Q&A from "Ignorance or Ignore-ance? How to prevent abuse"
Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 7:52AM
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. in Abuse, Breakups, Divorce, Domestic Violence, Evolutionary Psychology, Jealousy, Male Female Differences, Parenting

Wise Readers,

One woman’s intuition gave her panic attacks—and she blamed her gut, not her guy!  WHY do women ignore what the body knows?  How is abuse different in homosexual relationships?  Do abusers groom and pick their targets?  And how can you prevent child sexual abuse (hint:  If you’re relying on the school district or institutions to do this—think again.)?   

Read on!


—Women Who Got Away *Before* Things Got Out Of Hand—

From Selina:  A Poem That Says It All

Hello Duana,

Thank you for providing such wonderful insights into the process of abuse. I have recently left a relationship after experiencing a number of serious warning signs in my partner’s behaviour. One of the most telling factors that can be observed early on is the way a person behaves in anger. A shocking transformation can emerge in which one who is typically quite charming becomes inconceivably vicious. My attempts to express my feelings in any way that diverged from my partner’s were either met with the cold shoulder or with rounds of verbal abuse that completely invalidated my views.

It is well noted that verbal abuse often escalates to physical abuse, and this happened one evening after a long drive home in which he expressed fury over my request to be helped from the car across an icy driveway… I was practically dragged into the house. The next morning he left without speaking to me and then blamed me for ignoring him! That was the beginning of the end for me. In actual fact most of my reluctance about him up to that point focussed on his failure to commit, but a much more serious and telling concern emerged in the process.

I have written a poem to commemorate this journey and what I believe reflects a common thread that we all share in enduring these experiences… one in which we can all emerge with greater clarity, purpose, and ultimately happiness, provided we are willing to see things for what they really are. My heartfelt wish is that it may in some way inspire my fellow sisters to find the strength the embark upon this transformation, stand strong, and never look back!

The Death of Delusion
Welcome to his world, so paramount and full of promise.
An honor to be chosen, she beings the lively dance to his tune.
She bears her soul to this glorious deity, unaware that she is really basking in the spotlight of his afterthought.
For this venue is a euphemism for his narcissism.
His sickness blinded by normative delusion, he is a parasite that gradually sucks the very breath from her being. 
Desperately she clings to the defenses of her demise.
Indeed, the delusion dies hard for the ever-hopeful.
But the truth lurks precariously near…
With a final gasp, the trap door open and the booby prize appears.
Indeed, he is as sick as the secrets he keeps.
Through this struggled awakening comes vindication for her despair.
Gone are the castles in the sand, their foundation eroded by the storm from within.
Her defenses exorcised, she is re-possessed.
A survivor, never to return to the sea of drowning souls


Duana’s response to Selina: 

Dear Selina, there’s much wisdom in your poem, and truth rang out from every line. Thank you for sharing it and your story of coming to clarity.

I’m only sad that the experience that formed that wisdom was yours. A central theme in many and many a doomed relationship—especially a doomed relationship with a man who is abusive in any way—is that we women have quite the tendency to fall in love with The Dream, the potential, what could be…rather than what is.

Ignorance does play a role.  But research-oriented personal protection experts such as Gavin De Becker and scientists like Neil Jacobson have found that it’s our ignore-ance of past and current realities, *more* than a failure to have enough information, that gets women in trouble.

Many women take years to let go of the unreality and perceive with clarity.

You saw what is. And I’ll bet in the future, you see it and believe what you see long before it reaches such a point of annihilation of your self-esteem.

Thank you for posting in your own voice, clear and strong. Here’s to your journey, and your survivorship—“never to return to the sea of drowning souls.”


From Hallie:  The Abuser Tried To Make Me Distrust Myself, And Now I’m Trying To Warn His New Girlfriend

Duana, as always, thank you for posting such insightful and helpful material. :)

As I read through this list of warning signs, I can’t help but be astounded by the fact that only 7 months ago, I left a young “man” who portrayed nearly all of these scary characteristics/behaviors.

Over the course of 18 months, he slowly “sank his teeth into me”, playing on my sympathies, using his charm to win the approval of my family and close girlfriends. He won them over so much that even they couldn’t see how badly he was treating me. He was verbally and physically abusive. He isolated me from my friends, manipulated me, and verbally assaulted (behind my back) any and all of my male friends who tried to step in on my behalf.


When my intuition kicked in and told me to escape, he knew exactly which buttons to push to make me doubt what I knew was true - that he was dangerous.

I thank the Lord constantly for opening my eyes and giving me the courage to get out while I could. It terrifies me to think of what may have happened had I stayed for just a few more weeks. After I left, he played on every one of my sympathies, and had I not had the support of my friends and family, I think I may have fallen back into his trap.

Now what terrifies me is I think he’s repeating the process with another girl. I tried to warn her but they’re still in the ‘honeymoon’ phase and she doesn’t believe that her sweetheart could be the monster I describe. It breaks my heart but I’m not giving up. I can’t stand knowing that he’s out there looking to destroy girls’ lives.

This article is extremely helpful, and I intend to share it with my loved ones. Everyone deserves to be equipped with the knowledge that could keep them far from crazed predators.


