The truth about sexual assault…
is that it usually starts out as psychological abuse.
- When there is high intensity and that is mistaken for intimacy
- When exploitation endures over time
- When there is a history of violation of trust—physically threatening, financially manipulative, controlling or limiting freedoms
- When victims and victimizers switch roles of rescue and abuse
- When there is confusion about love
- When it’s repetitive and compulsive even though there is some acknowledgment of violation occurring
- When the victim and victimizer believe in the uniqueness of their violating pattern
- When friends and family react in extremes wanting to rescue, defend or abandon the victim or victimizer
- When patterns of surviving abuse in childhood re-emerge in compulsive relational patterns that keep the victim stuck in numbing coping strategies.
- When there is an increasing amount of fear
- When children are faced with terror
- When there is insistence on keeping the abuse a secret
- When the roles each person plays in the relationship are fixed and rigid
(partially taken from Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. Betrayal Bond)
More concretely there is a standard of making a person in the relationship feel crazy either in tandem or simultaneously by using the following methods of power and control:
Forerunners in the abuse behavior are as follows:
- Putting her down
- Making her feel bad about herself
- Calling her names
- Making her think she’s crazy
- Playing mind games
- Humiliating her
- Making her feel guilty
- Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously
- Saying the abuse didn’t happen
- Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior
- Saying she caused it
From here there are categories involved such as:
Money—preventing her from getting or keeping a job, making her ask for money, taking her money, not letting her know about or have access to family income, giving her an allowance
Male privilege—treating her like a servant, making all the big decisions, acting like the “master of the castle,” being the one to define men’s and women’s roles
Coercion or threats—making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her, threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to social services, making her drop charges, making her do illegal things
Destruction of property and other acts of intimidation—such as ruining or destroying property, smashing things, throwing things, slamming doors, abusing pets, displaying weapons, threatening her with blackmail
Social isolation—controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, limiting her outside involvement, using jealousy to justify actions, like controlling clothing, use of cosmetics, social outings with family and friends
Children—using the children to destroy reputation of the other parent, using visitation to harass her, threatening with legal action related to nefarious issues that she can’t afford to defend through hiring an attorney, threatening to take the children away, making her feel guilty about the children.
Nearly all abuse victims tell me that the psychological bondage to the abuser was the most difficult part of the recovery. That explains why reports consistently convey that sexual assault from a person known to the sexual assault survivor is so much more difficult to recover from than sexual assault from someone you don’t know. The shame and silence is stronger and more imprisoning.
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.