Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (In this post, I’ll be talking about abuse in pretty good detail, so if you would prefer not to read about it I suggest you go here to listen to the rain instead.)

This month, I’d like to talk about emotional abuse.

A lot of people don’t think of emotional abuse as “real” abuse. It’s not as dramatic as hitting or rape or any of the things that “count” as abuse. But to my mind emotional abuse can be the worst– physical abuse hurts your body, but emotional abuse fucks up your mind. And behind all those stories of “real” abuse, there’s these tendrils of emotional abuse curling through, often years before the physical or sexual abuse started. Ever wondered why they don’t just leave? That’s why. Because abusers make people dependent on them and unable to function about them. Abusers make people believe the abuse is their fault.

What is emotional abuse? Controlling all the money so you get no input into family finances. “Are you cheating on me with them? You are, aren’t you? I don’t want you to talk to them again!” Punching the wall near your head. “I never said that. You’re making things up. You’re crazy.” Isolating you from your friends and family. “I’m sorry, honey, but if you didn’t make me angry…” Making all or many of your decisions for you. “If you leave me I just don’t know what I’ll do. I might end up doing something we both regret.” Calling you stupid or ugly or fat or other insults.

Most of all, emotional abuse is a consistent pattern within the relationship of disrespect, degradation, fear, anger, lack of accountability, and control. If you are in a relationship characterized by those traits, it is not a healthy relationship. If your relationship is making you unhappy and your partner is not interested in long-term, sustainable change to make you happy, it is not a healthy relationship. “My partner makes me happy” is not some great expectation. It is literally the basic minimum requirement for entry.

You notice I didn’t use gendered pronouns up there? I didn’t use them for a reason. Men and women are, in fact, equally likely to be survivors of emotional abuse.

For male victims, the tendency of our culture to downplay emotional abuse as merely a “bad relationship” comes out in full force. People don’t believe that emotional abuse is abuse, and they don’t believe that men can be abused, and when the two combine it releases a storm of victim-blaming bullshit. They should just get over it. They should stop being upset. They’re whiny pussies for caring about this so much. God, why does this bother you, are you a fag or something?

I’d also like to take a moment to point out the ways our culture considers behavior that is objectively emotionally abusive, particularly early-stage and more subtle emotional abuse, to be romantic. After all, your partner’s passionate! She cares about you! What does it matter that she’s jealous of every other girl in your life to the point that you can’t really hang out with them, or that she reads your email without your permission and then screams at you about what she finds, or that she breaks down crying and threatens self-harm when you try to leave her? That just shows how much she loves you!

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Comments

  1. About time I see posts without genderized language. Both genders are equally likely to be victims AND both are equally likely to be perpetrators. When we start seeing the women too perpetrate a huge amount of domestic violence and we get rid of gendered langage we might start to see programs address 1/3 to 1/2 of all domestic violence survivors AND abusers (they need help too to stop their stupid ways) instead of how the majority of society seems to largely ignore them. Ignoring half the problem means we spin our wheels in the mud and don’t fix anything.

    Will you be doing any articles on reciprocal violence? I see that it’s often stated that one of the biggest indicators a woman will get hurt in DV is that she initiates it and a reciprocal fight breaks out, she ends up worse for wear due to size differences n what not. Teaching women and men to not hit is one of the very best things anti-DV campaigners could do, it will definitely reduce the level of violence (maybe 1/3rd to 1/2, who knows), since if you hit anyone you have a much higher chance of being hit back.

    • Both genders are not equally likely to be victims or perpetrators. That’s factually untrue. While men and women are equally likely to be victims of emotional abuse, for more severe abuse more women are likely to be abused.

      “Often” stated? Do you have a citation for that? To my knowledge most domestic violence is not reciprocal.

      I am pretty sure most people are aware that hitting is not okay.

      • Given that men are less likely to report their abuse, less likely to seek medical help for abuse, and less likely to be asked if their injuries resulted from abuse, how would you know that “for more severe abuse more women are likely to be abused”?

        As for Archy’s claim about reciprocal domestic violence, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 50% of domestic violence was reciprocal, and reciprocal violence resulted in the highest rate of injury.

      • Sorry I should have stated domestic violence has a near equal spread of victims and perpetrators in some areas, others vary more.
        Other abuse varies. It also depends on which studies you read though, I believe that there is an equal number of victims between genders or close to it, perpetrators however seems to be a mix.

        CDC stats ( http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ )
        Physical violence: Female victims were 32.9% and Male victims were 28.2% of the population.
        Psychological violence: 48.4% of women and 48.8% of men are the victims. I’m going to assume perpetration was equal between genders there, at least it would appear so for hetero couples, I can’t see an actual breakdown of reported perpetrator for psychological or physical violence.
        Sexual assault varies for male victims between about 1/4 to 1:1 of female victims. Female perpetration looks to be up to 40% of all rape for the one year period, dropping down for lifetime stats. The majority of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are male, and against men are female.

        http://www.oneinthree.com.au/overview/ shows about 1 in 3 victims are male.
        Interesting stats from that page
        “The Crime Prevention Survey (2001)4 surveyed young people aged 12 to 20 and found that:
        “while 23% of young people were aware of domestic violence against their mothers or step-mothers by their fathers or step-fathers, an almost identical proportion (22%) of young people were aware of domestic violence against their fathers or step-fathers by their mothers or step-mothers an almost identical proportion of young females (16%) and young males (15%) answered “yes” to the statement “I’ve experienced domestic violence” an almost identical proportion of young females (6%) and young males (5%) answered “yes” to the statement “my boyfriend/girlfriend physically forced me to have sex”.”