Duana’s response:

Dear Hallie,

Your relief is palpable. Yes, you escaped a very dangerous person. I thought it very important that you said this to all of us, especially:

“When my intuition kicked in and told me to escape, he knew exactly which buttons to push to make me doubt what I knew was true - that he was dangerous.”

That’s called gas-lighting. Many abusers try to make the woman doubt what she has experienced or what her own body tells her; abusers also use charm to get others to side with the abuser’s perspective and further undermine what the woman knows in her core. You possess a great deal of strength to have seen through it and gotten away in time.

Another broadcast worthy thing you said?  Women who have been (or nearly been) abused usually want to *protect other women* from the abuser.

Yet these well-meaning and truth-telling women aren’t believed. BELIEVE THEM. They are *not* lying—they’re actually making themselves vulnerable to save another life.  Yours. 

Hallie, I’m glad you’re going to distribute this article to others whom it could help. May I suggest you send it to your ex’s current girlfriend as well? If she thinks you’re just making this up to ruin his and her life, which apparently is what new girlfriends often think, she needs to hear this message of warning from someone who doesn’t know any of you.

Sometimes, hearing it from someone who is not personally invested in the outcome can be more persuasive. I hope so, and I thank you for writing in and helping out.



—Who’s Abusing Whom?  Power and its relationship to abuse across the generations and between (within?) the sexes— 


From Tara: It’s About Power

I’ve been following your last three articles closely and especially the discussion about determining who is abusing whom. If as you said, abuse occurs in order to control another person, then there has to be a power imbalance in the relationship in order to establish control. One partner has it, and one doesn’t.

Are both partners claiming they are abused? Then look for the power and you’ll find the abuser. The partner with greater physical strength, more economic power (an income, all assets in his name, etc.), no daily responsibility for small children is lying.

Can women ever abuse men? I think it can only happen when the woman has significantly more power than the man. For example, mother controlled son during his childhood (verbally, emotionally, physically), and this dynamic continues into adulthood. Or an abused daughter finds herself with all the power when her father ages, becomes dependent on her, and she begins to control him.


Duana’s response:  Abusive Parents Play A Dangerous Game

Dear Tara,

You’re certainly correct that women sometimes abuse children, including continuance of control over adult sons. But those dynamics sometimes shift. For instance, let’s look at some odds.

About 7% of kids in the general population are abused by their parents, BUT if the parents were abused as kids, this jumps to about 28%.

1:400 adults abuse their now-dependent parent in the general population; that’s just 1/4th of 1%.

BUT if the now-dependent parent abused the now-in-control adult child, the odds that the adult child will abuse that parent jumps to *one in two*!


We see two things clearly here:  

—Abused children do have options when they grow up. Most of them don’t abuse their own kids even though the abuse rate exceeds what we’d find in the population at large. 

Abusive parents are playing a dangerous game, as you alluded to in your letter. The same kids they abused might not abuse the grandkids; but the odds are 50/50 they’ll abuse Dear Ol’ Mom Or Dad.


As for being able to discern the abused partner via who has *not* got the power—you’re almost entirely correct. 

The only exception I’d make is that Cobra-type abusers are often actually financially dependent on the woman they are abusing, whereas Pit Bulls more typically control assets as you described.


For those who might have missed it, the distinction between the two basic abuser types is here:



But since Pit Bull jealousy is the rule rather than the exception, you’re usually correct that the power imbalance is resting almost entirely with the male in an abusive relationship.

Thank you for your insightful contribution.


Penelope’s response: My Abuser Created The Power Imbalance

I had way more personal power than my ex. That is what made him angry and somehow he managed to convince me I was nothing. He did have the other “power items” that Tara was talking about, but there should not have been an imbalance in the first place — he created it.


Duana’s response:

Dear Penelope,

I wonder if you were victimized by what scientists call a Cobra? These abusers will, as you put it, create a power imbalance even where there was none before, and even when they’re in a position of financial dependence. I’ve got a link to the article that describes Cobras in the note to Tara, above.

Whatever the cause, it sounds like you are safely away and have liberated yourself. Congratulations on your act of bravery, and thank you for writing here.


GC’s response: 

Since abuse comes in many forms, its hard to say if a man can not be truly abused. As a guy, I would have to side with no, typical men cannot be abused by women since their very nature is to fight against the powers that bring them down. Well all the men I know. But there is dishonesty with activity and money, reluctancy in intimate and nuturing behavior, and possibly disrespectful attitudes towards anything that the man does. I’m guessing but those would be my best guesses for female to male abuse. And one other thing, men can be abused by other men(homosexual relationships). So men can be abused in that case.

Awesome poem!


Duana’s response:  Abuse In Gay And Lesbian Relationships

GC, thank you for another supportive male voice on the thread.  Yes, male-on-male abuse happens in some gay relationships, although I did not find stats on how often that occurs. Likewise, abuse exists within some lesbian relationships.

Lundy Bancroft’s book (linked beneath my signature) is a good place to start for people who want to learn more about how abuse is similar and different in hetero- versus homosexual relationships.   As a rule, most of what is true in straight relationship abuse is also true in homosexual situations. 

