Domestic abuse invokes thoughts of a thuggish man beating his whimpering wife. But domestic abuse is far more common and widely dispersed than we realise, and happens in relationships in far more ways than punches and blows. What, then, is domestic abuse?
Whilst it can happen to anyone, domestic abuse is often excused, denied, belittled and sometimes not even realised. Abuse can be physical but it can also be verbal and psychological. The first step, experts say, is to acknowledge that it is happening. This is something which can be hard for men – due to the stereotypical alpha male expectation and the assumption that it only happens to women and hard for women who believe that a male is “head of the family” and sometimes “needs to exert control”.
Domestic abuse arises when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to control or dominate their partner. An abuser does not ‘play fair’, but strives to gain and maintain control over their spouse. Fear, shame, intimidation and threats can all be used to wear the victim down and keep them under the thumb. Often once control like this has been achieved it does not have to be repeated; the abuser only has to make a warning gesture to keep dominance. It can happen to anyone, with victims spanning across all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels; women or men, married or unmarried, young or old: domestic abuse can happen anywhere where control is desired.
Getting out in the open and discussing the issue is an essential step in ending this treatment, and helps break down the fear that hold victims back from help more generally.
Such behaviour is not acceptable, no matter who it comes from or how nice the person might appear to the outside world. Fear that no one will believe them because their spouse is such a popular person often holds people back from reporting. Often in domestic abuse cases, aggression escalates, with abuse starting with the occasional, derogatory, throwaway comment and ending with full blown physical violence. Whilst injury is the most obvious danger, emotional and psychological attacks can cause long-lasting damage on abuse-targets.
Signs of an abusive relationship involve feeling the need to tiptoe around your partner for fear of triggering their ‘blow up’ or your partner making little digs and snide comments that might seem jokey but actually wear you down and cause feelings of helplessness, shame or self-loathing.
Whether you consider your spouse to be a difficult person or an abuser, the situation is clear: a marriage that causes distress, unhappiness or physical or mental damage must be terminated with help of professionals. Nobody should live in fear of the person they love.
Here are some further sources of help:
- UK: call Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.
- US: National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
- Australia: call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
- Worldwide: visit International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies for a global list of helplines and crisis centers.
Male victims of abuse can call:
- U.S. and Canada: The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women
- UK: ManKind Initiative
- Australia: One in Three Campaign
Or call us: +44 (0)20 7430 8470