Categories
Forensic Psychology

The Power Threat Meaning Framework

According to the British Psychological Society (n.d.) the Power Threat Meaning Framework applies to everyone. This framework was initially created as an alternative to more traditional psychiatric nomenclatures. This model is trauma-informed and it is utilised by high profile hospitals such as Rampton Hospital (Willmot and Siddall, 2022). 

The framework consists in asking four initial questions, which answers can then be re-used to answer the two final questions. Willmot and Siddall (2022, pp. 32-33) state that the framework can also be ‘applied to understanding the needs of people who offend or behave in challenging ways’.  The framework makes some assumptions about trauma:

  • Mental illness and behavioural problems can be understood by analysing the role of power abuse. 
  • Abuses of power can impact negatively on people and can restrict them to the point where individuals might not be able to meet their most basic needs. 
  • Much of what we know as psychopathology can also be understood as learned responses people have developed to adapt or survive to adverse circumstances.  

Power 

The framework looks into the negative operation of power in a holistic way based on a person’s narrative. It is recognised that power can be biological/embodied, coercive, economic, social, cultural, and interpersonal. It also recognises that much of this reality is configured to privilege ‘white, male,  heterosexual, wealthy, educated, and mentally healthy people’ (Willmot and Siddall, 2022, pp. 32-33). 

Threat

Threat within the scope of this framework refers to the risks related to abuses of power which can prevent a person from meeting their core needs. There are several types of threats such as physical, economic,  health, social, emotional, quality of life, disability, or deprivation threats. These threatening events or potentials can lead to relational dysfunctions, disrupted attachments, abandonment fears; feelings of betrayal, shame, guilt, insecurity, and entrapment. 

Meaning

The framework is also person-centred, and recognises that every individual is unique. This leads to the assumption that people interpret events and give meaning to these events in unique ways. For instance, male and women due to societal stereotypes might have different expectations for behaviour. Different cultures give different meaning to different events, for instance, some cultures would engage in honour-abuse of girls who have been sexually assaulted. Therefore, the social, environmental, and political contexts all influence meaning. 

Framework

The framework posits that much of what we know as psychopathology are responses people develop to perceived threats in order to cope and/or survive (Willmot and Siddall, 2022). Ultimately, people at times develop specific habits, behaviours, or personality patterns as a result of their unmet needs. Hence, this framework seeks to ask some questions which answers can elucidate the unique perspective of the individual, potential power abuse triggers, as well as unique needs that must be met. These are the questions:

  • What has happened to you? (i.e. How is power operating in your life?)
  • How did it affect you? (i.e. What kind of threats did this pose?)
  • What sense did you make of it? (i.e. What is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
  • What did you have to do to survive? (i.e. What kind of threat responses are you using?)
  • What are your strengths? (i.e. What access to power resources do you have?)
  • What is your story? (i.e. Pulling of these reflections together)

These questions allow for the understanding of how a person has experienced abuses of power, the threats that resulted from such dynamics, the unique meaning a person gave to these events, and the specific threat responses that were developed as a result, as well as the strengths. Having this information in place, proactive support plans can be formulated ensuring that all interventions are  trauma-informed, and person-centred. 

References

British Psychological Society (n.d.) ‘Power Threat Meaning Framework’ [Online]. Available at https://www.bps.org.uk/power-threat-meaning-framework (accessed 29 April 2022). 

Willmot, P. and Siddall, Y. (2022) ‘Trauma, Violence, and Gender’, in Willmot, P. and Jones, L. (eds) Trauma-Informed Forensic Practice, London, Routledge, pp. 32-48 [Online]. Available at https://www.routledge.com/Trauma-Informed-Forensic-Practice/Willmot-Jones/p/book/9780367626914 (accessed 29 April 2022). 

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Categories
Forensic Psychology

Human Rights Fascism for Victims of Domestic Abuse in Canada

Victims are being thrown into jail for disclosing their experiences of domestic abuse. 

I recently had a deep conversation with a dear friend from Canada, whose name I will keep confidential. We were talking about narcissistic relationships and narcissistic abuse. I explained to her the status of domestic abuse in the UK, where previous to 2021 before the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was passed, most domestic abusers got away with their crimes. I was curious to understand what the situation in Canada is about domestic abuse. The Canadian Women Foundation (2021) posits that every six days, a woman is killed in Canada as a result of domestic violence.

I was horrified to find out that the government is currently arresting both perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse simultaneously. What this means is that when a victim of domestic abuse calls the police for help in Canada, the victim is also placed in jail and if they have children, they are automatically placed in foster care. I was shocked, I could not believe the level of fascism that is taking place in Canada. My first thought was ‘how is the Canadian government getting away with these human rights violations’? As a founding member of the United Nations charter, Canada has international commitments to maintain peace and security. 

My friend disclosed to me that a few years ago she had been arrested and placed in jail for three days for calling the police about domestic abuse and to report her perpetrator. It seemed, the police could not make up their minds about how to tackle domestic abuse, so they decided to give equal punishment to both the victim and the perpetrator. This is unacceptable, since there exist international conventions which place a duty on the Canadian government to protect victims. However, what they are doing instead is victimising those who have been abused. 

I decided to conduct a little research about it, and found that many women are going through this in Canada, not just my friend. For instance, the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (EVA BC; 2022a) deals with cases of domestic abuse and coordinates interventions to help victims. They have a Community Coordination for Women’s Safety (CCWS) program which formulates and implements strategies to support victims of domestic abuse (EVA BC; 2022b). The CCWS (2010) wrote a report which corroborated my friend’s story. The report  (p. 2) states: 

‘In  recent  years,  CCWS  and  EVA  BC  have  received  numerous  reports  from communities  of cases involving  the arrest of both parties  in relationship  violence situations. These communities have contacted us to express their concern. They report that women are being arrested even when there is evidence of a history of violence  by  their  male  partners’

Furthermore, they explain the impact that such situation has, such as: 

  • Less prosecution for these cases. 
  • More liability for police services. 
  • Empowerment of the perpetrator to continue the abuse. 
  • Victimisation of victims. 
  • Increased potential for homicide. 
  • Decreased likelihood that victims will disclose or seek help. 
  • Thwarted access to justice for victims. 
  • Thwarted attempts to access support for victims. 

Similarly, the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (2005) published a report where they highlight the problematic situation of victims of domestic abuse being charged with domestic violence whilst living with abusive men. They made several recommendations which included: 

  • To take into consideration that women’s use of force is not the same as men’s (often, violence arising from women was  self-defence). 
  • That when it comes to arrests, the dominant aggressor should be identified in a relationship where domestic abuse has taken place. 
  • That there need to be mechanisms in place to ensure that victims are able to access support services and victim services, which are thwarted by criminalising the victim. 
  • That more legal aid should be available to women. 

Finally, and more recently Grace (2019) reported around the same problematic, persistent, and pervasive issues related to the inappropriate arrests of women in domestic abuse cases. The article explains that whilst the police has a duty to identify the dominant aggressor in a relationship, women continue to be inappropriately arrested in situations of intimate partner violence. She states: ‘Women experience these failures by police as betrayal. Some even feel the police become complicit to their on-going abuse. As a result, women who have been inappropriately charged in situations of intimate partner violence say they would be unwilling to turn to the police for protection in the future, even if they are again victims of violence’. Furthermore, she provides 18 case studies and accounts of this situation. 

