How to spot whether someone you know could be in an abusive relationship

Sexist gender roles can be a 'recipe' for coercive relationships

Jess Staufenberg
Thursday 18 February 2016 16:18 GMT
Signs of an abusive relationship are not necessarily physical or violent
Signs of an abusive relationship are not necessarily physical or violent (Rex Features)

With one call every minute about relationship abuse to the police, spotting the signs - either as a victim or outsider - is becoming increasingly important.

A law brought in last year against "controlling or coercive behaviour" in relationships highlights that violent or physical abuse is no longer considered the only major problem in domestic settings.

Now a raft of charities are backing a new programme called "Drive", in which one-to-one support is given to men who pose a high risk of domestic violence.

The aim of putting 900 offenders through the scheme is to deal better with the "root cause" of a problem which, in its physical manifestation, kills two women every week and sees at least 100,000 at high risk in the UK.

Here are six key signs of an abusive relationship you may not know about:

1. Blaming the victim

An individual providing excuses for their partner's behaviour that appears unwarranted can be a sign. According to Pamela Jacobs, an advocate for ending sexual assault, a common tactic used by abusers is to play the victim and place the guilt for their actions and the relationship on their other half.

2. Seeming isolated

Be aware of women or men who see the people they care about less than they used to. Lisa Fontes, who has a PhD in Counseling Psycholog told says that activities may be restricted only to spending time with the suspected abuser. Feeling as though there is no one to talk to - or it would be shameful to do so - is a sign of being a victim of an abusive relationship.

3. Having personal correspondence checked

About 40 per cent of 16- to 25-year-olds have experienced “controlling behaviour” in the form of having their phone, messages, emails and social media accounts checked by a partner. Yet only a tiny fraction recognised this as a form of the coercive control now punishable under the Serious Crime Act 2015, the research by Women's Aid found.

Women who feel it is normal for their partner to be intrusively curious about their texts and emails may be in a controlling relationship - with the rise of mobile technology is making some forms of control easier for abusive partners.

4. 'Gaslighting' or distorting the victim's version of events

This is a form of mental abuse which tricks the victim into mistrusting their own version of reality, named after 1944 film "Gaslight" of the same topic.

An abuser might pretend after physically hurting their partner that no such thing happened and portray the incident as a figment of their imagination. The abuse might happen on a smaller scale too, such as denying a partner has said something and leading them to think what the abuser wants them to think - making them unaccepting of a friend's words to the contrary.

5. Acts of physical violence, however 'small'

Abusive relationships need not involve extreme acts of violence to be coercive and controlling.

"It can be rather constant, small acts that just let her know that she lives in a violent relationship," Dr Fontes says. This might include coming up close to their partner's face, holding them so they cannot go somewhere, and pushing them - which a victim might deny is an example of an abusive relationship.

6. Financial abuse

Taking money or credit cards is a common form of restricting the activities and freedom of a partner, according to domestic abuse charity Refuge.

Hollie Gazzard, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Asher Maslin, had reported him stealing money from her bank account before he killed her.

Being unable to afford rent or possessions without permission is key method of control and should raise immediate red flags, according to Refuge.

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