Firstly, what is abuse?

Abuse is defined in a family situation as “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family, or causes the family member to be fearful”. (Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975). Control can also involve deprivation of liberty.

Historically, abuse arises from a background of patriarchy, a systemic structured inequality where men had most of the say in ruling and regulating behaviour. The church and the state dictated what should happen, and males were privileged to be in charge. Women were relegated to roles of childbearing and household duties, were usually not educated, and did not have much formal control. Although there were always those who fought for the rights of women it was not until the oral contraceptive pill became available in western society that there was a really big change and women became a lot more active about securing their rights.

Naturally this was not acceptable to men who were accustomed to being in charge. Over time there have been huge changes in the legal system to accommodate women’s rights, and following on from that the rights of many others who had been disenfranchised by unfair laws.

In the “good old days” a man had the right to get a women pregnant without taking any responsibility (the “damsel in distress” situation), marry a women of substance and get all her inheritance, hit his wife or children, rape his wife (part of his conjugal rights), divorce his wife if he didn’t like her, and take the children and the money if he wished. All of this was not seen to be abusive, but part of the male right. The church and state worked together to ensure that all of these privileges were maintained and society functioned with all these values and beliefs firmly in place. Think of the inclusion of “love honour and obey” in the marriage vows.

Fast forward to more recent times where women can complain and get justice (sometimes) for rape, physical assault or stalking, and where people generally have to be much more aware of what constitutes abuse. The present debate in our own parliament about “Hate Speech” laws seeks to provide more public protection against hateful references towards those of different colour, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

Men in particular have had to adjust to losing the rights they had previously, and find that in intimate relationships, whether married or in a de-facto or partnered situation, certain behaviour isnow considered unacceptable with physical assault being the most obvious one.

However, apart from the obvious physical assault, there are other forms of abuse with some mentioned in Married at First Sight, and they are: verbal, emotional, psychological/mental, spiritual, racial, sexual, social, financial abuse and stalking. Stalking can be physical, online or telephone stalking.

We are not accustomed to thinking of some of the above being included in abusive behaviour, but they are, and I have had many women come to me having experienced these unacceptable behaviours from their partners. I have also had women seek help for “Stress” which on exploring turned out to be emotional, psychological and other not so obvious abuse and which the woman was unaware of.

There are other factors involved in inequality which contributes to abuse, but patriarchy is an obvious one. How could someone be unaware of being abused? Read about it in article 3.

© Kathleen Crawford 2017