Types of Abuse

Abuse is a systematic pattern of behavior that is employed by an individual or more than one person with the intention of exerting power over another person or people. Abuse comes in many forms. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, digital or financial. It can also involve stalking.

Whatever form abuse takes, and whatever level it is carried out at, it is never acceptable. Any type of abuse can be damaging and dangerous, and both the abused and the abusers need help to break the cycle of abuse and to be able to recover. Fortunately, this help is available.

There are many organisations in place worldwide to help and advise victims of abuse and to provide places of safety for escape. Abusers too can seek counselling programes.

Abuse can occur in any generation, any gender, any sector of society and within relationships or between relative strangers.

Recognizing Abuse

Before the problems of abuse can be addressed, abuse first has to be recognized for what it is. It can be difficult sometimes for someone who is being abused to really understand what is happening. Abuse can leave a person suffering from self doubt and feeling that they have, in some way, brought the abuse upon themselves. They may fail to seek help because of this, or because they are afraid of the consequences. An abused person may also begin to feel that what is happening is normal and not actually abuse.

But, abuse is never normal. Understanding the various types of abuse helps you to recognize them for what they are.

Emotional and verbal abuse

A person suffering from emotional or verbal abuse by another often feels unsure if this really is abuse. It doesn’t leave the obvious marks of physical abuse, and is harder to recognise. But, emotional abuse can be deeply damaging. It can even lead a person to try to commit suicide, and can cause psychological problems for many years after the actual abuse stops if the right help is not given to the victim. Emotional and verbal abuse can manifest itself in many different ways.

  • Name calling and belittling
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Public humiliation
  • Isolating someone from their friends and family
  • Controlling behavior (i.e., telling someone what they may or may not wear)
  • Use of cellphones and internet to monitor or control someone or to intimidate them
  • Shifting the blame for abuse onto the abused
  • Stalking
  • Threatening suicide as a means of controlling a person (i.e., an abuser may threaten suicide to prevent a partner from leaving them)
  • Threatening harm: to the abused or to a loved one, pet or even possessions
  • Forcing someone to have sex or making them feel guilty if they do not consent to sex
  • Threatening to expose secrets about someone (e.g.; sexual orientation)
  • Spreading malicious gossip about a person
  • Threatening to take away someone’s children or loved pets

Emotional and verbal abuse can not only lead to physical and violent abuse as the abuser exerts more and more control over the abused, it is also equally dangerous and damaging in its own right.
The old saying; ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me’ is simply not true. Words, especially when repeated over and over again by someone close to you or whom you see most days of your life, can do a lot of harm. One common result of verbal abuse is that the abused person begins to believe what the abuser is saying. If someone close to you tells you everyday of your life that you are fat, stupid or worthless, you may begin to believe that they are right. It’s hard to maintain self confidence in such a situation. You may even begin to believe that you deserve the abuse because deep down you need to rationalize why it is happening to you. An additional problem is that abusers frequently excuse their behaviour by telling the object of their abuse that they are to blame for it.

What you can do if you are being emotionally or verbally abused
If you are suffering emotional or verbal abuse in any context, there are things that you can do. However you may feel, you are not to blame for the abuse, and you absolutely deserve to be able to free yourself of it.


Stalking can be physical or virtual. It may be carried out by someone you know, like an ex boyfriend or girlfriend, or it can be carried out by a total stranger. Stalking is a very common form of abuse, and is most common in the 18 to 24 age group. A stalker may or may not represent a real, physical danger, but as there is no way of knowing for certain, it should always be treated as a serious threat to your safety. It can also have a damaging emotional effect. Being stalked can make you feel very vulnerable and insecure, sometimes to the point of being frightened to leave the house or to spend any time alone. If you are being cyber stalked or called all the time on the telephone, you can feel that there is no escape even in your own home. The legal definitions of stalking can vary from country to country or state to state, but the following should help you to recognize if you or someone you know are being stalked.

