When most people picture a victim of domestic abuse, they picture something similar to Rihanna’s battered and bruised face after being assaulted in 2009 by then-boyfriend Chris Brown — but scars aren't always physical and neither is domestic abuse. Now, the Internet is speaking out. The viral Twitter hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou provides lessons that all parents can appreciate and share with their children, while simultaneously shedding a light on emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is much harder to measure, but it is still vitally important for every parent to understand the signs. Started by writer Zahira Kelly, this powerful Twitter campaign has revealed the complex reality of emotionally abusive relationships.
“Abuse is about power and control, the batterer wanting to gain power and control over their partner,” Nancy Friauf, president of the Partnership Against Domestic Violence, told HelloGiggles in an email this week. And emotional abuse is no different.
Emotional abusers use verbal manipulation, cruelty, and fear to wield control over their victim. They might take every opportunity to knock down your self-esteem, control you, or emotionally black mail you to maintain their own power. “Emotional and verbal abuse can be used to make the partner feel stupid, insecure,” Friauf said. “[It can] question their ability to function well and in an independent manner, question their attractiveness or worth to other people.”
Along with actively preventing a partner from seeing their friends and family, or humiliating their victim in front of others, this kind of abuse can often manifest itself in several different ways — but all should be taken as huge warning signs that an individual is abusive and may someday turn violent. But even if they never act out physically, emotional abusers can do serious damage.
Abusive comments can convince both partners and kids that they are on their own, worthless, and no one can help them, thus victims of verbal abuse often stay in the relationship. “If you’re constantly told how stupid you are and how you mess up all the time,” Friauf said, “you may well come to believe that any attempt to gain employment or build other relationships will [be met] with failure.”
“This is all an attempt to isolate the victim,” Friauf added, “and destroy any outside sources of support or alternate views of reality.”
Kelly told Bustle in a Twitter message that emotional and verbal abuse is often forgotten during conversations about intimate relationship violence. “Women’s primary cause of harm and death is abuse from their loved one,” Kelly said. “The toll is in the millions.”
In fact, one study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that the leading cause of death among pregnant women was homicide. According to a 2014 Center for America Progress report, between 2003 and 2012 34 percent of female murder victims in the United States were killed by a male intimate partner (compared to only 2.5 percent of male victims murdered by a female intimate partner). And when women with children are hurt, their children suffer too.
If those numbers shock you, think about this: even more women have been the victims of emotional and verbal abuse. A 2010 CDC violence report found that nearly half of women in the United States—and half of men, too—have been psychologically and verbally abused by an intimate partner. Still, this sort of violence is untraceable and often goes unreported because the evidence isn’t as clear as a black eye. Emotional abuse is rarely acknowledged. “We are left without recourse,” Kelly explained.
It's important that parents (which includes moms, dads, and guardians) discuss all of these things with children, once they've reached an appropriate age. Kids often become victims of emotional abuse themselves and if they're taught to spot the warning signs and question them early, especially later on in life, it might just help slow the ongoing cycle. Even younger ones can appreciate a lesson on the subject of empowerment and positivity. Teaching them that basic concepts of respect and privacy, or kindness and forgiveness can do a lot in the way of setting them up for later, more complex lessons on dealing with an emotional abuser.
#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou is important for this reason. It's connected women (and parents) all across Twitter who have come forward to share their stories. The tweets describe the myriad of forms verbal abuse takes, using tactics like scolding, mocking, shaming, humiliating, and gaslighting — twisting and spinning or selectively omitting information that favors the abuser and makes their partner doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. Knowing the warning signs can help moms and women everywhere identify abuse in their own relationships.
#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou is not only educating people about the different forms abuse can take but also lets survivors know they aren’t alone. “This is not an area we get support for,” Kelly said. “So these online [conversations] function as makeshift support groups and therapy.” An abuser’s goal is to isolate their victims to maintain power over them, so when we share stories like this on social media and draw attention to emotional abuse, it can take some of that power back.