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Forms of Abuse


Physical abuse is any act of violence on the victim, and can include the following:

  • slapping
  • kicking
  • shoving
  • choking
  • pinching
  • forced feeding
  • pulling hair
  • punching
  • throwing things
  • burning
  • beating
  • use of weapons (gun, knives, or any object)
  • physical restraint – pinning against wall, floor, bed, etc.
  • reckless driving, etc.

Physical assault is the most obvious form of woman abuse, the most visible, and also the most lethal. Assaults often start small, perhaps a small shove during an argument, progress to a slap or forcefully grabbing you. Physical abuse (battering) usually becomes more severe over time, and more frequent, and can result in the death of the victim.

Threats can be as debilitating as the violence itself. A woman who has already suffered physical abuse can never doubt the abusers ability to carry out threats. Even where the victim has not been physically assaulted, the abuser will often demonstrate his ability to harm her by punching walls or furniture, kicking the cat/dog, or using aggressive behavior around her.

However, many threats are not physical but are part of the ongoing emotional abuse. The abuser may threaten to ‘disappear’ with the children, report his partner to Social Services as an unfit mother or ‘have you locked up in a mental institution’, harm a significant third party (family member), leave or commit suicide. Whether the threats are of a physical, sexual or emotional nature, they are all designed to further control the victim by instilling fear and ensuring that she comply.

Sexual abuse can be defined as any sexual encounter without consent and includes any unwanted touching, forced sexual activity, be it oral, anal or vaginal, forcing the victim to perform sexual acts, painful or degrading acts during intercourse, and exploitation through photography or prostitution. The abuser my use violence to rape his partner (this is most common where physical violence is also current) or he may use only enough force to control his partner’s movements. Coercion or manipulation in the form of threats, emotional or psychological abuse may also be used, leaving the victim to submit to unwanted sexual acts out of fear or guilt. The abuser may, for instance, imply that should she not submit, he will hit her, leave her and find ‘another woman’, or punish her in some other way. Or the abuser may insist on sex following a physical attack for the victim to ‘prove’ she has forgiven him. Whatever form of coercion is used, be it physical, financial or emotional, any sexual act which is not based on mutual consent constitutes sexual abuse.

Sexual Abuse can involve any of the following:

  • excessive jealousy
  • calling you sexually derogatory names
  • criticizing you sexually
  • forcing unwanted sexual act
  • forcing you to strip, or forcefully stripping you
  • sadistic sexual acts
  • withholding sex and/or affection
  • making sex conditional on your behavior or agreement to include practices you are not happy about (e.g. using porn or sex toys)
  • minimizing or denying your feelings about sex or sexual preferences
  • forcing sex after physical assault
  • using coercion to force sex
  • taking unwanted sexual photos, sharing these with other people/internet without your consent
  • forcing you into prostitution
  • forcing sex when you are ill or tired

When sexual abuse occurs within marriage, the victim will often feel very confused as to whether or not she has been ‘raped’. It seems obvious to all (general public, law enforcement agencies, religious leaders, etc.) that when a woman (or man) is raped out on the street by a stranger, that rape has occurred and is wrong. When rape occurs within the marriage, neither abuser nor victim may consider it legal rape. This is partially due to the general acceptance of traditions within our culture which tell us that it is the wife’s duty to fulfill her husband’s sexual demands. Many women (both religious and non-religious) don’t believe they have the right to refuse sex, that ’sex on demand’ is an unwritten part of the marriage contract. When they have been raped by their husband, they are inclined to take responsibility for the abuse, furthering the feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth. This blame-taking is further increased by the abuser’s justifications, e.g. ‘it is your fault for saying no …‘. When no actual physical violence was used (i.e. coercion or force-only) many men will deny that rape has actually occurred and treat the abuse as though it was normal and by joint consent. This has the effect of further confusing the victim as to the reality of her experience. Marriage, however, is a contract based on mutual love, respect and consideration.

