Social abuse


  • Bagshaw, Dale, et al, ‘Reshaping Responses to Domestic Violence’ (Final Report, University of South Australia and Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, April 2000).
    This Australian research used a variety of methods including an anonymous ‘phone-in’ and focus groups. 102 women who were victims/survivors of domestic violence participated in the phone-in. ‘Social abuse’ was reported by 67 per cent of callers. Social abuse included ‘systematic isolation of women from family and friends’. Techniques included perpetrators’ ongoing rudeness to family and friends that gradually resulted in reluctance by family and friends to make contact due to concerns that contact would trigger abuse from the perpetrator. Other means by which women were socially isolated included moving to new towns or to the country where they knew nobody and were not allowed to go out and meet people. In some cases women were physically prevented from leaving the home and were kept ‘prisoners’ in their own homes’ (p22-23).
  • Rees, Susan, and Bob Pease, Refugee Settlement, Safety and Well-being: Exploring Domestic and Family Violence in Refugee Communities (Paper 4 of the Violence Against Women Community Attitudes Project, Immigrant Women’s Domestic Violence Service, 2006).
    The researchers undertook focus groups with 78 participants (men and women) from refugee communities in Victoria. Social isolation was identified as a form of domestic and family violence with participants identifying that abusive partners may intentionally keep victims from social and community contact. Significantly, the study found that the experience of being a refugee is frequently isolating because of unemployment, limited finances and inadequate English language skills. This isolation places refugee women at an increased high risk of domestic and family violence (pp28-29).


  • Harrington Conner, Dana, ‘Financial Freedom: Women, Money and Domestic Abuse’ (2013-2014) 20 William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law 339.
    This article is mainly focussed on domestic and family violence and economic abuse in the USA however the author presents a useful literature review explaining how socially abusive behaviours may contribute to the isolation of the victim (pp366-369). The author identifies that a woman’s strong community and family ties may help to ensure her safety if she is abused while weak community and family ties promote risk. Community ties may include family, friends, neighbours and co-workers and these ties may be called ‘social capital’. The perpetrator of abuse may actively work to destroy an abused person’s social capital through restricting contact with neighbours, friends and co-workers, resulting in loss of support for the abused person and increased levels of control by the abuser. The author notes that isolation prevents “would-be” witnesses from observing injuries or acts of abuse, the procurement of photographic evidence, calls to law enforcement, and intervention by third parties. The author also observes that the abuser may restrict the victim’s use of a car or telephone, having the effect of preventing her from calling for help and maintaining or increasing her social isolation.
  • Johnson, Margaret E, ‘Redefining Harm, Reimagining Remedies and Reclaiming Domestic Violence Law ’ (2009) 42 University of California Davis Law Review 1107.
    This article criticises the USA focus on physical abuse in the context of domestic and family violence. At pp 1119, 1121-1122 the article discusses how abusers use isolating behaviours (including socially, economically and tangibly – i.e. no access to a car) in an effort to control the victim.
  • Outlaw, Maureen, ‘No One Type of Intimate Partner Abuse: Exploring Physical and Non-Physical Abuse Among Intimate Partners’ (2009) 24 Journal of Family Violence 263.
    This article reports on a survey of 8,000 women and 8000 men conducted in the USA in 1994-1996. A sub-sample of 11,291 people who responded that they had current partners is examined. Respondents were asked about the experience of abuse within their relationships. In this article the author describes social abuse as generally involving an imposed isolation—victims are cut-off from family and friends, whether by threat, force, or persuasion. Social abuse includes circumstances in which a current partner limits contact with family and friends, insists on knowing where the victim is at all times, or insists on changing residences, even if s/he doesn’t want or need to. The article identifies a strong correlation between social abuse and physical abuse.
  • Stark, Evan, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Oxford University Press, 2007).
    This book is a key text on domestic and family violence. Although Stark is based in the United States his work has been highly influential in Australia. In this book Stark explains that domestic and family violence is a pattern of controlling behaviours akin to terrorism and hostage-taking. Drawing on court records, interviews, and FBI statistics, Stark details coercive strategies that men use to deny women their very personhood, from food logs to micromanaging dress, speech, sexual activity, and work. Stark urges us to move beyond the injury model and focus on this form of victimization. Stark reframes abuse as a liberty crime rather than a crime of assault. He explains how the perpetrator is able to control the victim through a variety of techniques which essentially lead to deprivation of liberty (pp 373-374). He identifies that isolation from friends, family, work and help (i.e. doctors and services) is part of domestic and family violence (pp 373-374; 469-471; 474-476; 478-486). See this You Tube video of Evan Stark, discussing the central thesis of his book Coercive Control: The Entrapment of Women in Personal Life.