The run up to Valentine’s Day is hard to miss. The world becomes full of hearts, flowers and chocolates, even in these strange lockdown times. But signs that you or someone you know are experiencing domestic abuse can be far more subtle.
Domestic abuse takes many forms – some aren’t always obvious and can easily slip under the radar, but all are equally harmful. One example is coercive control, which has been a criminal offence since 2015. Here, the perpetrator gains control and power over another person by eroding their independence and self-esteem and micro-managing their everyday behaviour, often using assault, threats and humiliation. But it can be more subtle and doesn’t necessarily involve physical abuse.
It is easy to think that certain ongoing behaviours are ‘normal’ and not question them, perhaps mistaking them for a partner’s devotion, particularly if a relationship also includes happy periods. If you’re in a coercive and controlling relationship, you might hear:
“If you love me …
… you’ll stay away from those friends that are a bad influence.
… you won’t wear those clothes, people might get the wrong idea.
… you’ll be there, every time I need you.
… you’ll let me read your texts, you’ve nothing to hide, right?”
Someone who loves you wouldn’t say these things. This type of ‘love’ might give you a gut feeling that something is not quite right – that it’s not love at all. Other signs to look out for include behaviour that isolates an individual from sources of support, monitoring time and movement, financial control and restricting access to means of communication (for example a mobile phone). Such behaviour is used to harm, punish and frighten.
Anyone can experience coercive control, regardless of gender, sexuality, background or age. No one deserves it. We want to remind everyone this Valentine’s Day that love shouldn’t hurt. If you are experiencing domestic abuse, the first step is to talk.