Receiving repeated threatening or obscene messages is an often-ignored aspect of intimate partner violence (IPV). However, a new study has found that this form of abuse is often associated with physical violence, mental ill-health, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
Content warning: this article discusses domestic abuse.
One of the most common forms of domestic abuse is IPV, which can take the form of physical or sexual violence, emotional or psychological abuse, and controlling coercive behaviours – directed, as the name suggests, to a ex or current romantic partner.
Researchers at the University of London examined just how common the exposure to threatening or obscene messages were in the context of a partner with a history being the perpetrator of IPV.
The analysis of 7,000, mainly face-to-face interviews, found that one adult in fifteen (6.6%) had been in a relationship where they had received threatening or obscene messages, with one in four victims of abuse reporting multiple messages in the last year.
These victims were twice as likely to be female and were more likely to be younger adults. Recipients were also more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and have a history of other forms of abuse.
Researchers also found that even after accounting for other forms of abuse and adversities, receiving abusive forms of communications was associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts.
Sally McManus, senior lecturer in Health in the Violence and Society Centre at City, University of London and lead author of the study, commented that the findings of this study have implications for the documenting and supporting of victims of abuse.
Ms McManus said: “It’s so very important that when in clinical, police, or other service settings – service providers ask about all the kinds of contact people may have from current as well as former partners. Threats and obscene messages may be a way of extending control after a relationship ends and is linked to continued poor health in victims.”
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“Domestic abuse does not end when a woman has left the relationship”: services need to recognise the continuing impact of emotional control and abuse
In response to the University of London study, Sophie Francis-Cansfield, policy manager at Women’s Aid, said that technology has facilitated this form of abuse. She explained that threatening and obscene messages are often used by perpetrators to continue the cycle of control and emotional abuse even if they don’t know the victims location, she continued:
“In a [recent Women’s Aid] survey we undertook with nearly 700 survivors, 85% of the respondents said that the abuse they received online from a partner or ex-partner was part of a pattern of abuse they also experienced offline. Half of the respondents told us that the online abuse they experienced involved direct threats to them or someone they knew. Nearly a third reported that threats had actually been carried out.”
“For many women, these threats are not just empty threats. We have already seen welcome progress through the criminalisation of threats to share intimate images through the Domestic Abuse Act. It is crucial that policymakers, practitioners and professionals understand the severe impact of coercive and controlling behaviour, including sending threatening or obscene messages, on the mental health of survivors – whatever format they may take.”
Ms Sophie Francis-Cansfield added that “domestic abuse does not end when a woman has left the relationship”; responses to survivors must recognise that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls (VAWG) are “fundamental drivers of women’s mental health problems”. Therefore, she said, access to appropriate trauma-informed services is vitally necessary to help affected women “recover and rebuild their lives”.
To get information and support about abuse or domestic abuse contact Women's Aid.