Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Identifying an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Identifying an abusive relationship when there is no physical abuse is very difficult. Too often, we want to see proof of the abuse. Is there any black and blue? A shove, a push? Violent language? When we don’t see anything tangible, we ignore the signs until the abuse becomes the norm of the relationship.

When is the right time to do something? Do we even have the right to interfere when there is no physical abuse? The first time I heard him say, ‘I get the groceries because she doesn’t know what to buy,’ tipped me off to the abuse in the relationship. It wasn’t so much what he said, rather how he said it. After all, I myself like to go grocery shopping with my husband because if I don’t, I get ten calls per aisle on what to buy. Does that mean I’m controlling? I go grocery shopping with my husband because I sure won’t do such a boring task alone. I ask him what he wants and needs. Yes, I laugh and roll my eyes at how he wants to stock up on toothpaste because he’s afraid we’ll run out, but we both have a say in how things are done. I started noticing more and more power and control issues as I got to know this couple more. I kept brushing these thoughts away, after all, I thought, how is it possible that a highly educated person like Mrs. Wilkinson can tolerate abuse. But it is possible, and it is true in this situation. A doctor by education she is oblivious to her abusive relationship.

Domestic violence is a complicated issue, an issue to broach cautiously. I observed this person further, found more clues, then talked to someone Mrs. Wilkinson loves and trusts and can comfortably rely on. Of course, the one statement above made by her husband is not a strong enough reason to assume they have an abusive relationship. There were other very strong indicators like how he had convinced her to stay at home with the kids and be completely financially dependent on him. He gave her an allowance, to which she didn’t even protest. He imposed his will on her with unreasonable requests using manipulation, which again she never did protest or refuse. He controlled the family cell phone plan and refused to get a land line or allow her to make calls after 9pm. There were countless clues, but I had to be sure I was sound and reasonable in my assumptions before I acted. I knew I didn’t have a strong enough relationship with her to approach her personally and being a DV advocate I have to be careful around my own social circle, as people think I am too close and sensitive to the issue.

I used the Power and Control Wheel to make sure I wasn’t jumping to conclusions. Here is what I used as evidence to identify the abuse did exist in the above stated relationship:

Using Economic Abuse:

-         Preventing her from getting or keeping a job
-         Making her ask for money
-         Giving her an allowance
-         Taking her money
-         Not letting her know about or have access to family income

Using Isolation:

-         Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and where she goes
-         Limiting her outside involvement
-         Using jealousy to justify actions

Using Emotional Abuse:

-         Putting her down
-         Making her feel bad about herself
-         Calling her names
-         Making her think she’s crazy.
-         Playing mind games
-         Humiliating her
-         Making her feel guilty

Using Male Privilege:

-         Treating her like a servant
-         Making all the big decisions
-         Acting like the “master of the castle”
-         Being the one to define men’s and women’s roles

Using Children:

-         Making her feel guilty about the children
-         Using the children to relay messages
-         Using visitation to harass her
-         Threatening to take the children away

All of the above can be found in both physically and non-physically abusive relationships. Other parts of the Power and Control Wheel include:

Using Coercion and Threats:

-         Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her
-         Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare
-         Making her drop charges
-         Making her do illegal things

Using Intimidation:

-         Making her afraid by using looks, actions, gestures
-         Smashing things
-         Destroying her property
-         Abusing pets
-         Displaying weapons

Minimizing, Denying and Blaming:

-         Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously
-         Saying the abuse didn’t happen
-         Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior
-         Saying she caused it

If you suspect anyone of being in an abusive relationship take actions to stop the abuse before it escalates. If you’re in an abusive relationship please call the hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE from a safe location and phone.

Power and Control Wheel is available here:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Social Network Safety

Social networking sites like Facebook are a great way to keep in touch with old friends, sending grandma pictures of the kids, networking for career advancement, etc. Social networking sites have changed our lives and our relationships with people. Due to these sites, everybody knows everything about everyone! Social networking sites have given a whole new dimension to Domestic Violence Survivors’ concern for safety.

