Lessons from America

Nicola on her travels in JulyNicola on her travels in July

In March of this year, Wanstead resident Nicola Sharp-Jeffs was made a Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, enabling her to travel to the States to investigate ways of supporting financial abuse victims.

I have been back from the first leg of my Winston Churchill Fellowship travels for a couple of weeks now and am still on a high. I cannot overstate what an inspiring experience it was. Over a two-week period, I travelled across New York, New Jersey and Texas and met 20 women working to address the issue of economic abuse in 14 different organisations.

It soon became clear that their work takes two main forms. A number of specialist domestic violence projects have teamed up with financial capability experts to help women reclaim their economic freedom after leaving their abuser. It is common for women who experience economic abuse in their intimate relationships to be prevented from accessing financial income and to be given an allowance, the spending of which is tightly controlled. The abuser may exclude them from financial decisions and also run up debts in their name through financial fraud and/or coercion. Financial coaching and capability classes enable women to assess their financial situation after leaving. They are then supported to address any issues that exist. This may range from building up their confidence in handling everyday financial matters to liaising with banks and credit agencies about the debts they have been left with.

The second and linked area of work is to help women achieve economic justice through identifying financial and legal remedies that address the control and exploitation they have experienced. This work is still in its infancy but I met with a number of committed legal professionals who are challenging court actions brought against women and seeking to have the debts written off. It was amazing to meet the passionate individuals driving these innovative responses.

I believe there is real scope to adapt tools and resources to a UK context and pilot them with services. This is something I will now be looking to drive forward. I also realised upon my return that I had already gathered enough learning to fill a book on this issue and, together with Professor Adrienne Adams, an academic who I met on my travels, I am developing a proposal to do just that.

The second leg of my trip to Australia starts in November. I shall be there for three weeks and have already lined up some great meetings. I am hoping this will include time in Tasmania, which has criminalised economic abuse. Given the new UK legislation on coercive and controlling behaviour, learning about the ways in which economic abuse can be criminally prosecuted will be really helpful. I will also be speaking about this new legislation at a seminar in Australia. It will be good to be able to give something back.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247
The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust aids individuals to travel in pursuit of tackling a range of issues – visit wcmt.org.uk

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