Family Violence is Not Black and White

Abuse can happen in any relationship. In romantic relationships, the term Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Violence are often used interchangeably. We use the term Family Violence because it extends to other non-romantic relationships like siblings or family members.

What is Family Violence?

Family violence is a complex social issue that takes on many forms. Perpetrators of family violence (the “abusers”) have a goal and are willing to harm others to achieve it. The goal could be financial gain, power, control, sex or whatever else the abuser wants.

Physical abuse, such as hitting, pulling, choking or restraining is not always a component in family violence. If an abuser has a size or strength advantage, or if the other person is fearful or unable to adequately defend themselves, the abuser may use physical violence. When physical force is involved in family violence, it is easier to identify and intervene.

Most of the time, an abuser will use their words to cause harm. The abuser uses tactics like gaslighting, criticism, insults, threats, intimidation, manipulation, religion or children to have leverage over the other person.  

An abuser also uses things like money or technology to achieve their goal. An abuser could micromanage the family finances, refuses to let the other person have their own bank account and demand an explanation for each purchase. Cellphones are extremely vulnerable to snooping and spyware for location tracking and access to private messages. Home security systems and vehicle GPS devices are also frequently misused by abusers.

Why do others let Family Violence Happen?

As an outsider to a relationship, it can be tricky to detect family violence. When words are used as the weapon, the incidents look like an honest mistake or a lapse in judgement. An outsider would need to be able to detect the pattern of escalating incidents to realize the significance.

Without early intervention, family violence can escalate to the point where the victim becomes desensitized to the poor treatment and unable to leave for whatever reason. The support system of the victim also deteriorates: 

    • An abuser may become aware that the victims support network does not approve of the abusive relationship. The abuser may feel threatened, and in turn, threaten or manipulate the victim into cutting ties with their friends and family.

    • The person experiencing the family violence may feel embarrassed, ashamed or scared when others start to notice the relationship is unhealthy.

Some people notice the “red flags” of abuse but ignore it because they believe that it is a private matter and none of their business. Other people do not know how to react or intervene. People by nature, tend to be critical and judge things they do not understand. Family violence is complex. Judgment is often met with embarrassment, shame, guilt or a variety of other unpleasant emotions. It is usually easier to cut ties with friends or family than it is to escape abuse.

There is no single fix or simple solution to help someone escape family violence. When speaking with someone dealing with it, be supportive and avoid these harmful statements:

“Why don’t you just leave?”

If you believe the other person should just leave: ask what support is required to be able to leave. People dealing with family violence usually want the disharmony to stop without ending the relationship. The victim loves the abuser or there are other obstacles that makes it difficult to end the relationship or leave. Telling someone to “just leave” will shut down the openness of communication.

“I never thought you would put up with this.”

Making comments that suggest someone is not a typical victim will shut down the openness of the communication. A better approach is to let the other person know that you are surprised to hear about their experiences but their positive features (ie, confidence, intelligence, etc.) should help. Keep in mind, you do not get to pick how the situation gets resolved.

“I am going to kick [his/her] ass for this.”

If a person experiencing family violence has confided in you, do not wreck that trust by adding more threats or additional conflict to an already unhealthy situation.

“I am going to tell [someone else].”

Do not share personal information with others without permission. If a person has confided in you, do not wreck this trust or escalate the situation. Instead, consider asking for permission to share the information with someone that will be able to help. Of course, there is an exception for immediate or severe situations and there is a legal obligation to report certain things to the appropriate authorities (ie, child abuse, threats of suicide or murder).

When a person experiencing family violence wants to leave, this opens the door to chat about a plan to leave, which could include an Emergency Protection Order. If the choice is to stay, focus on resources like counselling, support groups or relevant programs and a plan to leave just in case things get worse. #211 is a great resource to find local information on community support services available to assist with family violence and creating a safety plan, which could include shelters, housing, pet care options, childcare, transportation and financial support.

The Edmonton Family Network has connections to legal service providers available to help with situations that involve family violence. The Edmonton Family Network welcomes messages with questions, comments or information regarding other available resources.