A reader questions the definition of ‘domestic abuse’, and queries whether service providers and abuse resources are fuelling false allegations.
I received this comment on my post, Is the fight against domestic violence in crisis. It warrants a fuller response than I could give in the comments box, but can you add to the discussion?
Kyta: The problem is the ever widening definition of “abuse”
“The problem is the ever widening definition of “abuse”. Physical intimate partner violence is a tragedy. However the definition of abuse now includes virtually everything.
“However pick up any book on abusive relationships and the definition of “abuse” is absurd. Withholding sex, demanding too much sex. Withholding affection, providing too much affection. Withholding money, giving too much money expecting something in return. Yelling, giving the silent treatment.
“My ex-girlfriend kept babbling on about how I was abusive. I never once threatened her or was physically violent with her in any way. I provided a home, helped with child care, in fact I did the lions share of the domestic duties including child rearing and cleaning because she was a slob.
“I bought her thousands and thousands of dollars worth of things and she was terrible with money so when she overspent I would end up stuck covering the difference. When I did raise my voice it was because I’d come home to a filthy mess, I’m no OCD neat freak I’m talking I have to run the dishwasher back to back 3 times just to get the dishes done. 20 loads of laundry unfolded piling up by the washer. I’m not exaggerating.
“I would send her to counselling or the local church to try to help her put things into perspective. Guess what they all told her? She was in an abusive relationship and she needed to escape. When she came back with all manner of these books and pamphlets handed to her. I would ask her and wonder what on earth are you telling these people?
“I was hoping she would come back with perspective that a stay at home mom might actually fill the role and at least pick up after herself – and that her depression and mood might improve if she took on part time work or volunteered and got herself out of the house for a few hours a day instead of loafing around sleeping on the couch.
“I may be coming across quite strong; I know not all cases are like my ex girlfriend. When I look at the table and see 12 empty cigarette packs and 6 empty 2 litre bottles and overflowing ash trays, three dishwasher loads of dishes and fruit flies all over the place eventually I’m gonna blow my top – I’m out working and I don’t want to come home and put in 6 hours of housework just to relax.
“But the “abuse industry” validated her every concern and never bothered to ask the most important question, ie. “What do you think that your boyfriend is angry about?” and then dug deeper into the situation.
“Because of this, my ex became so terrified of me that she brought the police to come and get her stuff which was lunacy. Even the officer agreed that this civil standby call was a waste of his time.
“If you want funding for domestic abuse to be raised your community needs to narrow the definition to something more realistic. A man who yells at his wife in a domestic disagreement is not an abuser. A man who threatens to punch his wife or actually does in an domestic agreement is. The former is a serious disagreement while the latter is a crime. Women yell at men inside relationships all the time, nobody encourages men to run away to a shelter and call the cops when the wife screams at him for not putting the toilet seat down for the 50th time.
“I may sound jaded but, well, I am. I am a kind person who provided thousands of dollars worth of support for a girl and a daughter that was not even mine, raised the daughter like my own when my girlfriend was pre and post surgery like a single father almost, and now my reputation in my community is half trashed because I was labeled as an abusive person to anyone she spoke to who would listen.
“I never threatened to hurt her, never tried to isolate her, never tried to force her to do anything. Quite the opposite actually, I encouraged her to get counselling, bought her into classes to get her out of the house and interacting socially, tried to encourage her to get part time work or volunteer because she was isolating herself. Yet now I am labeled as an abusive person in a community I have lived in for 13 years.
“Sorry to come at this comment section from the other side of things, but hopefully you will understand that I do think that men who are violent against women (or visa versa) are criminals who should be punished but the widening labelling of what constitutes abuse is the reason your cause is losing ground. Everyone I am sure knows of a man persecuted, shunned, or shamed for being abusive due to false allegations, whether in a custody dispute or not because this is commonplace.
“Just take my example. I was worried about my ex girlfriend because she is a cellphone junkie and had not responded to me for 6 days which was very unlike her and her new boyfriend had several times threatened to take away her phone. I asked her to call me so I could verify if she was OK and if she didn’t I would come over to her new house to check on her. Instead of simply calling me for a 2 minute phone call they called the police. I was there and gone in 2 minutes and only knocked on the door and half the detachment was on alert for trouble.
