• Abuse Can Happen Close to Home

    “Abuse” is a word that these days appears, sadly, all too frequently in the headlines.  It is, however, a word that covers a multitude of sins – the phenomenon it describes takes many different forms and arises in many different contexts.

     

    On one day, it will refer to instances such as the shocking treatment inflicted on no fewer than thirteen children who were found, ill and under-nourished and  shackled to beds in their parents’ home in the United States.  No one reading an account of the discovery of these children in these shocking circumstances would fail to recognise it as an archetypal example of abuse.

     

    On a succession of other days, “abuse” will refer to complaints made by brave women – usually actresses or models – about the treatment they were accorded by Harvey Weinstein and by other prominent men, usually in the entertainment industry, who demanded sexual favours in return for promoting their careers.  This scandal has engulfed a growing number of men and has destroyed a number of careers and reputations – though Donald Trump seems somehow to have avoided a similar fate as the penalty for his own admitted (and proudly proclaimed) offences.

     

    On yet other occasions, a different – and perhaps even more worrying – manifestation of abuse will hit the headlines.  An unfortunate baby or toddler will be found to have suffered fatal injuries at the hands of an adult carer, or a terrified woman will suffer physical violence at the hands of a bullying partner.

     

    Even these instances do not exhaust the catalogue of the forms that abuse can take.  Destructive criticisms levelled on account of the race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or physical or mental capacity of the victim is a form of abuse that can be so damaging both to individual victims and to large groups of our fellow citizens as to be treated as criminal offences – though, again, Donald Trump seems to enjoy some kind of imagined Presidential immunity.

     

    This recital of the forms of abuse with which we are familiar takes no account of yet other forms which attract less attention, not because they occur less frequently but because they are less easily recognised.  But the law is catching up with real life; the  law that outlaws physical or sexual violence has recently been extended to cover a further form of abuse that can occur in the domestic context.

     

    That form of abuse is described in the legislation as “psychological abuse”, but it is usually described in the expert literature as “coercive control”, a term that better captures the essence of what is peculiarly destructive behaviour arising in the context of a family relationship.

     

    The victims of “coercive control” are usually women (though they can be men) or children, living with a domineering adult (either male or female) , and finding that their ability to operate as independent human beings has been gradually eroded by the emotional, psychological and even financial pressure placed upon them by their abuser.  That pressure is usually designed to undermine their self-confidence, to isolate them by weakening their networks of social support, and to make them more and more dependent on the abuser.

     

    The problem in identifying psychological abuse is that “it leaves no bruises”.  It is usually not apparent to observers from outside the family because the abuser will be expert at concealing what is really happening, present an image of domestic harmony and play the role of devoted family member.

     

    These evidential issues mean that the courts have found it difficult to handle cases of alleged psychological abuse.  The danger then is that the abuser gets away with it, and may even be presented with further opportunities to control (or abuse) the victim.  A partner or child who alleges such abuse can often be directed to undergo counselling or some other form of mediation, which can then mean that the abuser has a further chance during the course of such conversations to exercise the control and domination that are the essence of “coercive control”.

     

    We should not, in other words, always look for bruises.  Abuse, in its many forms, can destroy lives without leaving an imprint, except on the happiness and ability to function of the victim.  We are fortunate to live in a society that at least makes the effort to protect its members from abuse that can be so destructive, even if less obvious, but more should be done.

     

    Bryan Gould

    21 January 2018

     

     

1 Comment

  1. Jon says: January 22, 2018 at 5:18 amReply

    Give it a rest will you. Check out prof jordan peterson from Toronto University you said elitist snob. You simply don’t care about male education or health or social exclusion. For an academic you lack critical thinking. I suppose you think we have too many males in university.