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  • Writer's pictureTyTy

SPOUSAL / DOMESTIC ABUSE: What is the scope?

· Introduction

· What is Spousal Abuse?

· Types of Spousal Abuse

· Causes of Spousal Abuse

· Effects of Spousal Abuse

· What to do when in an abusive relationship

· Conclusion


Globally, domestic violence is among the most underreported crimes for both men and women, but this is gradually changing with increased awareness. A lot of times, abusers or victims of abuse do not realize what is happening; they often see these episodes as exaggerated family conflicts. Domestic abuse is no respecter of persons and can occur to anyone, irrespective of social status.


Domestic Violence is any physical or emotional abuse of a household member, especially one's spouse or domestic partner, ex-spouses, intimate co-habitants, former intimate co-habitants, dating couples, and former dating couples in which one party seeks to gain/maintain power and control over the other. [1] When domestic violence occurs in relationships that are romantic in nature, it is called Spousal Abuse or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

Abuse can involve threats, intimidation, isolation, and many other behaviors that can be used to instigate fear and submission. [2] Domestic abuse can range from the seemingly insignificant verbal abuse to the well-feared physical abuse which could lead to effects such as; low self-esteem or the more extreme one, death.


Domestic abuse can include:

1. Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is geared towards the emotional psyche rather than the physical body; it could range from:

· Verbal abuse which includes yelling, using derogatory words, shaming, name-calling. Calling a partner "stupid" or making statements such as "I'm taking away the children" or "no one else would want you" have lasting and damaging effects on the self-esteem of a person.

· Isolation: This is usually very subtle and sets the stage for future abuse. It often starts at the beginning of the relationship and it subtly separates the victim from their emotional support system and reality checks.

· Intimidation: The abuser might use things he/she knows can instigate fear. Things like menacing looks, smashing things, hurting pets or displaying weapons to force the victim into submission.

· Threats: This includes threats to family, friends and loved ones. They might even threaten to commit suicide or harm themselves to keep the victim from leaving.

· Blaming: This includes making excuses for everything including violent and degrading actions. They say things like "I would not have slapped you if you had done things this way from the onset." “You caused this.”

2. Economic/financial abuse: This is a manipulative tactic of power and control that is targeted at withholding finances from the victim [2]. Examples of economic abuse include rigidly controlling the finances, withholding money or credit cards, withholding basic necessities, preventing the victim from working or choosing their career.

3. Sexual abuse: This occurs when a partner is made to take part in an unwanted sexual activity or forced to have sexual intercourse with the abuser.

4. Physical abuse: Physical abuse often begins with emotional abuse like destroying things, making threats, blaming and unjust criticisms. Then it escalates to slapping, pushing, beatings and sexual assaults and then to life-threatening actions like choking or use of weapons.


From studies, abusive spouses tend to have alcohol or drug-related problems, abusive childhood, denial or refusal to accept there is a problem, traditional gender role expectations and poor impulse control. It is important to note though that in most cases, drugs or alcohol do not directly cause abuse; they only intensify abusive incidents.

In most local communities, domestic abuse is permitted as the husband is often allowed to “discipline” a stubborn, disobedient or nagging wife. In the larger and urban society, it is often seen as something that should remain within the family; even when reporting to legal authorities like the police, it is seen as a family matter that should be resolved at home.


The effects of spousal abuse are numerous, long-lasting and life-impacting. They include low self-esteem, shame, embarrassment, isolation, rejection sensitivity, anger, difficulty with trust, living in constant fear that the batterer will become more violent and maybe even fatal if she/he attempts to leave and mixed emotions as memories of good times, love and hope clash with the manipulation, intimidation and fear.

Spousal abuse has been found to have a high impact on the mental health of the individual as it leads to depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sleeping and eating disorders. In their study, Arias and Pape found that psychological abuse contributed significant unique variance to battered women’s PTSD symptoms and their reported intentions to terminate relationships with abusive partners, even after controlling for the effects of physical violence. [3]

The children involved in the relationship are also sufferers and are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression, and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying, or cheating. [4] Many perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence have been found to have had some form of violence in their childhood.


Leaving an abusive relationship may seem like the most obvious option, but it's usually not simple to do. Many times, abusers are feared; and if the person is physically abusive and violent, there's a probability that the violence will continue or even intensify if the victim tries to leave. If the abuse is mainly emotional, the victim may think it's better to stay as they are trapped a cycle of manipulation, threats and coercion.

However, since all forms of domestic violence could escalate and even lead to death, the best thing to do is leave and get help. The best ways to do so are:

- keep yourself and the children safe - this might mean moving out and cutting off contact with the abuser

- tell a trusted friend or family member about it to get support

- refuse to take the blame for their actions

- call a referral center or crisis line

- join a support group

- see a counselor or mental health professional

- get help for the abuser if he/she suffers from any psychological disorder


Spousal domestic abuse is a long standing problem and people stay in abusive relationships either because it is too dangerous or too difficult to leave. As a society, it is important to give and provide these victims support and not judge them. They need to feel empowered and supported in order to make the most beneficial choice: to leave.

Help/Referral Centres

If you suffer from Domestic Violence or know someone who is in that situation, please reach out to the following organisations for help:-

Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) -

Women At Risk International Foundation (WARIF) -

Or call them on:

DSVRT- 08000333333 (Toll Free), +234 8137960048

WARIF 24 Hour confidential helpline +2348092100009


  1. Domestic Violence Dynamics - What Domestic Abuse What It Does to Family [Internet]. Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (DVCC) - State of Delaware. 2011 [cited 29 August 2020]. Available from:

  2. Facts about Domestic Violence and Psychological Abuse [Internet]. National coalition against domestic violence; 2015 [cited 29 August 2020]. Available from:

  3. Arias I, Pape K. Psychological Abuse: Implications for Adjustment and Commitment to Leave Violent Partners. Violence and Victims. 1999;14(1):55-67.

  4. Stiles M. Witnessing Domestic Violence: the Effect on Children [Internet]. 2002 [cited 29 August 2020]. Available from:


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