Abuse is any behavior or action that can be used to control, intimidate, threaten, or injure another person. It is a misuse of power which uses the bonds of intimacy, trust and dependency to make the victim vulnerable. Abuse can occur to anyone at any age, any walk of life, any gender, and any socioeconomic status. Abuse often occurs with neglect, another form of abuse. Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological, but is not limited to these categories. Any type of manipulations, misuse, or exploitation of power in order to control the thoughts, actions, behaviors or feelings of another person (or groups of people) is also considered to be abuse. Abuse can occur anywhere: at home (including spousal rape, domestic violence, or child sexual abuse), sexual harassment in the workplace, in an institutional setting (including elder abuse, financial abuse bullying), as well as hate crimes against communities and/or religions. The effects of abuse are felt by victims across the lifespan from children through elders. Abuse is any type of pattern of intimation and/or threatening behaviors that cause a person (or persons) to feel powerless, stressed, ashamed, scared, hopeless, uncomfortable, or discouraged.
If you’re a victim or abuse, past or present, you are not alone. Millions of people across the world are struggling to maintain their safety, dignity, and self-worth during ongoing abuse. Millions more try hard to recover from the wounds (literally and figuratively) they’ve sustained. There is always help for victims, however sometimes it’s not easily accessed. See below for some outside resources.
There are a number of types of abuse that can occur (up to, and including) together or separately, but all involve actions of the abuser with the sole intention of hurt their victims
Types of Abusive Behaviors:
While this list attempts to be inclusive, there is no way it covers all of the types of abuse.
Physical Abuse: may be the easiest of all types of abuse to recognize as abuse as it is generally straight-forward. Physical abuse can entail hitting or beating another person with an object, body part, or weapon and may include hitting, slapping, pushing, beating, whipping. Over time, mild physical abuse can worsen and become increasingly dangerous. Physical abuse can sometimes turn deadly. Here are some examples of physical abuse:
- Refusal to let a person leave
- Holding, hugging, and/or touching when it is not wanted
- Caring in an abusive manner – (example: giving a person too much medicine to keep them confined)
- Restraining a person or group of people to prevent them from leaving
- Slapping, punching, kicking, choking
- Pointing a finger or poking someone
Verbal Abuse: is a sometimes-confusing type of abuse and can include constant name-calling, labeling, ridicule, making fun of, mocking, actual spoken threats, and regular bullying and can occur to anyone regardless of their path in life. Unfortunately, can be very hard to prove verbal abuse as it’s often hard to obtain evidence, even though the actions are incredibly damaging to the victims(s), leading to possible substance abuse, long-term damage to their self-esteem and self-image. Through subtle manipulations, a victim can be told that it’s “all in their head,” “a joke,” and “in their head.” Here are some examples of verbal abuse:
- Blocking or diverting conversations to things that the abuser wants to talk about, disrespecting the thing(s) their victim wants to talk about
- Abusive anger can include any yelling, shouting, notably out of context with the conversation and/or situation
- Trivializing the feelings, actions, and thoughts of the victim as “unimportant”
- Withholding their thoughts, feelings, and emotions to put a barrier between the abuser and his victims(s)
- Discounting another’s feelings, thoughts, and actions so that the victim feels as though they are not allowed their own opinion
- Forgetting can be an array of behaviors, forgetting to check in, forgetting to call, and/or forgetting a date or appointment
- Countering (arguing that the other person is wrong for their feelings) all/almost all conversations with the victim, therefore dismissing the victim’s feelings, thoughts, or experiences regularly enough that the victim feels continually put down or stupid (example: telling someone repeatedly that they are stupid, denying the victim their own feelings)
- Accusing and blaming the victim(s) for circumstances directly out of their control (example: “Why do you cook food that makes me fat?” and “you’re the reason I’m failing at work”)
- Threatening their victim(s) overtly “if YOU don’t do THIS MY WAY, I’m leaving” or subtly (example: “if you don’t do this the RIGHT (my) way, everyone will see how stupid you are.”)
