Are you Being Abused? How to Recognise It


How to recognise abuse

In South Africa gender inequality is a huge issue, despite a Constitution that guarantees the rights of all, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, age or disability. Sadly, gender inequality often bleeds into gender-based violence and sexual abuse. Rape is distressingly common. Rape and violence against women are abhorrent and as a society we must work much harder to stamp them out. But they are not the only forms of abuse suffered by women…or men.

Often if there is no injury or physical mark a woman may feel she does not have a complaint worth making, or that no one will take her seriously. There are many types of non-physical abuse and no one should have to suffer them any more than they should suffer violence at the hands of a partner. But psychological abuse can be so insidious that it is not recognised as abuse; women are often so undermined by an abusive relationship that they come to believe they deserve the treatment meted out by their partners.

If you suspect that someone you know is suffering abuse from a partner, or if you are in an unhealthy relationship but not sure what to do about it, the following may help you to identify the abuse taking place.

Types of abuse

Abuse can take many forms. As well as physical and sexual maltreatment, a partner may cause harm through financial, emotional, psychological or verbal abuse. What might these look like?

Financial abuse:

Even in healthy relationships finances can be a point of strain. When a relationship becomes unhealthy financial matters, including earning potential, can become a vehicle for abuse. Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Preventing you from having or keeping a job
  • Interfering with your efforts to maintain a job by sabotaging childcare, transportation or other arrangements
  • Harassing you while you are at work
  • Not including you in family financial decisions or allowing you access to the family finances or financial information
  • Making you ask for money
  • Taking your money
  • Demanding an account of everything you buy
  • Not allowing you to talk to others about money, e.g. other family members
  • Not allowing your name to be on accounts, which would allow you to build credit
  • Forcing you to put your name on accounts and then destroying your credit

Emotional abuse:

Emotional abuse can be harder to evidence as emotions are less visible and tangible than behaviour surrounding finances. But emotional abuse is serious and can destroy self-esteem. It is often characterised by the following:

  • Feeling that your partner controls your life
  • Feeling that your partner does not value your thoughts or feelings
  • Having a partner who is willing to do anything to win an argument, including insults, threats or intimidation
  • Experiencing angry or jealous behaviour from your partner if you talk to someone else, or being accused of having affairs
  • Feeling that you can do nothing right in your partner’s eyes
  • Having to account for every moment of your time
  • Being forced to have sex as a way to make up after an argument
  • Having your children used against you in arguments or experiencing threats that you will never see the children again if you leave
  • Being blamed for everything that goes wrong

Psychological abuse:

Psychological abuse can be confused with emotional abuse, and there is a degree of overlap, but while emotional abuse erodes self-esteem, psychological abuse can severely damage your mental health. Emotional abuse is characterised by the way your partner makes you feel; psychological abuse is typified by more identifiable behaviours designed to undermine you, such as:

  • Breaking promises, not following through on agreements, or not taking a fair share of responsibility
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Controlling what you do, whom you talk to, and where you go
  • Making threats against you
  • Attacking your vulnerabilities, such as your educational level, skills as a parent, religious and cultural beliefs, or physical appearance
  • Playing mind games, such as undercutting your sense of reality
  • Forcing you to do degrading things
  • Ignoring your feelings
  • Driving too fast while you are in the car
  • Withholding approval or affection as punishment
  • Regularly threatening to leave or telling you to leave
  • Harassing you about non-existent affairs your partner imagines you are having
  • Always claiming to be right or saying you are wrong

Verbal abuse:

Verbal abuse can contribute to feelings of emotional abuse, and includes:

  • Degrading you in front of friends and family
  • Telling hurtful “jokes” despite your requests to stop
  • Deliberately taking your statements out of context
  • Name-calling
  • Yelling/shouting
  • Insulting or humiliating you, especially in front of others
  • Criticising you or blaming you when things go wrong
  • Accusing you
  • Questioning your sanity

Furthermore, if you are suffering any of the above forms of abuse, it is likely that now or at some time in the future your partner may also become physically abusive. It is important to remember that physical and sexual abuse can also take many forms, some less blatant than others. Any one of the following constitutes physical or sexual abuse and you do not have to put up with it.

Physical abuse:

  • Pushing
  • Pinching or biting
  • Slapping, beating or kicking
  • Choking
  • Backing you into a corner
  • Pinning you down
  • Throwing objects
  • Pulling your hair
  • Holding you captive
  • Breaking down a door to get to you
  • Preventing you from eating or sleeping
  • Locking you out of the house
  • Forcing your car off the road
  • Abandoning you in dangerous places
  • Keeping you from getting medical care or withholding medications or medical treatment
  • Spitting on you
  • Using or threatening to use a weapon against you
  • Driving at unsafe speeds to intimidate you
  • Refusing to help you when you are sick, injured or pregnant
  • Cruelty towards pets

Sexual abuse:

  • Unwanted touching
  • Demanding sex
  • Forcing sex
  • Name-calling with sexual terms
  • Demanding sex after a violent incident
  • Forcing you to engage in commercial sex work or pornography
  • Forcing you to have sex with others besides your partner
  • Insisting on anything sexual that frightens or hurts you
  • Refusing to use safe sex practices
  • Preventing you from using birth control/contraception
  • Controlling your decisions about pregnancy and/or abortion
  • Withholding sex as a form of control
  • Videotaping or photographing sexual acts and posting online without your permission
  • Telling you that “as a matter of law” you must continue to have sex with him whenever he wants until you are divorced

If you experience any of these please don’t suffer in silence. There are many sources of help and support. Some of them are listed below.

If you are married and want to discuss the possibility of divorce with an attorney who will listen to you and help you pick up the pieces and move on, contact Simon now on or 076 116 0623.

POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse):

Telephonic support: 011 642 4345/6


Lifeline Western Cape – telephone counselling and support:

LifeLine counselling line: 021 461 1111 or 0861 322 322

Further reading:

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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