Domestic Violence crimes are harder to track or even realize with the advent of this new technology. Stalking someone is easier on sites like Facebook. Feelings of jealousy, doubt, and anger are more easily sparked due to the openness of these websites as everything is visible to friends, from whom you have friended to whose wall you have commented on. Nothing is secret from the abuser if he/she is a friend on Facebook.

An example of harassment through Facebook is the bizarre experience of a friend (referred to asF.A). F.A’s ex-husband created a profile under her current husband’s name with F.A’s daughter’s picture as his profile picture. He then added all of her friends to this account and harassed her through this medium. He had gotten picture’s off of F.A’s profile even though he isn’t her ‘friend’ on Facebook.

Restraining orders are also violated on Facebook as in the following case:

In July, 2010, Cleveland, Ohio, Breanna Shanae Nance was arrested ‘on a misdemeanor domestic violence protective order violation.’ Corey Friedman, The Star, 2010. She had violated her restraining order by constantly messaging her former partner with threats of murder. It is easier to breach physical restraining orders online. The domestic violence victim is still within reach of the abuser as in this case.

A more severe example of Facebook’s effects on Domestic Violence is a 2008 incident. A man stabbed his wife with a kitchen knife and a meat cleaver the day after his wife had changed her marital status on facebook to single. ‘Wayne Forrester, 34, told police he was devastated that his wife Emma, also 34, had changed her online profile to “single” days after he had moved out.’ BBC NEWS, ‘Man Killed Wife in Facebook Row,’ 2008. There are many instances where a domestic violence crime occurs in the shape of online crime and is labeled as such. This has understated the dangers of internet safety to victims and survivors of domestic violence.

The dangers of online harassment don’t mean the abused has to shun themselves from social networking. Being actively involved with friends and support groups on these sites can serve a great purpose in the recovery of a survivor. A strong social network whether online or not is essential for normalcy in a survivor’s life. Victims and survivors just need to follow some safety measures. You may find the following tips helpful in maintaining online safety and privacy:

Social Media Safety

Privacy Settings…Most social networking sites do not have any privacy on default mode. Once you’ve made your account, change your privacy settings. After changing the settings make sure you check how your privacy settings are saved and what exactly is viewable to others.

Block…the abuser and friends who are likely to leak your information to him/her. If you simply don’t friend these people or unfriend them after the abuse has taken place, they can still view some of the content you post online. For instance, an unblocked person whom you have mutual friends with will be able to see comments you make on your friends’ links, walls, and pictures. Average user is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events. If you don’t protect yourself, you are bound to be ‘found’ on facebook in some way.

Talk to Your Friends and Family…about what they can post online. For instance, they may post a status that says, ‘I’m so excited to hang out with (Survivor’s name) today at Dunkin Donuts in DC.’ This status may be visible to the abuser or someone who would tell the abuser about the survivor’s whereabouts putting the survivor’s safety at risk.

Be Skeptical of Strangers…Internet has given a false sense of security and comfort to many relationships. The use of emoticons and exclamation points can exaggerate ones feelings and can build false trust to a relationship that may not have been built otherwise. Do not add people you do not know, this includes people you have discussions with on group pages, people you chat with in insecure chat rooms, and yes…it includes your ‘oh so trustworthy’ friends from Farmville who help you when you desperately need hay to build a barn! You never know, the abuser may have made a false account and friended you just to know more about your life and vulnerabilities.

Don’t ‘Friend’ Everyone!…Some people want to build a strong facebook community, for this reason they friend everyone they know including people they have just met. Treat people you don’t know so well as strangers and use caution when adding them as friends. Be careful when adding friends that have strong ties with the abuser, they may leak your personal information to him/her.

Password…Change if the abuser knows your password. Pick a password that is difficult to easily guess.

Social Media Safety for Children

More and more children under the age of 18 are joining social networking sites by misrepresenting their age. The only way to keep children safe from internet dangers is to have a talk with them about the dangers and to explain safety measures to them. Closely monitoring children’s online activity through parental guard is also a good idea.

You may also find the following sites helpful:


A Safe Option

United Angels Against Domestic Violence is secure network for Domestic violence victims, survivors, and advocates. All members of this site are screened before they’re allowed on the website. This site is new but has the same features as other social networking sites. Visit: