In the past years, since Rosie Beatty became Australian of the Year, there has been much emphasis on Domestic Violence and the toll this takes on many women, as well as programs to combat this. Regular readers of this blog will know that I see Romance Scams as a form of abuse, but one that in comparison gets very little support or acknowledgement, except when the increasingly disastrous financial figures are published. So how are these forms of abuse similar and different? Analysis has begun on this topic by Dr Cassandra Cross and her colleagues.
In the commentary on research first published in the British Journal of Criminology in March 2018, by and her colleague in their article in The Conversation they explore how different areas of psychological abuse taking place in domestic violence compare to what happens in Romance scams.
Psychological abuse has long been recognised as a central part of domestic violence, along with physical and sexual violence. Despite recent attention to coercive control, we were surprised to learn how little research has been conducted on psychological abuse in the context of domestic violence.
Though mediated by the fact that romance scams are operating mostly from a distance rather than physically, in the home, the researchers still found that there are some parallels, based on categorisations of abuse developed in the 1990s. I add my commentary based on my experience of scams to the following categorisations.
- Isolation: encouraging victims to distance themselves from firstly the dating site, then friends and others, in a guise of becoming ‘exclusive’ and ‘serious’. Whilst these may seem to be positive initially, underlying this is the scammer’s desire to stop others interfering with their ongoing manipulation of the victim.
- Monopolisation: taking up all available time and keeping track of a person’s movements. In a scam this includes tracking someone’s online activities, but also calling through all hours of the night and early morning, keeping the victim sleep deprived so they cannot make rational decisions.
- Degradation: whilst in domestic violence situations this might include physical activity, in the psychological sense it includes “verbal abuse such as name-calling, insults, and questioning the competency of victims.” When scammers do not get what they want, or when their story is questioned, they can get quite angry, and abusive, and will utilise any mechanism including becoming angry, abusive and utilising guilt to get what they want.
- Emotional or interpersonal withdrawal: instances of disappearance can be used by scammers to raise doubt about the stability of a relationship, causing the victim to ‘toe the line’ under threat of cessation of the relationship. ‘Disappearance” can also be used to generate a heightened sense of danger for the scammer, eliciting protective behaviour, including sending money, from the victim.
The overall psychological and emotional impact of a romance scam can be devastating. Other factors beyond those included in this analysis are:
- the manipulation of emotions, through lies and promising a dream future, and the grief of this being lost
- the altered state created by the scammer which leaves the victim confused about what they have done and how it happened
- adjusting to an often catastrophic change in financial circumstances and future stability due to money lost to the scam
- The trivialisation and minimisation of scams by authorities that we would normally see as protecting our interests and provide support
- societal attitudes which blame the victim for what has happened to them, causing shame and guilt.
In undertaking this comparative research, and finding similarities, perhaps the first step is taken in allowing some of the legitimisation of domestic violence as a ‘true’ abuse that we need to fight, to counteract and provide support for victims, to become generalised across to the abuse that takes place in romance scams. One can only hope so. Understanding the ongoing impacts of romance scams might also provide areas for further research about long-term impacts of domestic violence.
Research on psychological abuse can help us to better understand how victims become entrapped in abusive relationships over time and document the harms from non-physical forms of abuse.
I look forward to further exploration of this topic.