What is Abuse? - Hastings Women's Refuge

If you’re reading this article then you’re doing a good thing. Understanding what abuse is will help you to defend yourself and your loved ones against it.

At its core abuse is about control. Abuse can come in many shapes and forms. It happens in heterosexual relationships as well lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships. Its purpose is to create or shift power. Whoever is committing the abuse is seeking to dominate and get what they want. They feel the need to control and they do so by doing things that are not acceptable.

If someone is being abused it may not be easy to spot. Abuse is not just physical violence. Sometimes the damage from abuse is inside: in heads and in hearts. This can also be true when children are being abused.

Recognising abuse is about trusting your intuition. If it feels like something is wrong then there’s a good chance you’re right. If you are experiencing the abuse then go with your feelings. If something is happening that you don’t want to happen, and you are too scared or threatened to stop it: that is abuse.

What is psychological/emotional abuse?

With psychological abuse there is often no physical violence. The behaviour is manipulative – it’s designed to control and intimidate you. Your partner may have extremes of behaviour that are difficult to predict: yelling and swearing at you one moment and being silent and ignoring you the next. They may threaten or intimidate you, or they may undermine and humiliate you in front of friends and family.

Emotional abuse can leave you unsure of who you are. It’s common to doubt yourself and it can be difficult to define and therefore hard to explain what is wrong. Sometimes it can leave you feeling muddled and unable to express yourself. You may feel like you are going crazy and you may be told no one will believe you because you are.

Your children can also suffer psychological abuse if they witness you being abused, or if they suffer from manipulative or threatening behaviour themselves.

It can be difficult to tell someone that you are being emotionally abused. You can trust that at Women’s Refuge we will listen to you and believe you, and do everything we can to help you. Psychological abuse is the most common form of violence experienced by the women and children we see at Women’s Refuge. Call us anytime on 0800 REFUGE (733 843). Let us help.

What is physical abuse?

The threat of physical abuse is often enough to leave you living in fear. Whether or not the violence happens once, more than once, or not at all: it is never ok. Physical abuse hurts your body and your mind.

Hitting, slapping, punching, cutting, burning, choking, strangling. Having objects thrown at you. Being forced to take drugs. Tying or locking you up. Physically preventing you from leaving. Physical violence comes in many shapes and forms. It can affect you and it can affect your children.

No physical punishment or disciplining of children is legal in New Zealand. Hitting children is physical abuse. Physical violence towards children teaches them to be violent.

Physical abuse often comes with added manipulation that leaves you believing it is your fault. You may find yourself apologising for being beaten, and promising anything in order to make it stop.

Like all abuse, physical abuse is about control. If you do not have the freedom to be yourself call Women’s Refuge. We can listen, we can help, and we care. 0800 REFUGE (733 843): we’re here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What is sexual abuse?

You should not be forced into doing anything you do not want to do. Whether you are single, married or in a relationship: you have the right to decide what you do and when you do it.

Sexual abuse occurs when your ability to decide what you will and won’t do gets taken away. That could be because you are being intimidated or scared into doing something or because you are being physically forced.

Examples of sexual abuse include: harassing you; sexual talk or touching that you don’t want; forcing you to watch pornography, forcing you to do sexual acts or sexual things that upset you or you don’t want to do; getting you ‘out of it’ with drugs or alcohol so they can have sex with you; rape.

If your children are under 16 it’s important to understand that any sexual contact from an adult is sexual abuse.

If you’re concerned about sexual abuse call Women’s Refuge at any time on 0800 REFUGE (733 843). Remember that whatever your situation, you have the right to say ‘no’ at any time.

What is economic or financial abuse?

Having control over your own finances and money is an important part of life. When that control gets taken away, your options and choices become limited. Taking control over your finances and money is one of the ways your abuser may choose to have power over you.

Are you experiencing economic abuse? It comes in many forms. Perhaps your partner takes your money and your belongings; does not let you get paid for work or tries to dictate to you whether or not you should be working; forces you to illegally apply for a benefit; puts debts against your name; keeps money and leaves you and your children struggling to buy necessities; does not contribute to the cost of raising your children. These are all forms of economic or financial abuse.

If your partner takes control of your finances and you are unable or too scared to get that control back: remember Women’s Refuge is here to help you. You can call us any day at anytime, and we will offer support. 0800 REFUGE (733 843).

What is spiritual abuse

If your right to express your spiritual or religious beliefs is being threatened then you may be experiencing spiritual abuse. Also, any form of abuse can easily overlap into spiritual abuse because of the impact it can have on your thoughts and dreams, and the things that give you pleasure in life.

Spiritual abuse means that you are not able to be yourself. If you are cut off from your cultural heritage and your beliefs you may find that life becomes without meaning.

Being a victim of violence can lead to a state of kahupo – when you have not connection with wairua, and ‘you are spiritually blind and already ‘dead’. You have no ulterior purpose or meaning in life. Life is but physical drudgery’. You have no sense of the sacred of the divine, and you do not recognise yourself as a spiritual being.

As a woman you have a right not to be abused. You have the right to make your own decisions, and feel safe making your own choices. You have the right to control your own actions.

If you are a male victim of abuse, you are also most welcome to call. We can provide you with information and advice whilst referring you to appropriate service providers who can help you and your family.

If you feel that you are losing control; if you are scared because you are being intimidated or threatened; if you or anyone in your family is experiencing physical abuse: call us. Women’s Refuge is here for you and our phone line is active 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. 0800 REFUGE (733 843).


Adapted from Kruger, T., Pitman, M., Grennell, D., Mcdonald, T., Mariu, D., Pomare, A., Mita, T., Maihi, M., and Lawson-Te Aho, K. (2004). Transforming Whānau Violence: A conceptual framework. 2nd edition. Te Puni Kokiri: Wellington. p15-22.

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