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When in Doubt, What is Abuse?

by Elisabeth Swim, MA | Daya Helpline Advocate

When in recovery from abuse, talking with clients who are doing the same, or considering extended-family circumstances in which there is more than one abuser, think about the questions below.


Who acts entitled?

Who feels justified in their anger?

Who deflects blame?

Survivors often take responsibility for other peoples' behavior, whereas abusers tend to blame their own behavior (reasons for it) on survivors.

Abusive parents might say their children are abusing them by calling them names or by fleeing.

Who controls the finances and/or the immigration proceedings?

Abusers often use their status or their control over both partners' status to manipulate or intimidate survivors. This can range from blackmailing a survivor into certain behaviors with the threat of cancelling, withdrawing, or not filing the victim's immigration status applications to an abuser using their own undocumented status to convince the survivor not to report abuse.

Who threatens the other partner most often with systems: calling police, reporting abuse, calling immigration, cancelling immigration papers?

Abusers often know more about these systems than victims or survivors do and feel more confident bringing it up as a bargaining or intimidation tactic during arguments.

Who holds onto the family documents?

Withholding an adult's documents from them is unlawful but many abusers refuse their partners access to their own identification and immigration documents.

Who has access to the other person's passwords, phone data, electronic activity?

Controlling another person's electronic activity is considered stalking and harassment.

Who has installed cameras in and around the home?

Monitoring a victim's activities and using this information to control them is considered stalking and harassment.

Who has the same friends they had from before the marriage?

Who has been forced to leave their friends and lose contact with their family during the abuse?

Abusers often isolate survivors from friends and family by treating these people so well that they would never believe the victim's testimony about abusive behaviors.

Who has control over reproductive decisions?

Reproductive coercion can happen to any person regardless of gender or orientation.

Who does most of the housework and care work of children? Who requires praise when they do the same, because it's not something they are expected to do all the time?

Who earns all the money in the relationship without having access to the same?

Abusers often feel entitled either to care work or earning activities from their victims.

Who is asking for Daya's help to coerce the other person into taking certain actions or reconciling?

Abusers might call an organization like Daya for help to locate a victim or to coerce the victim into cooperating with the abuser (asking for less in custody/divorce agreements etc...)

Who had the most accurate information about the other partner before marriage?

Abusers often leave out important information in the initial courtship process ranging from involvement with substances that do not fit the victim's lifestyle to affinity for weapons, involvement with trafficking activities, intent to pursue multiple spouses and more.

Who experiences dread, ongoing overarching uncertainty about their emotional and/or

physical safety from day to day or hour to hour?

While abusers may report feeling afraid of victims actions or words of retaliation, their higher power status in a relationship will not lead to dread. Victims and survivors, on the other half, bear the burden of blame for the abuser's actions and are constantly on the lookout for an abuser's mood and dreading how they might be punished on any given day, even if they obey all the abuser's demands.

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