- Denying, rationalizing bad behavior on the part of the abuser, denying that his victim(s) have any right to be upset with their abuser
Psychological/Emotional Abuse: often occurs with verbal abuse and is an act that is designed to humiliate, denigrate confine, isolate, intimidate, infantalize, or any other sort of behaviors that affect a victim’s sense of identity, self-worth, or dignity. Emotional abuse can be terribly hard to identify, even for the victim themselves, as it can be incredibly subtle. Many victims of psychological abuse do not recognize the abuse for what it is until many years later. Examples of some types of psychological and/or emotional abuse:
- Intentionally causing panic, terror, and fear within their victims
- Gas-lighting occurs when an abuser convinces their victim – in order to maintain control – that something clearly incorrect is, in fact, right (example: “your mom hates you,” “you’re too fat,” “the sky is yellow, not blue.”)
- Manipulation of the situation, of the victim, and/or the criminal justice system to their abusers benefit
- Threatening to withhold food, water, and many other life-sustaining things
- Jealous, suspicion about their victim (example: “why did your coworker call you at home?”)
- Socially isolating their victims from work, friends, and/or family in order to gain additional control over their victim (example: “those people don’t love you, anyway”)
- Withholding key information from their victim (example: birth certificates, passports, mortgage documents, and/or other important documents.)
- Playing mind-games such as the silent treatment, trying to get their victim the response the abuser craves, being super nice, then super mean without any explanation or change in the situation
- Excessive criticism in front of others, in public, or alone
- Stalking and/or harassment of a victim the abuser knows or may not know
Social Abuse: refers to the behavior of an abuser who wants to gain control of their victim’s life, by isolating the victim from their friends, family, and participation in any type of social activities. The goal of a social abuser is to isolate his victim by becoming their central – and only – support system. Victims, now cut off from their loved ones, have an especially difficult task to leave an abusive relationship. Signs of social abuse can include:
- Belittling the victim in public arenas
- Shaming and embarrassing the victim in public
- Constant critique of the victim’s loved ones
- Creating a scene in public
- Refusing to allow victim to visit family and friends
- Being rude to the victim’s family, thereby deepening the rift between victim and their loved ones
- Refusing to take responsibility or care for children
- Rapidly changing personalities with different people
- Using children as a means to control the victim
- Moving a victim to a new area, city, or country to isolate them
- Refusing to allow victim access to the internet, social media, or a telephone
- Embarrassing the victim in front of others
- Monitoring the victim’s emails, social media accounts, phone calls
Economic/Financial Abuse: Financial abuse involves an abuser controlling a victim’s ability to acquire, use, or access to joint finances. Studies show that in physically abusive relationships, over 99% of victims are also victims of economic abuse
- Victims may be prevented from working
- Deliberately sabotaging victims at work
- Refusing to let the victim advance in their positions at work
- Victim may be required to turn any money they earn to their abuser
- Abusers may insist that if the victim has money, they must account for every single cent spent
- Abuser may steal money from their victim
- Controlling all the money in the relationship
- Withholding money and/or giving the victim an “allowance”
- Insisting that the victim sign up for multiple lines of credit and/or writing bad checks
- Refusing to pay bills therefore decreasing a victim’s credit score
Sexual Abuse and Assault: refers to any physical, sexual, verbal, or visual act that forces a person – or child – to engage in sexual contact without their completely affirmative consent or against their will. Sexual assault in the United States is much more common than once thought. In fact, one in three women and one in six men are survivors of sexual violence. Many victims of sexual abuse blame themselves for their assault; however, rape, sexual assault, and/or sexual abuse is never, ever the fault of the victim. Many people believe that rape/sexual assault is expression of sexual urges, but this is not true. Rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault have nothing to do with actual sexual relations, and are used to show power, inflict humiliation, and/or physical damage to the victim.
Rape refers to forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration through physical force, like being restrained or drugged, or threats of violence and/or humiliation, although the precise definition varies.
Consent refers to the agreement and approval of sexual intercourse with another person/people without coercion or force, however, consent can be revoked at any point during the sexual experience. It’s important to note that a person who is underage, impaired by drugs or alcohol, physically, mentally, or emotionally unable cannot provide consent. Additionally, victims who do not fight the sexual act are not giving consent.
