What Is Abuse?

Abuse includes physical, sexual or emotional attacks, ranging from mild to lethal. It is important to recognize patterns that define abuse and to understand that this behaviour is not acceptable.

Physical Abuse

Has your intimate partner done any of these things to you:

  • pushed or shoved you
  • held you to keep you from leaving
  • slapped or bit you
  • kicked or choked you
  • hit or punched you
  • thrown objects at you
  • locked you out of the house
  • abandoned you in dangerous places
  • refused you help when you were sick, injured or pregnant
  • subjected you to reckless driving
  • forced you off the road or kept you from driving
  • raped you
  • threatened to hurt you with a weapon

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is so common that it too is beginning to seem almost normal to some people. Women have historically had so little to say about their sexuality that it’s a very confusing area for many of us.

Has your partner done any of these things to you:

  • told anti-women jokes or made demeaning remarks about women
  • treated women as sex objects
  • been jealously angry, assuming you would have sex with any available man
  • insisted you dress in a more sexual way than you wanted
  • minimized the importance of your feelings about sex
  • criticized you sexually
  • insisted on unwanted sex and uncomfortable touching
  • withheld sex and affection
  • called you derogatory sexual names like “whore”, “frigid”
  • forced you to strip when you didn’t want to
  • publicly showed sexual interest in other women
  • forced sex with him or others or forced you to watch others
  • forced particular unwanted sexual acts
  • had affairs with other women after agreeing to a monogamous relationship
  • forced sex after beating
  • committed sadistic sexual acts
  • forced sex when you were sick or it was a danger to your health
  • forced sex for the purpose of hurting you with objects or weapons

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is sometimes even harder than sexual abuse to define and recognize. Almost everyone does it at some time or other and many couples develop a habit of hurling insults at each other. It’s often hard to determine who did what to whom first, especially if the injury is delivered in a subtle way.

Has your partner done any of these to you:

  • ignored your feelings
  • ridiculed or insulted women as a group
  • ridiculed or insulted your most valued beliefs, your religion, race, heritage or class
  • withheld approval, appreciation or affection as punishment
  • continually criticized you, called you names, shouted at you
  • insulted or drove away your friends or family
  • humiliated you in private or public
  • refused to socialize with you
  • kept you from working, controlling your money, made all decisions
  • refused to work or share money
  • took car keys or money away
  • regularly threatened to leave or told you  to leave
  • threatened to hurt you or your family
  • punished or deprived the children when he was angry at you
  • threatened to kidnap the children if you left him
  • abused pets to hurt you
  • told you about his affairs
  • harassed you about affairs he imagined you were having
  • manipulated you with lies and contradictions

Early Warning Signs of Abuse

How do you know if the man you are dating will later become physically abusive? Women in the Victoria Family Violence Project (1996) have identified the following early warning signs, or behaviours that are typical of men who later become physically abusive. A man who becomes abusive may not have all of these characteristics, but is likely to demonstrate some of them.

The Man Who Becomes Physically Abusive:

  • may have low self-esteem
  • uses put-downs, verbal/emotional abuse
  • blames you and others, hardly ever himself
  • does not take responsibility for his actions
  • may have a short temper, can be explosive
  • has a lack of empathy for others, is centered on himself
  • may appear tough and aggressive OR passive
  • has difficulty being appropriately assertive
  • may be overprotective to the point of being controlling
  • is possessive, very jealous, may even be jealous of the time you spend with your family and friends
  • may be obsessed with you, needy, clinging; he thinks he has to be a part of everything you do
  • often doesn’t want you to go anywhere without him
  • doesn’t communicate well about his feelings (except anger)

Uses Controlling Behaviour:

  • frequently tells you what to do or not to do, where to go or not to go
  • tells you who your friends “should” or “shouldn’t” be
  • tells you how to act in various situations
  • wants you to account for where you’ve been
  • tells you what clothes to wear, how to wear your hair/makeup
  • phones you at work to make sure you’re there
  • tells you how long your phone calls should be and who to talk to or not to talk to
  • tells you what time to come home
  • doesn’t announce he is coming to visit, just arrives
  • makes the major decisions
  • is manipulative

May Invade Your Privacy by:

  • going through your purse
  • listening to your phone calls
  • opening your mail
  • going through your diary
  • wanting to know your conversations word for word
  • following you when you leave the room even though you want to be left alone
  • asking friends and family about what you do

Attempts to Make You Dependent:

  • takes control of the money
  • doesn’t want you to work
  • doesn’t want you to have your own bank account
  • tells you that you don’t have the skills and couldn’t make it on your own
  • tells you “no one else will love you”
  • says that you are stupid
  • he doesn’t want you to learn to drive
  • may encourage you to quit school

Attempts to Isolate You by:

  • being rude to your friends so that they will stop visiting you
  • starting an argument with you right before you leave to go out with a friend
  • telling you lies about what your friends have said about you
  • doesn’t want you to go out with friends without him
  • belittling your friends
  • tells you not to see your family
  • doesn’t want you to meet his friends
  • wants you to choose between him and your friends
  • holding messages back from you

The Man Who Becomes Physically Abusive Might Also:

  • not respect your sexual boundaries
  • have attitudes about women (i.e. that they are inferior to men)
  • be chauvinistic
  • condone violence against women and pornography
  • threaten to get sex elsewhere
  • be addicted to alcohol, drugs or work
  • use aggressive gestures (e.g. smacking hand on furniture, clenching fist)
  • make threats of violence
  • be violent towards pets
  • damage property in anger
  • intimidate others
  • eventually use physical force against you (slaps, kicks, punches, punches, holds you down, blocks doorways, throws things, prevents you from using the phone, drives fast to intimidate you, etc.)


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