Is emotional abuse classed as “Domestic Violence”?
“I’ve only been emotionally abused, would my local Domestic Violence Service help me? All their literature talks about violence, and I’ve never suffered violence! I’m not sure they would be interested in helping people like me.” This is an extremely common thought in victims’ minds, and it prevents victims from seeking help from the services that can best help them.
There’s only one service organization in my area for abuse survivors and I haven’t contacted them for several reasons. Mainly, all their materials talk only about violence survivors, and I’m not sure they would even deal with me since I’ve “just” suffered emotional abuse. Would they? I even looked at some of the organizations in adjacent areas and they seem the same. Secondly, there are people affiliated with our local agency that have worked with both myself and him, even though not very closely, it’s a bit more of a challenge to go to them and say “this is happening,” and if they’re of the “it’s not abuse until someone gets hit” mentality, well, that obviously makes it a risk to seek help.
One of our readers, Little Miss Me, made the above comment in a previous post How easy is it to spot an abuser when he is both Jekyll and Hyde? and I’ve decided to make this topic into a post on its own, because I know it’s a big issue for many victims and survivors.
Here is the response I gave to Little Miss Me:
Regarding the way DV organizations talk about ‘Violence’ – that is a big problem, with a long history. I am sure that although your local service uses the term violence, they would mean ALL kinds of abuse. The secular services usually define Domestic Violence as all the forms and types of abuse. They talk about ‘emotional violence’, ‘financial violence’, ‘social violence’, ‘verbal violence’, ‘psychological violence’, ‘spiritual violence’, ‘sexual violence’, ‘physical violence’ and ‘systemic violence’ (using the justice, health and welfare systems to abuse the victim). They may also talk about ‘coercive control‘, which I think is one of the best terms around.
For people like you, because the word ‘violence’ is so prominent in their literature, and YOU don’t know what that word means in their jargon, you get put off – you think “they wouldn’t want to help me!” Many victims don’t identify with the word ‘violence’ so they don’t seek support in the places that could most help them. Even in my own case, where I was occasionally subjected to physical violence in my first marriage – pushed against walls, hit, jabbed, slapped, wrestled when I tried to defend myself or escape his grasp – I didn’t identify as a Victim of Domestic Violence. I thought victims of DV were women who got black eyes and broken bones and had to go to hospital.
I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and fix the terminology issue, but it’s entrenched and there are arguments for and against any changes of terminology. Personally, I prefer the term domestic abuse because it is easier for victims to identify with. But I don’t have much influence in the secular system!
Probably if you read your local agency’s definition of Domestic Violence, you will see that they DO include emotional and verbal mistreatment. And they would be willing, more than willing, to help you. I would say that many if not the majority of their clients are women like you.
Regarding the fact that you and your husband have both had prior dealings with some of the workers, that’s okay too. Make a phone call to the service anonymously. Talk about this fear you have about some of their workers already having had contact with you and your husband. They will put your mind at rest. In fact, I bet they tell you “This often happens. A worker sees the couple at one stage and there is no abuse disclosed. Then the wife comes at some later stage and discloses that the real problem is domestic abuse/violence.” If you can feel comfortable by talking about it anonymously (or even hypothetically, like “I know someone who is in this situation….” without saying “It’s me!”) then you will probably find you become comfortable enough to disclose and reveal your identity.