Sexual abuse may involve:
- Forcing someone(s) into sexual relations that the victim does not consent to
- May occur between spouses; consent must be given during each sexual experience
- Deliberately inflicting pain on their victim
- Refusing to use birth control (reproductive abuse)
- Unwanted touching, fondling, and caressing
- Forcing the victim into sexual positions that they do not like
- Choking during sex (not prearranged)
- Intentionally giving the victim an STI, STD, or HIV/AIDS
- Forcing a person to get pregnant and/or have an abortion against their will
- Engaging in affairs with other individuals
- Engaging in sexual relations with a person who is unable to give their consent (example: an underage person, a person passed out from drugs and/or alcohol at a party, a person who is in a coma, a person of diminished capacity)
- Deliberately plying the victim with drugs such as GHB (the “date rape” drug), rohypnol, or ketamine to ensure their victim(s) do not recall what happened while they are passed out
Child Sexual Abuse: is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor once or on a recurring schedule. A child cannot ever consent to any form of sexual activity. When a child sexual abuser (pedophile) engages a child sexually, the crime can have lasting effects on the victim(s) for many years afterward. While child sexual abuse can involve physical contact with the pedophile, there are other, non-physical forms of the sexual abuse. Some types of child sexual abuse include:
- Fondling or touching a child in a sexual manner
- Masturbation in the presence of the child or forcing the child to masturbate in front of their abuser
- Exposing a child to the abusers genitals
- Obscene emails, texts, phone calls, and photographs
- Creating, keeping, and/or distributing pornographic pictures of children
- Any type of sexual touching with a minor (oral, anal, or vaginal)
- Trafficking a child for the purpose of sexual abuse to a wider audience
- Approximately 93% of child sexual abuse are between a child or teen and someone they know and trust
- Any other sexual behaviors that can damage a child’s physical, emotional, or mental welfare
Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse:
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse:
- Torn, bloody, or stained underwear
- Challenges when the child sits or walks
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Frequent yeast infection
- Bleeding, bruises, or abnormal swelling in the child’s genital area
- Pain, itching, or painful burning in the child’s genital area
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse:
- Sudden change in hygiene (begins to bathe too much or refuses the bath
- Signs/symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or depression
- Sudden suicidal thoughts
- Newly expressed, inexplicable phobias
- Newly expressed trouble in school (excessive absences, drop in grades)
- Nightmares, bed-wetting, and night terrors
- Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
- Engages in self-injurious behaviors
- Avoids physical contact
- Increase in regressive behaviors (thumb-sucking)
- Runs away
Neglect and Abandonment: (occasionally described as passive abuse) involves the failure on a caregiver to meet a dependent person’s (a child, an elderly person, a person with diminished mental capacity, etc) basic physical and medical needs. Neglect may also include emotional deprivation, abandonment, and/or desertion of the victim. There are several different types of neglect that may occur together or separately:
- Physical Neglect refers to a caregivers who fail to provide food, shelter, or even supervision of the victims in their care
- Emotional Neglect refers to a pattern of behavior that involves failure to provide for emotional needs, failure to provide psychiatric care, inattention to the victim’s emotional needs, allowing a child to use drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes
- Educational Neglect refers to a caregiver that does not provide schooling options for their victim, does not attempt to provide educational opportunities to a victim with developmental delays
- Medical Neglect refers to a caregiver denying their victim appropriate, necessary, and or prescribed medical care, such as not filling or giving the victim prescription medication, not seeking treatment for physical or mental conditions, and denying the victim access to medical care
Hate Crimes: any type of abuse directed toward an individual or a group of individuals based solely on some characteristic they have in common and are used to inflict suffering and/or a means of control over the victim(s). Practicing violence against those perceived to be of different races, different walks of life, disabilities, skin color, countries of origin, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, different religions and customs are called hate crimes. A “hate crime” usually refers to criminal acts motivated by bias against one or more of the social groups listed above, or by bias against their derivatives. Hate crimes may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, hate mail, or offensive graffiti.