As it can be seen in this post, the situation of domestic abuse in Canada is a mess. My friend was one of those people who were inappropriately arrested, and who now feels that no one can protect her from domestic violence, because the police themselves are being abusive of their power. This type of human rights violation should not happen in theory, but in practice, as it has been demonstrated, injustice is an everyday experience for many women in Canada. This situation has been going on for a long time, and despite recommendations and updates to policies, it continues to affect victims and to silence their voices through state-sponsored fascism. 

References

Canadian Women Foundation  (2021) ‘The facts about gender-based violence’, 29 October [Online]. Available at https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/gender-based-violence/ (accessed 21 April 2022). 

Community Coordination for Women’s Safety (2010) ‘Women Being Arrested’, Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, June [Online]. Available at http://endingviolence.org/files/uploads/eing_Arrested_Backgrounder_Revised_June_2010_0.pdf (accessed 21 April 2022). 

Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (2022) ‘About us’ [Online]. Available at https://endingviolence.org/about-us/ (accessed 21 April 2022). 

Ending Violence Association of British Columbia (2022) ‘Community Coordination for Women’s Safety (CCWS)’ [Online]. Available at https://endingviolence.org/prevention-programs/ccws-program (accessed 21 April 2022). 

Grace, A. (2019) ‘“They Just Don’t Care”: Women Charged with Domestic Violence in Ottawa’, Manitoba Law Journal 153 [Online]. Available at https://www.canlii.org/en/commentary/doc/2019CanLIIDocs2790 (accessed 21 April 2022). 

Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (2005) ‘Women Charged with Domestic Violence in Toronto: The Unintended Consequences of Mandatory Charge Policies’, March  [Online]. Available at http://www.oaith.ca/assets/files/Publications/womenchargedfinal.pdf (accessed 21 April 2022). 


Photo by NEOSiAM  2021: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-s-hands-covered-with-blood-673862/

The Occupational Impacts of Domestic Abuse

The perpetrator’s control, whether overt, coercive or psychological; impacts on the day to day life of the victim(s). He terrorises the vulnerable person, and the victim might be living with all sorts of restrictions such as not being allowed to go out, or only allowed to go out for specific purposes (e.g. school or work). Everything could be under the perpetrator’s control including the victim’s fashion choices, social networks, and even her diet. 

The victim might be materially dependent on the abuser, or might be coerced into materially supplying for the abuser. In extreme cases, even basic activities such as using a phone or accessing the internet might be restricted. This is because the perpetrator wants to express supreme dominance over the victim. He wants to subjugate her, and the victim might be living in chronic fear of consequences. Furthermore, the victim will most possibly become isolated, manipulated, and made to live in distress, secrecy, and horror. All of this can of course take a toll on the occupational performance of the victim. 

Individuals who are affected by domestic abuse can at times display behaviours that challenge their institution. They may take a study break in order to comply with the perpetrator’s capricious requests, or to heal actual bodily harm (ABH). They might also ask for time out in order to cope with their mental health, or to use substances as an escape route. Individuals might perform poorly in exams and assessments, might display demotivation and lack of ambition, and there is a disruption to long-term career plans.  

Furthermore, individuals affected by domestic abuse might be prevented from getting to work as a result of physical injury or restraint, might be threatened, gaslighted, and given all home-based responsibilities to stop them from going out. If the victim manages to go to work, there might be a clear deterioration in performance or jobs might be poorly done. If a manager is not engaging in trauma-informed practice, it is more likely that they will not be able to effectively safeguard a victim when she shows symptoms. The victim might not disclose the abuse, and the manager might actually exacerbate her situation with this type of subjugation. The victim might lose her job, career, and/or prospective promotions. Finally, in extreme cases a perpetrator might stalk and/or harass the victim within the workplace, and trigger conflict between the victim and her colleagues, especially if these are unaware or unsympathetic. 

Impacts on Children 

Children affected by domestic abuse find it more difficult to form secure attachments, and often show deficits in language, cognitive, emotional, and social development. This may manifest in the form of poor educational achievement, behaviour that challenges, mental health problems, and interpersonal maladaptations.  Those in puberty might behave in similar ways to their perpetrators, and engage in disruptive behaviours. They may experience truancy, and/or might attempt to protect their perpetrators. They might become isolated, and might be prevented from forming friendships. When a child is subjugated, they are prevented from exercising their freedom of thought, and from expressing their subjectivity. All this affects their psychological health, and can impair performance. 

The Complex Process of Profiling & Diagnosing Autism

According to the NHS (2019), ‘being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people’. The core characteristics of autism are: (1) poor social communication; (2) poor social interaction; (3) sensory processing differences; (4) sensory sensitivity; (5) repetitive behaviours; and (6) obsessions and fixations on special interests. These characteristics can vary, and some individuals show two or three, whilst others might be more severely affected (Lincoln College, 2022). This blog post will explore these core characteristics, the unofficial subtypes of autism, and the complex process of diagnosis.

Individuals experiencing the behavioural abnormalities, will show a fixation on specific activities, tools, toys, etc. They may use these objects in particular ways. Furthermore, they may engage in repetitive behaviours such as hand flapping or spinning around, might become upset if their routine is disrupted, and will insist on maintaining consistency. Moreover, they might have unusual sensory interests, either a high or low tolerance to pain, unpredictable verbal outbursts, and might become upset at sensory intrusions. Finally, they might also engage in risky or self-injurious behaviour. 

Individuals experiencing communication difficulties might have a delayed language development, speech difficulties and/or reliance on alternative communication methods, high levels of articulation, literal interpretation of words (i.e. lack of understanding of jokes or sarcasm), problems starting and maintaining conversations, stereotyped and repetitive use of phrases, a monotonous voice tone, and poor interpretation of body language or other forms of non-verbal communication. 

Individuals experiencing social difficulties might struggle to form and sustain friendships, might show a lack of interest in social activities, might engage in inappropriate social responses, might have a lack of awareness of boundaries, might reject expressions of affection such as hugging, might prefer to role play,  and might be naive, suggestible and overly trusty of others. 

The Unofficial Subtypes of Autism

Due to current diagnostic manuals such as the DSM-V (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and ICD-11 (World Health Organisation, 2019), individuals are generally given a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) regardless of their profiles. Yet, there are unofficial categories used by the autistic community to understand differences better.

Individuals categorised as having Asperger’s syndrome tend to have a higher than average I.Q., and unlike other forms of autism, no speech or cognitive difficulties. However, interpersonal difficulties are prevalent for them, as they struggle to communicate and interact with others. Yet, the symptoms are invisible and difficult to spot. They may also have pathologies which affect their day to day life (Lincoln College, 2022). Asperger’s syndrome is no longer diagnosed (McCrimmon, 2018) but it is still generally seen as a subtype of autism. It is also believed that Asperger’s syndrome is a form of high-functioning autism (HFA) which according to Lincoln College (2022) entails a delay in development, an inability to read facial expressions, a hypersensitivity to light and noise, and a desire for socialisation without understanding how to effectively do it. Nevertheless, HFA is not diagnosable, although it is also recognised by autistic populations. 

Individuals categorised as having Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) tend to have intersubjective difficulties and to avoid the demands of everyday life. This profile is not an universally recognised form of autism by healthcare professionals, however, it is still generally used by autistic populations. According to the National Autistic Society (n.d.), an individual with this profile ‘(a) resists and avoids the ordinary demands of life; (b) uses social strategies as part of avoidance, for example, distracting, giving excuses; (c) appears sociable, but lacks some understanding; (d) experiences excessive mood swings and impulsivity; (e) appears comfortable in role play and pretence; and (f) displays obsessive behaviour that is often focused on other people’. Furthermore, Lincoln College (2022) states that these individuals have an anxiety-based desire to remain in control all the time, and can become aggressive if they feel they are not in control. They also seem to get stressed out if anything is expected of them. However, if they feel comfortable, they seem normal. 

