Charmed & Dangerous

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Understanding Domestic Abuse

ABOUT DOMESTIC ABUSE

There is no single definition of domestic abuse. However, the central element that defines domestic abuse is an ongoing pattern of abusive behaviour that aims to control a partner through fear that is violent and threatening.

In most cases, the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children that can be both criminal and non-criminal [1].

Coercive Control

Coercive control is at the core of domestic abuse that describes a person who uses controlling and manipulative behaviours against another person over a period of time for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination and control. [2]

The abusive behaviours that constitute coercive control are isolation, emotional manipulation, intimidation, physical or sexual assault, surveillance, humiliation and degradation and financial control.

It is often experienced by both adult and child victim-survivors as the most damaging and dangerous element of the abuse they have experienced which can cause severe and sometimes lifelong physical and psychological harm. It is also the single biggest known precursor to domestic homicide.

In a 2020 survey Women’s Safety NSW conducted with 72 victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, every one of them (100% or N=72) disclosed that they had experienced ‘psychological control and manipulation’ in their relationship.

Yet more that three-quarters (76% or N=53) felt existing laws in NSW do not provide police and courts with sufficient powers to address both non-physical and physical forms of domestic abuse. Coercive controlling behaviours have also been a prominent feature in domestic abuse cases across NSW, with 99% (or N = 111/112) of intimate partner domestic violence homicides that occurred in NSW between 10 March 2008 and 30 June 2016 reported the use of coercive and controlling behaviour toward the victim [3]All of the offenders were male. 

To determine if your relationship is abusive you need to look at what the other person is doing, how it affects your life, how it makes you feel and where the balance of power lies in the relationship. Trust your intuition: If something does not feel right to you then it is not ok.

The following content is adapted from the Charmed and Dangerous: A Womens Guide to Reclaiming a Healthy Relationship, has been developed for women by women. This booklet was the initiative of the Tweed Shire Women Services Inc.

Forms of Domestic Abuse 

Fear can be the most powerful means of control. Fear can be created through any behaviour which is used to intimidate you and which takes away your power.

Intimidation includes breaking your possessions, intimidating body language, hostile and aggressive questioning, constant calls, emails, text messages and stalking.

Abuse and violence can present differently in different types of relationships.

  • Physical Abuse includes physical harm to you, your children, your property, family, friends and pets. It may also involve the threat of weapons.
  • Sexual Abuse includes any forced or unwanted sexual interaction. This may include: forced sexual acts, harassment, or sexual harm.
  • Verbal Abuse includes constant putdowns, insults and verbal threats. Verbal abuse is a humiliating experience and over time can destroy your self-esteem and self- belief.
  • Emotional / Psychological Abuse includes behaviour / actions & comments to undermine your sense of self and destroy your self confidence / worth.
  • Spiritual Abuse includes ridiculing your spiritual beliefs and / or excluding you from taking part in cultural or spiritual activities.
  • Financial Abuse occurs when the abuser takes control over your financial resources. This may include not allowing you to work or controlling the money you earn or spend.
  • Social Abuse is when the abuser criticises, jokes about or puts you down in front of family, friends, work friends etc and/ or controls where you go and who you see.
  • Technology Abuse is the use of technology, such as the internet, phones, computers, social media and surveillance devices, to stalk, harass, intimidate or humiliate you. This also includes recording or sharing intimate images of you without your consent.
  • Reproductive Abuse includes forcing you to fall pregnant, to terminate a pregnancy or to use or not use birth control.
  • Abuse in LGBTIQ relationships can involve unique tactics of abuse, including identity-based abuse such as threatening to ‘out’ you to others where you have chosen not to come out of feel it is unsafe to do so.

 

Power and Control Wheel
Domestic Abuse Intervention Centre, Duluth, Minnesota

Cycle of violence

In a healthy relationship there are periods of happiness as well as times of tension between partners. This tension is generally followed by a phase of problem solving that signifies an equality and respect between these partners. In an unhealthy relationship, times of tension often lead to periods of abuse and violence. These explosions are followed by a time of apologies and return to the honeymoon phase, where things appear on the surface to be normal again.

It is important to remember that the abuser controls this cycle. They may skip some stages or they may travel through it over and over quickly.

The build-up phase

This phase involves escalating tension marked by increased verbal, physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse; the behaviour is often volatile and unpredictable.

The stand over phase

This is an extremely frightening period for you and your family. The behaviour of the abuser escalates and becomes increasingly unpredictable. You may feel that you are ‘walking on egg shells’ and fear that anything you do will cause the situation to deteriorate further.

Explosion

The explosion stage marks the peak of violence in the relationship. The abuser experiences a release of tension during an explosion phase, which may become addictive.

