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Cash is crucial to victims of domestic abuse or coercive control, says Women's Aid

Journal.ie logo Journal.ie 30/07/2022 Emer Moreau
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FOLLOWING AIB’S NOW-SCRAPPED decision to remove cash services from 70 of its branches, advocacy groups have highlighted the importance of cash to victims of domestic abuse and coercive control.

The bank this week admitted that it was a “mistake” to consider going cashless on such a wide scale, but CEO Colin Hunt said he believed it was “inevitable” that the way we bank will change in the coming years.

Women’s advocacy groups warned during the AIB fiasco – which was slammed by the public and politicians across the spectrum – that a move towards cashless banking on a greater scale could endanger victims of domestic abuse and coercive control.

In a statement to The Journal, Christina Sherlock, the Strategic Communications and Fundraising Manager for Women’s Aid, said the prospect was particularly concerning for women experiencing financial control by an abusive partner.

Disabled women, migrant women and rural women who may have to travel outside their local area to access cash services in future would also be particularly at risk, Sherlock said.

“Very often, abusive partners control access to the family finances. Financial abuse includes exerting control over income, spending and bank accounts. Without access to money, and in particular in cash form, and the things that money can buy, it is difficult to leave an abuser and access safety.”

While a move towards cashless banking and general transactions can be seen across the western world, Ireland’s status as a young country means digital and online finance is catching on particularly quickly, as Valerio Poti, a professor of finance at UCD, explains.

Prof Poti told this publication: “The big split is between demographics in countries like Italy and countries like Ireland … simply because there are more young people [in Ireland].

He also noted that AIB going cashless was, in fact, “more about offering online-only [services], on the assumption that everyone can use them.”

Women’s Aid has said that monitoring a person’s online activity is a form of coercive control.

Sherlock said: “We hear from women who are not given access to ‘his’ card and pin number and who may only be given an inadequate weekly allowance.

“Women can start saving cash, often as little as €5 a week, in case they have to flee in an emergency and as part of a plan to leave the abusive relationship.

When women can spend and receive cash without their abuser [knowing], it means a reduction in the anxiety that the abuser is tracking her cash flow and what she is spending money on.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland also criticised the move before AIB rowed back on it, saying that “access to cash is crucial for women under coercive control or financial abuse.”

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for AIB said: “AIB understands how vulnerable a person can be if someone else is controlling their finances or monitoring their every transaction.

“If any of our customers are concerned that someone has control over their money without their permission the best place to start is to talk to us. Our people are trained to recognise situations such as financial abuse and our staff in all branches continue to be available to provide support.”

In 2019, the bank teamed up with Women’s Aid on a campaign to highlight financial abuse.

Anyone affected by domestic abuse can contact the Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 or via Instant Message on www.womensaid.ie.

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