Individuals labelled as having Kanner’s Autism also known as ‘Classic Autism’ are described as having impairments in communication, and a fixation on activities with restrictive or repetitive behaviour such as hand flapping. The criteria for this autism profile is: (1) an impairment in the use of non-verbal skills, poor eye contact, and an inability to interpret body language; (2) inability to make and maintain friendships; (3) inability to enjoy interests or share activities; (4) inability to respond appropriately to emotion in others; (5) delay in, or complete lack of language development; (6) repetitive use of language; (7) fixation on a particular interest; (8) inflexibility to change routines; and (9) repetitive physical movements (Lincoln College, 2022). However, this is not diagnosable. 

Individuals diagnosed as having atypical autism are those whose pattern of behaviour fits most but not all of the criteria for other forms of autism. It can often be undiagnosed for many years as individuals tend to be given this label later in life. 

Finally, individuals categorised as having Savant syndrome have skills which are uncommon to most people, as well as having the general characteristics of autism. Among the extraordinary abilities seen in savant autism are being able to mentally solve complex mathematical problems, having great memory for specific details of something, high quality artistic skills, and outstanding musical talent. 

Diagnosing Autism

The advantage  of diagnosing Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is that individuals and their families can find as much information as possible about the condition and engage in psychoeducation, which can foster a sense of relief. The diagnosis might help the individuals have more clarity about their difficulties, and might give them more insight into potential comorbidities or wrong diagnoses. Moreover, a personalised care plan with strategies can be devised for ongoing support in all sectors. Nevertheless, a disadvantage of diagnosis is that individuals have to live with the stigma (i.e. negative stereotyping) associated with psychiatric labels, and how the label can affect their relationships and lead to prejudice and discrimination. Furthermore, another disadvantage is that individuals might become depressed with the fact that autism has no cure. They might also experience more adverse circumstances as a result of having a diagnosed disability, and all these negative variables might lead the individual to internalise the label and to embrace the maladaptive behaviours associated with the label which shapes their identity (Lincoln College, 2022). 

Diagnosis is usually done through a person’s GP; however, a paediatrician, a speech and language therapist, an educational psychologist, and/or a specialist psychologist might also need to be involved; and sometimes this multidisciplinary approach can take years before a diagnosis is given (Lincoln College, 2022). Moreover, information for diagnosis is also gathered from relatives, teachers and friends of the individual presenting with symptoms. The individual might be observed as he or she conducts activities and skills might be tested. Furthermore, professionals working with people with autism must take on board the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE; n.d.) guidelines. These specifically state that anyone working with autism should be skilled and competent and have tactful communication skills (Lincoln College, 2022). 

There are several factors that influence the diagnosis of autism: (1) culture— behaviours classed as ‘abnormal’ by a society might bring attention and concern to others. Some countries might perceive different behaviours as ‘symptomatic’, whilst others might see the same behaviours as completely ‘normal’. Also, stigma might become a barrier to diagnosis; (2) age— even though the symptoms of autism can be spotted when the individual is 2-3 years old, many professionals refuse to make a diagnosis until later on. However, some professionals are also reluctant to diagnose adults; (3) sex— males tend to get a diagnosis of autism more than females. Some believe that this is due to how different the characteristics manifest, with girls being more able to hide the symptoms; (4) parental attitudes— some children might not get diagnosed because their parents cannot effectively spot the symptoms, or they might ignore these manifestations out of fear of being judged. Alternatively, parents might insist to the family GP that the child has a problem even if such is not the case; (5) coexisting conditions— autism often has mental and physical comorbidities, making it more difficult to pinpoint the exact cause for specific behaviours, and making diagnosis more complicated; and (6) genetic factors— autism has a genetic link that runs in families. 

Furthermore, there are also barriers to diagnosing autism such as a lack of local services for autistic people, which means that a formal diagnosis with the necessary multidisciplinary specialists is not always possible as a GP might have limited knowledge of the condition. This might subsequently lead to individuals not being diagnosed for a long time, which might prevent them from wanting a diagnosis in the future. It can also lead to individuals not having a documented developmental history, which can affect the process of diagnosis.  Moreover, another barrier to diagnosing autism is how subtle some of the symptoms can be, and how subjective the interpretation of these symptoms also is (Lincoln College, 2022).  

References

American Psychiatric Association (2013a) Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.

Lincoln College (2022) ‘The diagnosis and characteristics of autism’, TQUK Level 3 Certificate in Understanding Autism [Online]. Available at https://lincolncollege.equal-online.com/courseplayer/autisml3/?ls=8663048&cpid=223390  (accessed 22 February 2022). 

McCrimmon, A. (2018 ‘What happened to Asperger’s syndrome?’, The Conversation, 8 March [Online]. Available at https://theconversation.com/what-happened-to-aspergers-syndrome-89836 (accessed 22 February 2022). 

National Autistic Society (n.d.) ‘PDA — a guide for parents and carers’ [Online]. Available at https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/diagnosis/pda/parents-and-carers (accessed 22 February 2022). 

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (n.d.) ‘Autism’ [Online]. Available at https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/conditions-and-diseases/mental-health-and-behavioural-conditions/autism (accessed 23 February 2022). 

NHS (2019) ‘What is autism?’, 18 April [Online]. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/what-is-autism/ (accessed 10 March 2022). 

World Health Organisation (2019) ‘International Classification of Diseases – 11th Revision’ [Online]. Available at https://icd.who.int/en (accessed 22 February 2022). 

Photo by Polina Kovaleva

Categories
Forensic Psychology

The Health Impacts of Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse takes a toll on victims, and they experience all sorts of maladies as a result of the abuse they were put through, both in the short term and in the long term. This blog post will inform the reader about the health impacts that domestic abuse can have on adults and children. 

Impacts on Adults

Individuals affected by domestic abuse often present with depression, and are more susceptible to suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other stress and anxiety disorders, insomnia, and eating disorders. They also have low self-esteem and confidence levels. Furthermore, domestic abuse can change the victim’s behavioural temperament permanently, especially when the victim is a child. Research shows that when children are abused, as early as adolescence they can engage in hypersexual, promiscuous, or disinhibited behaviours, as well as risky behaviours such as using illicit drugs, drinking heavily, and/or smoking. 

Moreover, women who were sexually abused as children find it particularly difficult to connect in appropriate or safe ways, and are more prone to allowing abusive relationships to enter their lives. It is believed that this happens because these traumatised women cannot distinguish between men who show affection, and men who make sexual advances. For instance, they may think that expressions of affection or support are sexual advances and might respond sexually, and/or might think that expressions of sexual desire are ‘love’ and respond romantically.  What this tells us is that individuals already affected by mental health problems as a result of their traumas are more vulnerable to being domestically abused, and likewise those experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to get mental health problems. 

Domestic abuse can cause physical illness whether as a result of actual bodily harm (ABH), the stress associated with the abuse, and/or risky behaviours. ABH includes cuts, bruises, burns, bites, broken bones or teeth, as well as severe head injuries and damage to the eyes, ears, chest and abdomen. All these forms of ABH can consequently lead to long-term illness, disability, and/or death. If the victim is pregnant, domestic abuse can trigger a miscarriage or harm the fetus. Furthermore, sexual abuse can damage the genital, pelvic, and urinary areas whether through brute force or the transmission of infections. Risky behaviour can also lead to sexually transmitted diseases, self-injury, as well as other health problems associated with substance abuse. 