Ironically enough, gay and lesbian abusers have an additional and unique tool in their abuse arsenal:  Threatening the partner with their very sexual orientation and exposure of same—as in, “Oh, won’t your parents be so surprised to find out you’re being beat up by your *boyfriend*, you queer little queen!”  Or the abuser may threaten to out the abusee’s orientation at the work environment as a means of maintaining control. 

In this sense, abuse may be even more tragic when it does occur in same-sex relationships.  The social support for those relationships, often lacking to begin with, is further threatened by the very partner who should be a port in the storm. 





From Heidi: My Intuition Had To Create Panic Attacks Before I Listened

Duana, thank you for this article. I narrowly avoided marrying someone bad by listening to my gut, but I should have left even sooner than I did. He did so many things from your list. He guarded me like a possession even though I was not even thinking about other men. He proposed after a month together. I was jobless and vulnerable. He found fault with every person in his life but himself. Nothing that had gone wrong was ever his fault, and there was a lot that had gone wrong. He thought people sucked, yes, exactly. He talked a good game about women being equals, but his actions didn’t back it up. He had an ex-wife he would not even let me know the name of no matter how I asked, and he would not tell me anything about why their marriage failed. And I let the matter drop. The world was against him in his view. His mother had abused him.

I wonder if having your list would have helped. It might not have. I’m not dumb, but the evidence I had didn’t add up to anything good, and I was still hanging in there. 

The moment I said yes to marrying him, my gut stopped whispering and talking and started screaming at the top of its lungs. I had a panic attack that continued for three months until I broke off the engagement. I was getting angry at my body when I should have thanked it!!!!!!

I’ve never had panic attacks before or since, but all the evidence that was staring me in the face was not moving me away from that man, so my gut took care of it for me. At least I can feel grateful for that intuition now. I think I just thought I was nuts before your article. I’m done with questioning my gut, cuz it’s a keeper. Thank you.


Duana’s response:

Dear Heidi,

“Our relationships actually start with predictions, predictions that determine—literally—the quality and course of our lives. So it is time to take a look at the quality of those predictions.” —Gavin De Becker

Of course, if most of us were really tuned in to our intuition—or believed it when it shouted at us—or used evidence to make changes in our decisions about a man instead of hiding from the facts (and yes, I have definitely done that, too!)—De Becker would not have had much basis for his lengthy book and booming personal protection business.

I thank you for sharing all the warning signs you saw without seeing, up to and including the anger you felt as your intuition tried to protect you. That’s a good gut you’ve got—a keeper, yes.

One question that arises is: *Why* do we ignore our intuition and the evidence? I have some guesses and am interested in everyone else’s.


Tom’s response:

To all of the posters so far - your stories are powerful (I recognize some of them from before), and you deserved better from a man, any man. TC


FCooper’s response:

For Selina — that is a frighteningly beautiful poem. Thank you so much for sharing your soul.

And I love how Heidi knew that her body was speaking to her. Too many people do not realize that our personal pathologies are often our intuition trying to shake us into recognizing what’s wrong in our lives.


Duana’s response: 

Dear fcooper,

Yes. Although *all* the scientists averred that women often ignore intuition and grasp at The Dream when the evidence urges them to flee, none of them went into much depth about *why* we don’t listen. I think it’s due to a combination of:

—poor training, where some parents teach their kids to obey all adults, even adults who have very bad intentions;

—outright child abuse/neglect, where kids have to choose between their gut and their parents; parents win that one almost every time;

—and low self-esteem that could arise from poor training or outright abuse or neglect or many other factors.

So, for instance, a reader privately shared that she’d been sexually abused by more than one male relative during her childhood, and in her view it was because she had basically been raised to think her gut was wrong, adults are right, and adults can do what they will.

I wonder what would occur, or what does occur, when parents believe their children and teach the children to believe themselves even if sometimes that means discounting an adult?



No Name’s response:  Many Reasons I Ignored My Gut (And Other Women Might, Too): 

Interesting question about why otherwise smart women will avoid our intuition and the evidence. Could it be because …

(1) We think we’re Special. (While those *other* women may claim abuse, he’s too sweet to be capable of that. Besides, even if he did make minor errors in the past, he would *never* do that to *me* because I’m the Special one ..) .

(2) We think we can change him. (If I just love him enough, or comply with him enough, or be perfect enough to him … then he will transform before my eyes into a Knight in shining armour. After all, he has such outstanding Potential.)

(3) It feels strangely familiar to us. Those of us who grew up in a train-wrecked (dysfunctional) household may unwittingly seek out the same types of men as husbands that our fathers were. Irrational, yes, but at least it feels familiar. Too many women don’t have a healthy standard against which to compare a mate. Note: Better to deal with these issues in the safety of therapy than to recreate them in a marriage relationship.

(4) We’re stuck. (Never mind the signs - We feel we MUST make this relationship work because it’s our last and only chance.)

(5) We find it confusing. (While some men possess some of the signs in varying degrees, probably no one has all of the signs at the highest degree. More likely, the man has some good points which make us more willing for a variety of reasons 1-4 to overlook the bad in favor of the good…)

In my case, it was a combination of many factors. My first husband was charming, well-educated (top law school) and well-employed. He was also emotionally unavailable, inflexible (he liked things a certain way), neglectful, passive-aggressive, and verbally abusive when he didn’t get his way. He expected women to cater to him, and take care of him.

