A relationship between two
people should be built on mutual respect and love, but sometimes one person in
a relationship chooses to be abusive to the other person – sometimes it’s hard
to know if this is what is happening.
You don’t have to be married to someone or even living with them to experience this abuse. Relationship abuse can happen in your first relationship when you are just casually going out with someone as well as when you’re in a long-term relationship.
Although sometimes men and boys experience relationship abuse, from both male and female partners, this type of abuse is overwhelmingly experienced by women and girls and is mainly committed by men and boys. That is why it is also known as gender-based violence.
Types of abuse
Relationship abuse can be physical and can include things like hitting, slapping, pulling hair or preventing you from leaving a room/house.
Relationship abuse can also involve verbal, emotional and psychological abuse and can include name calling, making fun of you, telling you that you are fat/skinny/ugly, blaming you for the abuse, threatening to tell people personal things about you, watching everything you do; including checking up on your Facebook or other social networking sites or threatening violence against you, your family or pets.
And relationship abuse can also involve sexual abuse. This doesn’t have to be forced or violent. Sexual abuse can be one person putting pressure on another person to do something sexual that they don’t want to do or don’t feel ready for. It is also sexual abuse if that person coerces or manipulates you into performing sexual acts that you don’t want.
What the law says
The law in Scotland says that a person has to give consent to a sexual act ‘by free agreement’. That means that there should be no pressure, no threats, no force and no coercion. It also means that if a man has sex with a woman or girl when she is too drunk to give her consent, then its rape because no consent can be given. Getting drunk isn’t a crime, but rape is.
Sexual abuse in a relationship can include a range of acts such as: unwanted kissing or touching, refusing to use condoms or other forms of protection, unwanted sex acts such as oral sex, forcing you to watch pornography, taking intimate photographs or videos when you are not comfortable with it, sending photographs or videos of you to other people without your permission or when you feel uncomfortable about it or rape or attempted rape.
It’s very common for women and girls to be in a state of shock and disbelief when they have experienced sexual abuse; particularly if the abuser has been someone they trusted and even loved. You may find it difficult to believe that it has happened and often women and girls try to make sense of it by making excuses for the abuser. One of the most common ways that women and girls do this is by blaming themselves for how they were behaving, if they were drinking or taking drugs, how they were dressed.
There is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone reacts differently to a traumatic event and a sexual assault can be one of the most traumatic events a woman/girl ever experiences.
Relationship abuse can happen between same-sex couples as well. People often think that there can be no abuse within same-sex relationships because both partners are the same sex, but this is not true. Many of the issues above are experienced by those being abused but for that person there can be many additional barriers to speaking out about the abuse. These can include: shame or embarrassment – the person being abused may not be ready to come out or openly disclose their sexual identity. The abuser can use this to silence the victim, fear of not being believed because of the myth that abuse only happens within heterosexual relationships, concern about not getting support or worry about harassment or bullying if your sexuality is disclosed.
All of these reasons can silence someone who is experiencing abuse and make it very difficult to get support. There are a number of organisations which can offer support to anyone who is experiencing abuse within a same-sex relationship.
What can I do?
It is important to know that you deserve to be in a loving, consensual and mutually respectful relationship. If you think you are experiencing any of this please contact us for support, our young women’s support worker Lauren will be happy to help you and talk you through your options. You can get in touch with her by calling our helpline on 08088 00 00 14 or email her.