“I don’t like your parents, they are not good to you and I don’t want you to see them”
“If you don’t quit your job, I will leave you!”
“Honey, you know you can’t be trusted with money. It’s best that I’m in charge.”
“How will I get to heaven if I have a child like you?!”
Sound familiar? Physical abuse gets a lot of attention, but we are still far from identifying psychological and emotional abuse as real problems. Words hurt and not feeling in control of your actions and life can destroy our self-esteem.
Although anyone, irrespective of gender and sexual identity, can be vulnerable to abuse, some marginalised groups are more vulnerable. This may be due to a variety of complex socio-economic inequalities and dependencies. For example, people of colour, people who are financially dependent on their abuser, people who have young children and queer people.
Let’s talk about racism. According to Women’s Aid research, fear of institutional racism in the UK, not only from the police but also from social services and housing authorities, may prevent women of colour from reporting abuse for fear of racial discrimination towards them, their families or their abuser.
Similarly, elders, especially the ones relying on the help and support of caregivers, are more vulnerable to psychological and manipulative abuse. In June 2017, the World Health Organisation reports that 1 in 6 older people experienced some form of abuse over the past year. In fact, the UN General Assembly designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Many studies have shown that emotional abuse is treated less seriously than physical abuse, especially if the abuser has, as is often the case, a close relationship (e.g. is a family member or partner of) with the individual.
It is important to recognise that emotional abuse can also take place within family relations and not just between partners and peers. For instance, young people, who are financially dependent on adults, family members or otherwise, are particularly vulnerable to abuse because of the power imbalance in those relationships. This dependency is not only financial but also emotional, especially within the family where the adult is expected to guide the younger person, with care, support and trust.
The young person’s reliance on their elders may not only render them more prone to coercion, but also makes them less likely to report it because of their dependence and emotional commitment to their guardian.
Parents of young children may often be reluctant to report any form of abuse for the fear of having their children being forcibly taken away by social services. Additionally, if the abuser is their spouse, and also the provider of the family, it becomes even riskier as the perpetrator may try to assume full control over the children.
For queer people, complex social, cultural and psychological factors make it harder to report abuse and seek help. It is important to understand that they might not even be ‘out’ to their family members thus being ‘outed’ to be a primary fear of being isolated from family support.
For Tia, a trans woman, being treated differently stopped her from seeking life saving support for a long time.
“It’s hard for anyone being abused to seek help in fear of what may happen,” Tia says. “However, it’s equally as hard since you feel that the caregivers at the shelter may view you differently.” [Source]
Members of this community may also be at risk of abuse by their own family because of their sexuality or gender identity. A queer or trans individual’s circumstances not only makes them more prone to experiencing abuse in the first place, but also makes it more difficult for them to seek help and support, even from the people closest to them.
For more detailed information and support on abuse in queer relationships, look out for the Supernova Project, our next venture.
Abuse is everywhere. Read this story from a migrant:
“My abuser diminished my self-esteem to such a point that I believed I was worthless. Attractive to no one. According to him, EVERYTHING I did was wrong. Or suspect. If I dared to disagree or even float the idea that perhaps he was being unnecessarily harsh , I was ridiculed, belittled and given silent treatment for days on end… What a prick, right? What an unreasonable, unfair, unfeeling prick. Yet, I stayed silent. I was thousands of miles away from my family, living and working in London at a “dream job”, earning lots of money and living the life of an expat. I was too mortified by the situation to say anything to anyone.” Source
This isn’t an exhaustive list of vulnerable groups but we hope it reflects some aspects of the complex and varied reasons of why some groups may be at a higher risk.
When it comes to recognising and acknowledging abuse as abuse, it is important to remember that support can be accessed by everyone, and is available to all, especially to the most vulnerable. We hope that the guide will help you and your loved ones to recognise manipulative and abusive relationships. You might read it because you feel your rights, interests and safety are all at stake.