A week before our wedding, we were supposed to meet his parents and family for dinner. I was exhausted from planning the wedding single-handedly, working 50-hour work-weeks, and teaching on the weekends. I begged not to go, and to reschedule.

That’s when I saw the terrifying side of him that I’d never, ever seen before.

It’s as if a volcano exploded.

Realizing he was about to disappoint his parents and that he couldn’t control his fiance, Michael (not his real name) began screaming at me: “F*CK YOU!! F*CK YOU!! F*CK YOU!!” And he wouldn’t stop. Here was this articulate man and all he could manage to say was, “F*UCK YOU!!”

I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for 2 hours. Michael refused to console me, refused to call his parents, and refused to reschedule.

Finally at the last possible minute, after keeping his parents waiting downstairs in the car for quite some time, I came out of the bathroom and went to the dinner.

A week later, I married Michael. Why? I felt stuck. My job was ending, I had not found another one because I was getting married, and I had no other way to support myself.

In my case, it was a combination of thinking “he will change for me because I’m special,” “he has so much potential,” “I’m already 29 - this is my last chance at a marriage,” and “I’m stuck.” Also, my own father was a yeller, and felt that women (and others) are subservient, so it wasn’t all that unfamiliar.

My marriage to Michael ended in less than 3 years. He expected me to take care of him, emotionally *and* financially. He continued to sulk, pout, or scream when he didn’t get his way. Mostly, I avoided him. He could be a grown-up at work, but put on his little boy attitude (complete with a little boy voice) when he came through the door at home.

The last straw came when my business took off and started making money. One day Michael came home and announced, “Baby, I want to quit my job and work in your business.” Translation: “Baby, I want you to do all the work while I sit on the couch, don’t take a shower for days, and watch basketball.”


I filed for divorce.

Michael tried a couple times to win me back, but I was done. He wasn’t a Pit Bull. And he wasn’t a Cobra. I think he was just a little boy in a man’s body, who himself had grown up in a verbally abusive household. Because we did not have children, the marriage was easy to leave.

My heart bleeds for the women in truly abusive relationships, and especially for those who have children.


Duana’s response:  There’s A Big, Fat Gray Area Between Abusive And Still-Unacceptable Behavior


Dear No Name,

Thank you for your thorough description of the many factors that contributed to your entering a marriage that was far from healthy. I think the scientists would be impressed with your thoughts on how intuition and evidence alike come to be ignored. I am, in any case.

Because you are right. There’s empirical evidence that women do think a man who hit others won’t hit them ; that often, they do believe they can change him or that he will change himself if the woman is loving enough for long enough; that women who were abused as children or in prior relationships are likely to feel that abuse is normal (although they hate the abuse, they see few alternatives); and that if you have never seen a happy, supportive, respectful and kind relationship, you’re not likely to really know what a good standard for a partner’s behavior would be.

I don’t know about the evidence for “I’m stuck”, but I’ve witnessed it so often, I doubt the science would startle me.

And it’s impressive how much work you’ve done to understand where you were, and why—and how you fixed your perceptions and moved on.

There’s a reality coming through your letter that I have wanted to discuss before. As you know from sad experience, the gray area between abuse and behavior that is Wrong (but not abuse) is vast. Men and women alike can behave abominably, inexcusably and unacceptably whether or not the technical abuse definition has been met.

And I am never in favor of proceeding with that sort of courtship.

I resisted writing about abusiveness for a long time even though I received and responded to many private letters about it. Why?

—I like men and did not/do not wish to attack them en masse.

—Focusing on abusiveness can take the entire tone down quite a few notches, to the point where instead of thinking, “I wonder if this person meets my high standards for a mate?” we’re obsessed with how bad things have to get before we can justify leaving. 
That’s just the opposite of my aim.

Love Science is about getting more love and better relationships, not figuring out how little love we can live with or how poor a relationship we must accept. It’s my wish that everyone out there guard against *any* level of unkind, disrespectful behavior—abusive or not—, because those are deal-breakers if you want genuine happiness.

I truly hope you have found yours.




From Tom: 

I style myself as Duana’s resident “Masculinist”, as I expend a fair amount of energy these days speaking on behalf of good men everywhere. Explaining (my informed opinion of) men’s value to society and men’s motivations to anyone who has questions.

I have been coming to LoveScience ever since another discussion group I frequent recommended her site. I’m very glad that I did, because I’ve found a tremendously positive resource for explaining the motivations of both women and men in their relationships, and I needed that.

Reading everything above, first of all I believe it all. The research makes sense in light of what I’ve seen and experienced. If I were a woman I would rely on what is in this column, simply in defense of my own integrity and independence. The evolutionary science may explain a mechanism whereby a male attempts to ensure his paternity, but it is a mechanism that is slowly being bred out of us.

Like I said, I speak up in defense of good men. There is *nothing* in today’s column that attacks men just for being men. Thank you for that. I am a guy who had a wonderful dad, grandfather, uncles and other men in my life as I grew up. Then I was married, and I now have four *sons.* But I was also divorced after 20 years and was accused of some of the lesser items on the list above (“controlling” behavior, specifically). I spent a lot of time wondering and looking for answers to “Was I responsible for my spouse’s pain and ultimate rejection of our marriage?” But I have never had anything to hide and I would have been able to give references to anyone. No secrets.