A stalker may:

  • Call to your home uninvited
  • Bombard you with text messages, emails, letters and voice messages.
  • Follow you on social networking sites
  • Repeatedly call you on the telephone
  • Pass on information or gossip about you on the internet
  • Pass on information or gossip about you by word of mouth
  • Inappropriately call work colleagues, your boss or others in your life
  • Call your friends to ask or talk about you
  • Lie in wait for you in places you regularly go
  • Cause actual damage to your property and possessions

What to do if you are being stalked

If you are being stalked you should contact the police in the first instance. If the situation seems to be placing you in immediate danger, you can call the police on an emergency services line. In the US you can call 911, in the UK the emergency police number is 999. In other countries just call the usual emergency services number and ask for the police.
If you report stalking to the police, try to have as much evidence as possible to support your report. This means saving emails, text messages, telephone records, any letters or gifts the stalker has sent to you or left for you, records of activity on social media, photographs and any other tangible evidence. It’s also worth recording the times and places of the stalking behaviour. If you have any witnesses who can corroborate your report it is very helpful. The police can advise you on how to get a protection order as well as possibly arrest and charge the stalker if the behaviour constitutes an offence.
Don’t suffer stalking in silence. Talk to trusted family and friends about what is happening. If you are at school or college, talk to a teacher. Stalking is a real form of abuse.

Financial Abuse

When people talk about abuse, they often fail to consider financial abuse. However, it is another very common and worrying form of abuse that can ruin lives and needs to be taken very seriously. Levels of financial abuse can range from the type often coupled with emotional and physical abuse as a means of control within a relationship or family to actual fraud and theft.

Financial abuse frequently takes place within the context of an abusive relationship. The abusive partner exerts control over his partner by removing or restricting their access to funds, leaving them more and more dependent and unable to escape the abuse.
Whether this takes place in a long established cohabiting or marital relationship or in the context of a family or a dating relationship, financial abuse is wrong and needs to be dealt with quickly. Here’s how to tell if someone is financially abusing you:

  • They monitor your spending
  • They restrict you to an allowance
  • They don’t allow you to see shared bank account statements
  • They stop you from being able to get to work
  • They jeopardize your career intentionally
  • They take or hide your student finance cheques or benefits cheques
  • They hide or destroy your credit or debit cards
  • They use your details to get credit or a loan
  • They use your bank cards to make purchases without your permission
  • They use your child’s details to claim tax or other refunds or benefits
  • They withhold food, clothing, access to medical assistance
  • They cause visible physical harm to you so that you are too afraid or embarrassed to go to work
  • They do not allow you to spend money on yourself

What to do if you are being financially abused

You can begin by speaking to a trusted friend or family member if someone is available. You can also call the police for advice. You can chat live to a peer advisor, or call  Love is Respect too:http://www.loveisrespect.org/get-help/contact-us

Even if your abuser has stolen all your financial resources don’t hesitate to ask for help as financial aid can be supplied. If you still have any funds, try to set up a secret account or even ask a friend to look after your money and bank cards for a while until the situation is resolved.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is usually the easiest form of abuse to identify. It may be low level, like pinching or poking, or it may be seriously violent and life endangering. However, all physical abuse is wrong and no one should ever have to endure it.
Physical abuse entails any form of physical (bodily) contact that you do not want. It may be that your abuser:

  •  Scratches, slaps, bites or kicks you
  • Pushes, pokes or shakes you
  • Pulls your hair
  • Grabs and pulls at your clothing
  • Throws objects at you
  • Uses a weapon to hurt and intimidate you (a weapon can be anything that can cause physical harm, it doesn’t have to be a gun or a knife)
  • Smacks you even in play or a sexual contact if you do not wish them to do so
  • Forces you to perform a sexual act that you do not want
  • Grabs your face to force you to look at them
  • Physically restrains you if you try to leave

This type of behaviour and abuse can occur in many different contexts. It can happen in families, at school or work or in any environment. However, it is common in the context of a relationship such as marriage or dating. It is always difficult to deal with, especially if you are young and have strong feelings of love or affection for your abuser. However, there is a lot that you can do to escape the abuse and the abusive relationship. It is essential to take steps to protect yourself as physical abuse is very serious.

What to do if you are being physically abused

First, if you can speak to a friend or member of your family that you trust, do so. Or, talk to a responsible adult such as a teacher or doctor who will be able to advise and help protect you. You can also contact the police on the contact numbers given earlier, or on emergency services numbers if the situation is dangerous and urgent. Domestic Violence helplines can also help to tell you what to do to keep safe, and may be able to offer you a refuge if you need to leave home quickly.
US:http://www.thehotline.org/  National Domestic Violence hotline.
http://www.loveisrespect.org/get-help/contact-us      Love is Respect

UK: SupportLine: 01708 765200
email [email protected]
Telephone Helpline providing confidential emotional support to Children, Young Adults and Adults on any issue including domestic violence.