        http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2005.079020
        “Almost 24% of all relationships had some violence, and half (49.7%) of those were reciprocally violent. In nonreciprocally violent relationships, women were the perpetrators in more than 70% of the cases. Reciprocity was associated with more frequent violence among women (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=2.3; 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.9, 2.8), but not men (AOR=1.26; 95% CI=0.9, 1.7). Regarding injury, men were more likely to inflict injury than were women (AOR=1.3; 95% CI=1.1, 1.5), and reciprocal intimate partner violence was associated with greater injury than was nonreciprocal intimate partner violence regardless of the gender of the perpetrator (AOR=4.4; 95% CI=3.6, 5.5).”

        ht tp://pb.rcpsych.org/content/35/1/33.1.long
        “A review of 62 empirical studies of female-perpetrated intimate partner violence4 found rates of physical violence of 4-79% among adolescent girls, 12-39% among female college students and 13-68% among adult women. The researchers concluded that a significant proportion of females seeking help for victimisation are also perpetrators of intimate partner violence, and that those who treat battered women may need to consider addressing the perpetration of violence with their female clients. ”

        Some more data here: ht tps://netfiles.uiuc.edu/r-ferrer/VisitationSchedule/Domestic%20Violence/RADARreport-Myths-of-ABA-Commission-on-DV-Summary.pdf
        “3. In most cases, partner aggression does not escalate.13,14 If the conflict does turn into a full-scale altercation, the woman is more likely to be injured. Nonetheless, males represent 38% of persons who suffer physical injury from partner aggression. 15″

        ht tp://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm: “SUMMARY: This bibliography examines 286 scholarly investigations: 221 empirical studies and 65 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 371,600. ”

        So what I gather from these stats is half of domestic violence is reciprocal, that women are the aggressor more than men for physical violence, men more the aggressor for sexual violence. Women are injured more however men aren’t far behind @ 38% of injuries, and for DV homicides it’s about 1:3 ratio with more female victims. From what I’ve read in the teenagers physical n emotional violence is closer to equal levels, which may mean the current generation of people growing up are more likely to abuse each other at similar rates or could mean that young people in particular are abusing each other at similar rates. I also read that women use hitman, poisoning, etc more and this isn’t included in crime data whereas men use guns more, that could skew the results a bit especially if the coroner mistakes the cause of death.

        It appears the genders are equal in psychological abuse perpetration, women are more likely to commit physical abuse (for half of dv both are perps, for the other half 70% of the perps are women), men are more likely to commit sexual abuse. Stats vary wildly though, overall numbers seem to show males are about 1/3rd to 1/2 of DV victims.

  2. In fairness, and this probably varies across the States, but in the UK, hitting the wall close to someone’s head is assault. You don’t have to make contact, if the violence is such that you feel you’re going to get hurt. (as opposed to, say, slamming a door in another part of the house). So that is physical abuse and (many places) well defined as a crime. Similarly, financial abuse often includes criminal activity, such as theft and fraud.

    UK Law has recently changed to include a plethora of non-physical abusive behaviour, which is wonderful, and I think it’s really very important to talk about emotional abuse, particularly when so many of our cultural narratives make that stuff normal or even funny (I loathed the writing of the Ponds in Doctor Who for this reason – although Amy did often slap Rory, on top of everything else).

    But I do think it is worth bearing in mind that many abusive behaviours which people may discount because they don’t result in bruising have always been actual violent crimes. Destruction of property is another common one. And all those things – from name-calling up – are big red warning signs of more dangerous behaviour to come.

  3. Quick question: where do you draw the line between Emotional Abuse and Not-Emotional-Abuse?

    Is it still abuse if they clearly had no intention of making you feel as worthless as they accidentally made you feel?

    Is it still abuse if they didn’t realize they were harming you?

    Is it still abuse if they feel like the hurtful things they say are making you a better person by getting you to “try harder?”

    • Dunno, but it’s definitely possible to end up hurting people completely by accident.

    • I don’t think abusers usually wake up in the morning and say “I know! I am going to abuse people today! That sounds like fun!” I think they always have rationales that make sense to them about why what they’re doing is the right thing to do, or at least understandable.

      Ultimately, I think it comes down to whether it is helpful for the survivor to conceive of their experience as emotional abuse. And to a certain degree it doesn’t matter. If you’re asking the question “is this emotional abuse?”, it is certainly not a healthy relationship and something needs to change.

    • In my mother’s case, she used her severe depression as an excuse. If she didn’t have the energy to take care of her children, then it was her children’s job to behave well enough that she could find the energy. She never realized that no human children could be behave the way that she wanted, and still doesn’t understand that she did anything wrong. The ways she saw it, when she abused us it was because we were hurting her, so the solution was for her to make us stop hurting her however she could.

    • 1) Yes
      2) Yes
      3) It slightly depends what you mean by these words, in some cases yes and in some no. For example, someone could find it hurtful to be told that some aspect of their looks or behaviour was outside the norm but it might not be abusive to say it and it might change the persons behaviour for the better. Equally it might be pointless and highly emotionally abusive.
      a) Your thighs look horrible and you shouldn’t go around in public without a skirt or sarong over your swimsuit
      b) Sadly you have gained some weight and that doesn’t look great on you. At this moment a lot of things probably won’t look ‘stunning.’ Its certainly acceptable though, and I don’t think you’re going to find something perfect at this weight.

  4. As the saying goes:

    Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words cause permanent damage.

  5. ‘Ever wondered why they don’t just leave? That’s why.’ -THIS.

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