Physical symptoms worsen mental health problems, and mental health problems also worsen physical symptoms. This is why people who already have disabilities-especially women- are more likely to be abused than non-disabled individuals due to their vulnerability regardless of whether the disability is motor, mental, or intellectual (SafeLives, n.d.). Perpetrators see vulnerability as an opportunity, and seek to exploit this deliberately. 

All this is without mentioning yet the health impacts of female genital mutilation (FGM) which are devastating. Not only can FGM lead to all of the above mental health symptoms, it can also lead to tremendous physical impairments such as severe and long-term pain, infections, difficulty in walking or having sex; bleeding, cysts and abscesses from the wounds; difficulty urinating or experiencing incontinence, life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth, infertility, and/or death. 

Impacts on Children

Children are very vulnerable to distress, and this is why experiencing and/or witnessing domestic abuse can be severely traumatising for them. They might develop symptoms of anxiety and depression, have nightmares or intrusive flashbacks, clinical fear, behaviour that challenges, regression, aggression, withdrawal or lack of engagement, low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal ideation, risky behaviours, and eating disorders. Indeed, when children are made to feel scared, confused and powerless; this can be introjected and a reaction formation can happen leading children to behave in similar ways to the perpetrator. 

Children also experience physical symptoms when they have been exposed to domestic abuse. They might experience similar symptoms to adults such as injuries that can cause concussion or brain damage. They undergo epigenetic changes with every adverse experience, and they might become neglected, underfed, and unwashed if they are in an abusive environment. Moreover, they may present with bed-wetting difficulties, stomach and headaches, and a disrupted circadian rhythm. They might also present with self-injury, or injury obtained through risky behaviours.  

Finally, children go through very intense transitions after domestic abuse has been exposed. They might have to move home, and away from friends. They might also experience a disruption to their education. They might develop an attachment trauma after they lose the abusive family member who they might not have perceived as abusive. They might find the conviction of the abusive relative traumatic. They may experience a change in quality of life, and in the worst case scenarios they might be separated from their parents and placed in foster care. All these factors increase the chances of developing health problems. 

References

SafeLives (n.d.) ‘Spotlight #2: Disabled people and domestic abuse’ [Online]. Available at https://safelives.org.uk/knowledge-hub/spotlights/spotlight-2-disabled-people-and-domestic-abuse (accessed 21 February 2022). 

Categories
Forensic Psychology

Why People Do Not Report Domestic Abuse

There are many barriers to disclosure of domestic abuse. One reason why many individuals stay in abusive relationships and/or do not report domestic is because of their own subjective feelings such as fear of consequences if they leave the relationship (e.g. dependencies), grief which manifests as feelings loss for the relationship they wanted and/or thought they had, denial of what is actually happening to them, self-blame for the abuse they are receiving (perpetrators tend to blame the victim), shame about what others might think if they found out about the individual’s situation, and guilt over their inability to prevent or stop the abuse, as well as of others witnessing the abuse (e.g. children). Furthermore, another reason why individuals do not report domestic abuse, is that they feel that the local authorities will not take them seriously (many women do report it and perpetrators still get away with their crimes), so they experience subjective feelings of hopelessness that ‘nothing would get done anyway’. 

Another reason why people do not report domestic abuse is due to societal perceptions. The way society is known to perceive and deal with victims is awful. Individuals can experience fears that no one will believe them, or that there will be impunity. They might have no faith in justice due to personal experiences, or/and exposure to high profile cases where victims were torn apart either by the criminal justice process or by the media and tabloids. Furthermore, societal perceptions of gender mean that men will feel ashamed to disclose their experiences. Similarly, homophobic perceptions lead to LGBTQ+ individuals hiding their experiences due to their private sexual orientation. And, cultural perceptions can lead to all sorts of subjective reluctance to report domestic abuse, as individuals might be afraid of repercussions, embarrassment, or honour-based abuse. 

Apart from all of the above, there are several identifiable factors that affect the disclosure of domestic abuse. These are: 

Stereotypes

These are generalised subjective beliefs that individuals have about the world, which influence how they perceive others. Because there are so many misconceptions and false stereotypes of victims of domestic abuse, such as that they are weak, poor, and submissive women without education and living in social housing; many people might be unable to relate to this, and therefore they might find it more difficult to identify their experiences as a domestic abuse; or they might feel that no one will believe them because they do not fit the stereotype. Furthermore, since there is so much stigma associated with these misconceived stereotypes, individuals might not want to be perceived in such a way, and so might not disclose their experiences. Finally, those who do relate to the stereotype might feel that it is normal because of their circumstances to report the abuse, and might feel hesitant to disclose due to how they believe they are perceived. All these misconceptions can lead to victims isolating, and losing hope.  

Labelling

Because of the stigma associated with the word ‘victim’ (i.e. stereotypes), individuals do not want the label ‘victim’ added to their subjective identity, even if indeed they are victims. They might subsequently fear other associative labels such as ‘weak’, ‘stupid’, ‘dramatic’, ‘crazy’ or ‘bad mother’. 

Stigma

Many victims are aware of the stigma, and feelings of shame come with this. They might rather stay in that relationship than risk becoming stigmatised (e.g. men might feel that people will make fun of their masculinity for speaking up). 

Discrimination

Victims might fear that due to the current awful status of justice in our society, they will be discriminated against if they disclose their experiences of domestic abuse. They might also fear that others will attribute negative and unfair stereotypes to them, or fear that they will be excluded or marginalised as a result of their seeking support from their social network and/or community. 

Victim Blaming

Finally, because of the toll that domestic abuse has on victims, individuals experience subjective feelings of self-blame. They might already have been constantly blamed by their perpetrators and might fear that other people will also blame her.  Moreover, some cultural traditions do blame women for making decisions such as leaving an abusive relationship, and so victims might genuinely get blamed by relatives or their community if they disclose their ordeal, making it less likely that they will seek support (honour-based abuse). 

In conclusion, there are many reasons why people do not report domestic abuse, and many factors which prevent victims from disclosing their ordeals. Stereotypes and the stigma created by these is a major theme when it comes to lack of disclosure. The system at times fails victims, and the dark figure of crime is ever present.

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Categories
Forensic Psychology

Acquired Traumatic & Traumatised Narcissism

Adults who experienced domestic abuse when they were children have more potential to suffer from long-term health impacts such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. They might also experience mental health problems which involve low levels of resilience, and higher levels of anxiety and depression, among other health complications. Those who endured severe physical violence as children at times carry their injuries into adulthood in the form of disabilities; intellectual, social, and emotional difficulties can arise, and individuals might perform poorly occupationally as a result of the abuse they’ve been through. Furthermore, their perceptions of a ‘normal’ relationship can also be affected (e.g. women who cannot differentiate between affection and a sexual advance), and the traumas can also lead to shallow object relations, where those who survived are unable to form a meaningful connection with others. Yet, the most concerning aspect of childhood domestic abuse is that in some cases these children can grow to imitate the behaviour of their perpetrators and subjugate others. This is what acquired narcissism is, a relational system where the person exposed to domestic abuse goes on to introject such patterns of behaviours and to abuse other innocent victims, displacing the trauma. This article will focus on this potential consequence of domestic abuse, and what happens when a victim becomes a perpetrator drawing from Shaw (2014).

