Domestic or partner abuse is a pervasive problem in our society, and in Australia is almost universally recognised as such. Although there is a near consensus acknowledgement that domestic abuse is harmful and should not be tolerated, there seems to be less consensus on what people see, or don’t see as abuse. Given that challenging abusive behaviours first requires the recognition of abuse, this highlights a need to understand how people’s concepts of abuse might help or hinder their identification of abuse in intimate partner relationships.
Prior research has shown that people are uncertain about whether non-physically abusive behaviours are abuse. Most would agree that a person who uses a weapon against or beats their partner is guilty of abuse, but it is well known that in many relationships in which abuse occurs the individual behaviours do not reflect these overt forms of physical abuse. In fact, many abusive relationships are characterised by harmful behaviours that are non-physical in nature (e.g., accusations of flirting). This is particularly true in the early stages of an abusive relationship where subtle, non-physically abusive behaviours are typical. However, it is important to note that whilst individual behaviours may appear relatively minor, this does not negate the considerable harm these behaviours can cause. This is largely due to a key discrepancy between abuse and other crimes. Domestic abuse differs from many other crimes (e.g., theft) in that the harm is cumulative, caused by multiple incidents over an extended period, rather than a single incident at a single point in time. Consequently, the harm caused by each incident builds on the harm caused by each prior incident.
In my research I wanted to explore people’s concepts of what partner abuse looks like to gain insight into how they might perceive early abusive behaviours. Specifically, I wished to determine the types of behaviours they might expect to see together, and whether previously observed differences in judgements of non-physically and physically abusive behaviours persist when people are presented with multiple behaviours rather than a single incident.
What we did?
In our study, participants were presented with two non-abusive behaviour exemplars (A agrees to try B’s solution [to an argument or problem]; A shows they care about B), two non-physically abusive exemplars (A accuses B of flirting; A shouts at B), and two physically abusive exemplars (A grabs B; A slaps B). For each exemplar behaviour, participants were also presented with a list of behaviours which depicted non-abusive, non-physically abusive, and physically abusive behaviours. They were then asked to select up to four behaviours they thought likely to occur in a relationship where the exemplar behaviour was present. After creating each of these six behavioural clusters, participants were asked to indicate whether they would judge a relationship where the exemplar and their clustered behaviours were present to be abusive, possibly abusive, or not abusive.
What we found?
Broadly our results indicated that participants expected similar types of behaviours to cooccur. Participants were most likely to select non-abusive behaviours to cluster with non-abusive exemplars, non-physically abusive behaviours to cluster with non-physically abusive exemplars, and physically abusive behaviours to cluster with physically abusive exemplars. Even when judging clusters with multiple abusive behaviours, participants were less certain in the identification of abuse when presented with clusters of non-physically abusive behaviours than when presented with clusters of physically abusive behaviours.
An additional interesting finding was that although non-physically abusive behaviours were most likely to be chosen for both non-physically abusive exemplars, there were distinct themes present in the two non-physically abusive exemplar clusters. The behaviours most frequently clustered with the flirting exemplar seemed to reflect a theme of controlling and monitoring behaviours, with non-abusive and physically abusive behaviours similarly unlikely to be selected. In contrast, the behaviours most frequently clustered with the shouting exemplar reflected a theme of toxic conflict with physically abusive behaviours more likely to be selected than non-abusive behaviours. Participants viewed the flirting exemplar clusters as less clear evidence of abuse than the toxic conflict clusters.
What might it mean?
Broadly these results suggest that participants expect similar types of behaviours to cooccur. Interpreted in light of the abusiveness ratings, the results also suggest a hesitancy or uncertainty in the identification of non-physically abusive behaviours as abuse, even when multiple behaviours are presented simultaneously. This was particularly true of controlling behaviours linked to the flirting accusation exemplar. Given that early abusive behaviours are typically non-physical, these findings suggest efforts to combat the occurrence of domestic abuse in the early stages may be undermined by a persistent failure to recognise non-physically abusive behaviours as abuse, a failure that is particularly pronounced when the behaviours align with narratives of jealousy.
- By Kiara Minto
For Further Reading
Minto, K., Masser, B., & Louis, W. (2021). Lay Understandings of the Structure of Intimate Partner Violence in Relationships: An Analysis of Behavioral Clustering Patterns. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 088626052098627. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260520986276
Incidents of racial discrimination are all too common, but only recently have such incidents been highly publicized and shared widely on social media. Here are some examples:
Being largely unaware of the pervasive discrimination faced by Black people and other minoritized groups in the U.S., White people have had often felt little need to do anything about it. Indeed, only a small proportion of White Americans have protested for racial justice, and those who do take action typically report close ties with people from racial and ethnic minority groups.
But as millions witnessed the brutal killing of George Floyd while in police custody, we have seen more White people taking to the streets than ever before to protest for racial justice. Thanks in part to social media, White people are beginning to recognize everyday racial profiling and the severity of racial discrimination, and as a result, they are becoming more aware of the White privilege they enjoy.
We surveyed nearly 600 White Americans to ask how often they have witnessed an incident of racial discrimination targeting Black people in their day-to-day lives—for example, a Black person being treated differently than other people would be treated at restaurants or stores. We also asked about their awareness of racial privilege and their willingness to take action for racial justice and equality, such as protesting on the streets and attending meetings related to Black Lives Matter protests.
Whites’ reported willingness to take action for racial justice was quite low. But the more frequently White people witnessed racial discrimination, the more willing they said they were to take action against racial injustice—and this effect was largely due to their greater awareness of racial privilege.
In our next study, we focused on White people who described themselves as “allies” in the pursuit of racial justice, and who had previously taken at least some action to promote racial justice. Once again, we found the more frequently White people witnessed racial discrimination targeting Black people, the more they became aware of racial privilege, and this, in turn, predicted their greater willingness to take action against racial injustice.
We next tested experimentally whether exposure to incidents of racial discrimination would lead White Americans to become more aware of racial privilege and more willing to protest for racial justice. Half the participants viewed videos depicting well-publicized incidents of racial discrimination such as described earlier, while the other half viewed only neutral images. Results showed that White participants who viewed the discriminatory incidents reported greater awareness of racial privilege and tended to become more motivated to take action for racial justice.
It thus seems that greater awareness of racial privilege can grow from witnessing incidents of racial discrimination indirectly, such as through videos on social media and news reports, without being personally present at such events. These results offer hope that further steps toward racial justice may be taken as White people become more aware of both racial discrimination and their own racial privilege—and, in turn, become more motivated to take action against racial injustice.
- By Özden Melis Uluğ & Linda R. Tropp
Özden Melis Uluğ is a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex.
Linda R. Tropp is a professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
This post is previously published on the Society of Personality and Social Psychology; Character and Context Blog
For Further Reading
Case, K. A. (2012). Discovering the privilege of whiteness: White women’s reflections on anti-racist identity and ally behavior. Journal of Social Issues, 68(1), 78–96. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2011.01737.x
Tropp, L. R., & Uluğ, Ö. M. (2019). Are White women showing up for racial justice? Intergroup contact, closeness to people targeted by prejudice, and collective action. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 43(3), 335-347. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684319840269
Uluğ, Ö. M., & Tropp, L. R. (2020). Witnessing racial discrimination shapes collective action for racial justice: Enhancing awareness of privilege among advantaged groups. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12731
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