Abuse that Doesn’t Bruise Still Hurts

If you’ve only ever known of abuse from the news and other people’s horror stories, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. In 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that one in four ever-married (married, widowed, separated, or divorced) women aged 15-49 has experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their husband or partner. Abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere, no matter how strong or healthy their relationship appears.

No one “expects” abuse when they find out about it. People may say that the abuser “didn’t look like” someone who would hit, kick, or strangle their partner, or that they seemed sweet together in public and in pictures. Sometimes, in an attempt to save face or protect their partner, survivors of abuse use makeup and long sleeves to cover up the evidence. But not all abusive behaviors leave bruises. There are types of abuse that could be happening right in front of you – or in your own relationship – that don’t involve any physical touch at all.

Most of these examples come from Loveisrespect, an excellent resource for information about recognizing, preventing, and coping with abuse.

Emotional abuse

This includes insults, threats, and intimidation. Emotional abuse can also come in the form of constant monitoring when you’re not together, humiliating you, isolating you from your friends and family, or stalking you. Republic Act 9262 (The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004) defines “stalking” as:

[A]n intentional act committed by a person who, knowingly and without lawful justification follows the woman or her child or places the woman or her child under surveillance directly or indirectly or a combination thereof.

These are other forms of emotional and verbal abuse:

  • Intentionally embarrassing you in public
  • Stopping you from interacting with your friends and family
  • Damaging your property when they’re angry – whether it happens in front of you or not
  • Excessive jealousy of your outside relationships, often accompanied by accusations of cheating
  • Threatening you, your pet, or your loved ones
  • Making you feel guilty for not consenting to sex
  • Starting rumors about you
  • Threatening to expose your secrets to others if you don’t give them their way
  • Saying they’ll kill themselves if you leave them
  • Gaslighting

“Gaslighting” means that they make you question your reality so that they can control you more easily. For example, they could tell you a blatant lie with a straight face and insist that it’s true. Or they could deny having said or done something when you know they did, and even when you have proof of it. Gaslighting isn’t always an isolated incident – an abuser might wear you down over time to keep you unsteady and constantly doubting yourself and your memory.

Gaslighters may also try to tell you that everyone except for them is a liar. They’ll try to convince you that the media, your peers, and even your family aren’t telling you the truth, and that they are the only “real” one you should believe.

Financial abuse

Housewives and other women without a source of income are especially prone to financial abuse, but it can happen to anyone. It sometimes involves theft, but it can take many different forms:

  • Denying you access to money you’ve earned or any money at all
  • Giving you an allowance and monitoring everything you buy
  • Hiding shared bank accounts or records from you
  • Preventing you from working or limiting your working hours
  • Using your social security number to take out loans without your permission
  • Using your credit card without permission
  • Withholding money and other basic needs (rent, food, medicine, etc) from you
  • Using their money as leverage against you when they know you don’t have as much financial stability as they do

If you have children together, they may also financially abuse you by using your child’s social security number to claim an income tax refund without your permission, or by taking money from your kids’ tuition or a joint savings account without telling you.

Digital abuse

Cyberbullying is an epidemic. It is extremely easy to create a profile on social media or an email account and post, send, and share information and media. It’s also fairly easy to make that information widespread within your school, workplace, community, or the internet at large. Stairway Foundation Inc found that 80% of teenagers aged 13-16 have experienced cyberbullying. Some of them had received threats online. Others had been impersonated using fake social media accounts. Others still were humiliated online with edited photos of them or other means.

In intimate relationships, a partner may verbally or emotionally abuse you online through bullying, harassment, or stalking. Here are specific examples:

  • Sending you negative, insulting, or threatening messages
  • Insulting or embarrassing you in their status updates and other posts
  • Controlling or attempting to control who you can or can’t follow, be friends with, or message on social media
  • Sending you unwanted explicit pictures/videos or demanding that you send them explicit pictures/videos
  • Forcing you to give them your passwords or claiming that you don’t really love them if you don’t give them free access to your social media accounts
  • Guilting you into letting them look through your phone (texts, calls, pictures, call log, etc) or demanding that you do
  • Using GPS or some other technology to monitor you

Boundaries, physical and otherwise, are part of a healthy relationship, and setting boundaries is not something to be ashamed of.

Reproductive and sexual coercion

Making decisions about sex should be between partners, not up to just one person. This includes whether or not they have sex and when, and what kind of protection they will use, if they use any. Sexual abuse is physical; sexual coercion is also a form of abuse, but instead of using force, the abuser uses non-physical pressure.

  • Repeatedly pressuring you to have sex
  • Threatening to break up with you if you won’t have sex with them
  • Refusing to use a condom or preventing you from using birth control
  • Intentionally exposing you to a sexually transmitted infection

Reproductive coercion means interfering with contraceptive use. It often manifests as pregnancy pressure, which is trying to get you pregnant when you don’t want to or aren’t ready. Here are other ways reproductive coercion might happen:

  • Hiding, withholding, or destroying your birth control pills
  • Breaking or poking holes in a condom
  • Stealthing – taking off a condom during sex without permission
  • Not withdrawing when it was agreed upon
  • Removing vaginal rings, contraceptive patches, or IUDs
  • Pregnancy coercion – threats or acts of violence if you don’t agree with them to continue/terminate a pregnancy

Arm yourself with information.

Recognizing abuse that isn’t physical or sexual can be tricky. There are many abusive behaviors that are simply shrugged off as a normal part of a relationship, or worse, romanticized as signs that your partner loves you. If it feels wrong, there is a good chance that it is wrong. If you try to communicate with your partner about it and they instantly get defensive or angry, then they know that it’s wrong. This is a huge red flag, and an excellent time to reconsider continuing your relationship with this person.

If you learned something from this post, or if you think someone you know should see it – please pass it on.

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