Some narcissists are born with this predisposition (e.g. psychopaths), whilst others acquire the predisposition through trauma (e.g. sociopaths), getting absorbed in a generational and social cycle of abuse. This is how acquired narcissism works. That is, the individual is not born with it, but rather he acquires it through adverse experiences. Shaw (2014) defined traumatic narcissism as ‘the action of subjugation. In the traumatizing narcissist’s relational system, the narcissist fortifies himself by diminishing the other. The other is then conquered, controlled, or enslaved at worst—and exploited’. In other words, traumatic narcissism can be described as the narcissism that can consciously traumatise other people through behaviours. Similarly, traumatised narcissism happens when someone who has already been narcissistically abused, unconsciously behaves in ways that resemble their perpetrator. Traumatised narcissism— which is also traumatising— can be acquired in adulthood, is often temporary, and recovery depends on the individual’s ability to heal trauma; whereas traumatic narcissism as described by Shaw (2014) is acquired through childhood trauma, is often long-term and constitutes a pathology that is consistent with an individual’s personality and trajectory. Moreover, in some cases victims of narcissistic abuse go on to become traumatised narcissists. In rare cases, adults go on to become traumatic narcissists; especially when they are subjected to adverse epigenetic changes or traumatic brain injury resulting from their circumstances.

For those with acquired traumatic narcissism, narcissistic trauma is often relational or developmental, and relational trauma happens when there is a constant disruption of a child’s sense of feeling loved and safe (Monroe, 2017). There might be a form of physical or emotional neglect and abandonment, a violation of boundaries, and/or abuse. In other words, relational trauma happens when a child’s needs are not met by their caregivers, and where the child ends up feeling betrayed by their parents. All this can affect a child epigenetically, and alter their biological make-up in the long-term. For instance, Shaw (2014, pp. 7-8) states: ‘these people typically experience significant depressive symptoms, which are actually post-traumatic symptoms of cumulative developmental, or relational, trauma—symptoms that are often expressed in the form of painful lifelong longing for love that can never be requited. In development, to be recognized primarily as object—in other words, to be rigidly objectified—is to be cumulatively traumatized in one’s efforts to consolidate the sense of subjectivity’. 

Furthermore, the American Psychological Association (n.d.) defines subjectivity as ‘the tendency to interpret data or make judgements in the light of personal feelings, beliefs, or experiences’. Stripping someone off their subjective can lead to problems with intersubjectivity, which Oxford Reference (n.d.) describes as ‘the mutual construction of relationships through shared subjectivity’. Indeed, those with acquired narcissism struggle to maintain stable relationships with others precisely because of their many relational traumas. According to Shaw (2014, p. xv) ‘the traumatizing narcissist seeks to abolish intersubjectivity, and to freeze a complementary dynamic in the relationship, allowing recognition in one direction only—toward himself’.

This is why narcissists are extremely talented at hiding and protecting their vulnerabilities always wary of the world around them, a world that betrayed their trust. They seek to impress others through what seems like a normal demeanour. Yet, covertly, a narcissist will display the following behaviours: 

  1. Passive aggression: they may say things that are not directly offensive but that are still hurtful. 
  2. Introversion: they might be more reclusive but still need narcissistic supply from others. 
  3. Sulky behaviours: they may act in sullen ways when they do not get their way. 
  4. Constant dissatisfaction: they chronically blame the world for their circumstances, and constantly complain. 
  5. Grandiosity: they secretly think they are superior to others, and will only associate with those they deem to be superior. 
  6. Sense of entitlement: they always want to take what they desire, often crossing boundaries. 
  7. Playing as the victim: they always say that the world is doing something to them, and do not take responsibility for the harm they cause. 
  8. Hypersensitivity to criticism: they might rage if criticised and might feel hurt at the slightest comment. 

Morever, Shaw (2014, p. 13) states that ‘the heightened sadistic tendencies of the traumatizing narcissist may be masked in some cases by charisma and seductive charm. She has successfully dissociated the need to depend on idealized others by achieving a complete super-idealization of herself. She is overt in her need for superiority and domination, successful in seducing others into dependence on her, and cruel and exploitative as she arranges to keep the other in a subjugated position’. A common misconception is to think that the narcissist’s grandiose overcompensation is somewhat rooted in high self-esteem. I would argue it is more rooted in egocentrism. The truth is that narcissists are hypersensitive to their own impression management. That is, the facade they show to the world is their vulnerability because deep down they do not love who they are. Overtly, the malignant narcissist will exhibit the following behaviours:

  1. Pathological jealousy: they may experience feelings of envy and anger at the slightest disadvantage.
  2. Psychopathic behaviours: callous, cold-blooded, and instrumental harmful actions.
  3. Persecutory delusions: excessive paranoia based on false beliefs that the world is out to get them.
  4. Cruelty: having no remorse for engaging in sadistic behaviours.
  5. Coercive control: manipulating, threatening or controlling the victim.
  6. Pathological lying: not being able to tell the truth.
  7. Distress-based responses: things that hurt his self-esteem or self-image might trigger his dangerous behaviours.
  8. Sexual promiscuity: having more than one sexual partner.
  9. Hypersensitivity to criticism: always on guard for real or imagined criticism.
  10. Aggression: an inability for self-restraint when raging.

The individual with acquired narcissism is essentially looking for the love that he or she did not receive in childhood. According to Shaw (2014, p. 10) ‘patients described as pathologically narcissistic are often those whose self-esteem is terribly fragile; who easily feel insulted, attacked, and humiliated […] someone who in development has suffered severe damage to their self-esteem system, and whose self-esteem regulation is therefore inconsistent and precarious, subject to the internal persecution of the split-off protector self’. Furthermore, according to Mahendran (2015, p. 179) there are five main cognitive biases used by narcissists in order to maintain their self-esteem: (1) misremembering, which is a particular way in which people tend to remember past events in ways that are self-serving; (2) self-serving attribution, which consists in attributing blame to external events for failures, and attributing credit to the self for successes; (3) false consensus effect, which consists in assuming that other people will make the same choices one does, and behave in similar ways to one; (4) sour grapes effect, which consists in devaluing unattainable goals and rewards; and (5) unrealistic optimism which consists in attributing a positive expectation or outcome to something, even if the evidence and standards contradict it. 

In conclusion, acquired narcissism can be severely detrimental and is often a result of domestic abuse. Acquired narcissism can be conscious or unconscious, temporary (traumatised narcissism) or long-term (traumatic narcissism), and has many biases reinforcing an unstable sense of image.

References

American Psychological Association (n.d.) ‘Subjectivity’, APA Dictionary of Psychology [Online]. Available at https://dictionary.apa.org/subjectivity (accessed 17 December 2021). 

Mahendran, K. (2015) ‘Self-esteem’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P. (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University. 

Monroe, H. S. (2017) ‘How Relational Trauma Affects Teen Mental Health, Relationships, and Self-Esteem’, Newport Academy, 1 September [Online]. Available at https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/relational-trauma/ (accessed 16 December 2021). 

Oxford Reference (n.d.) ‘Intersubjectivity’ [Online]. Available at https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100008603 (accessed 16 December 2021). 

Shaw, D. (2014), Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation, New York, Routledge [Online]. Available at https://www.routledge.com/Traumatic-Narcissism-Relational-Systems-of-Subjugation/Shaw/p/book/9780415510257# (accessed 16 December, 2021). 

