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Changing Attitudes About Abuse

Kathryn Patricelli, MA Updated: Mar 16th 2016

Abuse used to be an unspeakable and avoided topic. The idea in the past was that parents all but owned their children, and that husbands all but owned their wives. If you go back far enough, (and you don't have to go back that far at all; a mere 150 years will do), you find the idea that human beings could literally be property (e.g., slaves) and therefore abused at the arbitrary whim of their owners was widely accepted throughout the world. In such a world where people could be property, abuse was rampant, rationalized and simply not discussed all that much.

open book with eyeglassesThankfully, the idea that people could be owned, and the more general idea that some people are better than other people because of circumstances of their birth has been progressively discredited, at least in public forums. Changes such as outlawing slavery, giving women the opportunity to vote, and setting child labor standards set the stage for increasing awareness of abuse as a serious societal problem; an awareness that continues to evolve today.

Even with these reforms in place, until very recently, most instances of abuse were seen as personal issues that outsiders had no business getting involved in. For instance, it was widely accepted that parents had the right to discipline their children as they saw fit and no one could legitimately say otherwise. Today, this attitude of secrecy has changed, and much of the abuse taboo has worn away. People are increasingly willing to talk about abuse they have sustained, and society as a whole is more willing to intervene to protect vulnerable victims of abuse, especially when those victims are children. Child protective services (CPS) departments are funded by every state, territory and province. There are now laws that describe under what circumstances it is appropriate for law enforcement officials to intervene in abusive domestic disputes and child and elder abuse cases. Many helping professionals, such as medical doctors, psychologists, teachers, and certain caregivers, are now mandated to report abuse to state agencies when they learn of it. For example, when a professional becomes aware of child abuse or neglect, he or she must notify appropriate government agencies, such as child protective services at the state or county level (See Appendix A for a list of numbers and websites by state), or face legal consequences him or herself. The CPS agency is mandated to follow up on reports and determine whether abuse has actually occurred. If abuse is determined to be ongoing and a threat to children's welfare, CPS staffers are empowered (with the blessing of the courts) to remove children from abusive homes and place them into foster care while their parents undergo counseling. Similar adult protective services agencies (created through local Area Agency on Aging, or Department of Social Services agencies at the state and county government level) are available to investigate eldercare abuse reports. However, you should be aware that often these agencies are severely understaffed and/or under-funded, so they may only be able to respond to the most serious of abuse reports.

In addition to becoming proactive about abuse prevention in terms of personal relationships, government has also become more receptive to working to deter hate crimes, and other instances of institutional abuse. As described above, many states have (or have attempted to) put legislation into place that mandates stronger penalties for persons convicted of hate crimes. In institutional settings such as schools, some attention has recently been giving to implementing methods for preventing bullying.

Abuse may be part of the seductive dark side of human nature and impossible to eradicate entirely. However, by shedding light on the subject and by compelling action being taken to interrupt abuse when it is identified, the impact of abuse on some people's lives can be lessened.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

congratulations - - Jun 30th 2010

This is probably the most clear, sophisticated and intelligent description of abuse to be found online/for mass audiences.  Thanks for taking the time to write in a way that is non-dramatic and truly supportive of the reader.  If more people wrote this carefully, more readers would think this carefully, and we'd have a better society.

