Abuse (verb and noun) refers to the use or treatment of something (a person, item, substance, concept, or vocabulary) that is seen as harmful. The term can be used for anything ranging from the misuse of a piece of equipment to the severe maltreatment of a person. The corresponding adjective is abusive, the opposite is nonabusive.
Abuse of another person or animal, also called maltreatment, includes:
- physical abuse: one person inflicts physical violence or pain on another
- emotional abuse or psychological abuse: coercion, humiliation, intimidation, relational aggression, parental alienation or covert incest
- verbal abuse: the use of profanity, demeaning talk, or threatening statements
- sexual abuse: the improper use of another person for sexual purposes, generally without their consent or under physical or psychological pressure
- child abuse: abuse, usually physical, emotional or sexual, directed at a child
- spousal abuse (or domestic violence): abuse, usually physical or psychological abuse, directed at one's spouse
- elder abuse: abuse, most often physical or in the form of psychological threats, directed at the elderly, especially in nursing homes and similar institutions
- animal abuse: abuse or cruelty directed at animals
Abuse of another person usually involves a relationship of dependence (e.g. husband-wife, parent-child, teacher-student, etc.), and nonconsensuality, i.e. one person commits an act of violence on a dependent person without his or her consent. Many forms of abuse constitute punishable offenses by law.
Other things called abuse:
- self-abuse: antiquated expression for masturbation
- drug abuse: the misuse of drugs, alcohol or other substances, usually a form of addiction
What exactly constitutes abuse and what doesn't, depends on the law and can vary strongly among countries and times. For example, in past centuries and in certain countries, teenagers could be legally married to older men - something which is no longer legal and considered abuse in many places today. Or a man had legal permission to give his wife, children, and servants corporal punishment, something which is also unlawful in many places today and considered abuse.
The spanking of children for punishment is unconditionally considered abuse in some countries today, but in most countries it is only considered abuse if it is inappropriately harsh or otherwise abusive.
Certain implements are nearly always a sure sign of abusive corporal punishment, such as:
- any object made of metal, including belt buckles
- sticks (not canes or switches)
- clothes hangers
- power cables
Corporal punishment inflicted in adult BDSM play is usually not considered abuse because it is consensual. It can become abuse if it is nonconsensual or if common safety precautions are not followed.
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