When most people think of domestic violence, an image of physical violence comes to mind. I have had conversations with women who have left an abusive relationship, but because they have never been physically assaulted, they feel they haven’t been subjected to “real” domestic abuse. This is not surprising because the images we see in the media are mostly of a woman looking broken with an obvious black eye. That is the public face of domestic violence, but it is only a fraction of the story.
In order to shed some light on the complexities of domestic violence, here is a list of different forms of abuse, in no particular order:
Emotional and Psychological Abuse – Which includes humiliation, shaming and blaming.
Financial Abuse – Controlling money and limiting access to finances. Not allowing financial independence.
Social Abuse – Isolation from friends and family. Limiting access to phone and computers. Shutting off from the support network.
Verbal Abuse – Name calling, put downs, swearing and shouting.
Physical Abuse – Threats and actual physical violence, including punching, kicking, shoving and choking. Threatening and/or assaulting children and pets. Throwing things and/or breaking things.
Spiritual and Cultural – Using spiritual or cultural beliefs to justify violence and force compliance. Denying access to spiritual community.
Sexual Abuse – Sexual assault and abuse. If sex is not consensual then it is sexual abuse.
Stalking – Excessive contact including phone calls, social media, physically following.
Technological Abuse – With the growth of social media, this is an emerging form of abuse. It is using social media to stalk with or without knowledge. Content uploaded or changed. Tracking devices being installed on phones and GPS devices. Even keystroke monitors to track what is searched on computer.
The descriptions above are brief but it is easy to see that there is more to domestic violence than physical abuse alone.
Although the devastating effects of physical abuse cannot be denied, it is also true the effects of all abuse can be equally debilitating. The confusion that a person being abused can feel when being psychologically and emotionally abused in the absence of physical abuse can lead them to feeling like they are imagining things and that the abuse is not occurring. Financial abuse leads to isolation and a lack of control that leads them to depend on the person abusing them.
People who are being abused without physical abuse find it more difficult to recognise that abuse is taking place, the abuse escalates over time and they become slowly accustomed to being abused. There is no definitive line crossed and lack of knowledge about the types of abuse makes it difficult to recognise.
I have been told countless times that someone was with a controlling partner but it wasn’t abusive because they were not hit. They then go on to describe what was clearly an abusive relationship.
It is important to know the forms of abuse because whether you think you may be in an abusive relationship or know someone (a colleague, employee, friend, family) in an abusive relationship, the more information you have, the better equipped you are to understand and help.
Even if you think you don’t know anyone, the shame and secrecy surrounding domestic violence means you could know more than one person and just not realise because they keep it hidden.