Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Michael Abrahams | How to identify a potential abuser

Published:Monday | January 20, 2020 | 12:11 AM

We are in the first month of the first year of a new decade and the violence in my beloved country continues to gallop way out of control. Among the earliest casualties in 2020 were three women who were viciously murdered by their intimate partners.

Knowing that I have an interest in gender issues in general, and women’s health in particular, several persons have asked me what would make a man want to kill a woman.

There is no simple answer to that question. It is a complex issue, but one that demands urgent attention. In many cases of intimate partner domestic violence, however, there are warning signs that potential victims unfortunately ignore or may be unaware of.

It is extremely important for women to understand the factors that predispose men to be abusers and be able to identify those who are affected. At the beginning of a relationship, people usually put out their best. They wear masks and present an image of themselves they want the object of their desire to see. It is only natural. After all, if you are trying to attract someone, why show them your flaws and nasty habits?

But ladies, there are telling signs to look for that may indicate that a man may abuse you. For example, regardless of how stable he appears to be, if you hope to be in his space, especially within the context of a long-term intimate relationship, it is extremely important to learn about his childhood. What a boy is exposed to, and how he is socialized, has a profound effect on his personality, including attitudes toward women and relationships, as he grows up and becomes a man.

Boys raised in toxic environments, exposed to domestic and other forms of violence, and who are survivors of abuse and/or neglect, are at risk of being abusers themselves as adults. The scars of childhood trauma can cause unbearable pain, and if a boy is socialized to believe that he should not cry, or is not taught how to communicate his feelings without fear of ridicule, he may just become a walking time bomb as an adult, and his intimate partner vulnerable to become collateral damage when he explodes.

Learning about a man’s childhood would be in a woman’s best interest when being pursued by him for a serious relationship. It is also a good idea to see how he interacts with his mother, as hostility or other types of dysfunction between them may be an indicator of a maladaptive attitude toward women, which in turn may be manifested as abusive behaviour toward the man’s spouse.

In addition to learning about childhood issues and events, it may also be of value to learn about his previous relationships and why they ended. If he was abusive and disrespectful to his ex, or exes, there is little reason to believe that future partners will be spared his wrath.

A man’s past is important, but women should also be observant and keep their eyes and ears constantly open during their interactions with the men they are in relationships with. Attention must be paid not only to what is said, but also to attitude, tone and body language.

Using emotional or psychological control is common among abusers. If a man calls you derogatory names, puts you down, shouts at you, exhibits poor anger management, or embarrasses you in front of other people, those are ominous signs.


A man who is overprotective or jealous may initially stroke your ego, but such behaviour is unhealthy and can escalate to emotional and physical abuse.

Having good relationships with your family and friends, and freedom of self-expression, are important for your social and mental well-being, and men who try to isolate you, dictate who you should communicate with, where you are allowed to go or what you should wear are already on the road to abusing you.

Forcing you to engage in sexual activities when you express an unwillingness to is another red flag that ought not to be ignored.

Economic control is another tool often used by abusive men. If a man desires to control all the finances, forces you to account for what you spend, takes your money and prevents you from working, furthering your education or driving, these are serious cues to take note of.

And threats are never to be ignored, especially coming from men who have a controlling nature. Threats of physical violence, and displaying firearms and other weapons in menacing ways are serious warning signs that your life could be in danger.

Intimate partner violence remains a serious issue, not only in Jamaica, but globally.

Yes, there are indeed men who are abused by women, and same-sex relationships are not immune from intimate partner abuse and violence. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the victims are women, and the perpetrators men.

There is an urgent need to look at our boys, examine the way they are socialized, and execute the necessary interventions. But we must also educate our girls and women about the dangers of these relationships and how to identify warning sings. It can be life-saving.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams