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Forensic Psychology

Signs, Symptoms and Indicators of Domestic Abuse

This blog post will educate the reader about the signs of domestic abuse, and how to identify it in every day life. It also touches on the specific symptoms and indicators of female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honour-based abuse, and digital domestic abuse; as well as who is most at risk from experiencing these.

Physical Abuse

Individuals affected by physical violence present with recurrent physical injuries such as black eyes, bruises, split lips, marks on the neck, or sprained wrists. Moreover, the explanations given for these injuries might be inconsistent, and might be obviously a cover-up for something else. Finally, they might also wince when making motor movements as if in pain and trying to avoid pressure on a specific part of the body. However, it must be noted that perpetrators tend to be wary of where they leave marks, so as to avoid getting caught. So in many cases, physical abuse is hidden from the public eye and the victim is manipulated into keeping things secret. Physical signs of domestic abuse might not always be visible because the perpetrator might be ensuring that they leave no evidence that could incriminate them. This might mean that they will attack the victim in specific hidden places such as the head, the stomach, or breasts, among other places. Furthermore, they might have manipulated the victim to hide the marks, or to keep silent; and the victim might actually be using clothing, make-up, and accessories to actively cover the injury. 

Emotional & Psychological Abuse

Individuals affected by emotional abuse present with symptoms of agitation and anxiety, chronic tiredness and insomnia, substance or alcohol use disorder, submissiveness (e.g. apologising all of the time), anhedonia, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, fear or wariness, depression, and/or suicidal ideation. Whilst these symptoms might not always be caused by domestic abuse, these are commonly experienced by people who are in abusive relationships. Therefore, it is important to take into account these indicators when safeguarding adults from potential abuse which might be hidden. Emotional signs of domestic abuse are inherently invisible and can only be detected by observation. If the victim does not have a support network who knows them well, it might be more difficult for anyone to notice any differences in behaviour. Furthermore, not everyone is equipped with the knowledge to correctly identify signs of emotional abuse. Moreover, victims might actually avoid disclosing anything, especially if the perpetrator has manipulated them to keep things to themselves through blame and/or threats. 

Individuals affected by domestic abuse present with behavioural markers that could reveal their ordeal such as drastic behaviour or personality changes, unjustified self-isolation, being unable to attend scheduled meetings, avoidance of social gatherings, the sudden reluctance to engage in activities once enjoyed, and/or secretive behaviours. Furthermore, the individual might appear anxious and/or fearful, and their behaviour might seem extremely ‘well-behaved’ when around their perpetrator. These individuals may try to cover up the abuse they are being put through by giving excuses that are unrelated to what is actually happening. Behavioural signs of domestic abuse are difficult to pinpoint if the victim is not known to the witness very well, and therefore the witness cannot notice a change in usual behaviour. This means that unless someone notices the situation, a bystander intervention is unlikely, especially when the victim makes excuses for apparent unusual incidents which no one can recognise as an inconsistency. 

Coercive Control

Individuals affected by coercive control present with signs and indicators such as asking their perpetrator for permission to socialise with others, receiving numerous texts and/or calls from their perpetrator, having no money or access to it, having no car and being picked up by their perpetrator all the time, and/or needing to be home at specific times. These individuals might also keep these patterns secret, and might actually feel shame related to their ordeal. Signs of coercive control are often quite hidden from everyday life because the victim might appear to be respectful rather than fearful of her perpetrator. Others might not pick up on the abusive flood of texts and/or calls, or might not understand that all of these communications come from the perpetrator. Furthermore, victims might feel embarrassed to disclose their financial situation and/or dependencies, and might avoid answering truthfully when questioned about details. 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Women who have been genitally mutilated present with difficulty walking, sitting, or standing; they show signs of being in pain, and may spend longer in the toilet than usual. They might be anxious, depressed, and/or might be self-isolating without a justification. They might present with drastic changes of behaviour and personality, may engage in truancy at school/college/university, might become absent from work and/or might withdraw from social activities. Furthermore, the Home Office has a list of countries flagged as ‘risky’ when it comes to female genital mutilation. These are Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria, Eritrea, Yemen, Kurdistan, and Indonesia. Women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation are those who speak about special ceremonies or rituals about womanhood in their culture, those who say that they are going on holiday outside the UK, those who say that a ‘special’ relative is coming to visit them, and those have family members who have been already mutilated. This means that when women and girls present with any of the above indicators, and especially when they have connections to any of the blacklisted countries, they should be safeguarded through bystander intervention.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage happens here in the UK and also abroad. Sometimes only the woman is forced, and other times both parties are forced. Individuals affected by forced marriage present with truancy or absence from work, fearfulness and anxiety about holidays, failure to return to occupational life after a holiday, not being allowed to study or work, having excessive parental control,  depression or isolation, and/or attempts to escape their ordeal at home. Furthermore, those at risk of being forced into marriage include those who have connections to those who have already been forced to marry, and those whose culture promotes early marriage. Countries known to have child marriage include Nigeria, Central African Republic, Chad, Bangladesh, Mali, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mozambique and India (Reid, 2018); as well as Pakistan (Ijaz, 2018). 

Honour-based Abuse

In some cultures, the family or community might attempt to protect or defend their shared values through abusive means and/or threats of abusive means such as harassment, assault, imprisonment, murder and rape. This is what is known as honour-based abuse and it is directly linked to beliefs, and attitudes. Individuals affected by this type of abuse present with drastic changes in behaviour or personality, anxiety, demotivation, poor performance, excessive control by others, self-isolation which cannot be justified, confrontational and argumentative behaviours, truancy or absence from work, attempts to escape their ordeal, self-harm, depression, substance or alcohol use disorders, suicidal ideation, and/or actual bodily harm (ABH). Furthermore, individuals at risk of honour-based abuse include those who have relatives who have been forced into early marriage, and those who come from cultures where honour-based abuse is perceived as normal. Countries flagged as risky when it comes to this type of abuse include Turkey, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South and Eastern Europe, and traveller communities. This means that people from these cultures are particularly at risk of being abused. 

Digital Domestic Abuse

Digital domestic abuse entails harassment, bullying, and/or stalking through an online platform, and/or the restriction of someone from  accessing technology. Individuals affected by digital domestic abuse present with an excessive number of texts/calls, appear visibly upset or distressed after texts/calls, online attacks against their integrity, and online embarrassing media involving them. Furthermore, individuals who are being coercively controlled through technology present with a monitored access to social media, emails, and/or the internet by their perpetrators,  signs that others have access to their personal digital accounts, a controlled access to technology by the perpetrators, a recurrent pattern of asking for permission from their perpetrator before connecting digitally with the people in their lives, an excessive guardedness about what is said in emails or other digital platforms, and/or a recurrent pattern of borrowing other people’s technology for access to the internet. Moreover, an individual can be both abused digitally, and also face to face, with punishments, reprimands and other negative consequences used by the perpetrator to intimidate the victim into obeying. 

References

Ijaz, S. (2018) ‘Time to End Child Marriage in Pakistan’, Human Rights Watch, 9 November [Online]. Available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/09/time-end-child-marriage-pakistan (accessed 14 February, 2022). 

Reid, K. (2018) ‘Untying the knot: 10 worst places for child marriage’, World Vision, 6 July [Online]. Available at https://www.worldvision.org/child-protection-news-stories/10-worst-places-child-marriage (accessed 14th February, 2022).  

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