I’d really hate to take a bed away from somebody who was abused for real,” she tells the social services coordinator when offered a room at the domestic violence shelter.
“Abused for real? What does that mean?” the woman asks.
“Beaten up. Hurt,” Alex replies, nodding.
“And what does fake abuse look like? Intimidation? Threats? Control?” The woman pushes back, grabbing the pamphlet and telling Alex she needs to call the Domestic Violence Hotline.
“Call and say what?” Alex retorts, still in denial.
“Help.” The coordinator, who’s seen this before, speaks with her eyes more than her lips.
This is Alex, the lead character from Netflix’s hard-hitting series Maid. She is shown to be in an abusive domestic relationship, where she faces coercive control from her partner, amongst other kinds of abuse, except there is no direct physical abuse. Throughout the series, she refuses that she is facing domestic abuse or IPV. The series is a visual version of Stephanie Land’s memoirs, ‘Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive’. It is quite impactful in leaving every one of their viewers with the question – when would we acknowledge that emotional abuse, control, and lack of boundaries, are in fact abuse?
CONSENT – RESPECTING BOUNDARIES AND NEVER MAKING ASSUMPTIONS
A lot of conversation has been happening around the term consent, particularly in context of sexual consent. Me too movement has brought out how the academic, artistic, and professional circles remain patriarchal, where a woman’s ‘no’ is often not paid heed to. However, this emphasis on consent is equally important in the sphere of personal relationships and domestic set-ups too. In fact, recently a lot of attention has been shifted to starting the discussion on consent early on in childhood, particularly – the notion that we should respect one another’s boundaries, in order to be safe, preserve dignity, and build healthy relationships. Often, personal history, closeness, and the emotions attached to them, make us overlook our individual space in interpersonal relationships. The systemic hierarchies also augment and emphasize the shared over individual boundaries and space.
CONTROL AND BOUNDARIES
To spell out the basic difference between control and boundaries, control is meant to make others what you want them to be, whereas boundaries make it safe for us to be ourselves. Perpetrators of abuse in personal and domestic relationships, would not respect boundaries and would evade them in different ways, to get things done their way. Although coercive control is not always in your face and is not easily detectable. It is often indirect, subtle, and non-imposing. Essentially, it can use forms of persuasion and control (e.g., “if you really loved me, you’d spend more time with me”) and the expectation of compliance (e.g., “meet my needs”); which are seen as following a circuitous and predictable path. In a public situation one can call out aggressive behaviour, but in DV or IPV, aggression that is layered and done by someone who is closer to one, like often spouse or partner, it becomes difficult to accept it, ascertain, and find ways out.
Spelling out boundaries is an absolutely necessary aspect of any interpersonal relationship. They can be boundaries of different kinds – physical, emotional, financial, material, mental and so on. Think of them as simple concepts and phrases that describe your limits, tolerances and expectations, or a list that communicates who you are and what you want or require from your partner or those close to you. At the level of family, one can start for example by never entering children’s rooms without knocking or asking them before hugging them, not just assuming they would be okay with it. If one still thinks, their boundaries are being violated and they feel threatened by it, approaching help – personal, professional or groups, specifically designed for the same.
‘It takes most women 7 tries before they finally leave.’ The woman who runs the DV shelter informs Alex. However, Alex leaves after 2 tries. She is able to get help – from the system in place, from family (at times), and her own resolve to get out and create her own space. However, the biggest step Alex takes is accepting she has faced DV, and saying it out loud in her share circle.
2. Lehmann, Peter, Catherine A. Simmons and Vijayan K. Pillai, The Validation of the Checklist of Controlling Behaviors (CCB): Assessing Coercive Control in Abusive Relationships, Violence Against Women, 18 (8) 913–933, 2012.
Picture credit: PositivePsychology.com