Effects of Abuse:
There are vast effects of abuse (especially that suffered by children or long-term abuse) but may include some, none, or many of these:
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal tendencies
- Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
- Eating disorders
- Problems with memory
- Complex PTSD
- Impaired boundaries in other relationships following the abuse
- Losing the ability to trust others
- Problems in parenting
- Problems with memory
- Somatization – the coversion of depression, anxiety, and other problems into actual physical symptoms
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Problems in interpersonal relationships and friendships
- Development of a personality disorder
- Lowered self-estem
- Blaming oneself for the abuse
- Sexual problems and disorders
- Eating disorders
- Impaired self-capacities
Am I A Victim of Abuse?
Nobody wants to admit that they are being abused, as they may see the abuse as their own fault, embarrassing, and/or “not THAT bad.” If you can answer yes to any of the following, you may be in an abusive relationship:
- Do your friends and family warn you that they are worried about your safety with your partner?
- Has your partner ever been physically abusive (hitting, kicking, choking?
- Has your partner ever forced sexual relations with you?
- Does your partner have a history of bad relationships?
- Does your partner threaten to leave you if you don’t do the things he demands?
- Have you noticed your partner trying to isolate you from your family and friends?
- Does your partner manipulate you, use the silent treatment, or guilt trip you to get you to do something for him?
- Does you partner control who you see, how much you spend, and/or become irate if you see friends of the opposite sex?
- Does your partner need to know where you are at all times of the day?
- Does your partner have a history of violence, a bad temper, or brag about how he’d abused others?
- Is your partner bossy; does he try to control who you see and what you do?
- Does your partner say it’s your fault when he treats you badly?
- Are you treated like crap by your partner around your family and friends?
- Does your partner humiliate you in public, alone, or in front of friends?
- Does your partner insist that they remain in charge of all the finances?
- Are you actually afraid of setting off your partner and making them angry?
- Does your partner treat you “like dirt” or humiliate you in front of friends and family?
- Are you afraid of how your partner will react to things outside of your control?
If you answered yes to any of these, you may be in an abusive relationship. For support, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY: 1-800-787-3224.
If You Suspect Someone Is The Victim of Abuse:
If you suspect someone is being abused and you don’t know what to say or how – or IF you should – bring it up, the answer is to ask. While the victim may forcibly deny it, expressing your concern may help save their life.
Try opening the conversation with something like:
“I’ve noticed, this, this, and this (your reasons for suspecting abuse) and I’m concerned about you. Can I help?” Maybe they won’t want to talk to you then, but knowing someone cares about them, sometimes that’s a port in a storm.
If you ask, be ready to support the person in a positive way.
- Talk to the victim privately
- Let go of all your preconceived notions of abuse
- Remember, as frustrating as it is, there is no quick fix solution to getting out of an abusive relationship
- To empower this person, learn a little about domestic violence by finding out about available services in your area
When you are listening, remember:
- Support and respect the victim and the decisions they make – Even if you do not agree.
- Say “I believe you.”
- Don’t get angry at the victim – the abuse is not their fault
- Validate the victim’s feelings, “Your feelings are very normal.”
- Do not judge
- Offer specific forms of help: “I can help you find a counselor” versus, “Let me know what you need.”
- Point out ways that they have been strong and courageous.
- Tell the victim that the abuse is not her fault
- Hold your tongue when you’re talking about the victim’s abuser – do not bash them
National Abuse Hotlines:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1.800.656.HOPE
Elder Abuse (state hotlines vary): Visit National Center on Elder Abuse for a directory of state hotlines
Additional Abuse Resources:
Rape and Sexual Abuse Survivors Support from Pandora’s Project – this website offers support and information for those who’ve suffered sexual abuse or rape
Survivors of Incest Anonymous – This site offers a support network run by survivors to help other survivors of incest heal through a 12-step program
Abuse Support Groups – this site offers support groups for a wide array of topics, including abuse and rape
Joyful Heart Foundation – The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues
Last edit 6/14/18 BSH