I’ve had a great many difficulties finding straightforward, comprehensive, concise and universally applicable definitions of abuse on the web. I’ve had (probably related) difficulties with other people’s ideas of abuse conflicting with mine. So I thought I’d do a definition just so we’re all clear on what I mean by “abuse”.
Please note the definition of consent which I’ve published along with this definition.
In addition to wanting fairly simple and universally applicable definition pages for my own ease of reference in discussions about abuse and consent, the many convoluted and limited definitions available elsewhere on the web contributed significantly to my interest in creating these pages.
Abuse – The Definition
An objectionable behaviour which transgresses the consent of others, regardless of method, target or outcome.
To transgress or cause to transgress the consent of others, including acting in contravention of an existing agreement or obligation, regardless of method, target or outcome.
Criteria – Transgressions can be perpetrated by hugely diverse individuals against hugely diverse targets, using hugely diverse methods in hugely diverse environments. Transgressions can include a negligent failure to act or any transgression of a freely undertaken agreement or obligation.
In the context of agreements to grant consent which is conditional on limiting certain behaviours, substance abuse transgresses the lawful supplier’s conditional consent to dispense, in a Christian context abuse of the sacrament transgresses the conditional consent of the cleric to give Communion, and abuse of process transgresses the conditional consent of professionals to perform certain duties within certain limits.
Abuse of a specific consent can only occur if that consent is concurrently absent, incomplete, unconsidered, uninformed, manipulated or coerced. Fully informed, considered, complete and freely given consent by definition renders abuse of that specific consent impossible.
(noun) – respect, consideration, care, sensitivity, accommodation
(verb) – respect, consider, care for, be sensitive to, accommodate
a•bu•ser | ˌəˈbjuːzɛr | noun
a•bus•ed | ˌəˈbjuːzd | | ˌəbˈjuːztʰ | verb [transitive], noun
a•bu•sing | ˌəˈbjuːziŋ | verb [transitive], noun
a•bu•sive | ˌəˈbjuːsɪv | adjective
a•bu•sive•ly | ˌəˈbjuːsɪvli | adverb
a•bu•sive•ness | ˌəˈbjuːsɪvnɛs | adjective
The terms consent and abuse are symbiotically linked and diametrically opposed. Although a clear definition of abuse is not integral to the definition of consent, a clear definition of consent is certainly integral to any definition of abuse. Incomplete or absent consent for an act by definition means that act is prohibited. Therefore proceeding based on anything other than explicitly granted consent is by definition abusing that consent. Conversely, fully informed, freely and explicitly given consent precludes abuse of that consent.
Double Standards – In my experience many people tend to prioritise other people’s comfort over their own. A transgression against their own consent may be disregarded, whilst an identical one against others may be considered an outrageous offense. This leads to full acceptance of some abuses as a result of becoming normalised to them, and a constantly varying double standard regarding what is and is not abusive.
Conflict Avoidance – I also find that many people experience tremendous discomfort with conflict of any kind. Combining the abuse double standard with devoted conflict avoidance means that even those who vociferously claim to be against abuse in the abstract will in the same breath allow transgressions perpetrated right in front of them (or at them, or by them) to proceed absolutely unchallenged.
- (grumbled mutterings or tut-tuttings hardly constitute a valid challenge)
Difficulties With Defining – Double standards inevitably confuse and derail attempts to establish categorical definitions of both consent and the abuses which transgress it. In formal settings such as workplaces and other environments in which behaviour is under frequent supervision and individuals are accountable to specific authority figures, this is not such a problem. But in more informal social contexts, defining abuse and consent is much more problematic. A good example of this problem can be seen on Wikipedia on their abuse disambiguation page, their large number of separate and frequently convoluted abuse definition pages, and their large number of separate and frequently convoluted consent definition pages.
Single Standard – I know that many of you strive
– for congruent ethics and behaviour (waaayyyyyy rarer than it sounds)
– to always avoid abusing consent (whether you are targeted or targeting)
– to always respect all consent in all circumstances (your own and others)
If achieving these goals is important to you, then chances are you will want to meticulously include these two steps in everything you do:
- Responsibly check, recheck and recheck consent (yours and others)
- If consent is in any way invalid, responsibly do something else
ORIGIN – late Middle English, via Old French abuser from Latin abusus with the root abus- ‘misused’ from the past participle stem of the verb abuti, from ab- ‘away’ (as in ‘wrongly’) and uti ‘to use’.
Etymology with help from
Dictionary.app and Wiktionary
Dictionary.app Version 2.0.2 (51.4)
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