Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Definitions of Abuse

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; a call to action to bring attention to an issue which statistically affects 1 in 4 women within their lifetime. This month provides an opportunity for awareness raising and advocacy, and serves as a platform for those who are systematically silenced to have their voices heard.

Throughout this month, Evie will be discussing key areas of domestic abuse on our blog. Whilst reading these articles, Evie implores those from the outside looking in to remove any predisposed notions of prejudice which may be rooted in a victim blaming mentality. In acknowledging abuse, we must always come from the position of belief in order to do no further harm.

Below are a list of definitions of different types of abuse, including examples and contextual information. Please refer to this list if you are unsure of any terminology discussed in the articles throughout Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. It is important to note also that these different types of abuse are rarely experienced in isolation, rather a perpetrator will enact multiple forms of abuse throughout a relationship, often resorting to different types (such as physical or sexual abuse) when common forms of control are perceived to no longer work.

Those who may be reading these articles from the inside looking out may find yourself triggered by some of the content, and that is okay, that is normal. If whilst reading this you find yourself identifying with some of these patterns of abuse, please refer to our previous blog on how to access support in Sheffield and the South Yorkshire region.


Coervice Control

Coercive control is an act or pattern of acts of assaults, threats, humiliation, intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim. Controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent on their perpetrator by isolating them from support, exploiting them, diriving them of independence and regulating their every day behaviour.

Coercive control creates invisible chains and a sense of fear that pervades all elements of a victim’s life. It works to limit their human rights by depriving them of their liberty and reducing their ability for action. Coercive control is often insidious and can be very hard to prove. In many cases, a perpetrator of coercive control may be considered as charming and lovely in front of your friends and family, however you are aware of signals or signs that maintain control. This façade is a tool used to gaslight victims (see below).

Some common examples of coercive control include:

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family

  • Depriving you of basic needs, such as food

  • Monitoring your time, checking your phone or your location

  • Monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware

  • Taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear, when you can sleep

  • Depriving you access to support services, including medical support for conditions which may be related or unrelated to the abuse

  • Repeatedly putting you down, making you feel worthless and useless. This is often in relation to your relationship, for example “no one else will love you like I do, and who could love you when you look like that? You’ll never find anyone else”.

  • Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you

  • Controlling your finances

  • Making threats and intimidating you

Emotional

Emotional, psychological and mental abuse are often closely linked terms which are used interchangeably. The aim of the perpetrator of emotional abuse is to reduce he confidence and esteem of their victims in order to make them compliant and submissive.

Emotional abuse in relationships can include but are not limited to; constant put downs that make you feel selfish, worthless and useless, guilt tripping, making someone feel like they’re a bad person, parent, partner, body shaming, isolating someone from their family and friends, manipulating fears or phobias, neglect and using tactics of ignoring or silence treatment, making false allegations.

Many survivors of abuse in relationships state that the impact of the abuse is much worse than the physical violence they experienced as it is more insidious, harder to identify and can have long lasting damage to your sense of self. However, emotional abuse is much more difficult to prove, obtain protection from and even to get others to take seriously. One thing that is advisable if you feel you are being emotionally abused, is to keep a diary logging in detail every action and quotation from your abuser, along with how this makes you feel and effects your day to day life.

FGM

FGM stands for Female Genital Mutilation. It is a practice which involves the alteration of a woman’s vagina. FGM is a practice which can be linked to many cultures, but should not be stereotyped as a cultural practice in order to other or demonise a community, religious group or individual - the commonality of FGM often means that a survivor of this may not recognise themselves as a victim, they may feel they are normal and the identification of FGM may be extremely traumatising.

Whilst FGM is a traditional practice, it’s underlying roots enforce patriarchal power and control mechanisms based on notions that a woman’s worth is directly correlated with her sexual purity and genital appearance.  FGM was made illegal in the UK in 1985; however migrant communities may be unaware of legal differences and health risks. It is worth noting that there are no health benefits to FGM. It can however cause serious harm including; constant pain, pain or difficulty having sex, repeated infections which could lead to infertility, bleeding, cysts and abscesses, incontinence or problem weeing, mental health issues including PTSD and problems during childbirth which can be life threatening to both mother and baby.

In practice, FGM is usually conducted in one of 4 ways:

  • Type 1 – Clitoridectomy – removing part or all of the clitoris

  • Type 2  - Excision – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (the lips that surround the vagina) with or without the removal of the labia majora (the larger outer lips)

  • Type 3 – Infibulation – narrowing the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia

  • Type 4 – Other – harmful procedures to the female genitals which may include; pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area

Financial

Financial abuse is an aspect of ‘coercive control’ (see above). Financial abuse seldom happens in isolation and is often used alongside other forms of abuse. Financial abuse may look like different things to different people, and can vary in extremity. For example it may seem as small and insignificant as being forced or guilt tripped into paying for daily items, or having access to daily items restricted. It could be linked to a perpetrator’s gambling problem, debt or bankruptcy that is in a victim’s name. It could also be sole financial dependency on a partner, if for example the perpetrator is the only working member of the household, or if a person’s wages are restricted or redirected. It could also look like financial support, gifts or loans when a victim is in need, which are then used to manipulate and control after the fact. The 2019 Domestic Abuse Report: The Economics of Abuse found that:

  • 31.9% of respondents said their access to money during the relationship was controlled by the perpetrator

  • A quarter of respondents said that their partner did not let them have money for essentials

  • A third of respondents had to give up their home as a result of the abuse or leaving an abusive relationship. Nine of which found themselves homeless as a result of leaving

  • 43.1% of respondents told us they were in debt as a result of the abuse

  • 56.1% felt that the abuse had impacted their ability to work, whilst over two fifths felt that the abuse had negatively impacted their long-term employment prospects and earnings

Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is where one of both parties do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, mental health issues or reduced capacity, can not) consent to marriage as they are pressured, or abuse is used, to force them to do so. It is recognised in the UK as a form of domestic or child abuse, and a serious abuse of human rights.

