Guest Column: What is domestic violence? What is domestic abuse?

Editor’s Note: This is part two in a four-part series about domestic violence.

By Teresia Rose-Reed
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | Domestic Violence can be difficult to define. Generally, the statute is as follows: Domestic violence (also named domestic abuse, battering, or family violence) is a pattern of behavior which involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. Spousal abuse is generally defined as any abusive conduct between intimate partners who are married, dating, or residing in the same residence. … The term “spousal abuse” is often used interchangeably with other related terms such as domestic violence, domestic abuse, family violence, or intimate partner violence.
When people think of domestic abuse, they often focus on domestic violence. But domestic abuse occurs whenever one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person.
Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.
Domestic violence and abuse do not discriminate. Abuse happens among heterosexual couples and in same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimized, men are also abused—especially verbally and emotionally. The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and create feelings of helplessness and isolation. No one should have to endure this kind of pain.
Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. When you are in an abusive relationship, it is hard to believe you are in it. It usually progresses over time. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it.
There are many signs of an abusive relationship. The most telling sign is fear of your partner. If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.
Physical abuse is the use of physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside of the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack.
Sexual abuse is also a form of physical abuse. Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Furthermore, people whose partners abuse them physically and sexually are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed.
Sometimes it is hard to define the incidents of physical abuse as they seem minor when compared to those you have read about, seen on television, or heard other women talk about. There isn’t a “better” or “worse” form of physical abuse; you can be severely injured as a result of being pushed, for example.
The incidents of physical abuse may have only occurred one or two times in the relationship. Studies indicate that if your spouse/partner has injured you once, it is likely he will continue to physically assault you.
The physical assaults likely stopped when you became passive and gave up your right to express yourself as you desire, to move about freely and see others, and to make decisions. It is not a victory if you have to give up your rights as a person and a partner in exchange for not being assaulted!
Emotional abuse: It’s a bigger problem than you think. Not all abusive relationships involve physical violence. Just because you’re not battered and bruised doesn’t mean you’re not being abused. Many men and women suffer from emotional abuse, which is no less destructive. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is often minimized or overlooked—even by the person being abused.
The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence—leaving you feeling that there’s no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing.
Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.
You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, though, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.
Economic or financial abuse is the most subtle form of emotional abuse, yet has significant potential to establish control over the victim. Remember, an abuser’s goal is to control you, and he or she will frequently use money to do so. Economic or financial abuse includes:
– Rigidly controlling your finances
– Withholding money or credit cards
– Making you account for every penny you spend
– Withholding basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)
– Restricting you to an allowance
– Preventing you from working or choosing your own career
– Sabotaging your job (making you miss work, calling constantly)
– Stealing from you or taking your money
It is important to remember that abusive behavior is the abuser’s choice. Despite what many people believe, domestic violence and abuse is not due to the abuser’s loss of control over his or her behavior. In fact, abusive behavior and violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to control you.

Teresia Rose-Reed

Teresia Rose-Reed is a certified grief recovery specialist.

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