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Structural abuse

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Title: Structural abuse  
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Subject: Structural violence, Abuse, Abuse of authority, Sexual harassment in education, Traumatic bonding
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Structural abuse

Structural abuse is the process by which an individual is dealt with unfairly by a system of harm in ways that the person cannot protect themselves against, cannot deal with, cannot break out of, cannot mobilise against, cannot seek justice for, cannot redress, cannot avoid, cannot reverse and cannot change.

Every system contains at least one level at which structural abuse occurs, when the actions of the system takes over the actions of individuals within that system to create structures by which abuse of others occurs.

Structural abuse should not be confused with structural violence. Structural violence refers to action committed by a larger society, such as racism or classism in an entire society. Structural abuse refers to actions that are not necessarily endorsed by the broader society.


There are three kinds of structural abuse:

  1. Imposed interference with an individual's personal space-time-energy control;
  2. "Normal" interferences with an individual's ability to control relationships and their construction;
  3. Missing connections that harness the physical, mental and emotional energies of a person over a protracted period, thus causing damage to both the relationship and the physical and emotional wellbeing of the person being kept waiting.

Structural abuse is indirect, and exploits the victim on an emotional, mental and psychological level. It manifests itself in specific situations within each cultural, social, corporate and family framework.


Structural abuse is also called societal abuse. It has four permanent impacts upon the individuals subjected to it:

  • Cognitive abuse by which the meaning of the world is changed forever
  • Sexual abuse in which a person's identity is changed for life
  • Emotional abuse by which the capability to function in a human manner is impaired
  • Physical abuse that is imposed upon an individual or group by a personal, social, commercial or cultural system of dominance.

An example of how surface-level structural abuses are accepted by the community is where a political journalist in Australia presented a review of the day's work within the Australian Parliament in August 2011. During the one-minute presentation, consisting of 18 points, she began eight new points with the word "Now". "Now" is a fixation cue for viewers to forget about the past and the future, but to concentrate only on the "now" time frame. The use of the word was surplus to the data she presented, and even contradictory to it. The regularity of the word "Now", its placement at the front of each point by which the interpretation of each point is shaped, and the later repetitive use of the word by the anchor journalist steering the news program, who does not normally use such a control habit, showed that the word was a verbal dissociative cue by which hypnotic states are induced.

Other examples include:

  • Standing over another in a dominating manner;
  • Calling people unkind names;
  • Snatching belongings of another, refusing to return them immediately;
  • Being late for meetings;
  • Talking over other people, thus excluding them from participating in the discussion;
  • Touching another in a sexual manner without their verbal or body language permission;
  • Punching people on the arm as "a gesture of friendship";
  • Torturing newcomers to the organisation as a form of Rites of Passage.

Cues indicating a Structurally Abusive Corporate System

Structural Abuse Indicators include the inability of an outsider to make contact on a personal level with the people who work within an organisation. Cafe meetings turn discussions into plagiarisable events, while lack of agendas for high performance meetings create heightened levels of feeling threatened which impacts on how such meetings are approached. Being kept on hold with music blaring down the earpiece is structural abuse because by listening for the resumption of the discussion there is no escape from the sound.

Structurally abusive political systems

Making promises which are not kept is a category of political structural abuse. Unkept promises fixate the expectations that people create from such promises. Expectations that create physical arousal states and a physical, emotional, intellectual and behavioural mindset by which to accommodate the fulfillment of those promises. When those visualisations of the future and its mobilisation of personal responsiveness is not satisfied in a timely or appropriate manner the result is an extended period of physiological arousal which can turn into stress and emotional depression over time. Hence the anger responses of electorates to the unkept promises of politicians, as well as the frustrated responses of victims of abuses of court processes (e.g. "protective" orders) to the abuse of discretion exhibited by misfeasant court and law enforcement officers who can claim to be acting under authority or color of law.

Community Control Functions of Structural Abuse

All categories of structural abuse involve the manipulative control of time, energy, focus and connection between people, groups and organisations, in the service of one side, and to the disservice of the other.

Most people call structural abuse "bad manners" or "rudeness", since it generally breaks conventions by which there is mutual control within each situation.

Each instance of structural abuse breaks down the positive relationship between the two parties, creating for those being abused increasingly negative relationships built on expectations of exploitation, snatching of time, waste of effort, missing redress, and feelings of entrapment from which it is hard to escape.

Dealing with structural abuse

Structural abuse is helped by talking therapies in which those abused find a listener, and then find their voice by which to begin to remove the power of the abusing system to continue to harm their inner identities.

Currently in most countries, there is no formal law that has been formulated against structural abuse, protecting the victim from such abuse, and enabling him or her to approach the court for relevant justice.

See also


  • Dissociative Cues:Dave Siever, 2003, "Audio-Visual Entrainment: I. History and Physiological Mechanisms", published in the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB) publication, "Biofeedback Magazine" Volume 31, Number 2.

Further reading

  • Andrew Young. Condemning Nike Plants Won't Prod Change. NY Times, July 6, 1997.
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