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Abuse Part 1: What is abuse?

— By 03 June 2013

Trigger Warning: If you have experienced abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault or rape, you may find parts of this article difficult to read or upsetting.

This is part 1 of a series of resources on the topic of abuse. You can read Abuse Part 2: Taking a closer look, here.


In a healthy relationship everyone should have an equal voice and feel safe, respected and free to do or say what they like. This counts for sexual and romantic relationships just as much as it does for relationships between friends, family, or people you know from school, work or anywhere else.

Everyone has the right to be physically and emotionally safe in their relationships. 

A relationship is unhealthy when one person has most of the power and control over another. When one person isn’t allowed to have an equal voice, or is dismissed, silenced or does not feel like they can speak their mind, this may be abuse. When one person doesn’t treat the other with respect and doesn’t care about their physical, emotional or sexual health and safety, this is abuse.


Types of abuse

Physical abuse: Physical abuse occurs when one person intentionally causes physical harm to another. This could include hitting, pushing, choking or burning.

Threatening physical harm, physically restraining someone or throwing things at another person are also considered physical abuses. 

Not everyone who is physically abused will have obvious injuries or scars. You cannot tell if someone has been physically abused by just looking at them. Similarly, if someone doesn’t have any injuries, such as bruises or broken bones, this does not mean that they haven’t suffered physical abuse.


Emotional and psychological abuse: When someone uses words or behavior to emotionally control, manipulate, intimidate or dominate another person, this is called emotional abuse.

This can include using threats, criticizing, name-calling, belittling, or anything else that makes a person feel stupid, small, crazy, ashamed or worthless.

Emotional abuse can be difficult to see, as it often includes a combination of instances, or actions that add up over time. 

Emotional abuse comes in many different forms and as well as what is listed above, may also involve the following:

• Controlling when or where someone can go out.

• Not letting a person see their friends or family.

• Attempting to control someone’s physical appearance.

• Dismissing or ignoring someone’s limits or boundaries.

• Blaming a partner for things that are beyond their control.

• Excessive possessiveness or jealousy.

• Frequently undermining another person.

• Lying or twisting the truth in an attempt to make a person doubt their own memory, perception or even sanity.

• Blackmailing or using threats to control a person.

• Making another person feel responsible for their own abuse.

• A cycle of hurting someone (emotionally, physically or sexually) and then either begging for forgiveness, denying it ever happened, or shifting the blame onto them, and then hurting them again.

Remember, abuse is all about power and control. When someone is being emotionally abused they are often being manipulated or influenced to make certain choices, or do and not do certain things. But they may also be outright told or commanded as well.

Emotional and psychological abuse can often be as scaring as other forms of abuse, especially when it occurs when someone is a child or teenager. Some people take years to even realize they have suffered it, and some people never realize.


Rape and sexual assault/abuse: Forcing, coercing or manipulating someone to engage in any sexual activity that they do not want to do, have not consented to or cannot consent to is called rape and/or sexual assault.

This can include being touched in a sexual way without permission or being forced to touch someone else in this way, forcing someone to perform or receive oral sex without their consent, or penetrating someone or making them penetrate against their will.

If someone at first agrees and then changes their mind and the other person continues, it is rape/sexual assault. If someone is unable to consent (due to age, being drunk, or being forced by physical, verbal or emotional threats or actions) then it is rape/sexual assault. It is rape any time one partner does not want to be engaging in sex and the other engages in it to or on them anyway.

Sexual assault is a single instance, while sexual abuse, is an ongoing pattern of instances.

Sexual abuse can often take the form of one person constantly pressuring another to do sexual things that they are not ready to do or do not wish to do. Consistent pressure to engage in sexual activity is not a normal part of a relationship.

When a person persistently initiates or asks for sexual activity to a point where a person says yes or ‘gives in’ due to being worn down, this is called coercion. Coercion can also involve pressuring someone with emotional manipulation – such as saying “if you really love me you’ll do this” – or threats of any variety. Sexual activity that occurs as the result of coercion may be called sexual assault or rape.

Being forced to view porn, to look at or show genitals,  watch sex acts, use sex toys or any other form of emotional, verbal or physical abuse during sexual activity may also be classed as sexual assault.

Any sort of pressure, force or coercion to not use STI protection – such as condoms, gloves or dental dams – can be classified as abusive behavior and/or sexual assault or rape. Pressuring or interfering with another person’s contraceptive or reproductive choices is also an abusive behavior. 

Check out our article on Consent for more information on what defines consent, sexual assault and rape.


Other forms of abuse

Other forms of abuse include child abuse, which is an abusive relationship that involves a child victim; incest, which is sexual abuse that involves two people who are related to each other; domestic abuse, which is any form of abuse between partners including people who are dating, or casual sexual partners; witness abuse, which is when a person witnesses the abuse of another, such as a child seeing one of their parents be abusive towards the other; sexual harassment, which is ongoing harassment involving things of a sexual nature, such as jokes, persistent questions or touching, stalking, outing someone, homophobia or transphobia, or many, many other things.

Abuse can also be perpetrated by a person caring for someone who is elderly, sick or disabled, and can occur between people of any age difference. If an abuser is older, younger or the same age as the victim, it is still abuse.

Similarly, it can occur between people of any genders. Not all abusers are male and people in same-sex relationships can be victims of abuse. Statistically, rates of abuse in same-sex relationships are similar to rates amongst heterosexual relationships. If someone is not ‘out’ about their sexuality or gender identity, this can make the abuse more severe or harder to seek help for. Similarly, gender diverse people or people in same-sex relationships may be the victims of transphobia or homophobia from their partners.

Queer people may also face transphobic or homophobic abuse from others, such as family or people from school, work or church. This may include threats of ‘outing’ the person, sexual harassment, or any other aspect of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

It is important to remember that no one deserves to be abused and that no one is to blame for their own abuse. There are a million reasons why someone may maintain a relationship with their abuser, and often it has something to do with the abuser’s ability to manipulate the person into staying. If someone maintains a relationship with their abuser, their abuse is still not their own fault.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship, are a survivor of abuse or are unsure, have a look at the bottom of this page for information on where you can seek help.

You can also read part 2 of this series, Taking a closer look.


For emergency counselling:

Lifeline - 13 11 14

Switchboard - Melbourne (03) 9663 2939 - Regional Vic & Tas 1800 184 527

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

Centre Against Sexual Assault - 1800 806 292

1800 RESPECT -1800 737 732

Australian Childhood Foundation - 1800 176 453

Relationships Australia - 1300 364 277



For more information about abuse, check out Scarleteen.

For more information about domestic violence in SSASGD relationships, have a look at Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria’s resource.

For more information about healthy relationships check out Love Good Bad Ugly.

If you think you may have been sexually assaulted, or abused in any way tell a friend or adult you trust, or visit your GP, a counsellor, the Victorian Police (000) and/or your local Centre Against Sexual Assault.

You can also message Minus18’s youth worker Loren or ask a question on the forums.

Click here for more information about legal definitions of consent, or here for a basic run-down of what consent is.

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