2020)
- UN Women Facts and figures: Ending violence against women (Nov, 2019)
- Which? UK Domestic abuse: access to cash can mean life or death (Aug 14, 2019)
- Norwgian Refugee Council Why Cash Matters (Jan 27, 2017)