Domestic Abuse: Situational Factors

The following common situational factors tend to contribute to the risk of domestic abuse, and tend to be elements that victims report. Some of these aspects, we already have talked about in this blog

  • When individuals are experiencing the close monitoring that comes with coercive control, there is a higher likelihood of other forms of domestic abuse occurring such as physical and economic abuse. 
  • When individuals experience adverse family circumstances where elements of financial problems, unemployment, alcohol or substance use disorder are present, there is a higher likelihood of domestic abuse occurring. 
  • When individuals are connected to adverse cultural traditions such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, or honour-based abuse; there is a higher likelihood for other forms of domestic abuse to take place. The more patriarchal the culture, the more risks there are. 
  • When individuals are connected to adverse community circumstances such as community aggression, violence, fear of others, a distrust of authority figures (e.g. police), poor housing, low socio-economic status, low education levels, and poor access to support services and facilities; there is a higher likelihood of domestic abuse occurring and individuals might have no option to turn to in the case of domestic abuse taking place.  
  • When there are individuals who are traumatised and display behaviour that challenges such as risky behaviour, this might lead to an escalation of domestic abuse at home and other interpersonal conflict. Sadly, the risk is also increased by these situational factors.
  • When there are people who have financial constraints, they are more likely to stay stuck in an abusive environment or relationship, and more likely to depend on a perpetrator. Therefore, financial problems increase the likelihood of domestic abuse occurring. 
  • When there are individuals who are isolated from their social networks, they become more vulnerable, suggestible, and the risk of domestic abuse increases. 

DID YOU KNOW? 

When a perpetrator has a history of being domestically abusive, sadistic, and/or controlling; there is a potential for recidivism to occur. This is why since 2014, victims have a right to make a request to the police for a disclosure of any history of domestic abuse from their partner. This is to prevent the perpetrator from reoffending by giving potential victims a heads up about what could happen in their relationship, as it is known that perpetrators of domestic violence rarely change. According to the Home Office (2022), ‘The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), also known as “Clare’s Law” enables the police to disclose information to a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending’. This was implemented in 2014 across all police forces in England and Wales after 36 year old Clare Wood was murdered in 2009 (BBC News, 2014). Clare was strangled and set on fire by her obsessive exboyfriend George Appleton at Salford, and it was concluded that she received no support from the local authorities even though George had a history of violence against women (VAW; BBC News, 2011). 

References

BBC News (2011) ‘Salford murder victim Clare Wood “was not protected”’, 23 May [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-13506721 (accessed 17 February 2022). 

BBC News (2014) ‘“Clare’s Law” introduced to tackle domestic violence’, 8 March [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26488011 (accessed 17 February 2022). 

Home Office (2022) ‘Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme Factsheet’, GOV.UK, 31 January [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-bill-2020-factsheets/domestic-violence-disclosure-scheme-factsheet (accessed 17 February 2022). 

The Controversial History of Autism

According to Lincoln College (2022), autism as a word was first used to describe those who suffered from schizophrenia and who were also ‘withdrawn and self-absorbed’. In 1943, the word was first used to describe a condition of its own and individuals seemed perplexing to clinicians and were scrutinised heavily (Kanner, 1943); followed by the creation of Asperger’s disease in 1944. Later in the 1950s, it was believed that autism was a result of developmental trauma, and mothers of autistic children were heavily criticised as ‘refrigerator mothers’, indicating that they had no emotional warmth. 

Eventually, during the 60s and 70s there were changes initiated by parents coming together (and forming the National Autistic Society), and by scientists recognising the disease as biological. This recognition led to segregation schools being implemented for autistic children before a genetic link was discovered in 1974. Yet, it was not until 1979 that a psychological model called ‘the triad of impairments’ was proposed which highlighted difficulties in social interaction, communication, and imagination skills. Then, in 1980 the DSM first recognised Autism Spectrum Disorder,  and in 1989 the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers was created before being recognised in 1994. From there on there were national scientific and governmental initiatives to improve practice on understanding and working with autism. Finally, since 2009 World Autism Day has been celebrated. 

Currently, there are still people who think that autism happens only to children, or that it is not a disability. Furthermore, only a minority of people understand that autism has no cure. This shows that even though there have been a lot of developments in the history of autism, many misconceptions still persist. 

Theories

Initially, it was believed that autism was a form of schizophrenia. Furthermore, the way clinicians used to relate to autistic individuals was very derogatory and subjugating throughout history. Individuals with autism were labelled as ‘mentally retarded’, ‘idiotic’, ‘feeble-minded’, ‘slow or backwards’, or ‘autistic schizoid’ (Lincoln College, 2022). Now individuals are known to have a neurodevelopmental condition which they live with, and which has unique individual needs and no cure. Moreover, autism was considered to be a matter of moral degeneration until the genetic link was discovered and its biological construct was explored. 

Kanner (1943) cited in Lincoln College (2022) was the first to propose that autism was a condition of itself and that it was not schizophrenia. This was a major breakthrough. Later on, Aspergers (1944) cited in Lincoln College (2022) proposed that ‘autistic psychopathy’ was the cluster of symptoms now known as ‘Asperger’s syndrome’. He believed that these individuals could not change because autism had no cure. He identified symptoms such as ‘lack of empathy’, and poor ability to make friends, among others. This was another breakthrough. However, autism is not the same as psychopathy, and this should be emphasised. 

Moreover, Lincoln College (2022) also states that Wing’s and Gould’s (1979) theory was the first one to mention Aspergers syndrome in a research paper challenging Kanner’s theory and they introduced the model of the ‘triad of impairments’  (social interaction, communication, and imagination). Furthermore, Baron-Cohen et al. (1980) proposed the theory of mind (ToM) theory indicating that individuals with autism struggled to understand the mental states of others. It was stated that this impairment affected most or all aspects of the individual’s life. 

Another theory was the ‘extreme male brain theory’  which states that autistic individuals have been exposed to higher levels of testosterone than the average population. This might explain why most autistic individuals are male. Furthermore, Baron-Cohen also proposed the ‘empathising-systemising theory’ which states that autistic individuals can only be empathic by imitating the behaviours of others without really understanding the subjective states of mind of others. This is because autistic individuals are more systematic than empathetic and adapt based on organisational, structural, normative, and routine schemas. This might explain why these individuals have interpersonal difficulties. Finally, the ‘autism spectrum  condition’ theory states that individuals with autism have a life-long condition which can vary based on where they are in the spectrum which can range from interpersonal difficulties to verbal communication difficulties (Lincoln College, 2022). 

Treatments & Interventions

Electroshock therapy was often used to treat autism in the past and treatments heavily relied on the use of medication. Autistic individuals were placed in asylums and separated from their families during treatment even though a cure does not exist. Nowadays, treatment takes place in the community most of the time, medication is only used where necessary,  and psychotherapy is offered in order to help build coping and distress tolerance skills. Furthermore, in the past autistic individuals were segregated from society and placed in special schools. This is now known to have detrimental effects. Hence why nowadays autistic individuals are integrated into mainstream schools with extra support for their needs.  Finally, in the past autistic individuals had little or no autonomy and were passive receivers of interventions; whereas now person-centred approaches are the norm, and individuals are encouraged to be autonomous and to live meaningful lives (Lincoln College, 2022) even though the mental health industry still has a lot to improve when it comes to co-production of care plans in general. 

