What is Abuse?

Abuse can happen in different kinds of family or close relationships. The book “Options, Choices, Changes” focuses on abuse of women by their husbands or the men they live with, because this is the kind of abuse women experience most often.

However, women in other types of relationships are also abused. Young women often report abuse by men they are dating. Lesbians may experience abuse in intimate relationships with other women. Disabled and elderly women are frequently abused by family members and caregivers.

People call abuse of women different things:

  • wife battering;
  • wife assault;
  • domestic violence;
  • family violence;
  • wife abuse/spousal abuse;
  • woman abuse;
  • physical or mental cruelty;
  • violence against women; and
  • assault.

Regardless of what it is called, abuse of women is an abuse of power, and it is wrong. It is not simply about not being able to handle anger or having problems with addictions. It is about a man’s efforts to exert control in a relationship. Abuse can take many forms. It can be physical, sexual, verbal, financial, social, emotional, or psychological.

Some forms of abuse are crimes:

Acts that are offenses under the Criminal Code include:

  • sexual assault;
  • child abuse;
  • threats to harm;
  • threats to kill;
  • taking your pay cheque; and
  • stalking or criminal harassment (creating fear by repeatedly following, communicating, or attempting to communicate with another person or any member of her family).

Types of abuse

Physical: including choking; kicking; punching; slapping; grabbing; poking you; pushing; shoving; spitting at you; pulling your hair; physically restraining you; stopping you from leaving; holding or hugging you when you say ‘no’; any unwanted physical contact; abusing your children; and treating you roughly.

Sexual: threatening to harm your reputation; putting you down or comparing you sexually to others; getting back at you for refusing to have sex, sleeping around; or treating you as a sex object; forcing you to look at pornography; hounding you for sex or forcing certain positions; forcing you to have sex (rape).

Verbal: verbally threatening you (telling you to stop crying… or else); calling you names (stupid, slut, crazy, bitch …); yelling, shouting; abusing your children; being sarcastic or critical; always blaming you for things that go wrong; insulting you/your family; laughing in your face; verbal abuse of your children.

Financial/economic: controlling you by not paying the bills; refusing to give you money for groceries, clothing, things you need; spending all the money on things he wants (alcohol, trips, cars, sports); forbidding you to work outside the home; taking your money or your pay cheque; not letting you take part in financial decisions.

Emotional/psychological: making you afraid; playing ‘mind games’; not telling you what he is doing; lying; ignoring you; being silent; walking away from you in discussion (unless both of you have agreed to taking a ‘time-out’ period when arguments become heated); refusing to deal with issues; putting you down; finding fault in your behavior; brainwashing; refusing to do things with you or for you (such as withholding sex); always getting his own way; criticizing how you look or act.

Social: putting you down; ignoring you; making a scene in public; embarrassing you in front of your children; not letting you see your friends or being rude to your friends; being nice to others but changing his personality when with you; not taking responsibility for the children; turning your children against you; choosing friends or family over you; comparing you unfavorably with other women; not allowing you to express your emotions (denying your feelings); taking your passport or threatening to have you deported.

Abuse of women is violence. It is not acceptable.

Both physical and sexual abuse are criminal offenses.

Who abuses women?

Men who abuse women can be of different ages, races, religions, and economic backgrounds. They can have different kinds of jobs and education. They can be a husband or ex-husband; a live-in partner, a lover, a boyfriend, or an ex-boyfriend; a son; a relative, or a caregiver.

Abuse can happen in any type of family, intimate, or close relationship. The one thing abusive men have in common is that they believe it is all right to hurt people, even if they love them. They believe that violence is okay. But it’s not — Ever!

Why does abuse happen?

There is no easy answer to the question of why men abuse women.

Until recently, women were not given equal legal status. There were many things they were not allowed to do. In families they were often treated like property, belonging first to a father or other male relative and later to a husband. The man was the legal head of the household and ruled the family. It was okay for a man to use force to control his wife or solve family problems.

Experts argue that men still tend to learn to be aggressive and to express frustration in more violent ways than women. In a traditional First Nations culture, a man’s role was to be the provider and protector in the family. Women were considered sacred, because of their ability to create and bring life into the world. It has traditionally not been acceptable for First Nations men to use force against women.

In recent times, many First Nations people were raised in residential schools where they experienced many forms of abuse. Often, they came home to parents who were abusing alcohol because they had lost their children. As a result, many were exposed to violence in their growing years. With a lack of healthy role models, combined with First Nations women’s increasing roles as provider, protector, nurturer, child bearer, etc., many First Nations men have lost sight of what they represented long ago, and therefore have lost sight of who they are.

Women of all cultures are still not equal to men in many ways, especially economically. This makes women more vulnerable when violence occurs, and it makes them less able to leave an abusive relationship. Healthy relationships are based on equality and trust.