leave - - Apr 12th 2010

i think if you dont feel comfterable with him just leave him


I'm not the same - Sandy - Feb 18th 2010

I was in a relationship for 3 years. We met at work. I was 25 and he was 38. He had an 8 yr old daughter from his last partner. He left his wife to be with me and we moved into a flat together about 4 months after he'd left his marital home. We were so in love and everything was perfect for a year. He had said to me that there were some things about him that weren't "whiter than white". When i asked him what they were he said that he can be cold. I never thought anything of it as all I saw was a man that was treating me like a princess. I lived a life with him and his daughter. I accepted her, treated her well and helped look after her. I cooked for them every night with the hope that one day I could have a family of my own. I saw that he was a good father. We went on days out together. It was great!. Things started to surface. He had a temper and he would get irritated at the smallest thing. At the beginning he would always apologise and as I had a high tolerance and was quite a passive person, i forgave him and thought nothing more of it. Over the years, it got so bad. He used to lose his temper and take it all out on me, give me the silent treatment for hours, which extended to days later on. He would leave me crying all on my own and call me "patheic baby".  We always argued because I felt I had to defend my self all the time and he would stop at nothing to win an argument. He cheated on me and would text this person infront of me. He started lying to me about how he wasn't seeing her anymore. I realised later that he was still in contact with her after 7 months. He still hadn't started proceedings for divorce. i helped him out of a financial crisis in the early days and I paid the lion share of everything. i brought him a car, I paid for the rent which left me nothing to save for the future. He used to get very over affectionate and fuss over his daughter as a way of letting me know how I will never be treated. He would always use his daughter against me. He would always say that I was jealous if her. He was very obsessed with telling her that he loved her. They would call eachother every 5 minutes on the phone and let each other know how much they loved each other. I thought it was cute at first but after a while I felt guilty for feeling ignored and unimportant to him. I was told on many occassions that his daughter was the only important thing in his life. I was never bitter of their relationship. I loved having her around and tried to be good. i never argued and always lead by example whenever she came round. I even remember babysitting his daughter one night while he was out talking to the women he cheated on me with.

This has been so traumatic that I'm seeking counceling but I've had a very supportive family and I have spent a lot of time with them. They have been a constant reminder of how I was and they will help me get back to the way i was. Strong, Independant, charming and caring. I've met someone else now that adours me so much. I'm taking my time however and they are very sensitive to my experience. i feel so much happier just knowing that someone thinks the world of me and is willing to stay by as i go through this healing process. I can only thank God I never married or had children with hi. For those loving ladies that have gone this far, you've got to believe that you're none of the nasty things he's called you and do what's right and get your kids out of there because he wil bulldoze you and your children to mental trauma and you will find it harder to get back to the way you were.

Finally got out-thank God - lc - Feb 15th 2010

I just got out of an abusive marriage after six years and three children. Wow so much happened. Honestly while I was in the marriage I felt trapped and like I was in a trance of disbelief. As the abuse cycles got worse, verbally then escalated to physical I found myself still justifying it. It wasn't until I took a look at it from the outside and put my heart out of the picture, that I was able to get out. I though to myself, would I let a stranger treat my like this, hell no. We had three beautiful kids together, I carried babies for us and this is how he treated me, calling me idiot, stupid and said he should have married someone with an iq. I notices signs at the beginning. When I was 6 months pregnant with our first child, I asked him to kill a spider for me, I had a fear of them. He grabbed my hand and said " I am not going to let you teach our children fear of spiders, pulled me over and made me kill the spider." I was in shock but I felt it was too late. I was scared then. So much happened over the next six years, he belittled me until I felt like I was worth nothing. I had my own business before I married him, college grad decided to stay home and raise the kids, he made good money. He always had to be the head of the household, to show me and the kids he was the boss, he seemed to need that recognition badly. I remember many times at the dinner table if the kids wanted to be excused they had to ask dad not mom, cause he was the boss. During the dating part I felt like it was a fairytale, but now looking back there were some signs. He told me he had dated a lot of beautiful women and I was just average. Now I know that it was where it was all beginning. He was shallow but pretended to be so christian and go to church every sunday. Sometimes he would call me a dousche bag right when he got home from church. It confused me so much that he could be so jekyll and hyde. His expectations were so hign for me I could never keep up. He wanted everything perfect yet still talked so badly to me and treated me like a slave. There is so much more that happened, finally at the end on fathers day I didn't make him a supper, he flipped me off my bedroom mattress and told me to get up and cook him dinner. That was the end for me, cops were called and he was arrested. the end thank god. I am getting to a happy place now, but so much damage was dome. Someone once said to me "its going to take you as long to get out of the woods as it did to get in there." I am 35 years old and so happy that I have a second chance at a happy life, its too short. I am very catholic and I didn't believe in divorce, but I have a stronder belief that God wouldn't want anyone to be treated this way. I know that I love myself and I my kids and thats all I really need at this point.

im confused - - Jan 18th 2010

i have been with a woman for four years now and have hit her twice now that i can remember. once when we were in a fight and she said some very vulgar things about my mother. my mother has never said or done anything bad towards my girlfriend but she knew it would hurt me immensly and i slapped her across the face pretty hard. another time after that it was for no reason that deserved any phisical confrontataion but i lost it for some reason. i remember on both occations when i did it everything seemed far away and i saw things as if i was drunk. just for a moment. my father was very abusive towards the kids and my mother growing up, i dont know if this has anything to do with it. both times i felt horrible about what happened and just kept thinking about what she looked like when i hit her. especially the time she hadnt done anything wrong. i dont know what to do because i feel as if im turning into my father but i find myself rationalizing about it and how if ANYONE said something like that about someone i love i would have done the sam and they deserve it. am i an abuser?

