When the honeymoon ended: How Shenane’s pilfered bank account ended with her in a coma
Shenane Hogg had been with her partner in Queensland for about a year when she started noticing money going missing.
The Torres Strait Islander woman turned a blind eye, too scared to say anything while they were still in the “honeymoon stage”.
But over the next 12 months, greater quantities were being taken from her debit account and her credit cards went missing. Her partner would also turn up to work functions asking for money and take her work car for personal trips.
“I let it get to the point where he was taking my work car and taking off for a whole weekend and I was too scared to tell my boss because it was in my name and he wasn’t even licensed,” she said.
About a year and a half into the relationship she began confronting him, and it was from these arguments he started getting physical.
“It started getting to the point where I was trying to address it, but then it would become a big argument. It was quite volatile,” she said.
“I had that much debt that just carried with me for three years,” she said.
“When I would confront him about the money then it would start off – with just pushing, shoving, yelling screaming in my face.
“I just let it go – and I let it go for a long time.”
Hogg ended up subjected to horrific domestic violence in the five years she was involved with her former abuser, the final attack leaving her in a nine-month-long induced coma.
She suffered lifelong brain injuries and physical wounds so bad that at one point, doctors wouldn’t let her look in a mirror.
But like so many other women have found, the precursor to her ordeal seemed innocuous: small financial red flags.
Now based in Western Australia, the victim-survivor and advocate has decided to share her story alongside the launch of an Economic Abuse Reference Group in the state: the story of how her money was weaponised against her and how the abuse plagued her for years, even after she had left him.
When Hogg began having to go to work with black eyes, she confided in her bosses, asking them to take her work car off her to avoid further confrontation.
Incidents kept occurring, however, and Hogg began the process of detaching from her abuser financially by cancelling her credit cards, opening new bank accounts and moving house.
Despite the abuse, which included significant assaults after which she had to be hospitalised several times for head injuries, Hogg said she kept going back to her abuser, making excuses for him. Until about five years into the relationship, when she almost lost her life to another of his attacks.
In late 2016 during an argument, he punched her about 10 times in the face, choked her until she was unconscious and stomped on her head.
She remembered passing out and police trying to rouse her, shaking her and asking if she was OK.
Hogg was placed in a coma for nine months as medicos tried to save her swollen brain from further damage.
“When I did come to, I had had some horrific injuries, I had my eye socket smashed, half of my teeth were missing, I had severed tendons in my foot where he cut my foot open with a steel tin,” she said.
“They didn’t show me a mirror … just so that I could mentally get my head around it [first].”
Her abuser was sentenced to 6½ years in prison over the attack.
It took her 18 months to learn to walk and talk properly again and her financial wounds made her recovery much harder.
“I had that much debt that just carried with me for three years, and it affected how I recovered as well; because I was in debt I went into public housing,” she said.
“I just went, ‘look, if this is what it’s going to cost me to get away and get away freely, I’m just going to have to pay’,” she said on accepting the debts that he hard run up for her.
The shocking number of WA women being financially abused
Swan MP Zaneta Mascarenhas has recently led a private members’ bill in federal parliament urging the end to violence against women and said through doorknocking her electorate she heard dozens of stories of financial abuse.
She said it was a form of domestic violence not well understood or labelled but was a powerful instrument to control someone’s behaviour, often with children caught in the crossfire whose ability to participate in schooling and sport was then compromised.
A shocking 36 per cent of the 1000 WA residents surveyed for the recent Hidden Costs Report, launched during last year’s 16 Days in WA domestic violence campaign, had experienced financial abuse.
This commonly meant a partner using all their partner’s pay for joint expenses but retaining theirs for personal use (62 per cent), refusing to contribute financially (52 per cent), and exerting complete financial control (50 per cent).
The Consumer Credit Legal Service deals with dozens of financial abuse cases every week but chief executive Bev Jowle said it was still an underreported and unrecognised issue in the broader community.
“We know that women’s refuges and women’s services to see it continually,” she said.
“It can go on for decades and leave women in absolute poverty.”
Jowle is forcing the issue with policymakers and organisations that can help, such as banks.
Along with organisations like Women’s Legal Service WA, and the Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing Jowle helped establish the WA chapter of the Economic Abuse Reference Group late last year.
She said the national model, looking into the prevalence of and solutions to financial abuse, had put the issue on the agenda for banks, governments and regulators, but it had lacked a WA focus.
Light on the horizon
After her lengthy recovery, Hogg was lucky enough to find stable employment again and came to WA for a fresh start.
She now works as an advocate for traumatic brain injury for the not-for-profit organisation Connectivity.
She said she hoped to break the stigma and shame around financial abuse, and help people understand that it was not specific to any one demographic, but could happen to anyone.
Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). Crisis support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.
First published on WA Today 08/01/24