Duana mentioned that she wanted everyone to avoid bad relationships, both men and women. It’s not easy to do, and even if you see a few of the signs (for example, I saw in my spouse some negativity toward other people), that isn’t always enough to justify your decision to walk away. BECAUSE you think you could have a good effect on your partner. Well, I can only say that we all should know just where our dealbreakers are and be ready to exercise them RIGHT NOW if we must. Lessons learned. Thanks for asking ;-)


Duana’s response: 

Thank you, Tom and SPC Horrigan (below), for the wonderfully non-defensive male voices of support for the women writing in at this topic.

Tom, I owe you a special thanks for all you contribute here. You are indeed the resident Masculinist, and I have received private notes that specifically name your posts as helpful. It appears that the male readership at Love Science has grown tremendously—it’s now about 50%—and I think your perspective has helped open up some doors for some of them to feel at home here.

You are correct that humans appear to be getting less and less aggressive. A book by science writer Nicholas Wade (“Before The Dawn”) details anatomical changes that strongly indicate we are in effect taming ourselves.

For instance, modern skulls are quite thin in comparison with ancient skulls, indicating that the threats we face from the environment and one another have decreased over the millennia. It’s startling to think that our current level of violence is on the low end of the scale, evolutionarily, but it appears to be so. We drag knuckles less and less.

You’re also spot-on that this article was not intended to defame men as a group. I, too, defend good men. And most men are.

Tom, you also talked about how tough it is to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. There is a vast gray area between healthy, loving behavior and outright abuse. My wish is for everyone to stay in the areas of health, and out of the gray area altogether—in terms of our own behavior and what we will tolerate from others. While it is possible and even probable that two well-intentioned people can have many good influences over one another, it also happens that you’re right and we’ve gotta know what our deal-breakers are. And quickly leave when we encounter one.

I say this to men and women alike. Although abuse per se is a male-dominated enterprise, *both* sexes have a foothold in the domain of unacceptable, unkind, disrespectful behavior. It is the responsibility of each one of us to behave well ourselves, and then to find someone else who chooses good behavior, too.

Here’s a Love Science article about picking a good mate, whichever gender we fancy:





From Tara:  Stop Making Excuses For The Inexcusable; and Thanks

Thank you so much for posting this. So many times, especially in a new relationship, we go in with rose colored glasses or think, “It could never happen to me.” Then we’re in and things start to go wrong, but at that point, we’re invested in a relationship and it makes us too stubborn to see what is really going on. We make excuses for unacceptable behavior because, “I know the real him. You don’t understand.” Your research and your article are great for anyone who has been in, may be in, or may encounter an abusive relationship. Keep eyes wide open. Don’t make excuses. Be willing to leave, even if it means a temporary hardship. No one deserves to be abused. Thank you again for always working so hard to help so many people. You have helped me in more ways than I can count. Please keep doing what you’re doing. 


From No Name:  The Marriage Papers Won’t Change Him; and Thanks

Tara’s gratitude deserves a second. I, too, am grateful for this column and the many insights and explanations it has provided to me. I think too many of us believe that marriage is magical. We may think: “If I could just GET MARRIED I will live happily ever after … you know, like Cinderella.” In other words, my boyfriend is acting one way on this side of the marriage certificate, but once we’re married, he will act better. Not in my experience. Once you’re married, we all let our hair down a little. In other words, he will act worse.


Duana’s response:  Why My Own Errors Launched An Advice Column (Based On Science, Not My Own Errors)

Dear Tara The Second and No Name,

Thank you very much, both for your encouragement of others to exit while the omens have not yet turned to full-scale abuse, and for your encouragement for me to keep writing Love Science. Letters like yours keep me at this week after week.

That—and how very much the information changed my own life. I realized a need for a science-based advice blog when things didn’t work out for me despite my intelligence and education and ability to formulate a reasonable-sounding answer to students’ queries about their lives. I made mistake after mistake until my own self-esteem and self-trust were about worn to nubs. (As you point out, No Name, the people who post here are smart. Yet how much trouble we can and do get into!) My opinion alone just wasn’t worth all that much, I’m afraid. And I didn’t find any opinion-based advice-givers who were right oftener than they were wrong.

But the moment it occurred to me to begin using social science—data beyond opinion—well, things got better.

It’s been my goal to help people stumble about a little bit less than I did, a little bit less than perhaps they did before. You inspire me to continue.


From SPC Horrigan:  How Abusers Test Your Vulnerabilities


The way I see it, relationship abusers will test the vulnerabilities of future victims by feeling them out in early stages of courtship. I agree with the reference equating abuse to control, and from the start I imagine a dysfunctional abuser testing limits on how much control and influence they are able to push for and exert over someone they want to hook up with and have latch on to them for mutual codependence. I think these tests start out small in the beginning and eventually eases into a much bigger dynamic as time goes on.

