A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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.


  1. Little Miss Me

    Thanks Barbara – Someday we’ll educate everyone and the abusers will have fewer places to hide! Survivors of all varieties will be able to get help sooner and from more places than ever! (Apparently I haven’t lost my ability to dream.)

    I agree that the term domestic abuse is much better – it’s easier to identify with and allows me to feel support (though I can see where some might not like it because they don’t want to be called victims, but sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade – it’s abuse). And it actually makes me angry that the information I needed was so difficult to find. Maybe that’s another obstacle I face in getting that help – I’m mad at them for not making it easier for me when everything is so hard to start with. I don’t want to have to search an agency’s entire site to find that they’ll help me. It makes me feel like my issues are less important and even if they will help they won’t put as much into it. Not saying that they shouldn’t put someone in a violent crisis situation ahead of me – but I’d like to think that I’ll be taken seriously.

    I read stories of others and waver between “Hey – I get that! I dealt with that! Somebody understands!” and “Good Lord that person’s situation was so much worse than mine, I barely have problems.” Of course, the abusers want us to think that it’s not that bad. I believe mine knows there are definite lines that aren’t to be crossed, and that has saved me from a lot worse.

    Regardless, it’s an odd position to be in – I’m thankful it’s hasn’t been worse, but still have to allow myself to deal with what it’s really been.

    • Oh Little Miss Me! I’m so thrilled to meet another dreamer like me! I have grand, florid, baroque, elaborate dreams about the day when domestic abuse is fully understood by the wider community and the sanctions against it have real teeth: – where good men shame perpetrators as soon as they breathe a word of disparagement against women in the locker rooms; where domestic abuse agencies advertise their support services in ways that switch on the light bulbs in the victims’ minds; where the agencies don’t operate in different silos so the victim can make contact with a one-stop shop where ALL her needs can be met without her having to figure out the snakes and ladders and curlicues of the support services in her own town; where perpetrators are routinely put out of the home when the victim obtains a protection order; where married couples from churches make it their ministry to visit the single-mum survivor and help her with home maintenance, spring cleaning, installing security devices, child-minding while she goes to her survivor support group…

      I could go on an on. My dreams are like burgeoning cauliflower clouds.
      Maybe I’m unrealistic, but it’s such fun to dream!

      I also have dreams of community education programs that would help to bring this about. Immersion programs where people spent several days learning about what domestic abuse is like. Not just sitting through videos, talks, survivor story presentations, but also spending time in a simulated “abusive home” where the isolation and fear and confusion was somehow made palpable (without exposing the learners to actual danger, of course). Get them to feel in their pores, under their skin, what it’s like living under the coercive control of an abuser. Only when they get THAT will the general population wake up and become proactive allies with the victims.

  2. Anna

    You can forgive people without going back into the “trash can.” There are some people in my family that I have nothing to do with and do not ever see by choice because they would hurt me if I was near them, but I do forgive them as best I can. I forgive for ME, not for THEM…and I just give them and what they did to God and let Him take care of it. He will make all things right one day. You do not need to be around people that bother you so much that it makes your stomach sick. Forgiving doesn’t mean letting an abuser back into your life.

  3. Singing Eagle

    Dear Little Miss Me!
    Thank you sharing because now others who have the same question will know YES!! it is still abuse. Like me, I suffered for years until I was up in the middle of the night, crying, wondering if there was something wrong with me and about his Jekyll and Hyde personality that no one else saw but me and the kids. He always managed to stay under the radar where others saw only the charming disguise. But I suddenly saw on TV one night someone describing the cycle for both physical and non-physical abuse and I was shocked to see all the symptoms were in my life for non-physical abuse though I was still in denial that you can be raped by your own husband. Hope this post helps one other person get the help they need!

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