Interview: Safe home
The domestic abuse specialist Natalie Collins talks to Stephen Tomkins
Natalie Collins has survived domestic abuse to become an educator and campaigner. She works to help individuals, organisations and society in general to understand domestic abusers and domestic abuse, to be better at detecting it, and to create safer environments.
As a Christian, Ms Collins’ faith was instrumental to her survival – ‘I would not be here today if wasn’t for Jesus,’ she says – but it also contributed to her original vulnerability. She has particular advice for churches on how to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
Ms Collins speaks openly and candidly about her own story and about what abuse in general entails. Our review of her book, Out of Control: Couples, conflict and the capacity for change, is available online, here.
Is domestic abuse a broader thing than we realise?
People have moved on from thinking of domestic abuse as solely physical – now people talk about physical, emotional, financial, psychological and sexual abuse. But I prefer to think about what abuse looks like. Emotional abuse might look like somebody humiliating another person, degrading them, making them think they’re going mad, isolating them from family and friends. It becomes a much broader picture.
I personify the tactics as personalities. The Isolator might say: ‘You can’t see your mother any more,’ or sow seeds of doubt about friends. The Humiliator might use sexual degradation or public mockery. The Threatener might threaten to hurt our children or give information about us to others, to get what they want. The Exhauster might wake you up in the middle of the night to talk about his feelings, to keep you exhausted. The Brainwasher convinces us it’s all our fault. The All Mighty uses acts of violence – just a few can change the whole dynamic of how we relate to them – and might force us to do things they can use against us. The Demander might insist we do all the household tasks. The Nice One uses occasional acts of kindness to coerce us back into the relationship. All of these are motivated by the need to have control over another person.
In any relationship there is hurt and forgiveness. How do we identify when that becomes abuse?
There are two elements: the intention and the impact. When one partner spends too much money and there’s a conflict over it, what is the intention – to find an agreeable way of living together or to control her and make her account for everything she spends?
When I work with perpetrators, I tell them this story. A guy brings flowers home from work. She says thank you. They have dinner. He says: ‘Do you want to have sex?’, she says: ‘Not tonight, love,’ and he starts to touch her in ways that make her feel uncomfortable. She pushes him away and he rapes her. I ask: When did he become abusive? The answer is: If his intention in buying the flowers was to make her have sex, then it was an act of control.
The second element is: what impact does it have? With a man bringing flowers, whatever is in his mind, the woman might not experience it as abuse. But another woman might feel: ‘Every time he brings flowers home, I know I’m going to be expected to.’ It’s about whether someone is feeling controlled and oppressed….
This is an extract from an article that was published in the May 2019 edition of Reform