I feel your pain - - Jan 8th 2010

I am aware of what you are going through. I have been with this person for 4 years living with them for almost a year now. I took him in when he lost his home,job,now his car and his bank account has been seized. he is very mentally and physically abusive to me. He calls me unintelligent,dense,all kinds of vulgar names, because if things aren't the way he say they should be then it isn't right. He always talks about the past and the future never about what is  going on now, the present time. He spends all his time on the computer and complaining. Nothing is ever good enough for him. The name calling and disrespect is unbelievable. I have lost weight, my blood pressure stays up and I have cluster headaches all the time. He doesn't work and anything I ask him to do it takes weeks or months for him to do and after he does it he complains and curses me out. I could do the same but I know two wrongs don't make a right. I pray everyday that things change for him that he changes his attitude . He does good for a few days and then things are back to what I call normal for him. He hardly ever have anything good to say to me or about me. I know it's time I say good bye to this abuser. I watched my mother be abused from the time I could remember until she finally left my father. And now I see why this person is so angry,at himself for letting drugs ruin his life now he wants to pull me down with him. Before i let him do this any further I must let him go,and he will see just how good he really had it. I am not as knowledgeable and book smart as he but I do know how to treat people as people and not objects. I know it's not easy but it's time we women think of ourselves and leave these LOSERS behind to wollow in their own self pitty. Life is to short to let another human destroy us mentally and physcially. I will pray for all of us, and hopefully we will make it to see another day a brighter happier day. God Bless us all.

I feel you november 2006 - - Mar 16th 2009

I have been in an extreamly verbally/emotionally & sometimes physically  abusive relationship for going on 9 years now.  we have four children together and two step children.  I have left on the occassions that my husband was physical with me, at least some of the times, but I always allowed him to make me feel guilty and pressure me into coming back.  Each time a wall of resentment, pain and more recently anger has gotten thicker and thicker.

In order to get respect from him I've almost had to lower my standards and get on his level.  I hate this because I was never this way before.  I wish that I had been strong enough to leave and stay gone, for my sake and my children's.  Staying has made me very bitter, and angry. I've been crying out for help, and trying so hard to spare and protect my children from his behavior, that I act out of character to get him to stop, instead of just calling the police or putting my foot down and not letting him back in.  I hate myself for not being strong, and for giving in so many times.  I'm no further than I was five years ago. Now, I'm just worse, and my children as well.

 I've wanted to leave, but feel some different emtions ranging from guilt to just being straight up confused as to what to do.

Abuse is so complex, but there is nothing positive about it at all. once that trust leaves the relationship, it is major hard o get it back - trust that your partner would never do certain things to hurt you or your children... 

response to nov 6, 2006 - - Jan 13th 2007
i don't think you're becoming who he was, but it sounds like you KNOW what he did IS & was wrong. Maybe you resent yourself for putting up with that kind of treatment. If i'm correct ... you'll never lose that need to say good-bye. I just got out of 10-yr relationship & let me tell you...i'm SO much happier now. Be strong & do the right thing for yourself. If he really loves & wants to make things work, he'll do everything in his power to PROVE to you that he's better. I found after you remove yourself from situation...everything will become clearer for you. :) good luck ...noones going to EVER love you more than you love yourself.

i can't get over it - - Nov 10th 2006
Me and my husband have been married for almost a year now, and since then I have been physically an emotionally abused. We want to get through this, but I hold a deep grudge, I can't forget or for that matter forgive him. I sent him to jail for hiiting me and now he's following a strict program to better himself. I can say he's trying but there are still big arugements and outburts of rage but nothing like it used to be. Still when he does these things it brings back every bad memory of what was. I fear him very much still and he knows that, but at the same time he is getting help and his effort is good for the most part. I feel no pity for him, just remorse over all the pain he has caused, we love each other and want to see this work. Here's the twist now, I've become this mean bitter person toward him now and I'm hurting him now, becoming what he was or is? I really dislike myself for that but then I think back and feel he deserves it. Is there hope for us pulling through this, we want there to be.

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