In light of it being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I want to take a moment to discuss the horrific abuse folks endure within our society. There is much to be said with the subject of domestic violence, but I will limit this article with some of the basics of this complex issue. In here I will discuss what it is, the types of abuse, cycle of violence, how to identify an abusive relationship, and what we can do find support or offer support to those affected by abuse.
To begin, domestic violence is abuse used toward a person(s) with the intent to dominate or enforce power over the victim(s). Domestic violence is a global issue which largely affects women, particularly women of colour, and the LGBTQ+ community, as well as children. It is committed by someone who is close to the victim, i.e. a family member or relative, a partner, ex-partner, a friend, or even a co-habitant (housemate/roommate). And although abuse is typically viewed as physical, there are actually several types of abuse that can be used to force power over someone. Not all of these types of abuse may be found in an abusive relationship, though in many cases multiple types of abuse may be used. That is, abuse could just be physical, or physical, verbal and mental abuse could be used at varying degrees throughout the relationship.
Types of Abuse/Violence
The types of abuse include, but are not limited to, physical, verbal, (which is interchangeable with emotional/psychological abuse), sexual, financial/economical or material, cultural, religious, and even neglect.
When thinking of domestic violence, or an abusive relationship, physical abuse is most commonly thought of as the type of abuse being used. But it is not the most common form of abuse used in an abusive relationship. Since it is often difficult to hide, and easier to identify when one is being physically abused, an abuser would most likely refrain from using physical abuse. And by the time physical abuse is used, the abuser has already used other forms of abuse to break down their victim. Physical abuse includes hitting, pushing, shaking, kicking, biting, and beating. The abuser will also target areas of the body that are not typically visible to others, such as leaving marks on the stomach, back and upper legs, to hide the abuse. It is important to note, that even if one is not left with any marks (bruises, or scratches) it does not mean that physical abuse is not occurring.
Verbal Abuse (Including Emotional/Psychological Abuse)
Verbal/emotional abuse is the most common form of abuse in a relationship, partly because it is easy to hide. But mostly, because most folks don’t talk about emotional abuse. I think that it’s also because we are taught that words are less significant, or less powerful than physical abuse (which is a conversation for another time). It is one of the worst types of abuse as it destroys one’s self-esteem and can make one second guess themselves; it does significant damage to the mind, just as physical abuse does to the body, but can be more difficult to heal from as it is not seen and often harder to process. Verbal abuse uses mental/psychological abuse to discredit, dismiss, taunt and withhold emotions, abilities, hopes, thoughts, and the identity of the victim with the intent of breaking their spirit and keeping them debilitated and dependable on the abuser.
One of the most complex forms of abuse, and extremely challenging to process as well as difficult to prosecute, especially in intimate relationships. Sex is meant to be loving, pleasurable, and to strengthen connections with said partner(s). There are other reasons why folks have sex, but the main thing I want to point out is that sex should always be consensual AND mutual. That is, one needs to agree to having sex and feel that they can equally participate in the experience. Sexual abuse is any sexual behaviour or act that is forced upon someone without their consent. It is often used against someone who is perceived as the weaker one, to perpetuate dominance. What makes this type of abuse complex is that in an intimate relationship, both persons may love each other and want to have sex (generally speaking), and the sex may be very pleasurable, even when it is not fully consensual. But that does not mean that the sex is not abusive. If sex is used as a means to dominate, control, or manipulate the other, it is NOT consensual, nor is it mutual, and therefore abusive, regardless of how pleasurable the sex is, and regardless if both parties love each other. Again, if both, or all, parties involved in the sexual act are not enthusiastic, or fully wanting to participate, it is not consensual and not mutual.
Financial, Economic of Material Abuse
This type of abuse is used to hold control over another person by withholding or controlling the finances, which often makes leaving the abusive relationship extremely difficult. Within financial abuse, the abuser will have control over the victim’s finances, giving them less of a chance to be able to leave, especially if the victim has nowhere else to go. The abuser could also withhold material or destroy or threaten to destroy possessions that are valuable or sentimental to the victim as a means to control or manipulate them.
Cultural and Religious Abuse
Cultural and religious abuse can be used as a means to belittle one’s beliefs or practices, and the abuser may prevent the victim from practicing or attending gatherings, where they would be surrounded by others who share the same beliefs or identities. It’s another tactic used to prevent the victim from finding support, and solace with others, especially with like-minded folk. Cultural and religious abuse is commonly used against victims who not close to, or not in an environment where their community is (specifically their cultural or religious community). That is, someone who is new to an environment where they are the minority, and struggle to find a community who share the same beliefs and practices as they do.
