People who bring up domestic abuse or intimate partner violence primarily focus on physical abuse. However, this isn’t the only type perpetuated by abusers. It’s important to know the other types and signs. This prevents situations where someone is a victim and is unaware, which can then quickly escalate into physical abuse.
Physical abuse has noticeable signs. They include assault, sexual assault, rough handling, scalding, burning, physical punishments, inappropriate restraint, making someone uncomfortable, involuntary isolation, medical poisoning, or withholding food. The other types of abuse are more subtle.
1. Emotional abuse
Emotional abuse is the attempt to manipulate, frighten, control or isolate. It doesn’t involve physical assault but threats of violence. An abuser exhibits these behaviours, especially when it’s a pattern. People of any age or gender can be victims. An abuser can also be a parent, friend, spouse or work colleague.
Signs of emotional abuse
An abuser will constantly call you derogatory names. It can also be names that target something that makes you uncomfortable, such as your appearance or speech patterns. It becomes abusive when you tell them it makes you uncomfortable, but they persist and ignore your boundaries.
In addition, they can constantly yell at you or publicly embarrass you. They call you names in public or make you feel inferior. It can be diminishing your accomplishments or bringing to attention things that don’t matter. For instance, they can say you always sleep late, or you always overeat. Abusers also denigrate your appearance, making you feel like you should be grateful they are your friend or spouse.
Emotional abusers also make you rely on their opinions more than your self-worth. If you accomplish something like weight loss or finishing a project, they can praise you, but they constantly diminish your efforts. They are dismissive of anything you try, especially when they’re displeased with you. This behaviour continues until you “correct” what you did wrong then they praise you again. They can be affectionate when they want something from you but turn it off at other times.
They will push your buttons when they find something that annoys you, like playing loud music or smoking indoors. When you call them out, they make you feel like you’re being unreasonable or ask why you can’t take a joke.
Emotional abusers maintain control by gaslighting, orders, threats, constantly monitoring you, and making decisions about anything you do. If you “defy” them, they punish you by withholding affection or money, silent treatment, stonewalling, threats to leave or abandon you, or lectures.
They’re also emotionally manipulative by making you feel like everything you do is wrong. They demand that you spend all your time with them. Emotional abusers also use guilt-tripping, blame, or denial to keep you in their lives as someone to control.
2. Financial abuse
This is predominantly family violence. A parent, spouse, or sibling is more likely to conduct financial abuse. It involves withholding money or resources as a way to control you. Abusers also ensure you aren’t consulted in financial decisions that should include you. Financial abusers take control of your money, make you leave your job to rely on them, make you take loans, commit fraud in your name, sell your possessions without your permission, or take control of your expenditure.
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3. Discriminatory abuse
This is the unequal treatment of people based on age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, religion, belief, marriage, or disability. This includes hateful language, slurs, and mistreatment. Discrimination can easily lead to hate crimes, such as verbal and physical attacks, due to prejudice against protected or marginalised identities. They can also include harassment, property damage, and bullying.
Signs of discriminatory abuse
Unequal treatment based on marginalised characteristics manifests as inappropriate language and slurs in any communication. Discriminatory abuse is also when marginalised people are denied access. For example, a wheelchair user not having ramps, or a deaf person not having a sign language interpreter.
Being harassed or excluded because of their identity. This includes being teased, mocked, insulted, or bullied. Marginalised people can also be denied fundamental rights such as housing or being denied commercial services.
In intimate settings, it involves being undermined, isolated, physically or sexually abused, starved, or forced to participate in dangerous practices. For example, homophobic parents, teachers, or guardians can force queer children to attend conversion therapy. Ignorant adults can also force disabled children to undergo painful, unnecessary, unsafe treatments for their disabilities.
4. Marital rape
This is when a spouse obtains unwanted intercourse through force, violence, or threats. This is a common form of gender-based violence mainly targeted at women. It can also be considered marital rape when women are coerced into sex by their partners. Women in physically abusive relationships are more likely to be victims. These spouses see intercourse as a spousal obligation; when their partners don’t consent, they force them.
If you or anyone you know are going through any of the circumstances described, you can use this global directory of resources. In Kenya, the Gender Recovery Violence Centre hotline is 0800 720 565.
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