The remorse phase

At the remorse stage, the abuser feels ashamed of their behaviour. They retreat and become withdrawn from the relationship; justifying their actions to themselves and to others.

The pursuit phase

The abuser may promise to never be violent again. They may try to make up for their past behaviour during this period and say that other factors have caused them to be violent, for example, work stress, drugs, or alcohol. The abuser becomes attentive, purchasing gifts, and promising that the violence will never happen again.

The honeymoon phase

During the honeymoon phase of the cycle of violence, both people in the relationship may be in denial as to how bad the abuse and violence was. Both people do not want the relationship to end, so are happy to ignore the possibility that the violence could occur again. After some time, this stage will fade and the cycle may begin again.

The effects of domestic violence on children

The effects of domestic and family violence are experienced by all family members. Living with violence can have as much of an impact on children as the victims themselves. Children who witness abuse or live in a violent household experience the same fear, intimidation and threat to safety that you experience.

Children need a safe and supportive environment to develop their emotional, social, intellectual and physical wellbeing and to grow up to be healthy and well-adjusted. Children learn by what they see and are influenced by what they experience in the home. Often children will take on the role of protector and peacekeeper; this places the child at considerable emotional and physical risk and can result in long term emotionally damaging behaviours.

 

Cycle of Violence 
Charmed & Dangerous Legal Aid: Adapted from Dr Lenore Walker 1979

What is a Healthy Relationship?

A healthy relationship is what we all strive to achieve. A healthy relationship is identified through the presence of equality. The elements of a healthy relationship are applicable to all forms of relationships; with friends, dating partners, intimate partners, life partners, or family members. Each component of the wheel supports and reinforces the others, with equality always at the centre.

Respect: Respect other people’s boundaries. Learn other people’s boundaries and do not infringe upon them.

Responsibility: A shared responsibility for maintaining the relationship. Both people in a relationship should be included in making decisions.

Communication: Communicate effectively. Effective communication involves clearly expressing your thoughts and feelings and listening to those of others.

Boundaries: Maintain healthy boundaries. Create a safe and comfortable space to experience relationships by defining and communicating your boundaries to others.

Honesty: Be open and honest. It is important for both people in a relationship to be honest about their intentions, feelings or desires.

Accountability: Be responsible for your own actions. Talk to others to understand how your actions affect them.

Trust: Trust lies at the heart of a strong relationship and is the foundation that love and respect are built on.

Support: Support and encouragement of each other to achieve their goals and dreams, and personal growth.

There is no place in a healthy relationship for controlling, abusive and violent behaviour.

Equality Wheel 
Domestic Abuse Intervention Centre, Duluth, Minnesota.

Relationship Warning Signs

Before an abuser starts physically assaulting his victim, he typically demonstrates his abusive tactics through certain behaviours. The following are five major warning signs:

Charm

Abusive men are often very charming. At the start of a relationship abusers may seem like Prince Charming, charming you, your friends and family. Abusers have times in which they can be very engaging, thoughtful, considerate and charismatic. Abusers may use their charm to gain very personal information about you which he may later use against you. Charm can be used to deceive you, your family and friends.

Control

Abusers are obsessed with control. Over time the abuser may control every aspect of your life, who you talk to, what you wear, where and when you go out and your access to money. Whilst at times abusers may appear to lose control when they go into a rage, it is important to remember that they are actually very much in control of their behaviour.

We know the abuser’s behaviour is not about anger but is a controlled action because:

  • The abuser is often not violent towards other people.
  • The abuse often occurs when there are no witnesses. The abuser is able to stop their violence when the police arrive or when the phone rings.
  • The abuser is able to direct where they punch or kick so any bruising or marks can be hidden from other people.

Emotional Abuse

The abuser may use emotional abuse to destroy your self-esteem. You may experience being falsely blamed for the violence; you may be put down, called names or be threatened. Over time you may find you are blaming yourself for the violence and forgetting that you deserve to be treated with respect. Some women find emotional abuse is more difficult to heal from than physical abuse, the bruises and broken bones mend, yet the emotional scars remain.

Isolation

Abusers isolate their victims geographically and socially. Geographic isolation involves moving you (often long distances) away from your friends, family and other support networks; over time isolating you from everyone. It often begins with the abuser wanting you to spend more and more time with him; and can often be misinterpreted as him caring about you.

Jealousy

Jealousy can be used by the abuser as a means of controlling you. Abusers may accuse you of having affairs and seeing other men. Jealousy can escalate from name calling to jealous rage.

[1] Fourth Action Plan, National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022

[2] Women’s Safety NSW, Criminalising Coercive Control (Position Paper, No 11, September 2020)

[3] NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team: Report 2017-2019.