When people think of domestic violence, they often think of physical abuse that leaves obvious signs, such as cuts and bruises. In fact, domestic violence takes many forms and may leave no physical signs at all.
Many abusive relationships are characterized by more than one type of abusive behaviour. The behaviours commonly change or escalate over time. The predominant feature of abusive relationships is a pattern of behaviours design to maintain a system of power and control.
We have a tendency to perceive physical violence as the most severe form of domestic abuse, but this is not always the case. Many survivors say the physical injuries healed over time, but the emotional and psychological damage had the most lasting impact.
Just because you do not see bruises, that does not mean someone is not being abused.
This type of abuse is also referred to as psychological or mental abuse. This is often the most difficult form of abuse for people who have never been abused to understand. Without an understanding of context, this abuse might look “normal” or like joking; however, when it is part of a systemic pattern of insults, criticism and put-downs, it reinforces feelings of worthlessness in the survivor.
Examples of emotional abuse include:
- isolating the victim
- tracking everything the victim does
- threatening or attempting to turn friends and family against the victim
- threatening suicide, especially if the victim attempts to leave
- withholding emotion or affection
- blaming the victim for everything
- preventing the victim from doing things they enjoy
Even in healthy relationships, finances can be a source of stress and tension. In an abusive relationship, money is used to control and manipulate the victim.
Examples of financial abuse include:
- Withholding access to family finances or giving a restrictive allowance
- Stealing money from the victim
- Deliberately ruining credit or putting all bills/liabilities in the victim’s name and all assets in the perpetrator’s name
- Gambling or spending family funds on addictions
- Destroying personal property or assets
- Not permitting the victim to seek employment or education
Sexual abuse in a relationship can be confusing; after all, sexual interactions in the relationship were consensual in the beginning. However, in a healthy relationship, a person’s boundaries are always respected and every sexual interaction is consensual. In Canadian law, there is no such thing as “implied consent”; this means that just because you don’t say no, doesn’t mean that consent is given. If a person does not explicitly say yes to a sexual act or indicate their agreement via enthusiastic and active participation, the sexual act is non-consensual and is against the law. If you are coerced or bullied into participating in a sexual act, or the act is committed while the victim is unconscious or intoxicated, it is sexual assault. Examples of sexual abuse include:
- Pressuring someone to have sex or engage in sexual activities
- Manipulating someone into a sexual act through false promises, emotional pleas or the use of substances
- Not allowing the victim to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy through the use of birth control
- Exposing the victim to STIs through infidelity
- Forcing a female partner to have an abortion, or preventing her from seeking an abortion if she wants one
- Forcing someone to watch or act out pornography
- Forcing or coercing a person to provide sexual favours to others
Physical violence does not need to occur frequently in a relationship for it to be a powerful way to intimidate the survivor. After it has been used even once, the threat of physical violence can be enough to keep the victim in fear of the perpetrator.
Examples of physical abuse could include:
- Hitting, slapping, punching, kicking
- Choking or strangulation
- Restraining the victim, including locking them up or preventing them from leaving the home
- Burning the victim
- Hurting or threatening to hurt pets or children
- Destroying or threatening to destroy valued possessions or property
- Using weapons
Cultural and spiritual abuse can take many forms; in general, it is anything designed to degrade the beliefs or values of the survivor. These types of abuse can be very detrimental to the victim as they break down their sense of self and makes them feel likes their values are stupid or worthless.
Examples of cultural and spiritual abuse can include:
- Preventing a person from engaging in or attending events related to their spirituality or culture
- Forcing a person to participate in a religion or spiritual activities that they do not want to participate in
- Degrading or criticizing a person’s beliefs or culture
- Isolating a person from other members of their culture or religion
- Threatening deportation or to destroy immigration or treaty papers
To learn more, call or visit:
Alberta Family Violence Info Line at 310‑1818 for information on services in your area.
The Community Initiatives Against Family Violence has a resource map for individuals local to Edmonton.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has a wide variety of publications about Domestic Violence and Abuse, Child Abuse and Elder Abuse for a variety of audiences.