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We may not associate domestic violence with emotional abuse. The image that comes to mind when thinking about domestic violence is often of a woman who is battered and bruised with a black eye, but physical violence only makes up part of the bigger picture of domestic violence. What about the wounds that we cannot see?

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Recognizing the unseen wounds of emotional abuse, Attorney-General George Brandis recently launched the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book. This book, which is available publicly, outlines new domestic violence guidelines specifically designed for Australian judicial officers to help them recognise signs of emotional abuse, not just physical violence.

emotional abuse, domestic violence, psychological abuse, divorceDomestic Violence NSW CEO Moo Baulch welcomed the guidelines and said emotional abuse often left deeper scars than physical violence. She said, “Many women who are survivors of domestic violence say the non-physical abuse, the manipulation of power and control and the financial abuse, are often a lot harder to recover from than the physical abuse. . .Women will say the scars and often horrific injuries will heal, but emotionally they live with the impact often decades later.”

Domestic violence is to do with control and the abuse of power.  It usually occurs with one partner exercising control over another – usually over a period of time. Ms Baulch said, “There are many abusive relationships where there is never any physical violence, but a woman may be prevented from having relationships with friends or family. There are many examples of men monitoring the kilometres on his partner’s car to see if she’s having relationships with people outside the house. She may be cut of financially. You don’t need a black eye for it to be abuse.”

Some of the behaviour that judges and magistrates are encouraged to look for as emotional abuse include arguing about household chores or criticising your partner’s appearance. These behaviours by themselves are not examples of abuse – most women and men with partners could cite an example of this kind of behaviour from their own experience who are not in a violent relationship.  When these practices exist in the context of other controlling and adverse behaviours, they form part of the pattern of abuse.

Domestic Violence Comes in Many Forms

The book details all of the different types of abuse that a victim may experience:

  • physical violence and harm
  • sexual and reproductive abuse
  • economic abuse
  • emotional and psychological abuse
  • cultural and spiritual abuse
  • following, harrassing and monitoring
  • social abuse
  • exposing children to family and domestic violence
  • damaging property
  • animal abuse
  • systems abuse
  • forced marriage

It paints an ugly picture of the complexity of domestic violence, including that it often is not limited to physical abuse. It also highlights the need for judicial officers to ask good questions so that there is a complete picture of what is really happening in a relationship that on the surface may not seem to fit the typical domestic violence image. The book says examples of emotional and psychological abuse can include “menacing or intimidatory behaviours or gestures directed repeatedly and strategically at the victim including angry verbal outbursts, staring, silence, ignoring and withdrawal of affection.”

A Victim of Emotional Abuse

For years, Chloe Rimmer was subject to this kind of emotional abuse.  Liam Bates would hold Ms Rimmer down and act as if he was going to punch her “at least once every three days” and would emotional abuse, domestic violence, psychological abuse, divorcecall her a “slut and a slag.” Ms Rimmer escaped with her children and went straight to a police station the day Bates threatened to kill her and her family and threatened to punch her. He is now in jail under new domestic violence laws in the UK which target controlling partners. Although he admitted to assault and engaging in coercive or controlling behaviour, his attitude towards his behaviour does not show an understanding of the seriousness of what he refers to as ‘mouthing off’.

Judge Andrew Shaw, on the other hand, did recognise the gravity of Mr Bates’ abusive behaviour.  He said, “The process of punching and then withholding the punch was designed to cause maximum psychological harm. . .The physical harm was minimal but I note there were elements of psychological control.”  Ms Rimmer became isolated from her family and ‘dependant’ on Bates after becoming pregnant. She said, “He would go to punch me while I was holding the baby, but slow the punch so it connected lightly, taunting me”. She added: “I would vomit with stress and would lose a lot of weight due to not eating two to three days at a time.”

Coercive control, also referred to as ‘intimate terrorism’, was the subject of a recent radio drama on BBC Radio 4 with their long-running drama The Archers.  It is a program where the scriptwriters was worked closely with domestic violence charities to get a true and clear picture across of this type of domestic abuse.  Often this type of insidious abuse goes unnoticed and unchallenged because the more ‘explosive’ type incidents are much more obvious.  Doctors, police, social workers, justice officers and any others who come into contact with those subject to this kind of emotional and psychological abuse often don’t get to spend enough time with the victims to notice and see the pattern of behaviour that often makes up intimate terrorism – the little ‘everyday’ things which don’t make much of a ripple in isolation.

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What does this mean for a victim?  Know it’s abuse and that something can be done about it. Please speak to someone – your GP may be a good place to start if you feel you have no one else to safely turn to.

What does this mean for us as a community? Watch, listen and be ready: ready to have an unexpected conversation with your neighbour, niece or brother; ready to ask questions beyond isolated incidences; and be ready to help.

If you would like to speak to one of our experienced family lawyers then please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone conversation.