You’ve heard of school yard bullying, cyber bullying and workplace bullying. But did you know the most common type of bullying actually occurs in the home? Domestic bullying, or the psychological and emotional abuse of a partner or close relative, is the silent epidemic and while most of the research has focused on the violence perpetrated by a male toward a female partner, it is important to note that domestic violence can happen to anyone.
Home is suppose to be our sanctuary from the world, the one place where we feel safe and secure. But for some people, home can became an emotional and psychological prison from which they cannot escape. Like all acts of domestic violence, domestic bullying is driven by the desire for power and control over another human being, usually a spouse. Threats, intimidation, coercion, humiliation, isolation, limiting independence, violation of personal boundaries and using ‘male’ privilege,¹ are all weapons in the domestic bully’s arsenal.
Author of Bruises on the Inside, Jennifer Hepburn, knows what it’s like to live each day in an emotional and psychological prison. For 12 years the mother of three was bullied, her every move watched and controlled by a man who claimed to love her.
As Jennifer explains in her book, one of the difficulties with emotional and psychological abuse is that often the victim doesn’t identify the behaviour as abusive until it has escalated to physical violence, or the relationship has ended. Up until that point, a woman will view the abusive behaviour as an ordinary relationship problem².
Jennifer told Australian Women Online, “I knew he was controlling but I didn’t realise his behaviour was abusive until I stepped outside the relationship. He is Sri Lankan and because I had immersed myself in that culture, I thought a lot of the abuse was cultural differences.”
However, even if the victim is able to identify the behaviour as abusive, often the perpetrator will act very differently in public and may even appear to others as a ‘nice guy’. So the victim doesn’t complain because she fears no-one will believe her and after years of emotional and psychological abuse, she may be too fragile to go it alone, especially if she believes she can no longer depend on the support of family and friends.
Of course one of the most commonly asked questions of women in this situation is: Why didn’t you leave him sooner?
Well, like all victims of domestic violence, she may be afraid to leave her partner and the research does show that emotional and psychological abuse is much more likely to escalate to physical violence when a relationship ends.
This is exactly what happened to Jennifer Hepburn when her marriage to Mohan was ending. But what I found really astonishing about this part of her story was the fact that others witnessed the assault and did nothing to intervene.
Last but certainly not least, is the impact on the children. After the couple separated, Mohan manipulated the two youngest children, turning them against their mother to the extent where they refused to see Jennifer. Although the children did eventually return to their mother, Julitha and Marcus were never the same again.
Mohan, a Sri Lankan national, has chosen to remain in Australia and is currently facing criminal charges in relation to Julitha who is now 13.
“If you met her you wouldn’t know that she has a lot of issues,” said Jennifer. “She has some type of borderline personality disorder and she can’t regulate her emotions. It’s very difficult for her and she can’t really read what people mean.”
Jennifer says her two oldest children, Marcus aged 14 and Beccy a university student, are recovering well. After her divorce from Mohan, Jennifer remarried a male friend from her past and today, she and Andrew are raising the children together.
“It was quite unexpected and I was very fragile at the time,” said Jennifer. “But Andrew thinks females are the most wonderful creatures on the earth and is very respectful toward women. He has stood by me and he’s very proud of me for doing the book.”
Neither Jennifer or the children have any contact with Mohan, who has since remarried. Jennifer told me he doesn’t know about the book yet, but she expects he will find out eventually and fears the repercussions.
“There is still a part of me that is afraid of him. But the reason I went ahead with the book is because a lot of people are not aware and if somebody doesn’t speak up, it’s always going to be a secret, a silent epidemic and nothing will change,” said Jennifer.
“If one person can recognise what’s happening to them and walk away from it, then the book has done it’s job.”
You can purchase a copy of Bruises on the Inside by Jennifer Hepburn at the website www.bruisesontheinside.com, where there is also a forum for further discussion on this issue.
While there is no denying that domestic violence also happens to men, the fact is that most of the victims are women and most of the perpetrators are men. Recently a men’s health organisation in Australia accused the Minister for the Status of Women, Gail Gago of inflating statistics in relation to domestic violence against women. Men’s Health Australia said the Minister had overstated the risks to women and understated the prevalence of domestic violence to men. However, what Men’s Health failed to acknowledge in their media release dated 17 February 2010, is that most of the assaults against men are perpetrated by other men and they must be held accountable.