Worldwide:http://www.hotpeachpages.net/  Worldwide help for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual abuse

Sometimes, victims of sexual abuse are deeply unhappy with their situation but do not realise that they are actually being abused. To be clear: Sexual abuse is any type of sexual contact that forces or pressures you to take part in any sexual activity that you do not want or are uncomfortable with. This includes a partner intimidating you into sex acts that you expressly tell him you are unwilling to carry out. No means No, and there is no excuse for anyone not to accept it.

Sexual abuse may include any of the following if they are unwanted:

  • Kissing or touching
  • Intercourse, oral sex or anal intercourse
  • Sex acts performed on the basis of threats or intimidation
  • Rough or violent sexual acts
  • Sex acts performed after withholding your right to use condoms or birth control
  • Sex acts performed when the abuser knows he may be passing on a disease or infection
  • Rape or attempted rape

Also note that although some of the above are permissible between willing partners, no sex act is permissible if one partner has not consented. Saying NO and being listened to is your right, whether you are male or female. Sexual contact of any sort  is also abuse if it is carried out on a person who is unable to fully comprehend the situation because they are disabled, emotionally disturbed or under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.

What you should know about sexual abuse

  • It is important to understand that you have the absolute right to decide what you do or do not do sexually.
  • A sexual assault can take place in the context of a relationship or even a marriage. It does not have to be a violent attack by a stranger to be an assault.
  • The majority of sexual assaults occur between people who know each other
  • Not all victims of sexual assault are women. Men, children and elderly people can also be victims.
  • Sexual abuse can be carried out by men, children or women
  • Sexual abuse is not exclusively heterosexual. It can occur between gay and lesbian couples too.

What to do if you have been sexually abused

If you have been sexually assaulted, whether in your home or elsewhere, you need to get away from your abuser as soon as you can. The next thing to do is to tell someone so you have access to advice. You may want to turn to a friend or family member first, or you can go to a local hospital emergency department or a local Rape Crisis Centre.

You may also decide to make a report to the police. Many victims of sexual abuse or assault are reluctant to do this, often out of fear, but it will help you to find support and legal protection if you do. Police have special rape counsellors and offer a very understanding and sympathetic attitude nowdays. It is important to go to the police as soon as possible after the assault has taken place and not to destroy vital evidence by washing, changing your clothes or even brushing your hair before you go.

If you want to speak to a sympathetic advisor you can contact http://www.loveisrespect.org/get-help/contact-us      Love is Respect if you live in the US. If you are in the UK get in touch with http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/ .


Digital Abuse

Digital abuse can take the form of stalking or bullying over the internet or mobile phones. Social networking sites are commonly used for this type of abuse. It can also be a control issue that takes place between dating couples. If you are suffering digital abuse you may be experiencing any or all of the following:

  • Your partner tries to control your use of social network sites or your mobile phone, telling you who you should or  should not be ‘friends’ with or contact.
  • Your partner or anyone else insults you on social networking sites or by text message.
  • Your partner or anyone else uses social networking sites or mobile phones to keep track of your movements, thoughts or activities.
  • Your partner or anyone else sends you threatening messages on social networking sites, by email or text message.
  •  Your partner or anyone else uses their own status to put you down
  • Your partner or anyone else sends, or demands explicit sexual or violent videos, photographs and images on the internet or via mobile phone.
  • Your partner or anyone else steals or demands your passwords.
  • Your partner or anyone else hacks into your account or takes your mobile phone
  • Your partner or anyone else demands that you stay in constant contact via mobile phone
  • Your partner or anyone else demands to read your phone or message records, statuses, emails and other interaction with others over the internet.

How to stay safe online and on your mobile

  • Switch off your mobile phone when you want to. Your partner does not have the right to insist that you stay in constant contact.
  • Insist that your partner respects your personal boundaries.
  • Understand that you do not have to send or look at any images online that you are uncomfortable with or have not expressly agreed to exchange.
  • Don’t send any text or electronic messages that you have not carefully thought about as once sent, they can’t be retracted.
  • Don’t disclose your passwords to anyone. If you suspect that someone has access to your accounts, change your username and passwords to ones that no one can guess.
  • Find out how to set privacy settings on social networking sites.
  • Don’t disclose your location on social networking sites. Disable any apps that do this for you automatically. Also, be mindful of your friends’ privacy. Don’t disclose their personal information or location without being asked by them to do so.