Many forms of abuse are obviously cruel. Emotional abuse is more subtle. Quite often such abuse goes unseen, as even the victim does not recognize that she is being abused. Although emotional abuse does not leave black eyes or visible bruises, it is often more seriously damaging to your self-esteem. Emotional abuse is cruel and scars your soul. Physical or sexual abuse is always accompanied and often follows emotional abuse. Emotional battering is used to wear the victim down (often over a long period of time), to undermine her self-concept until she is willing to take responsibility for her abuser’s actions and behavior towards her, or simply accept it. There are many categories of emotional/psychological abuse. They encompass a variety of behaviors that will be easily recognizable by those experiencing them, and often remain completely unnoticed by others. They include:

The abuser will control whom the victim sees, where she goes, whom she speaks to and what she does. This can take the form of simply not allowing her to use the phone, have her friends around or visit her family, or ensuring it simply isn’t worth it by being in a bad mood because she left some housework undone, making her feel guilty that she was out enjoying herself while he worked, or even encouraging her – theoretically – to make friends, and then discounting them or complaining that she cares more for her friends/family/hobby than she does him or is neglecting him. Some abusers may move home frequently to prevent their victim from building a social support network.

Many abusers justify their control over their victim by stating that it is proof of their love, or that they worry about their safety when out, etc. In reality however, the abuser needs to isolate his victim to feel secure themselves, they feel as though any relationship, be it family, friend or colleague, will undermine their authority over and take their partner away from them (i.e. poses a threat). The effect of this isolation is that the victim feels very alone in her struggle, doesn’t have anyone with whom to do a ‘reality check’, and is ultimately more dependant on the abuser for all her social needs.

Forms of Isolation include:

  • checking up on you
  • accusing you of unfaithfulness
  • moving to an isolated area
  • ensuring you lack transport or a telephone
  • making your friends/family feel uncomfortable when visiting so that they cease to visit
  • punishing you for being 10 minutes late home from work by complaining, bad moods, criticism or physical abuse
  • not allowing you to leave the house on your own or taking away your passport
  • demanding a report on your actions and conversations
  • preventing you from working
  • not allowing any activity which excludes him
  • finding fault with your friends/family
  • insisting on taking you to and picking you up from work

When thinking of Verbal Abuse we tend to envisage the abuser hurling insulting names at the victim, and while this obviously does happen, there are many more forms than name-calling. The abuser may use critical, insulting or humiliating remarks (e.g. you’ve got a mind like ditchwater; you’re stupid; etc.), he may withhold conversation and refuse to discuss issues, or he may keep you up all night insisting on talking when you need sleep. Verbal abuse undermines your sense of worth, your self-concept (i.e. who you think you are) by discounting your ideals, opinions or beliefs.

Verbal abuse can include:

  • yelling or shouting at you
  • making threats
  • insulting you or your family
  • being sarcastic or mocking about or criticizing your interests, opinions or beliefs
  • humiliating you either in private or in company
  • sneering, growling, name-calling
  • withholding approval, appreciation, or conversation
  • refusing to discuss issues which are important to you
  • laughing or making fun of you inappropriately
  • leaving nasty messages
  • accusing you of unfaithfulness, not trying hard enough or purposely doing something to annoy
  • blaming you for his failures or other forms of abuse

All of these abusive behaviors prohibit normal, healthy interaction between two adults as well as a lack of respect for individual thoughts, feelings, and opinions. A healthy, mutual interaction and conversation between two persons respects and promotes the right of each partner to their own individual thoughts, perceptions and values.

Financial abuse can take many forms, from denying you all access to funds, to making you solely responsible for all finances while handling money irresponsibly himself. Money becomes a tool by which the abuser can further control the victim, ensuring either her financial dependence on him, or shifting the responsibility of keeping a roof over the family’s head onto the victim while simultaneously denying your ability to do so or obstructing you.

Financial abuse can include the following:

  • preventing you from getting or keeping a job
  • denying you sufficient housekeeping
  • having to account for every penny spent
  • denying access to cheque book/account/finances
  • putting all bills in your name
  • demanding your paychecks
  • spending money allocated to bills/groceries on himself
  • forcing you to beg or commit crimes for money
  • spending Child Benefit on himself
  • not permitting you to spend available funds on yourself or children