‘It does not stop’ and other things you may not know about 

  Post-Separation Abuse

By Demelza Desforges - MIN Ambassador, 14th November 2022.

‘It does not stop’ and other things you may not know about Post-Separation Abuse

*Trigger warning*: suicide, domestic violence (DV), tactics of post-separation abuse (PSA). 

Feminine pronouns are used here to describe the target of abuse whereas masculin pronouns are used for perpetrators, however we do acknowledge that imbalances of power also exist in LGBTQ+ relationships.

While men can be victims, the majority of Domestic Abuse (DA) cases are linked to gender based violence, discrimination and unequal power within heterosexual relationships. According to the ONS 88.6% of callers to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in the year ending March 2022 were female.  

Why doesn’t she just leave?

It takes on average 7 attempts to leave an abusive relationship.  A common misconception is that a woman is safe and free when she leaves. In fact this is when she may be most in danger. The abuse escalates as the perpetrator seeks to maintain or regain power and control through harassment type behaviour, threats, intimidation, physical, sexual and financial abuse.  Women and children in these situations are at higher risk of death by murder or suicide. 

Mums In Need

Society is getting wiser to abusive tactics. Help is available from various organisations, though many of these remain vastly underfunded and only seldom offer support aimed specifically at overcoming PSA harm and coercive control. Women are more at risk of PSA if they have children with the perpetrator. Abuse does not end when a mother leaves, it persists in altered but unabateable ways. 

Mums In Need recognises this and offers a tailored service. 

Post-Separation Abuse

DA and PSA can happen to women at all income levels,  regardless of age or race.  It is important not to ‘victim-blame’: people didn’t get into toxic situations because they wanted to get hurt. Abusers walk amongst us. If you don’t know the red flags it’s easy to end up in a harmful relationship. The abuser will have been appealing to start with, convincing their victim they would love and care for them. But the relationship soon descends into hell as the daily challenges of being involved with this type of person become a reality. When leaving a toxic relationship, invisible chains enable perpetrators to maintain control over their victims for years. 

The ‘Duluth Post-Separation Abuse Wheel, helps to understand how perpetrators continue to oppress /women and children:

It impacts on Parenting

 Abusive fathers place their own needs over those  of the child(ren).  

‘Counter-parenting’ is aimed at punishing the mother who dared to leave, but ultimately it hurts the children.

It affects children

Although sons and daughters may not perceive their father as being abusive, PSA doesn’t just affect the mother, it also harms children. 

It impacts on finances

The abuser is likely to have run-up debt in the mother’s name or coerced her into getting credit when they were still together which she now has to repay alone. 

When he doesn’t take financial responsibility for their children, they go without when they are with their mum. The father becomes a ‘Disney Dad’. Buying them all the latest luxuries when they are with him and instilling the false belief that their mum loves them less because she isn’t doing this. In fact she has barely enough money to put food on the table due to his ongoing financial abuse. Mothers may need to use food banks or obtain Debt Relief Orders. Some file for bankruptcy. These all bring added stigma, barriers and restrictions. 

It impacts on employment

The abuse is traumatising. Mothers may be unable to work, or may need lots of time off due to exhaustion or illness caused by all the mistreatment. 

Due to financial abuse, Mums may not be able to afford interview clothes or the travel expenses that come with being in work.

It impacts on housing

Financial abuse will have an impact on the mum’s ability to keep a tenancy or make mortgage payments. Any property maintenance work may be unaffordable so she (and the children) may be living in unsuitable housing or inappropriate conditions.

If he knows where she lives:

 Barriers are compounded by a lack of awareness around the impact of PSA, making it very difficult to move even with support. Housing agencies discriminate against single mothers and it may be impossible to raise money for a rental deposit. Removal vans cost and it’s hard to find helpers when the perpetrator has isolated her.

It impacts on relationships

Isolation doesn’t happen overnight. During the relationship he will have cut down her social circle and now he pursues smear campaigns to discredit her and destroy her support system and reputation.

Burdened by stigma and the impact of abuse, she finds it difficult to develop and maintain relationships. Lack of time and trust issues caused by coercive control, and interference from the perpetrator make it harder still.   

It affects Mental and Physical Health

Even though it wasn’t their fault, survivors feel shame and guilt as the ramifications of coercive control seep through their lives. Stress, sleep problems, eating disorders, chronic pain, the trauma of abuse affects both physical and mental health. Amid all the brainwashing, the perpertrator projects his own issues and insecurities.  

When considered within the larger picture, it's clear that the timeline and significance of these incidents amounts to the crime of coercive control. This highlights the importance of Mums In Need: raising awareness means more can be done to protect and prevent harm to children and mothers. 

It often isn’t resolved by the Justice System

Instead of protecting victims the Justice System empowers perpertrators on their campaign of terror. 

When the safe parent reports valid claims of abuse, he will relabel these as ‘alienation’ as a defense tactic. These ‘parental alienation’ claims are used as a legal strategy to cast doubt on the mother’s credibility and obtain a change in residency.

The good news is that the Domestic Abuse Bill is being amended  to include PSA. 

How to help

Post-separation abuse is a violation of Women’s Human Rights. Although it is enduring, relentless and pervasive, its  impact is not always visible to the untrained eye. Even mothers going through PSA struggle to understand what is happening to them. 

Mothers need to find long-term safety for themselves and their children. They go on a rocky journey of self-discovery and learn to understand how and why things happened the way they did. They need help to recover and get through this. 

Mums In Need is able to offer vital, specialised help but we rely on fundraising (100 club, MIN Tins) and donations to keep running. If you want to help Mums In Need on their mission then please get in touch