Forced marriages are often confused with Arranged Marriages; however it is important to note that, whilst arranged marriages may include elements of coercion, they are traditional practices which are not intrinsically abusive or forceful.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will may include, the use of physical threats or violence, coercion and control, emotional methods such as guilt tripping or Gaslighting, honour-related abuse by making someone feel like they are bringing ‘shame’ on their family if they were not to go through with it, and manipulating a person’s financial situation.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a tactic of emotional abuse and coercive control, whereby a person uses psychological manipulation in order to maintain power and control. Gaslighting works by sowing seeds of doubt in a victim’s mind, making them question their own memory, perception, sanity and ultimately, reality. Victims of abuse will often have their experiences and feelings minimised to the extent that they are forced to believe that what is happening to them is normal and, if they were to protest or defend themselves then they are the ones who are acting unreasonably.

Symptoms of gaslighting can become so severe that victims are diagnosed with various and multiple mental health issues as a result, particularly when practitioners fail to identify the abuse. This often serves to legitimate the abuser’s behaviour; the victim is just “mentally ill”, her feelings are not justifiable reactions but can now be dismissed as simply a product of their “illness”. The victim is labelled “crazy” or “psycho”. This usually is reinforced by family and friends who can be complicit in the gaslighting.

The perpetrator ensures only sees a consistent, reasonable, charming and loving persona of themselves, whilst they see an unreasonable, chaotic, emotionally unstable and worrying persona from the victim. This allows a perpetrator to manipulate the narrative, play the victim themselves and make their partner seem like they are the problem. In severe yet not uncommon incidences, victims of gaslighting have been sectioned due to the how their experiences of abuse are presenting.

Honour-Based Violence

The CPS and Home Office adopt the following definition of HBV: “Honour-based violence is a crime or incident which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community”.

Honour-Based Violence is an umbrella term to encompass various offences covered by existing legislation. HBV can be described as a collection of practices, which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or individual honour. Such violence can occur when a perpetrator perceive that a relative or partner has shamed the family/community/partner.

Common lifestyle choices which are seen to bring shame can include; sex outside of marriage, marrying outside of your culture or religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, career choices and dress sense.

Physical

Physical abuse includes non-accidental use of force that results in injury, pain, impairment or harm to the body. Physical abuse is often inflicted as a method of control and punishment. It is often precursor to other types of abuse, or can be a resorting tool to regain power when control is perceived to be lost. There is a maintained misconception in our society that domestic abuse is only physical. This transcends through legal and justice systems, where statistically, victims are more likely to be believed, taken seriously and see their case go to court, if there is evidence of physical abuse.

Signs that your friend or loved one could be being physically abused include; unaccounted for or unusual patterns of cuts, bruises, burns, grip or restraint marks. However, less obvious signs may include; social isolation or withdrawal, vague medical complaints, pelvic and vaginal pain and conditions, sexual health issues, mental health issues, fearfulness and substance abuse.

Sexual

Sexual violence is any unwanted and non-consensual sexual act or activity including but not limited to; rape, sexual abuse, sexual control and coercion, forcing, pressuring guilt tripping you into acts you are not comfortable with, sexual harassment, forced sex work.

Common misconceptions still prevail regarding sexual abuse in relationships. Marital rape was only criminalised in the UK in 2003. Until then sex was perceived as a right within relationships, something which perpetuates a rape culture which prioritises a man’s needs over women’s. According to the ONS, over half (57%) of serious sexual assaults on women aged 16+, were perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner. Sexual violence and assault must be reported immediately. It is instinct for victims to shower or wash their clothes in order gain a feeling of cleansing themselves by removing their perpetrator from their body. It is advised however not to shower, wash your clothes or dispose of any potential evidence such as condoms or sex toys.

Alongside the police, many organisations and services can support you if you have been sexual assaulted or abused if you do not wish to report your assault at this time. For more information please visit the NHS website.

Stalking and Harrassment

Stalking is a pattern of persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered, scared, anxious or harassed. Some examples of stalking are; regularly giving unwanted gifts, persistent calling and texting or messaging on social media, turning up to your home or place of work uninvited, surveying you and watching your movements either in person or with spyware, appearing unannounced to maintain intimidation, enlisting friends or relatives to keep an eye on you.  

The Metropolitan Police Service report that 40% of victims of domestic homicides had also been stalked. Despite this, reporting stalking and harassment, and obtaining protective orders against a perpetrator is extremely difficult, long winded and must go through court. A perpetrator must be given a warning by the police first, giving them the benefit of the doubt in case they were not aware their actions were considered illegal, further actions are then considered stalking and be seen as a criminal offence.

When considered in a broader context, whereby statistically victims do not tend to report stalking and harassment to the police until the 100th incident, the process of giving perpetrators warnings not only serves to invalidate a victim’s experiences and creates a distrust of the police, but it also gives a perpetrator the opportunity to either cease without repercussion, or formulate more insidious and harder to prove methods of abuse. Due to this current system it is advised that victims of stalking and harassment report any and all incidences, including those which may seem “unworthy” of police time, such as unwanted texts or calls.

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