Furthermore, Lincoln College (2022) states that in the past autism was treated with medication on a trial and error basis, sometimes having dangerous and now-illicit substances administered such as LSD. Of course, this was harmful. Moreover, aversion therapy was used to operationally condition unwanted responses using punishment as the reinforcing method. Individuals were slapped on the wrist, splashed with cold water, and given electric shocks every time they displayed unwanted behaviours. This was done with the intention of extinguishing such behaviours, and was inhumane. Nowadays, this would be classed as unethical and degrading. 

Needless to say, in the past individuals were excessively put through electro-convulsive therapies which consisted of electrocuting the individual’s head in order to forcefully and drastically alter the biological make-up of the brain. This practice is known to induce seizures,  memory loss, and other effects. Sadly, this type of torture is still used as treatment in many countries, including the UK. There are several human rights movements such as the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (n.d.) which have made documentaries advocating against this form of therapy due to its many harmful effects. However, among the positive services offered to autistic individuals nowadays are community care (i.e. ensuring individuals are not hospitalised), speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, family therapy, behavioural therapy, medication, parent education, psychosocial treatments, and counselling (Lincoln College, 2022). 

References

Citizens Commission on Human Rights (n.d.) ‘Therapy or Torture? The Truth About Electroshock [Online]. Available at https://www.cchr.org/ban-ect/watch/therapy-or-torture-the-truth-about-electroshock.html (accessed 22 February 2022). 

Kanner, L. (1943) ‘Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact’, Pathology [Online]. Available at https://neurodiversity.com/library_kanner_1943.pdf (accessed 22 February 2022). 

Lincoln College (2022) ‘The historical context of autism’, TQUK Level 3 Certificate in Understanding Autism [Online]. Available at https://lincolncollege.equal-online.com/courseplayer/autisml3/?ls=8663048&s=23416 (accessed 22 February 2022). 

Categories
Forensic Psychology

Domestic Abuse: Subjective Risk Factors of Identity

A perpetrator can isolate a victim from family and friends in order to have control over her mind. He may do this to ensure that the victim receives no external support from her network, and is therefore more suggestible and vulnerable to his tactics. Even if the perpetrator is unreliable in many ways, he wants the victim to feel that she needs him, and that she has to depend on him. Victims affected by this form of coercive control often gradually lose touch with their networks as the perpetrator’s demands for time and attention increase. This perpetrator wants to jail his victim, and will use manipulative techniques to make the victim feel guilty for not meeting his needs. This jailer wants to take over the victim’s life and wants the victim to leave her studies and/or job. The isolated victim loses touch with herself, and experiences low levels of self-esteem and confidence. Eventually, the victim can also lose all ability to make her own decisions, and will do as the perpetrator wants. Due to these interpersonal experiences of coercive abuse, the victim might develop social anxiety and might become further alienated into the perpetrator’s world. Therefore, isolation is one of the many risk factors for domestic abuse. 

So what other risk factors are there? Even though domestic abuse can happen to anyone, protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 are also risk factors when it comes to domestic abuse. All these characteristics can increase the the likelihood of isolation, and can place victims at serious risk. Depending on the intersectionality of characteristics, some people might be more at risk of being abused than others. For instance, the evidence suggests that women are more at risk of being domestically abused than men, and that transgender and non-binary individuals also experience experience higher rates of domestic abuse. Therefore, it can be said that gender is a risk factor. 

Furthermore, having mental health problems makes individuals more vulnerable and suggestible. Perpetrators of domestic violence look to exploit a victim’s vulnerabilities, and will prey on those who are either depressed or anxious. Individuals affected by this type of abuse tend to become isolated as a result of coercive control, and might find it more difficult to access support. Therefore, it can be said that mental illness is a risk factor. 

Moreover, many perpetrators use religious beliefs as an excuse to engage in domestic abuse. For example, the perpetrator might tell the victim that the Bible says that women should be submissive to men, or that Dharma requires constant hedonism and sexual exploitation  (e.g. cult leaders). Whatever the beliefs, perpetrators can sometimes make it difficult for the victims to reclaim their subjectivity, and will subjugate the victims based on these beliefs. The victim might also have different beliefs to her perpetrator, and this might escalate the abuse. Therefore, religion is a risk factor. 

Also, a lot of perpetrators are homophobic and will abuse anyone who deviates from heterosexuality, at times even using punishment against the LGBTQ+ victim. The evidence shows that LGBTQ+ individuals experience higher rates of abuse due to their vulnerabilities, with bisexual women being the most affected group. Therefore, sexual orientation is a risk factor. 

What’s more, many perpetrators abuse those whose age means they are more vulnerable, and indefensible, such as children and elderly people. These predators may get children or young people to commit acts to which they cannot give consent to as a result of immaturity (e.g. child sexual abuse). Therefore, age is a risk factor. 

Furthermore, when people are ill or disabled, they are more vulnerable to harm. Perpetrators can at times exploit this vulnerability. The victim might feel like they are a burden to the perpetrator and might find it difficult to leave due to dependencies (e.g. financial factors). Therefore, disability is a risk factor when it comes to domestic abuse, and victims are more likely to experience such abuse for a prolonged period of time. 

Finally, perpetrators at times exploit the vulnerabilities of those with a different ethnicity. For instance, if a person’s immigration status is uncertain, they might stay in a relationship out of fear of losing their visa. Also, those who do not speak English might find it harder to communicate their ordeals. Moreover, some cultures practise disturbing traditions such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and women with these cultural connections are more likely to experience abuse, including forced marriage and honour-based abuse. When it comes to forced marriage, children from specific cultures are more likely to experience childhood sexual abuse as a result of forced child marriage. Therefore, ethnicity is a major risk factor when it comes to domestic abuse. 

In conclusion, the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010 can each be risk factors to potential domestic abuse, and it is important now more than ever that these characteristics are taken into account when safeguarding human beings. Furthermore, isolation is a major risk factor and a common trait which intersects with protected characteristics of identity.

Categories
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).  

Categories
Forensic Psychology Journalism

Understanding Domestic Abuse in England

Every person’s perception of what constitutes abuse is different. Some victims stay and accept their predilection, whilst others fight and/or leave. Some victims succeed in leaving, whilst others are killed in the process. Domestic abuse has statutory definitions that give an objective scope which applies to everyone in the jurisdiction, whether they have insight into their realities or not. According to the Crown Prosecution Service (n.d.), domestic abuse can be defined as ‘any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality’. This short definition has it within its scope that domestic abuse is something that happens in everyday life. 

Domestic abuse does not always entail physical violence. Psychological abuse has been hypernormalised in our societies, and every day forms of sadism are quite common and ingrained in policies and procedures. Furthermore, domestic abuse is relevant to the police, and thinking that it should stay behind closed doors is another misconception. Domestic abuse happens all the time, everywhere, and thinking that it is rare is another misconception. Domestic abuse is not always a crime of passion, and sometimes it is slow, prolonged and premeditated. Thinking that domestic abuse is always a loss of control is a misconception. Disagreements are not equivalent to abuse. Whilst disagreements are normal, abuse is not normal. Moreover, thinking that domestic abuse is only perpetuated by strangers is another major misconception. Finally, domestic abuse happens to all groups and classes of society. Assuming that it only happens to poor people is another misconception. 

Globally, the United Nations (n.d) defined domestic abuse as ‘a pattern of behaviour in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. It can occur within a range of relationships including couples who are married, living together or dating. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels’. Based on this definition, it can be said that domestic abuse is a form of sadism, as the latter is all about the subjugation of the victim. 

