“Domestic abuse” refers to the violence or mistreatment that a woman or a man may experience at the hands of their partner. It may happen at any time during a relationship, including while it is breaking down, or after it has ended. Abuse is about one person having power over another to get what one wants.
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There are many different forms of domestic abuse, and a person may be subjected to more than one form of abuse.
Physical abuse can include slapping, punching, kicking, biting, shoving, choking, or using a weapon or object to threaten or injure. It can and sometimes does result in death.
Psychological abuse can include the withdrawal of affection, keeping track of everything a person does, being harassed by phone calls or visits, being threatened, having prized possessions destroyed, having pets hurt or killed, and enduring the suicide threats of the person who is abusive.
Neglect is a common form of abuse particularly with young children, with elderly people and with people who have a disability. It can include long term neglect that may result in physical ailments, as well as sporadic neglect used as punishment e.g. deciding not to help a person to the washroom because they have been difficult.
Verbal abuse is constant criticism, name-calling and put-downs. It includes unjust blaming, false accusations about loyalties or sexual actions. It can include repeated threats of violence against another person, their children, relatives and/or pets.
Sexual abuse means being forced to perform sexual acts or being made to suffer pain or injury during sex. Sexual abuse can also include being infected with HIV, AIDS or with another serious sexually transmitted disease by a person who knows he/she is infected but refuses to tell their partner or to practice safe sex.
Financial abuse generally applies only to the abuse of adults. It means that even if the family is not poor, the person being abused will have no access to the family’s money, no say over what will be bought and no money for her own use.
Spiritual abuse means the imposition of beliefs on others in order to control them. It is the exercise of power which fails to recognise the fundamental spiritual worth of the person or which damages another person’s sense of self-worth. Spiritual abuse can also include belittling or attacking another’s spiritual beliefs or preventing them from engaging in religious practice.
What forms can abuse take?
Within the family, the most common forms of abuse are:
Child abuse where children, step-children or foster children are abused or neglected by parents, step-parents, foster parents or adult extended family members.
Sibling abuse where children are abused by their brothers or sisters, step-brothers or step-sisters, foster brothers or foster sisters.
Wife abuse where women are abused by their husbands or common-law partners. Wife abuse can also continue after separation or divorce and, in fact, the risk of serious abuse often increases after separation.
Elder abuse or abuse of seniors includes the abuse or neglect of elderly people by family members or caregivers.
Domestic assault is a crime.
The cycle of abuse
Domestic abuse (also called domestic violence, wife abuse, family violence and partner assault) is rarely a one-time occurrence. It usually takes place as part of a cycle that includes the following phases…
Insults and other verbal attacks; minor abusive situations; victim tries to be compliant, “walks on eggshells,” and feels helpless; atmosphere becomes increasingly more oppressive.
Built-up tensions erupt into incidents ranging from severe verbal/emotional abuse to physical/sexual assault and can last from a few minutes to a few days, depending on the relationship. It is during this time that a woman is most likely to be seriously injured or killed by her partner.
Following a violent episode the abuser is usually contrite and attentive; the victim once again recognises the person she first fell in love with and may be inclined to believe his promises to change.
Domestic abuse rarely stops without some form of intervention. The cycle usually repeats itself with the violent episodes escalating in frequency and intensity.