Abuse can be more than broken bones and black eyes. What about the harmful behaviors that aren’t always talked about?Most people know of domestic violence as physical violence—pushing, slapping, hitting or strangling—all stirring images of bruises and black eyes in our minds. While there is no doubt physical violence is a traumatic type of relationship violence, people tend to forget the other abuse types, which can make it difficult to recognize when it’s happening.
For Native Americans, the impacts of domestic violence are severe, affecting one in two women and one in three men, according to a 2016 report by the National Institute of Justice. Most Native Americans have experienced violence in their lifetime, and one-third of the population has experienced violence in the past year.
No matter the reason for the abuse, domestic violence is never okay. Like colonization, domestic violence is about power and control. In an abusive relationship, one partner will use repeated abusive actions to maintain power over their partner. While it’s important not to minimize the pain caused by physical violence, all forms of relationship violence deserve our attention, too.
Cultural and Spiritual Abuse
One of the lesser known but most destructive types of domestic violence is cultural and spiritual abuse. Since culture and spirituality are often at the core of who we are and our way of life as Native people, being attacked for your identity, background or beliefs is as personal as an attack can be.
In a relationship, cultural abuse can include when your partner:
- criticizes you for not being “Native enough” or being “too Indian”
- degrades you through hurtful stereotypes
- prevents you from going to ceremonies, pow wows or feasts
- tells you how to practice your traditions
- uses tribal membership or blood quantum against you
Spiritual abuse can happen when a partner prays against you or your family or misrepresents spiritual or tribal beliefs to get you to do something you don’t want to do. A spiritually abusive relationship restricts a person from honoring their spiritual side or religious beliefs or may force someone to abandon their beliefs entirely.
Unlike physical abuse that can leave noticeable bruises or marks, emotional abuse leaves invisible scars that can take a lifetime to heal. Through emotional abuse, abusive partners use repeated manipulation and criticism to hurt their loved ones, shaking one’s confidence and self-worth.
Emotional abuse can look like:
- name-calling or constant criticism
- extreme jealousy or possessiveness
- isolation from loved ones
- making you feel guilty for spending time with friends or family
- blaming you for the abuse in the relationship
In some cases, abusers might turn to another form of emotional abuse called “gaslighting.” When using gaslighting, abusers will deny their hurtful behavior by making their partner question their own reality and sanity, leaving their partner feeling confused, anxious, isolated and depressed. In this situation, it can be very difficult to recognize that you are being abused.
Financial abuse is a form of relationship abuse where one partner controls their partner’s financial situation. Abusers may intentionally damage their partner’s credit, where partners may find their credit cards maxed out, bad checks written or loans taken out in their name without their knowledge.
Financially abusive behaviors can include when a partner:
- refuses to give their partner money for food, clothes, gas and medicine
- steals money from you or lies about how shared money is spent
- gives you an allowance and tracks your spending
- keeps your paycheck or per capita payments
- blocks your access to bank accounts or statements
Since domestic violence is about power and control, financial abuse could be used to dictate how much someone works or prevent someone from working as a way for the abuser to control their partner’s financial dependence on them, making it difficult to leave the relationship.
Digital abuse is a type of domestic violence where abusers hurt, threaten or intimidate their partner through technology such as phones, computers or social media. Some abusive partners may even use technology such as GPS or social media updates to track or follow their partner or go as far as to monitor their partner’s computer activity.
Some signs of digital abuse can include:
- constant calls or texts
- reading through your messages or conversations
- telling you who you can and can’t be friends with on social media sites
- sending threatening or insulting messages
- revealing private information, secrets or photos of you online
- demanding access to online accounts
In a digitally abusive relationship, an abuser might pressure their partner to send naked or explicit photos or videos, which is a clear sign of digital abuse in the relationship.
Sexual abuse can occur within our most intimate relationships, whether you’re dating, married, or have a child together. As one of the most traumatic forms of relationship violence, sexual abuse and rape involve a destruction of power and an attack on one’s personal sovereignty.
In a relationship, sexual abuse includes any attempted or forced sexual act against a partner through violence or coercion. It can include when a loved one:
- uses degrading, sexual names or slurs against you
- expects you to dress in a sexual way
- disregards your feelings about sex
- threatens violence to back up their sexual demands
- forces you to have sex against your will
Whether in a relationship or not, rape, sexual abuse and rape go against our traditional life ways, and survivors are never to blame.