“I called the cops myself after I got home because the boyfriend said she was sleeping which was absurd, I was just concerned. A week later I’m sitting having a beer in my backyard and a police officer arrives on civil standby to ensure there is no trouble while she gathers her things. Well I had been waiting for her to take her things for 4 months and I already have another girlfriend myself. The cop and I had a great conversation and it was fine. Again if she had simply phoned ahead and asked if there would be any trouble this tremendous waste of police resources for the second time would be averted. Four minutes of phonecall would have saved 8 hours of police resources.
“But of course I’m some abusive nutjob wingnut who is unstable. I have no criminal record I have never been in a fight or involved in domestic violence. The worst thing I’ve ever done is slam a door. Thanks abuse industry for giving her the validation.”
Avalanche: Emotional violence is domestic abuse and must be taken seriously
Those of us who care about people affected by domestic abuse want a constructive debate around the subject, and that includes hearing a variety of perspectives. So, thank you Kyta for your comment. I can see where you are coming from.
I have to tell you that I see numerous red flags in what you describe. However, you have not asked for commentary on your personal situation so I will focus on what I understand to be your main point: that the definition of abuse is too broad.
Emotional violence is abuse
Abuse is about one partner seeking to establish power and control over the other. Abusers have a variety of techniques to achieve this, and they all begin with emotional abuse – otherwise known as coercive control.
I have been through two abusive relationships. Both used physical violence against me, but the majority of the time they didn’t need to. They could control me with threats, by zealously monitoring my movements, by stalking, by demanding sex continually, slamming doors, by screaming at me – even a look could be enough.
Let’s look at the examples you cite:
Withholding sex, demanding too much sex. Withholding affection, providing too much affection. Withholding money, giving too much money expecting something in return. Yelling, giving the silent treatment.
In a non-abusive relationship these behaviours are unpleasant, but not abusive. That is because they are not motivated by the desire to establish control, nor do they cause fear. They are rarely sustained. When a pattern of behaviour is driven by the need for control, and makes another afraid – that is abuse.
Domestic abuse is not about anger
It worries me that you suggest women should ask themselves why their partner is angry with them. This is a major red herring because domestic abuse is not about anger – it is about power and control, as I said – and perpetrator programmes tell us that abusers are not angry. They do not abuse because they are angry. They abuse because that is the way they seek to achieve power and control. By simulating rage (manufactured anger) they deflect attention from this, and give their partner the message that they provoked the abuse.
Survivors of domestic violence report that they have been attacked for no apparent reason. Often, abusers change their ‘rules’ without notice, to provide an excuse to abuse their partner.
I welcome that you are clear that physical violence is never acceptable. Unfortunately, every woman that has been physically assaulted will also have experienced emotional violence. The overwhelming majority of survivors believe that mental cruelty could be worse than physical violence.
Therefore, I hope you will agree that emotional violence is also unacceptable – and that it is abuse.
Responding to domestic abuse
I have yet to encounter an individual that was convinced by others that their partner is abusive. In fact, the reverse is most often true: women typically go to great lengths to conceal the fact they are being abused and to convince others that this is not the case.
Sometimes, though they realise something is badly wrong in their relationship, they believe that they need a black eye or two before they will be taken seriously.
That is why service providers and campaigners work hard to raise awareness about abuse, and to tackle factors – including fear and shame – that keep people trapped in destructive relationships.
However, anyone that ‘cries wolf’ about abuse is reprehensible – because it undermines the very serious conversation required to ensure that vulnerable people actually do get the support they need and deserve.
The definition of domestic abuse is not too broad. It is actually, extremely specific:
Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour, motivated by the desire for control, and which instils fear. This can present in physical, emotional, sexual, or financial aspects – among others.
In all of its forms, domestic abuse destroys lives. It must be taken seriously.
What do you consider constitutes domestic abuse? Should emotional violence be regarded as domestic abuse? Do you know someone falsely accused of abuse?
ALSO SEE: The implications of potential legislation against emotional abuse in, How should be approach emotional abuse as a criminal offence
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14