Initially an abuser typically would want to elicit sympathy in the person they want to catch. In psychology ploys for sympathy are known as transference tests. And I quote from a textbook passage I had to look up - “In a transference test, a presenter reenacts a traumatic event or pattern of events in their life, with the presenter themselves playing the role of the victim.” By acting sorrowfully about past misgivings, the one presenting themselves in a victimized role is purposefully trying to get their audience’s sympathy. Pulling these strings to manipulate sympathy out of someone is an early example of baiting control to get an intended response from a listener.

Be careful how the stage of sympathy is set. Are you relating to this story on an intimate level where you have now become some secret confidante or private informant that must share in protecting secrets with a person you have recently met and are still getting to know?

My advice is not to show that you will hide and passively tuck secretive information away as something you both share and feel ashamed and pitiful about together… No, no way.

Let them know if these truths beare shame or have darkness surrounding the way they ‘intuitively’ feel. So if problems are shared be sure you remain open and candid enough to recite them back to the presenter so they can hear what they have shared echoed back to them. Also, enquire into what has this person done to correct their issue??? Have they tried to turn the misfortune around so they avoid it from happening to them again. Ask poignant questions, inquire into how proactive this person has been to take responsibility of their own bad luck and grow stronger from the experience.

Be sure to find out if this person has evolved from life’s instability and elevated on to higher ground on their issues by healing from their broken hearted moments. Are they still feeling sorry for themselves about past hang-ups they inevitably should have cleaned up in the past and gained strength through some sort of recovery?

If they haven’t been moving forward on these things and instead have been stagnant you must demand to know why… and furthermore, why are they telling you this… just so you might take pity on them and inherit all of that murky sorrowful garbage that has no end and no plan of attack for a disaster relief clean-up effort.

Remember, how is someone truly going to take care of you when you might be down or be weak when they never accomplish improvement, healing, and recovery for themselves? 

 An abuser typically abuses themselves, AND stagnation is its own form of self-mutilation. When you decide to shine light on these red flag areas in conversation - pay attention to the transference happening - don’t cower to a surprised and shocked, “how dare you” type of response or reaction. If this is the case, this is their grief and you are more helpful to all parties involved by exposing greater awareness to everything you are interpreting about this new person in your life.

Ideally, what you want is to expose honesty in your conversations and recognize self-secured signs from the other person. You won’t share in their guilt or shame and you refuse to fall victim to their previous patterns of self-mutilation transferred over to you farther down the road in your future. - Take care and be safe out there - partner up, don’t become blindly baited and hooked.


Duana’s response:

Dear Mr. Horrigan, here’s a statement from your outstanding letter that bears repeating: “relationship abusers will test the vulnerabilities of future victims by feeling them out in early stages of courtship.”

Gavin De Becker, the personal protection expert whose research informed much of this article, could not agree with you more. In the opening of his “Gift Of Fear” book, he writes of the various techniques untrustworthy persons use to lure their victims for many kinds of victimization (not only domestic violence): forced teaming, charm and niceness, too many details, typecasting, loan sharking, giving unsolicited promises, and discounting the word ‘no’.

These techniques encourage the future victim to let her guard down, bring her into the abuser’s debt and hence control, and test the waters to see how easy it will be to control a specific woman. 

In particular, abusers often try to see if they can get away with urging a woman to do something—even something seemingly inconsequential, like taking a drink he buys her but that she says she doesn’t want. In the moment she says “no” and he talks her into it? He knows he’s found a target.

Also, Mr. Horrigan, your points about abusers’ eliciting sympathy are right on. It’s not uncommon for abusers to justify their unjustifiable behavior by mentioning their past—as if to say, “Poor me! The world is against me, I never stood a chance! But I’ll be okay as soon as you make it all better.”

Yet the majority of abused children don’t grow up to abuse their mates and children. Abuse is a choice, and many thousands have decided to choose kindness and decency instead.

Thanks for an excellent contribution.





From Joan:  How Can We Prevent Sexual Abuse Of Children?  What Would You Do To Protect Your Child? 

LOVE this article.

I’ve already ordered the book by Gavin De Becker. Thank you, Dear Duana, for always providing us with a detailed bibliography. Such is the hallmark of a true professional, and I’ve always admired your thoroughness. Thank you also for writing about preventing abuse. I’m a big fan of intuition and was glad to learn of its role.

While I never, ever want to see ANYONE abused, preventing the sexual abuse of children is my personal concern. Children are truly our community’s most trusting, dependent, and vulnerable. With all the resources at our disposal, I believe it’s finally time we truly understood what’s really going on and took some sort of original action to shine an enormous spotlight on this, to expose the very core and root of the sexual abuse of our children and prevent it. It’s just all too common. Now that I have daughter (age 10) and I see the way that men are beginning to look at her, everything in my maternal genes has gone on high alert. Yes, yes, I know. The majority of adults are safe, and I want my daughter to grow up knowing that the world is mostly a safe place, though sometimes not. I will love having access to your library of articles to coach her as she later begins the selection of a mate.

About preventing the sexual abuse of children: All of us have heard the horrific reports of abuse in homes, foster homes, schools (teacher-student sex), camps, even churches (pedophile clergy) and have felt outraged, yet powerless to make real change.

Lately, various Websites and specialty educational programs have emerged such as Virtus, Protecting God’s Children, Praesidium (Abuse Risk Management), etc., aimed at creating safe environments that protect children, elderly, and vulnerable adults.

