If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.
One form of control by proxy is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person. Such carefully crafted scenarios of embarrassment and humiliation provoke social sanctions (condemnation, opprobrium, or even physical punishment) against the victim. Society, or a social group become the instruments of the abuser.
Abusers often use other people to do their dirty work for them. These – sometimes unwitting – accomplices belong to three groups:
I. The abuser’s social milieu
Some offenders – mainly in patriarchal and misogynist societies – co-opt other family members, friends, and colleagues into aiding and abetting their abusive conduct. In extreme cases, the victim is held “hostage” – isolated and with little or no access to funds or transportation. Often, the couple’s children are used as bargaining chips or leverage. Ambient abuse by the abuser’s clan, kin, kith, and village or neighborhood is rampant.
II. The victim’s social milieu
Even the victim’s relatives, friends, and colleagues are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser and to his impressive thespian skills. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favor. Others rarely have a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and at close quarters. In contrast, the victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown: harassed, unkempt, irritable, impatient, abrasive, and hysterical.
Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties – it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally. The prey’s acts of self-defense, assertiveness, or insistence on her rights are interpreted as aggression, lability, or a mental health problem.
III. The System
The abuser perverts the system – therapists, marriage counselors, mediators, court-appointed guardians, police officers, and judges. He uses them to pathologize the victim and to separate her from her sources of emotional sustenance – notably, from her children.
Forms of Abuse by Proxy
Socially isolating and excluding the victim by discrediting her through a campaign of malicious rumors.
Harassing the victim by using others to stalk her or by charging her with offenses she did not commit.
Provoking the victim into aggressive or even antisocial conduct by having others threaten her or her loved ones.
Colluding with others to render the victim dependent on the abuser.
But, by far, her children are the abuser’s greatest source of leverage over his abused spouse or mate.