Learning LIST-Learning

Tactics of abuse

A useful ‘anti-shame’ exercise is to examine the tactics used by those who abuse.

While this can be very confronting, it can help to get clear about just where the responsibility for the abuse lies and where the shame properly belongs. This can be particularly helpful for men who were abused as boys or teenagers; it can also be helpful for men sexually assaulted as adults.

The tactics of abuse are the things the person(s) abusing did, or said, or threatened to do, to commit the abuse and to try and keep it secret. They might have included ‘tricks’ or ‘special gifts’ to get you thinking that you were somehow to blame or at fault.

Sometimes the tactics of abuse can only be seen for what they are when you look back at them. For example, it is easy for an adult to convince a child that the child will get in trouble if anyone finds out. Of course as an adult we can see that this is a tactic and not the truth; but a child has no way of knowing that.

In looking back and reviewing what happened be careful not to use the knowledge you have now to judge your decisions and action back then. Take time to remember the context, how old you were, your physical size or maturity, what information you had or didn’t have about sex, what support was available?

When reviewing tactics of abuse, take care to adopt a compassionate, understanding attitude to yourself and what you might have done to survive.

Questions to Consider

  • What tricks or tactics did the person/people abuse you use? Think in terms of kinds of power- physical, intellectual, economic/financial, religious authority, social, emotional.
  • Did they call what they were doing ‘abuse?’ It is likely they used other words to describe what they were doing to distort the reality. What words did they use to try and cover over the fact that it was abuse? (e.g. ‘games’, special time, tickling…). Looking back now, what would you guess were their motivations for not calling it what it was?
  • What did they say would happen if anyone found out?
  • Often people who abuse go to great lengths to present a good image of their self to the outside world. What image did the person/people who abused you cultivate? What kind of person did they get others to see them as?