In my view, they don’t work very well. I was actually considering helping one of these programs be put online, but decided against it.


Why? Essentially, the screenings in these programs rely on 2 factors:

1) a criminal background check of the person applying to work with children; and

2) an educational program that alerts employees, volunteers, etc. what to look for in a potentially abusive situation (e.g., an adult who insists to be a alone with a child).

Additionally, some programs train the children themselves on how to handle an adult who touches them inappropriately. “STOP it. I’m telling my Mom.” That, in my view, is the most effective.


But at the same time, can’t we do a better job preventing this contact in the first place?

The first prong (a criminal background check) sounds noble, but anyone who actually has a RECORD of child abuse should be thrown out cold. The odds of that person abusing again are enormous. I certainly wouldn’t allow him around my daughter. And a criminal background check is completely worthless to identify those people who have abused children in the past (and want to work with them again to court them and continue the abuse) but who have never been caught.

I’m very interested in identifying the people who have squeaky-clean records, who appear all fine and dandy on the outside, but who are in no way healthy enough to be working around children. Yep, those guys who don’t have so much as a speeding ticket on their records, but they do have a ton of child porn on their home computers, have abused in the past (or wanted/tried to) and will try it again.

Short of confiscating their home computers (hmmm… probably a 4th Amendment issue there) I’m wondering …

Isn’t there some way to predict who is a likely to abuse/sexually abuse our children? If we can predict (to some extent) who is likely to abuse women, can we apply largely that same criteria to identify who is likely to abuse children …?

I’m talking about an original, research-based screening tool that all employers, churches, Scout groups, camps, schools, etc., can use on a nationwide basis as part of the employment application process to screen out those people who simply are not healthy enough to work around children.

Note: I’m fully against employment discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, or sexual orientation. However, I’m fully in favor of blatant and wide-spread discrimination against anyone who fails a research-based test regarding suitability to work around children, or who exhibits the warning signs of an abuser.

The consequences of allowing an abuser access to a child (completely ruining that child’s life - what if that were YOUR child?) … are just too great.


Continued from Joan:  When Is Your Child Safe To Walk Home Alone?  De Becker’s “Test Of Twelve”:

I’ve been reading Gavin De Becker’s website, particularly the portions concerning child safety, and at what age a child is ready to walk home from school alone.

As De Becker explains, there’s no predetermined age for walking home alone. Rather, the child should be able to pass the “Test of Twelve,” which means understanding the 12 important points identified by De Becker, one of which is knowing it is OKAY to rebuff and defy adults.

[Here is the information from De Becker’s site]

“Is Your Child Ready to Be Left Alone?
How do you know if your child is ready to stay home alone or ride his bike to school? By asking him. Ideally, your child should know the following twelve points before he is ever alone in public. Sit down with your child and talk about each one of the twelve points listed below from Gavin de Becker’s book, Protecting the Gift.


The Test of Twelve

1. Does your child know how to honor his feelings? If someone makes him uncomfortable, that’s an important signal. 
2. Are you as the parent strong enough to hear about any experience your child has had, no matter how unpleasant? 
3. Does your child know it’s okay to rebuff and defy adults
4. Does your child know it’s okay to be assertive
5. Does your child know how to ask for assistance or help? 
6. Does your child know how to choose who to ask? For example, he should look for a woman to help him. 
7. Does your child know how to describe his peril
8. Does your child know it’s okay to strike, even to injure, someone if he believes he is in danger, and that you’ll support any action he takes as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid? 
9. Does your child know it’s okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run
10. Does your child know that if someone ever tries to force him to go somewhere, what he screams should include, ”This is not my father”? Onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent. 
11. Does your child know that if someone says, ”Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell? The corollary is if someone says, ”Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell. 
12. Does your child know to fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone he doesn’t know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade him?”

Source: https://www.gavindebecker.com/resources/answer/how_old_should_a_child_be_when_she_starts_walking_to_school_alone/

Read more on FamilyEducation: http://life.familyeducation.com/safety/home-alone/36362.html#ixzz1HTym4fLQ


Duana’s response:  What My Children Know, AND What All Children Need To Know: 

Dear Joan,

I have saved my response to you for last. Not because your points lack importance, but because they’re about the most important people in the world: Our kids.

Every Love Science article is now tagged, and this Ignorance or Ignore-ance post is tagged as a parenting article. About half of our Wise Readers are now aging beyond the high-abuse-odds years. But many of our children are just now entering. And I want this article to help both today’s and tomorrow’s young adults.

Have any parents read this and thought: I’m teaching my son and daughter about this; I’m going to learn these signs and help my child avoid being an abuser or an abusee? If so, this post did what I wanted it to. That’s literally better than money in my bank.

So thank you, thank you for your helpful information and research about child sexual abuse. My own knowledge base about preventing child sexual abuse was enhanced by what you wrote, and I’ll bet others’ eyes were opened as well.


Additionally, I’d like to underscore these points on keeping our kids safe from pedophiles:

1. Read and apply De Becker’s work Joan cited above.

2. Never feel bad about keeping a kid away from an adult just because you get a creepy vibe. Real life is not a court of law, and you are not required to establish guilt to boot someone out of your life or your kids’ lives. You are just required to protect your children (which you can do per De Becker’s website info). The creepy vibe is your gut helping you do your parental duty.