Locally, the Devon & Cornwall Police (2020) define domestic abuse as ‘the misuse of power and control by one person over another. This controlling behaviour may be exerted in various ways, such as through physical violence, emotional and/or psychological manipulation, forcing sexual acts or taking over your finances. It can begin at any time, can be obvious or subtle and can happen suddenly or gradually. It can happen to anyone regardless of class, age, race, religion, culture, disability, sexual orientation or lifestyle’. Based on this definition, it can be said that those who engage in domestic abuse are also engaging in sadistic behaviour

There are some misconceptions about victims of domestic abuse, such as believing that the victim wants to be abused because they are not able to leave the relationship, that the victim should leave the relationship if they want help from statutory services, that the victim is at fault for the criminogenic behaviours of their abuser, that only women are victims of domestic abuse, that women lie about their abuse, that some people/women are attracted to abusive people/men, and that some people like the violence in their relationship (e.g. rough sex defence). For instance, the Home Office (2022) published a policy paper explicitly stating that ‘consent to serious harm for sexual gratification’ is not a defence. Justice Minister Alex Chalk is cited saying ‘No death or other serious injury – whatever the circumstances – should be defended as ‘rough sex gone wrong’ which is why we are making it absolutely clear that this is never acceptable. Perpetrators of these crimes should be under no illusions – their actions will never be justifiable in any way, and they will be pursued rigorously through the courts to seek justice for victims and their families’. This means that even if a person consents to rough sex, if their partner abuses them to the point actual bodily harm (ABH), then this is by law a crime. This will give women more clarity on what constitutes appropriate touch, sex, and when to identify abuse and report abuse. Furthemrore, Keir Starmer (2013) published an article on The Guardian stating that false allegations of rape and domestic violence were rare. This shows the importance of taking all allegations seriously. 

What’s more, there are also misconceptions about the perpetrator such as believing that alcohol and drugs excuse such behaviours, that their abusive childhoods justify their behaviours, that mental health problems excuse domestic abuse, that they only attack because they are stressed out, that it is only a loss of temper on the abuser’s part, that just because they engage in domestic abuse does not mean they are bad parents (such as a father who abuses a mother and a child witnesses it), and that all abusers are men. 

The National Office for Statistics (ONS; 2021a) reported in November that domestic abuse as recorded by the police in England and Wales rose by 6%. There were 845, 734 events. There were 33 arrests per 100 cases. Yet, even though these rates increased, referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decreased by 3%. Furthermore, convictions decreased by 70%. This shocking evidence proves that even though the problem is increasing, the UK state apparatus is dealing less and less with the problem. The ONS (2021b) reports that 37.7% of offences were of violence against the person, and 18.8% of offences were of sexual nature. 72.3% of victims of violence were female whilst 27.7% were male, and 93.4% of victims of sexual offences were female, whilst only 6.6% were male. This shows that the issue of violence against women in England and Wales is far from being resolved. 

Moreover, moving more locally, the ONS (2021b) reports that there were 20,905 crimes of domestic abuse reported to the Devon & Cornwall police in the year ending 2021. This accounted for a 23.1% of total recorded crime. This saw a significant longitudinal increase in domestic abuse related crime from previous years. It went from 13.8% in the year ending in 2016 to 23.1% in 2021, increasing by over 9% in the past 5 years. There were 16, 464 offences of violence against the person, accounting for 41.1% of domestic abuse related crimes. This also saw a significant increase in the past few years. 

There are four aspects that influence perceptions of domestic abuse: (1) the media, which often distorts information by not always identifying incidents of domestic abuse, sensationalising the reality of more subtle abuse and only focusing on more violent crime. Furthermore, the media also downplays the role of the perpetrator and sometimes attributes responsibility to the victim suggesting that the perpetrator was triggered. Moreover, because we live in a patriarchal world, the media sometimes covers more stories of violence against men, even though violence against women is most common. Finally, the media also sensationalises class, making it look like domestic abuse only happens in poor families; (2) religion, which has sets of dysfunctional beliefs which reinforce abusive practice such as the idea that honour-based abuse or forced marriage is acceptable, that women are inferior and should be submissive to men, that men as family heads should take disciplinary action at home against the rest of the family, that divorce is wrong, and that homosexuality is a sin; (3) culture, which has social norms that directly impact on perceptions of domestic abuse such as the ideas that men should assert power over women because they are ‘superior’, that the restriction of women’s movements/activities is acceptable, that women should accept physical violence as a method for conflict resolution, that women are responsible for the marriage working, that domestic abuse should never be spoken about (i.e. making it a taboo topic), that anyone who wants divorce should be ashamed of themselves, that brides should be bought and exchanged as if they were cattle (e.g. Iraq), that honour is dependent on female sexual behaviour, and that traditions such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation are normal; and (4) personal experience which influences perceptions of relationships, especially when people have lived experience in domestic abuse. Depending on their level of insight, some may fully reject abusive behaviour whilst others might accept it as a normal part of life.

Did you know…

The Matrimonial Causes Act (1978) made it possible for women to be legally separated from their abusive husbands, and the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act (1976) enabled women to apply for court orders against their abusive husbands. In 1985, there were laws against female genital mutilation. In 1994 rape became illegal within a marriage, and in 2004 common assault became an arrestable offence. Police stations created dedicated Domestic Violence Units with specialist staff in the late 80s and early 90s. Moreover, the Protection from Harassment Act (1997) implemented measures against stalking and threats of violence, and the Domestic Violence, Crime, and Victims Act (2004) made stricter sentences so couples of the same sex could also apply for injunctions. In 2002, children were allowed to be removed from the home if they were witnesses of domestic abuse. In 2014, Clare’s law (named after Clare Wood) allowed the police to give details to potential victims of their partner’s abusive history in order to prevent abuse. In 2015 coercive control and revenge porn became illegal, and finally, the Domestic Abuse Act (2021) created a statutory definition of domestic abuse.  

References

Crown Prosecution Service (n.d.) ‘Foreword From Kate Brown, CPS Lead for Domestic Abuse’, Domestic Abuse [Online]. Available at https://www.cps.gov.uk/crime-info/domestic-abuse (accessed 7th February 2022). 

Devon & Cornwall Police (2020) ‘What is domestic abuse?’, 2nd October [Online]. Available at https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/advice/threat-assault-abuse/domestic-abuse/what-is-domestic-abuse/ (accessed 7th February 2022). 

Home Office (2022) ‘Consent to serious harm for sexual gratification not a defence’, GOV.UK, 31 January [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-bill-2020-factsheets/consent-to-serious-harm-for-sexual-gratification-not-a-defence (accessed 12 February 2022). 

Office for National Statistics (2021a) ‘Domestic abuse in England and Wales Overview: November 2021’, 24 November [Online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwalesoverview/november2021 (accessed 12th February 2022). 

Office for National Statistics (2021b) ‘Domestic abuse prevalence and victim characteristics’, 24 November [Online]. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/datasets/domesticabuseprevalenceandvictimcharacteristicsappendixtables (accessed 12 February 2022). 

Starmer (2013) ‘False allegations of rape and domestic violence are few and far between’, The Guardian, 13 March [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/13/false-allegations-rape-domestic-violence-rare (accessed 12 Feberuary 2022). 

United Nations (n.d.) ‘What is Domestic Abuse’ [Online]. Available at https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/what-is-domestic-abuse (accessed 7th February 2022).