October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month which provides organizations such as HOPE Center an opportunity to reinforce our messages around relationship violence and raise awareness to help people recognize and deal with various types of abuse and their implications.

The statistics are staggering: one in four women will experience domestic violence. However, not all instances of abuse are physical and, although emotional abuse may not always result in physical scars, the damage can be just as serious.

Emotional abuse can be difficult to recognize — even for the victims themselves. It involves coercion and the maintaining of control in a relationship. The perpetrators leverage their partners’ vulnerability and use it to exploit them. The looming threat of violence can be enough to maintain the desired control.

It is all-too-common for victims of emotional abuse not to seek assistance since the situation doesn’t seem “bad enough” to them. In fact, we often find that a person doesn’t come forward until there is an act of violence either to the victim or to the children.

However, some of our clients who experience emotional abuse do decide for various reasons that they are at risk. Seeing the behavior portrayed in a movie or reading about it in a story can trigger the recognition. Up until then, they may not have put themselves into the category of victim. In some cases, a friend or a colleague recognizes the signs and refers a victim to us.

With emotional abuse, it can be much more difficult for victims to show others the hurt that has been done. The victims may dismiss or minimize the situations since there are no physical marks.

It is important to know some of the signs of emotional abuse. The perpetrator may mock the partner for exhibiting love, concern or empathy for others. They may take their partners’ strengths and turn them into vulnerabilities. They may diminish their partners’ abilities and their aspirations like going back to school or getting a better job: Why do you think you have to be better? Why do you want to take time away from me and the family?

Abusers can try to isolate their partners from friends and family. They also attempt to sew seeds of doubt by portraying their own perspectives as reality and their partners’ views as not to be trusted. Eventually, victims may very well come to the conclusion that maybe their partner is right which serves to affirm the abuse and makes it much more difficult for them to recognize what is actually happening.

Relationship abuse can also be related to finances. The abuser may keep the partner in the dark by hiding money and financial information, not putting possessions (the house, the car, etc.) in both of their names, and prohibiting access to accounts. The intent is to keep the partner in the dark, maintaining control.

Warning signs include not being provided information about or access to money when requested, discovering that one’s credit is bad, and not being able to track where the money is going.

Abuse can be more insidious and more difficult to discern in the absence of physical violence. It can be interpreted differently depending on context. It is the intentionality, the motivation that is key.

If you think you or someone you know may be at risk, please reach out for help to a trusted friend, a faith leader or to us at HOPE Center. Our services are free and confidential.

You are not alone.

Erica Staab-Absher is executive director of the HOPE Center. Reach the center at 507-332-0882.

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