3. In hiring situations, we are stuck with excluding prospects based on whether they already have a criminal record. There’s no legal recourse. However, as Joan rightly said, many sexual criminals don’t have a record and may easily infiltrate organizations that are presumed child-safe. And even when pedophiles have been convicted or brought to authorities’ attention, many institutions from churches to preschools have allowed them to access our children.


Upshot? Reliance on *any* system or institution to protect your child is a crapshoot,and this is just too important to leave to chance. You must teach *your child* to prevent his or her own abuse. Teach your child to follow De Becker’s Test Of Twelve.


And then do some of your *own* learning and teaching, too. To wit, most adults think strangers are the top child molesters. That is not even close to truth.

The likeliest molester is any male living in the home who is unrelated to the children in that home. (That’s one reason abuse is often covered up; a female parent often refuses to believe that stepdad or stepbrother or step-uncle stepped on their baby’s innocence.) In fact, the odds are 60x greater for sexual abuse if any unrelated male inhabits a child’s home than the odds would be if the only men there were blood relatives. Not all men who live with unrelated kids are child-molesters. But most child-molesters are unrelated men living with kids who aren’t their own.

The second-likeliest pedophile is still not the stranger on the street, but is instead a “friend” of the family; someone known and probably trusted by Mom and Dad; and/or someone in a position of authority and frequent interaction with the child.


Joan, you asked what if it were my kid. Well, I do use what factual info I’ve known about pedophilia and prevention to teach my kids to avoid sexual predators, and here’s how.

—My kids know what is and is not sexual abuse. They know that nobody but them should be touching anyplace where a bathing suit would touch. They know their body is for *them*, not for anyone else, even if it’s an adult who they know and may even like or love.

—My kids have learned that “stranger danger” is very unlikely, and that if someone tries to molest them, it’s going to be someone they already know.

—They know that most adults can be trusted, but if their feelings say otherwise, then avoid that adult and tell me about it.

They know that they must tell me if anyone, no matter how powerful and no matter if they actually live with us, has touched them in the bathing suit area. They know I will absolutely believe them and eliminate the problem person from their life.

—They know that men are much more dangerous than women, and that they should stay away from any man who wants to be alone with them.

They know that men who sexually molest kids often try to do favors for the kids they’ve targeted first, and not to trust men who give them toys or favors unless the men are giving those same toys and favors to a whole group of kids.

They know that men who molest kids usually try to win the kid’s trust and be extra-nice to the kid. A man who treats my kids nicer than he treats others? Had better be my husband or my dad.

—They know that if a man wants to get them away from the group or take them where other people cannot see, the child is to say, “No. My mom does not allow that. I am not going with you.” 

—They know if the person persists in trying to convince the child, they’re to say, “Now I am going to have to tell my mom. Get away from me. Now.”


Joan, I hate it that we must protect our kids by helping our kids protect themselves. Our society should be doing that for them. But it’s the reality since institutions cannot and often will not prevent sexual crimes against children. I hate it that we must point out truths that teach kids that the world (and the people in their own world, in particular) may be predators.

But I like it a whole lot more than having to go to prison because someone touched my baby and I decided to reckon with the offender in an illegal way.

Thank you again—







 If this article inspired, educated, assisted or elevated your understanding of relationships, please click “share article” below to distribute to your favorite social media websites. 


Do you have a question for Duana?  Email her at Duana@LoveScienceMedia.com


Related Love Science articles:

Ignorance, or Ignore-ance?  How to prevent abuse:  http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/ignorance-or-ignore-ance-how-to-prevent-abuse.html

When Men Batter Women: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/when-men-batter-women-how-abuse-ends.html

Q&A from When Men Batter Women: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/qa-from-when-men-batter-women.html


The author wishes to thank the following scientists and sources:   

When Men Batter Women” is based on the only research to actively observe violent men and their partners in arguments, and to see how the women coped and left over a period of several years.  The scientists, Neil Jacobson (now deceased) and John Gottman, also noted how women who have already been abused can avoid forging a relationship with yet another abuser. 


Mr. Lundy Bancroft, author of “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, also details qualities of likely abusers.  Much of the information on how to distinguish between a man who has been abused and one who has been the abuser but falsely claims victim status comes from Bancroft; similarities and distinctions in abuse that occurs in white/black and gay/lesbian versus straight relationships are also detailed in Bancroft’s book.


Gavin De Becker, international authority on safety and prevention of violence, uses research to predict and prevent violence against American presidents, film stars, and common people.  His assessment of risk of domestic violence and murder can be purchased at https://www.mosaicmethod.com/, and much of that information is presented in this article’s appendix, too.  In his book “The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence”, he presents information regarding early detection and prevention of many kinds of violence and abuse, including domestic violence prevention and how to get away from a stalker who won’t take No for an answer.  The information regarding relying on your intuition as your first line of defense—no matter what logical arguments are presented by the possible abuser, by you, or by anyone else—is from De Becker. 



All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and Love Science Media, 2011.



Article originally appeared on http://www.LoveScienceMedia.com (http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/).
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