It is not uncommon for victims of domestic abuse to be unaware that they are a victim. When it comes to defining an abuser, the line is often blurred as definitions of abuse can vary from person to person. A lot of the time, this can prevent people from leaving abusive relationships as they downplay their own experience and feel as though they don’t deserve help as much people have it worse. It’s important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” domestic abuse experience, and you’ll find it very hard to find someone that has a completely identical experience. It’s like when you’re hungry and someone points out “There are starving children in Africa.” Does that make you feel any less hungry? Somebody is always going to have it worse, but does that mean your own feelings don’t matter?
“The Freedom Programme” by Pat Craven can offer a useful insight if you feel as though the lines may be blurred in your experience and you feel unsure if you can class yourself as a victim. “The Freedom Programme” has been composed by a probation officer for perpetrators of domestic abuse. The information comes from the point of view of offenders themselves, offering an insight from the other side that may be helpful.
“The Freedom Programme” tries to explore the different types of abuse through the use of different personas.
The Bad Parent
“The Bad Parent” refers to the use of children to control and abuse the victim. An important thing to note is that it does not necessarily need to be biological children.
In essence, the motive here is an attempt to turn the victim’s children against them through a variety of tactics. Common examples include undermining authority, putting the victim down in front of them, name calling, making jokes, and verbal or physical abuse in front of the children.
The children can also be used as a technique to isolate the victim, with the perpetrator refusing to look after them so the victim cannot go out to see friends or go to work or have time to do things separately.
Perhaps one of the most saddening parts of this aspect, is that the perpetrator may often convince the children to start abusing the victim too. The children may be encouraged to also be violent and verbally abuse towards their parent.
The children are also used as a manipulation technique if the victim tries to leave. The abuser may cry in front of the child and blame the victim for trying to split the family up. The abuser may use financial tactics by threatening to stop paying support for the children if the victim decides to leave. In very extreme cases, the perpetrator may even threaten to hurt or kill the children if they leave.
The Bully uses intimidation to abuse the victim. Body language is an integral part of this. The Bully will stare and glare in a threatening manner, grind or grit their teeth, breathe heavily, huff and puff or perhaps use a sinister smile.
Tone of voice may become cold or the perpetrator may raise their voice or shout. The victim may have their personal space invaded. The victim may be approached or startled from behind or the perpetrator may come right up to the victim’s face.
The Bully may also kick furniture, smash the victim’s possessions, kick doors, and punch walls. They may even thrust their crotch or puff themselves up in order to look larger and more intimidating.
The Jailer refers to the use of isolation in an abusive relationship. The Jailer prevents the victim from going out using a variety of tactics. They may beg not be left on their own, or try and persuade the victim to stay in bed all day.
They may refuse to look after the children so the victim has no choice, and in cases where they have no choice the perpetrator may even refrain from looking after the children properly by lack of supervision, not putting them to bed, not feeding them properly, and even phoning the victim to hear the children crying in the background. This is so the victim becomes reluctant to leave the children with them.
In extreme cases, the perpetrator does not even want the victim to go to work or leave the house and may even lock the door so the victim cannot leave.
When the victim does leave, the perpetrator is always checking up on the victim and demanding proof of where the victim is. The perpetrator will call the victim constantly, and sometimes even ask for pictures of videos proving the victim’s location.
The Headworker uses emotional abuse as a tool. The Headworker wants the victim to feel worthless, stupid, and ugly. The perpetrator will use insulting names to diminish the victims self-esteem.
Sometimes the perpetrator will compare the victim to impossible standards such as celebrities on TV, or compare the victim to their close friends or family and sometimes even become unfaithful.
When the victim questions this, the perpetrator may often use humour to cover up the comments. The Headworker may reply to objections with “Can’t you take a joke?”.
In extreme cases, the perpetrator may even convince the victim they are going mad and make the victim question their sanity. Sometimes even going out their way to try and get the victim diagnosed as mentally ill. One example of this is asking the victim to call the police and telling them there are burglars in the house, and then of course, when the police arrive they find out nobody is in the house, leaving the victim looking questionable.
The Persuader refers to the use of coercion and threats if the victim tries to leave, or to convince the victim to drop charges. The Persuader will threaten to kill the victim, kill themselves, kill the children, or kill relatives. The Persuader may also threaten to kidnap the children or phone social services on the victim.
The Persuader also wants to make the victim feel sorry for them. They may turn up at the door crying and begging for the victim to come back. They will tell the victim they love them. They may get their family members or friends to get in touch with the victim to tell the victim how bad they are coping and try to convince the victim to go back.
The Persuader will make false promises and excuses, and may claim their own insecurities are the reason they have behaved the way they have and promise to get help. They will promise to go to help groups or go on medication.
If all the above tactics fail, The Persuader will try to make the victim jealous by getting a better job. Moving into a nice flat. Buying a new car. Getting a new female partner.
I think all the above descriptions of the forms of abuse are really helpful and detailed when it comes to identifying if you may be a victim. I think it’s even more interesting that all this information has been sourced from abusers themselves.
It’s important to remember that domestic abuse is not black or white. There is a spectrum of abuse, and no two stories are going to be the same. Just because you may feel as though there are a lot of people that have it worse, doesn’t mean you should ignore your own situation.
Read more about The Freedom Programme here.