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Abuse and Power

Abuse happens when there is an imbalance of power.

It is impossible to understand abuse – when it happens and how it happens – without an examination of power. Sometimes the women I work with have done things they are ashamed of in their relationship. They have slapped their partner across the face or thrown something at their partner. Knowing the context of these women’s lives, I would not describe their behaviour as abusive. This is because their partner has more power than they do. I think we need to be clear about when we use the word abuse and when we do not.  Alan Jenkins, in his book “Invitation to Responsibility” gives some very helpful criterion for defining abuse. He says, “a violence act does have the potential to be abusive when the person who enacts it:

1)    Possesses a significant advantage or privilege in relation to the other, by virtue of factors which confer power, such as age, strength, ability or conferred status.

2)    Experiences an exaggerated (and generally ongoing) sense of entitlement in relation to the other, thereby justifying its use.

3)    Abdicates responsibility for the well-being of the other (generally on an ongoing basis)and thereby justifies or excuses its harmful consequences.

A context for abuse requires a differential of power or privilege and frequently results in the abused person feeling fearful and intimidated with a sense of entrapment or enforced accommodation to the needs and demands of the abusing person.”

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