Abuse can take many forms. When we talk about spousal abuse, we may mean any of the following:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
More detailed explanation of the types of abuse that can form spousal abuse can help to make the picture clearer. GO to our What is Abuse for these to be defined.
- Physical Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
Understanding spousal abuse
To understand spousal abuse properly, it is essential to understand that it is not about loss of control in the abuser, but actually about total control. An abusive partner will often say that he has ‘anger management problems’ or that he occasionally loses control of his emotions, thus excusing himself for his behavior. However, it can be seen that abusers are actually totally in control of themselves and actively choose to behave the way they do. What’s more, they choose who to abuse and who not to abuse, and where to carry out their abuses. An abusive man does not beat up his golfing or soccer friends, for example. Nor does he carry out his abuse of his wife in the work place.
Abuse, for the most part, takes place in private. An abusive husband or partner also often carefully places his violent abuse so that it is not easily detected by others. For example, a violent attack may be regulated to harm and mark only those parts of the body that are not on public display.
One of the problems with abuse is that it tends to take away a person’s self confidence. Victims of abuse can begin to feel as though they have somehow brought the abuse upon themselves; that they are responsible for the situation or even actually to blame for it.
This may happen as a result of the abuser telling them this (common in domestic abuse) as an extra form of control and intimidation. Or, it can happen as a result of a loss of self worth through the process of abuse. Even abusers can begin to hate themselves, although they are powerless to stop what they are doing. All of this means that abuse is often hidden. Both the abused and the abuser are afraid to bring attention to the problem, and so the cycle gains severity and momentum. It takes courage to ‘come clean’ about abuse, but whichever position you are in it is the only way to stop it.
Although it is impossible to give an accurate figure, it is known (from prosecutors’ records, domestic violence organisations and police records) that :
- 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women aged between 15 and 44 in the United States.
- 3 to 4 million women are assaulted at home every year in the United States.
- In the UK, more than 500,000 women are affected by domestic violence every year.
- Domestic violence is known to be the cause of over 100 deaths annually in the UK.
- Domestic violence refuges in the UK take in somewhere in the region of 54,000 women and children every year.
- Abusers can come from any race, religion, educational or financial background and circumstances. It is not confined to those living in poverty, lacking in education or the unemployed. Figures show that domestic violence is more common among the unemployed and impoverished sections of society, but also occurs among the professional and moneyed as well.
- Although male to female violence is far and away the most common (85% of victims in the US are women) men can also be victims. Domestic violence can also take place between same sex couples.
- Pregnancy is no protection from domestic violence. In fact, records in the US show that 25% to 45% of women who are beaten at home are beaten during pregnancy.
- Disability is no protection against domestic violence. Sadly, statistics show that a disabled woman is actually more likely to be a victim of domestic violence than her able bodied sisters.
- In the UK, only around 15% of arrests made on charges of domestic violence actually go through to court.
- A report compiled by the Violence Against Women Online Resource shows that in the group studied, of women over the age of 18, only around a fifth of rape cases, a quarter of physical assaults and half of stalking incidents are reported to the police.
If you are being abused by your partner the simple answer is to leave the relationship. In fact, although this is the advice frequently given by friends and family, it is not always so easy to do. An abused partner can still feel that she is in love with the abusive partner, and not wish to end the relationship, clinging to the hope that he will change and that the abuse will come to an end. She may feel responsible for the abuse, and undeserving of help. She may also feel that she has nowhere to go, and no financial resources with which to begin a new life. Or, she may stay because she is afraid of the consequences should the abusive partner find her after she has left. If children are involved it can become even more difficult. However, whatever the situation, there are things that you can do to escape. Everyone has the right to live a life without abuse or fear of abuse.
If the problem is containable, i.e.; if you are sure that your abusive partner will not pursue you and you have some financial resources of your own, you can of course, simply tell him to leave. But if things are rather more complicated,there are people that you can turn to. You may have friends or family members that you can turn to for assistance. Or, you could try speaking with your doctor or social worker. Help and advice can be found through Domestic Violence programs in your locality. There are domestic violence shelters where you can go, taking your children with you. These programs and shelters will help equip you to move on to an abuse free life by providing temporary shelter, employment or education programs, counselling, legal help, financial assistance and support groups.
It can be difficult to decide when to speak up, if you know or suspect that someone you know is being abused. If the abuse appears to be low level you may feel it is better left to the abuser and abused themselves to sort out. You may feel that you don’t want to ‘interfere’ in someone else’s business. You may assume that the abused person is capable of speaking up for themselves to request help if help is needed. It can seem like a fine line to walk.
If the person being abused is a friend or family member, you can, of course, try speaking to them first to offer help. However, many abused people are not able or are unwilling to admit what is happening to them. In the case of the abuse of a child or an elderly or disabled person, it is probably necessary to seek outside help immediately. However, even in other cases, such as spousal abuse, do not assume that the abused is capable of self help. If you suspect abuse you can follow the same steps as outlined above for people who are being abused. You can speak to a health professional or teacher, or contact the national or local help lines as given under resources, choosing the one that is most appropriate.
There are many programs in place to help victims of spousal abuse to recover. They include counselling, medical and financial help if required, various forms of therapy, peer groups support and even virtual support groups on the internet. Assistance to find work and to become financially independent is another way of finding solutions to the problems caused by spousal abuse.
There is also help available for abusers, if they really want to change.
If you are a person who is abusing someone else, in whatever way, you first need to accept that you have a problem that requires help. No form of abuse is acceptable, and while some may seem more serious than others they can all escalate and all need to be addressed. Once you have accepted that there is a problem, you are part way to solving it, so well done. You need to know that in many cases (in serious cases, like cases of child abuse, rape or violence there may be consequences to face, but seeking help will always count in your favor), help is available to you. The first step is to speak to your doctor or social worker, and to admit the problem. Or, you may be able to obtain advice from national domestic violence helplines and websites.
Resources for spousal abuse problems
The list below is not comprehensive, but provides links to known available help. For local help, internet search your state, province or county. These organisations should not ask for money in return for help. If any do, search again for charities and organisations that offer the help for free.
Visit our RESOURCE PAGE