Cycle of Violence/Abuse
There are also multiple causes of abuse, but typically the abuser has experienced some sort of abuse themselves. The abuser may also suffer with low self-esteem, heavy alcohol or drug use, low income, depression and possibly suicidal tendencies, anger or hostility. Domestic violence is often described as a circle or pattern of abuse, which includes incidences of controlling and threatening behaviour, outbursts of violence or various types of abuse used to force power of their victim, followed by apologies, promises of change and then a honey-moon phase where no violence or abuse is used and makes the abuse appear to be a one-off situation, or that the abuser has changed. Then the cycle starts again. Below is a simple diagram to demonstrate this cycle of abuse/violence. This diagram is commonly used to identify whether or not a person is in an abusive relationship, and it is used so that one may recognise the warning signs or red flags of a possible abusive relationship.
Recognising Victim Responses to Cycle of Violence
💟 The Honeymoon Phase
This is how most relationships begin; love, kindness, romance, and deep affection for one another. All the fine things that we desire in a relationship. But in an abusive relationship, it’s this phase that keeps the victim staying, returning and forgiving the abuse. Sometimes the couple may even agree to counselling, or to stop any legal proceedings that may be taking place while the victim is trying to leave. It is in this “hearts and flowers” phase that creates feelings of hopefulness, happiness, and love, and creates an illusion to the bond/connection found early in the relationship.
💟 The Tension-building Phase
During the majority of the relationship, the victim often has feelings of walking on eggshells. That is, there is tension in the relationship as the abuser is irritated, withdraws affection, blames, shames, and ridicules the victim. The victims do anything they can to ease this tension by keeping quiet, agrees, reasons, and will do and say things to keep the abuser calm.
💟 The Explosive Phase
It is here that the explosive abuse occurs. Intense yelling, hitting, controlling, manipulating, or sexual abuse, is used heavily here. This is when the victim may call the police, fight back, report, or even attempt to leave the relationship. The victim will also try to reason and calm the abuser down in this phase and will still engage in behaviours to protect themselves or their children. The abuse is just more acute and intense during this phase, and often does not last for long periods of time. Though, the longer the person is in an abusive relationship, the more frequent and intense this phase becomes.
💟 The Apology, and Return to the Honeymoon Phase
It is here that the abuser will apologies, give gifts, promise to change and seek help. It is where the victim will take them back or return to the relationship and the relationship may go well for a while. Until the tension starts up again, and the cycle continues.
There is Hope, and There is Help
It is vitally important to know that abuse is the fault of the perpetrator and never the victim. There is support out there and one can break free from an abusive relationship. Hope is never lost, and help is available. Leaving an abusive relationship is extremely difficult and there are many complexities as to why a person stays, or why a person goes back to an abusive relationship. All of these reasons are valid, and no one is too weak, nor incapable of moving on. No one deserves to be abused. I am not going to go into detail about that in this article, but I do want to provide some tips on how one can find support or offer support.
💜Again, abuse is NEVER the fault of the victim.
💜There are many resources out there to help victims of domestic violence and I urge you to seek help if you need it. And for those who know someone in a possible abusive situation, PLEASE offer your support in any way that you can.
💜One can go online to find a domestic violence organisation. These organisations offer and array of resources, including a support line to provide the victim with further resources or even just someone to talk to.
💜One can call or text a support line. Even if one just wants to talk or ask questions about the relationship, I strongly encourage one to reach out. Just by opening up to someone can provide a victim validation, kindness and the strength needed to seek further help.
💜Always listen and BELIEVE the victim. They are already in a relationship where they are not supported and are dealing with intense emotions of uncertainty, self-blame and low self-esteem. Offering someone a kind ear creates trust which can lead to the victim finding their voice and build on their self-confidence.
💜To bring more awareness to this horrific issue, educate yourself, spread awareness, volunteer at an organisation specialising in domestic violence. Or really any organisation that offers some kind of support to the community. You will most likely find that in homeless shelters folks have endured horrific abuse.
💜Talk about abuse. Talk about your experiences in your relationships. Good and bad. Talk about your insecurities and your concerns. The more we talk about these things, the more we can learn, the more we can find support, the more we can offer support, and the more we can break down systems and cycles of abuse. You see, the abuser relies on our silence, as it gives them more power and validation for their behaviour. The more we discuss this, the more we speak up, the less power we are giving to the abuser, and in turn we give back, or take back more power for ourselves.
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