This is Abuse

// 11 September 2011

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This is Abuse poster

The Home Office has launched a new campaign to help teenagers recognise abusive relationships. Significantly, it focuses on both victims and perpetrators, encouraging both parties to question whether what they are doing/experiencing is abuse, and to get help if it is. This is a welcome change from previous similar campaigns, which tend to focus on the victim and fail to call out the abusers themselves. The focus on emotional abuse is also particularly valuable.

The campaign material states that 75% of girls and 50% of boys say they have suffered emotional abuse in relationships, and the website makes it quite clear that both boys and girls can suffer abuse, but the campaign videos only show boys abusing girls. While this may reflect the majority of abusive relationships, I think this was a mistake on the part of the campaign’s producers. While there is nothing wrong with campaigns that focus on male abuse of women (indeed, they are very important), this campaign aims to raise awareness of abusive relationships no matter the gender of the victim and perpetrator, and so the campaign material should also feature same-sex couples and girls being abusive towards boys. As it is, the campaign leaves itself open to criticism and the risk that its messages will be ignored by those who object to the focus on male>female abuse. While “What about the men [victims]?” is no excuse for ignoring abuse of women, it is a relevant question in the context of this campaign and one that should have been addressed in the posters and videos.

You can see more of the posters and videos on the This is Abuse website.

Any thoughts?

The image is one of the campaign posters. It features a white teenage boy standing on a pavement with his head bowed. The main text reads “Do you make your girlfriend weak at the knees… Because she’s scared of you? Lower down, in smaller font it reads “Does her heart beat faster when you threaten her? Do you charm the pants off her, or does a slap work better? This is abuse. Stop yourself. For information and help search “abuse in relationships”.

Comments From You

lydia harris // Posted 11 September 2011 at 6:37 pm

Almost the entire ‘have your say’ section has been taken over by people complaining about the emphasis on male abusers. It’s a tricky one to get right I think. I blogged about the campaign, as I have some unfortunate personal experience with teenage relationship abuse.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 11 September 2011 at 11:27 pm

As usual the government is attempting to appease everyone by trying to portray intimate partner violence as something which just happens. By claiming those who engage in intimate partner violence need help neatly ignores the politics of how and why it is predominantly males who are the ones subjecting females to domination and violence. It happens because we live in a male supremacist system and boys learn they are entitled to dominate and control women and girls, particularly their girlfriends. If the government showed images of young women committing violence against men this would immediately be seen as ‘evidence women and men commit violence symmetrically’ and eradicates the politics of how and why it is overwhelmingly males who are the ones enacting their pseudo right to dominate and oppress women and girls.

Of course male commentators and their apologists have taken over the comments section of government site claiming ‘campaign is biased against males’ because these individuals do not want reality to be publicised – namely the fact male violence against women vastly outweighs the tiny percentage of women and girls who commit violence against boys and young men. Remember whenever males commit violence against females malestream media barely notices but when a woman/girl commits violence against a male the media sensationalises reporting and this reinforces widespread belief women and men commit violence in equal numbers.

Attempting to raise the issue of intimate partner violence as though it just happens and is not linked to male supremacist system does not work. Government should have sought advice from Zero Tolerance because their campaigns are far more effective since they do not attempt to engage in claiming ‘abuse happens to anyone’ but very effectively show how and why male violence against women and girls happens.

Laura // Posted 12 September 2011 at 8:38 am

@ Jennifer Drew, While only a tiny minority of men experience serious physical abuse at the hands of female partners, the Home Office found that 50% of boys have experienced emotional abuse, so I hardly think it would have been unfair or disproportionate to show a boy experiencing emotional abuse from a girl. Furthermore, we shouldn’t ignore something just because it is a minority issue – feminists of all people should know this! Yes, male on female violence needs to be understood within the context of male supremacy, but that doesn’t mean a campaign to highlight it can’t try and help male victims as well.

This isn’t to say that all domestic abuse campaigns have to focus on male victims – of course campaigns and services for women only are important – but this campaign is aimed at teenagers of all genders.

Dan // Posted 12 September 2011 at 11:16 am

@Jennifer Drew: He was probably asking for it anyway, wasn’t he?

I think your assessment of the problems facing teenage boys at the hands of their girlfriends/boyfriends/parents/guardians etc as negligible since they belong to the same gender as the main perpetrators does EXACTLY what you claim the male apologists do. Failing to recognise domestic/partner abuse, no matter who’s the abuser and who’s the victim is wrong. Making out that it’s only possible for the female to be the victim creates a climate where women and girls are more likely to accept relationship violence as their role while leaving innocent (yes, some of us actually are innocent!) men to suffer abuse without realising there is a way out just for the asking.

Rachael // Posted 12 September 2011 at 1:13 pm

@ Laura Woodhouse – agree with most of what you say, but one small point, women aren’t a minority…

Sir Humphrey Appleby // Posted 12 September 2011 at 9:58 pm

@Rachael – Men plus conservative women is a majority, too.

S. E. Gould // Posted 15 September 2011 at 1:46 pm

I’m sure these adverts are doing a great thing. I’m sure the awareness is great, and it’s wonderful to see people addressing these problems…

But I saw one of them on the television the other night and had to go sit in the loo trying not to cry/throw up for a good few minutes afterwards.

I am uber-sensitive about this kind of things but still, a warning would have been nice. At first I thought it was a phone ad.

Summer // Posted 3 October 2011 at 10:56 am

Good adverts but triggering for some sadly. S.E my best friend was doing exactly the same as you were, except she was linked to the advert through facebook but a very ignorant friend who thought it would ‘help her feel stronger’ rather then trigger her.

I agree with their needing to be more of a diversity of adverts. Two of my friends have suffered abuse, one male on female which was highly physical (represented by this) but the other was female on female and my friend felt unable to admit to it for such a length of time due to it ‘appearing’ far less common, something her abuser played on and twisted around to keep her from asking for help. I think emotionaly abuse should also be highlighted a lot more, sometimes it starts off so subtly you don’t realise it is happening to you, my female friend that experienced ophysical abuse experienced the emotional first for a longer period of time but didn’t recognise it until she looked back after the physical abuse and her leaving him. It was very subtle with him deriding all her choices, her self-esteem and current job all the while he demanded since she was the higher earner she pay more/lend him some (guilting her into it and then putting down how she was able to afford to), he made her feel awful due to his issues, insecurity and bullying but it wasn’t until after that she suddenly though: hold up, that WAS abuse’.

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