Emotional Abuse Under The 2018 Domestic Abuse Act- Part 4
You would think there would be more information on the impact of emotional abuse. Well, there isn´t. Not for Scotland. There are very few articles, both academic and newspapers, about long term consequences of emotional abuse in relationships.
Is there a difference between emotional and psychological abuse? Almost none. Both are not physical and can lead to anxiety, depression, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and addiction. Emotional abuse is broader and includes psychological abuse. Both men and women can be abusers, even if statistically men are higher up the list.
Emotional abuse is sometimes perceived as a 21st century problem, but it isn´t. Emotional abuse has always been around, it just hasn´t been acknowledged until recently, and it seems to be used loosely for every context.
“We hear the term emotional abuse tossed about quite a bit these days”, confirms Andrea Mathews, a psychotherapist, in Psychology Today. Emotional abuse is often mislabelled and applied to all scenarios, which is problematic. Mislabelling can diminish the seriousness of abuse.
Usually, the abuser doesn´t know he or she is being abusive. This will of course vary. The real abuser, and not just an angry partner in a fight, will use emotion as a weapon of choice to control, explains Mathews. The abuser’s insecurity will make him/her accuse you of cheating, blame you for unhappiness, check on texts, and so forth. They may justify their controlling behaviour by supposedly doing what´s best for you.
There could be a link between emotional abuse and the latter´s levels of self-esteem, according to a study by Aguilar and Nightingale (1996). Emotional abuse doesn´t only have one recognizable trait or a list, as they vary. Nevertheless, there can be hints.
According to this article, the most common ones are: the use of shaming and belittling language, verbal abuse (name calling), withholding affection as punishment, punishment and threats of punishment, refusal to accept her/his part in the dynamic, mind games such as isolating him/her from friends and/or family, refusing to communicate at all, and gaslighting.
Now, what exactly is gaslighting? According to the Guardian, “gaslighting” refers to “when someone manipulates you into questioning and second-guessing your reality”. This can be done by constant criticism, manipulating or controlling behaviour.
Researchers don´t agree on only one universal definition of psychological abuse, since it comes in a variety of forms. There is no consensus regarding the whole set of behaviours that form psychological abuse. According to the American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology, these include verbal abuse, intimidation and terrorization, humiliation and degradation, exploitation, harassment, rejection and withholding of affection, isolation, and excessive control.
The thing that makes it so hard to escape from this is the abuse cycle. It´s a circle following the same pattern as physical abuse. Once you realise what´s going on and consider leaving or confronting your abuser, he/she will suddenly apologize and be extra attentive and romantic. As soon as you begin to trust your partner again, abuse will restart. Since the abuser apologized, leaving will be harder because you have faith, he/she can change.
Emotional abuse isn´t something that only occurs in romantic relationships. It can come from parents, friends or colleagues. It is important to remember that, even though this
article focuses on Scottish Law, which states emotional abuse is between partners or ex- partners, emotional abuse is anything that makes you feel belittled or worthless. You might believe you are worthless or can´t find somebody else, because that is what your abuser keeps repeating.
Physical abuse is not the only form of abuse. Abuse comes in many forms and it is easy to forget. Emotional abuse can sometimes be worse than physical abuse and is harder to measure. Sometimes, emotional abuse will precede physical abuse, but not always. This might make you doubt that there is abuse going on. Chances are that if emotional abuse is happening, you probably will be in denial for a period of time. This unhealthy behaviour won´t stop until you can perceive it yourself, no matter how long your friends or family warned you.
According to Medical News Today, short term effects of abuse include confusion, fear, hopelessness and shame. Although this isn´t physical abuse, the stress of this situation may provoke physical side effects. These include difficulties concentrating, moodiness, muscle tension, nightmares, racing heartbeat, and various aches and pains. The more severe the abuse is, the more likely it will be as violent or more than physical abuse.
Anxiety, chronic pain, guilt, insomnia, loneliness are others. Long term it might contribute to PTSD, low self-esteem, depression and suicidal thoughts, as shown by studies (Pico- Alfonso et al., 2006). In 2019, researchers recruited participants from a detoxification centre and completed surveys to examine abuse history and PTSD symptom severity.
They found links between abuse substance and abuse history. PTSD isn´t always a result of emotional abuse, but it is indeed possible. The symptoms of PTSD include angry outbursts, being easily startled, negative thoughts, insomnia, nightmares, reliving the trauma (flashbacks) and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat.
In 2013, researchers conducted a study, which included 250 participants, all around 27 years old, and found that the effects of emotional abuse are as detrimental as the effects of physical abuse. This study had the goal to investigate the role of gender and age in emotional abuse in intimate relationships. It was found that women were significantly more likely to experience any kind of abuse than men, so gender is correlated with it. Of course, there are men who are victims of abuse and it should not be forgotten.
Quantifying emotional abuse is tricky. There have been attempts to “count” it but none were really conclusive. Calculating estimates of abuse has always been difficult, due to the complexity of operationalizing emotional abuse. Therefore, the study used the approach of using a questionnaire: The Emotional Abuse Questionnaire. Participants completed the questionnaire, whose sub-scales include isolation, degradation, sexual abuse, and property damage.
