A cultural response to a cultural scourge
The topic of this article is abuse, a pervasive issue that affects us all. By the end of this article, readers should be able to recognize at least one example of abuse that they have not personally experienced. Throughout the article, we will continually ask the same question: why do so many of us feel the need to hide the abuse we suffer?
Abuse is about power and control. It can take many forms, from verbal to physical, and it often occurs in situations where the abuser feels they can get away with it. This is how Harvey Weinstein was able to manipulate and coerce so many actors into acts that they found repulsive. But why did so many of his victims, including some of the most successful actors in the world, feel unable to speak out about their abuse?
Louis Makepeace has a form of dwarfism, and when he applied for a catering course, he was told he was a “safety risk”. He faces the daily risk of being shouted at, stared at, and even physically attacked whenever he leaves the house. But why do so many people feel so comfortable about abusing a complete stranger?
The answer lies in the insidious nature of micro-abuse. This is where the abuse is so small that it can be argued that it was not meant, or the victim is being too sensitive. On its own, a seemingly innocuous comment such as “Did you mean to have your hair cut that short?” can be asked as an honest question or as a passive-aggressive insult. But micro-abuse can quickly escalate, setting a new norm for comparison with each further micro step.
This is what happens when someone pushes into a queue in front of someone who can not stand up for themself. It is what happens when a person mouths off at a shop assistant or a waiter or a teacher. It is a person at a party making fun of other guests, a person who demeans their partner or child or parent or friend. It is an employer who humiliates an employee in front of others or behind closed doors. It is a racist on a train abusing a Muslim or groups of people threatening passengers or a group of men menacing young girls. Unfortunately, many victims of abuse feel too embarrassed to tell their friends and family they were subject to such mistreatment.
Full blown abuse
Abuse can take many forms, from patterns of micro-aggressions to full-blown acts of violence. Common themes of full-blown abuse include reports of Amazon restricting its employees’ access to the restroom during working hours, hospitals lacking the resources to take Alzheimer patients to the toilet, shootings in a crowded church, and bombings of a filled mosque.
Abuse can also take the form of financial exploitation, such as banks taking bank charges from an account and pushing it into overdraft, charging fees of £100 for unauthorised overdrafts, gas companies charging higher rates to their poorest customers, and large corporations failing to deliver contracted services and then taking out a debt recovery lawsuit knowing their customer cannot afford to defend themselves. It can also be seen in the form of discrimination, such as an excessively wealthy person refusing to pay an employee’s salary because they did not like the way they were spoken to, or the way their tea was served, or the colour of their skin. It can even be seen in government agencies stopping benefit payments to someone who did not reply to a letter sent to the wrong address.
Most of all, it is a person abusing their partner. This is most often seen in men, three times more often than women. This abuse can be verbal, such as undermining, humiliating, and demeaning their partner, or it can be in their actions, such as controlling who they are allowed to see, preventing their access to money, and deciding what they wear. It can also be physical, such as battering, beating, and torturing their partner, or threatening their children and friends with violence if their partner does not do as they are told.
Unfortunately, many people accept their fate in silence, allowing the abuser to continue their actions behind closed doors. Abuse is never acceptable, and it is important to speak out against it.
All forms of abuse have two features in common: the abuser’s ability to exercise control or power over their victim, and the insidious culture of blaming the victim for their abuse. Abusers can use a variety of tactics to maintain control, such as undermining their victim’s credit rating, keeping them in a position of economic dependence, or cutting them off from family, friends, and other sources of support. This leaves victims feeling powerless and unable to escape the abuse.
At the same time, victims are often blamed for the abuse they suffer, which further isolates them and prevents them from seeking help. Abusers are rarely held accountable for their actions, leaving victims feeling like they have no choice but to remain silent. This is why so many victims of abuse feel ashamed and hide their abuse, knowing that speaking out could make their situation even worse.
Standing up for the victim
The problem of abuse is a protracted issue that requires a cultural response. Abuse often occurs in private, making it difficult to know the truth of what is happening. However, one thing is certain: too often, the victim is blamed for the abuse they are enduring. We must take a stand against micro-abuse with micro-responses. We can show our disapproval of demeaning behavior by muttering in disapproval, commenting when a joke is demeaning, or simply standing next to someone who is being abused to offer moral support.
We must also stop blaming the victim, as this is an incredibly humiliating experience. When we turn a blind eye to abuse, we are giving implicit approval for the abuser to continue their behavior. We must recognize that abuse is happening and take action to prevent it. Only then can we create a culture that does not tolerate abuse.
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