Abuse of women is about power and control, the betrayal of trust, and lack of respect. It’s about using force or threats to make you afraid. It’s about using fear to control you.

A man may abuse a woman because he has learned this behavior in his childhood; has not learned appropriate ways of dealing with anger; is influenced by the way women and men are shown in the media; wants to maintain a tough macho image; believes violence is a way to show male power; has low self-esteem and wants his partner to be dependent on him; is influenced by TV sports, etc; thinks that there are few, if any, consequences for his violent acts.

No matter why he does it, it is not your fault. Every man who has become an abuser must take responsibility for his behavior. No one has the right to hit or hurt you. No matter what you do, you do not deserve abuse. You do not ask for it.

Is there a pattern to abuse?

For many women, abuse and violence start early in the relationship. For others it may start later quite often during pregnancy. There are also many types of abuse, which may be used in different situations. Whatever the type of abuse or the pattern, violent and abusive actions and behavior are his way of maintaining power and control over you. There is no predictable pattern of violence.

Sometimes there is a cycle of violence that many women recognize.

It may look like this…

First, the tension and anger build up. Sometimes there’s an argument. She may try to keep the peace. But the abuser explodes and becomes violent or makes threats to get violent. He hits her, threatens her (or something she loves), verbally abuses her, or abuses her in some other way.

Then, there’s a cool-down, make-up, or calm stage. The abuser may say he’s sorry or he may deny it ever happened. The abuser may promise it will never happen again and may reinforce this by doing something nice (gifts, dinner, flowers). There is a time of peace, which is usually temporary. It may be a control tactic to keep her in the relationship.

Sooner or later, the tension builds up again, his need to control increases, and the abuse starts over. You cannot predict what will start or end the cycle, no one thing triggers the violence. Over time the phases are likely to get shorter, closer together, and his violence will increase in intensity.

Are you being abused?

Does your partner (or other significant person)…

  • Get jealous when you’re around other people
  • Make fun of you in front of your friends and family
  • Destroy, or threaten to destroy, your possessions
  • Praise you one minute and put you down the next
  • Call you names or threaten you?
  • Ignore you or not take you seriously?
  • Make you choose between your friends/family and him?
  • Blame you when things go wrong?
  • Push you around or hit you?
  • Threaten to take the children?
  • Say abuse is wrong but hit the walls and yells at you?

Do you…

  • Have to ask permission to spend money or go out?
  • Feel isolated from friends, family, and activities?
  • Have to make things right just for him?
  • Have to do what he wants … or else?
  • Feel it’s your fault when anything goes wrong?

Do you feel…

  1. Afraid to make decisions for fear of his reaction or anger?
  2. That you have to check in if you go anywhere?
  3. That he is trying to run your life?
  4. Afraid to tell him if you have a good time?
  5. That maybe all the terrible things he says about you are coming true or Happening?
  6. That you have to put your dreams and goals on hold?
  7. Afraid to express your own opinions or say ‘no’ to something?
  8. Trapped, unable to go out without his permission?
  9. Your joy in your life diminishing?
  10. Afraid to break up with or leave him?
  11. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship. You are not alone.

What does abuse do to women?

A woman who is abused often lives with constant fear, worry, guilt, and self-blame. She may begin to feel worth-less and helpless or ashamed. She may feel like a failure. The effects of physical abuse can be black eyes, broken bones, bruises, burns, concussions, cuts, scratches even death. A woman beaten while pregnant can lose the baby.

The effects of emotional or psychological abuse cannot be seen, but can be just as harmful and last much longer than physical injuries. A woman experiencing abuse of any kind may feel that no one could ever love her. She may feel stupid or ugly and all alone. This is what the abuser wants. It makes it easier for him to have control over her. After a while, she may begin to lose her self-respect. She may begin to use alcohol or drugs to dull the pain.

For some women, the hardest thing is the feeling of loss:

  • of self-respect;
  • of safety;
  • of family and friends;
  • of independence;
  • of future goals and dreams;
  • of laughter and joy;
  • of her own identity;
  • of respect for him;
  • of hope;
  • of loving happiness;
  • of companionship.

Children who witness abuse

If you have children, you may have decided to put up with the abuse for their sake. But children who witness abuse may be experiencing abuse themselves. Children often see and hear more than we think. They have probably seen or heard the violence, and likely it will have affected them.

Children who witness parental violence can be as severely affected as children who are direct victims of physical or sexual abuse.

They may:

  • be scared, confused, and unhappy;
  • have physical complaints such as headaches or stomach aches;
  • blame themselves;
  • have night-time difficulties such as insomnia, nightmares, or bed-wetting;
  • behave aggressively, or become withdrawn;
  • cling to their mother or try to take care of her;
  • feel responsible for the violence;