The EAQ was developed by two experts of Domestic Abuse in 1998, Neil Jacobson and John Gottman, and was part of their book When men batter women: New insights into ending abusive relationship. This questionnaire consists of 28 questions, and you have the choice to respond “never”, “rarely”, “occasionally”, and “very often”. Questions include: My partner… “Tells me no one else would ever want me”, “Questions my sanity”, and many
others. This will determine if you are being abused, and to what degree. This might also help make you realize how much abuse you are going through.
This is not a 100% accurate questionnaire and it is not perfect, but it is something. It recognizes emotional abuse as a real issue, that can lead to physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse is already terrible on its own and the effects are as damaging as any type of abuse. The main problem with it is that if assumes women are the only target of abuse. But it is a good starting point.
Overall, emotional abuse studies, which are already rare, tend to focus on the women’s perspective, so they are not very inclusive. In the 2012 book The Impact and Consequences of Partner Abuse on Partners, psychological abuse leads to psychological and physical consequences such as migraine, stomach ulcers, indigestion, pelvic pain, chronic pain, chronic disease, and cognitive functioning. If the abuse is stronger, it may lead to insomnia, fear, increased stress, lower self-esteem, suicidal ideation, PTSD, depression and alcohol or other drugs use. In this book, psychological abuse is named
“psychological victimization”, which doesn´t pass on a reassuring message for victims/survivors.
It was also found that the consequences of abuse are significantly worse for victims who are of low income, ethnic minorities, and/or unemployed. Help will probably be more
difficult to access. According to this study, increased abuse will include a higher likelihood to engage in destructive habits, such as drugs, and engaging in risky sexual behaviour.
Overall, all studies seem to agree that emotional abuse is as damaging, if not more, as sexual and physical abuse. But abuse is still considered to be a gendered problem in Scotland.
The 2018 Domestic Abuse Act and abuse as a gendered offence
Since the 2018 Domestic Abuse Act, there have been articles and studies with a more feminist approach. For example, in 2019, there was a PhD thesis, “feminist critique of Scotland’s investigation and prosecution of domestic abuse through the lens of tackling domestic abuse as a gendered offence”, written by Emma Forbes, at Glasgow University, which includes the new definition of domestic abuse.
“Recognising the consequences of these tensions and the traumatic impact on victims highlights the ways in which aspects of the justice response could be reconfigured to provide them with greater agency“ is essential. She examines the response of Scottish authorities to domestic abuse versus what women experience when they report abuse to the Police.
The current definition of domestic abuse, since the 2018 Act, includes physical, verbal, sexual, psychological and financial abuse. This applies to relationships, current and past, men and women, heterosexual and same-sex relationships. The offence will be worsened if a child is involved. Contrary to England, it only applies to relationships and not wider family violence. Domestic abuse is considered a gendered problem by the Scottish Government. There needs to be more diversity, including in the feminist research.
It is now possible to prosecute physical and/or emotional abuse as one, as explained in Section 2 of the 2018 Act: it will be criminalised if: “ (a) making B dependent on, or subordinate to, A, (b) isolating B from friends, relatives or other sources of support
(c)controlling, regulating or monitoring B’s day-to-day activities, (d) depriving B of, or restricting B’s, freedom of action, (e) frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing B.”
Pre-existing crimes of physical and sexual violence will be included in draft charges where they are part of the experience of abuse. The new aspect of the legislation is the inclusion of emotional abuse, also known as ‘coercive control’.
A lot of women won´t speak up because they don´t know about coercive control or know what help is available. In sociological and psychological literature, there is a variety and depth of emotional abuse responses, but the authorities are not equipped for that. The justice process tends to over-simplify emotional abuse, for example “conjuring images of weeping women in the witness box”, not recognizing what women are dealing with. The general public will probably also oversimplify emotional abuse, generalizing it and dismissing, because they are not aware of the range of the new legislation, and don´t realize the permanent damaging effects of emotional abuse.
This thesis is very interesting because it has some field work, which consists of interviews of charity workers and victims/ survivors. She uses this term since feminist literature is divided on appropriate terms to design victims, but many will prefer ‘victim-survivor’ and will refer to abusive (ex)partners as the ‘perpetrator’. Victims/Survivors will often feel like their questions were left unanswered, and their issue not resolved, since many don´t go to trial. Victims responses are subjective and dependent on the number and quality of available support networks.
Support workers talked in their interview about the difficulty of responding “sensitively and appropriately to domestic abuse” since they have to personalise each case, with empathy, whilst maintaining professional obligations, which is difficult. It is hard not to get to involved or show enough empathy if you talk to victims/survivors all day. Many of the support and advocacy workers whom Emma Forbes interviewed were abused themselves, and disclosed experiences of abuse, so former victims now help new victims, leading to a more empathetic approach.
Sarah Jane Creevy Mcdonald, a survivor of both emotional and physical abuse, happily welcomed the new Act. She thinks emotional abuse was sometimes worse than physical abuse, even with her bones and face “smashed to a pulp”.
Only small newspapers seem to cover emotional abuse from the victim’s perspective. The main newspapers talk about it, but rather in terms of law. These kinds of laws would have helped her if they had existed earlier but will help new victims realize they are being abused, whether they are men or women, and get help.
Nobody should put up with abuse, no matter what your age, sex or religion. Emotional abuse is still abuse. And you don´t have to put up with abuse anymore.