The act of naming is messy, political and important. It is an act of identification, definition, grouping. The importance of naming lies in its results: defining human actions and behaviours, and the way we react to something.
Recent research conducted by ComRes on behalf of Citizens Advice revealed that just two in five British adults (39%) are aware that financial abuse – excessive financial control, exploitation of joint resources such as bank accounts, not contributing to household bills – is a constituent part of domestic abuse.
What does this have to do with name? The naming of something - a group, an action, a classification - determines the reaction to it. This could be as simple as a ubiquitous brand name becoming a verb (see: Hoover), or as complicated as the differing use, misuse and avoidance of the term “migrant”. Therefore, it is important that a name – and the actions or items it refers to - is thoroughly understood so that the appropriate action is taken in response.
We understand from a name what our reaction should be - as a society, as part of a shared culture - to certain actions or behaviours. A name determines whether we consider something to be right or wrong, and in many cases shapes what happens next.
If an activity, in this case financial abuse, isn’t linked with its name or definition - domestic abuse - then it is unlikely to be linked with the actions needed: seeking help, informing the authorities.
There is a significant problem with specific acts of abuse not being recognised as domestic abuse, leading to lower levels of reporting, as evidenced by Refuge. Indeed, ComRes research illustrates that that those with personal experience of domestic abuse are three times more likely to say that their family and friends were aware of this than the police, and around twenty times more likely to say they were are aware than an independent domestic abuse specialist (IDVA).
If domestic abuse is not being recognised for what it is, reporting of these cases to the police is likely to be even less frequent, potentially leaving many men and women at risk.
So what is in a name? The power to help, and to instil the confidence needed to speak out. Increasing awareness of what is meant when we speak of domestic abuse is incredibly important to helping those suffering to understand these actions as what they are, and hopefully take the steps needed to seek help.