Misusing the Term Abuse Isn’t Helping Victims

As a society, we’ve grown more comfortable with calling out abuse. Whether it’s in the media or in our personal lives, we are doing what we can to put an end to the treatment through which past generations have suffered silently. Over the last few months, hoards of men and a few women have been exposed as abusers. This is good, really good. It’s important to recognize the wrongs these people have committed and to hold them accountable. However, something makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Amidst all the exposure of abusers, I and several others have noticed people misusing the term “abuse.” It undermines actual abuse experienced by survivors and undermines the movement as a whole. It is important to understand abuse and how it differs from behaviors that can make you uncomfortable, but do not actually fall under the same classification.

We’ve all had bad friends. We’ve had flaky, distant, rude friends, but unless their behavior goes to the extent of things such as threatening suicide to manipulate you, they are not abusive. Sometimes our parents make us angry, but telling us we can’t go out is not abuse. If your partner gets upset with you for some reason, they are not abusing you. Abuse is a specific term and to overuse and misuse it completely discounts the experiences people face every single day. Examples of abuse include, but of course are not limited to:

  • physical aggression
  • emotional manipulation
  • threats of suicide or self-harm to control someone
  • overbearing controlling behaviors
  • sexual aggression/assault

These are serious scenarios and are not comparable to a minor argument with your partner or a family member. If you need help, visit an online hotline or call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-422-4453.

Abuse is a term not to be used lightly. Abuse allegations are serious. I want to be clear: I am not discouraging anyone from reporting what they believe to be abuse. If you need help, ask for help. I am discouraging over-reactions to upsetting or rude behavior. Terminology is important and incorrectly labeling something as abuse is a huge issue that occurs far too often. Abuse survivors deal with trauma and illnesses every day because of what they have been through and they do not need to hear about someone’s “abusive” boyfriend not texting them back for a few hours. Victims need more than anything to be believed and taken seriously and that cannot happen with false claims. Watch your word choice. Think about your situation to determine whether or not it is abuse. Seek help if it is. Figure out how to deal with the issue if it is not. We stand with those who have been abused and want nothing but support for them. Survivors cannot afford to be brushed aside because of false claims.

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