Making Psychological Abuse Illegal: Can it Be Done?

In the past, France has been identified as a country that routinely imposes (or at least proposes) laws that court a great deal of controversy. There was the law back in 2004 that banned all religious symbols in French public schools (also known as the Muslim head scarf ban) and more recently there was the ban of all television programming aimed at children under three years of age. Some of these laws can be seen as overwhelmingly progressive, while others are far more retrograde in tone. The latest French law being bandied around would make psychological violence in marriages and among cohabitating couples a criminal offense. In this case psychological violence covers any kind of insult, including repeated rude remarks about a partner’s appearance, false allegations of infidelity and threats of physical violence, and it is more or less aimed to protect women (although if it becomes law, I am sure a small percentage of beleaguered men will seek the protection of this law). If passed, this law intended to protect but poised to create a hell of a backlash, will be the first of its kind anywhere (the law, not the backlash).

The particulars of this proposed law and how it will actually be enforced are still a bit vague, but the intention is to obviously address domestic situations where the violence leaves the victims destroyed psychologically, but with no physical trace. Subtextually speaking, there is an implicit function of this law to protect the children who may unwillingly find themselves in the crossfire, and emotional collateral damage. The French government is currently running a stirring PSA revealing how exposure to this psychological violence (even second hand) leaves a defining mark on how children play, and ultimately see the world around them (view video here).

Of course there are many detractors of this proposed legislation who claim that a simple argument with a few hostile words exchanged could get you thrown in jail, and that unlike laws that protect from hate speech and harassment in the workplace, this particular law steps too far into the personal realm. These concerns aside, without passing judgment one way or another, I can’t help but wonder if a law like this one passes in France, or anywhere else, and shows some sort of modicum of success (however that may look), shouldn’t we consider similar legislation to protect children from psychologically abusive parents?

I will acknowledge the fact that a percentage of marriages and couplings, rife with emotional and psychological abuse, can begin to feel like a prison sentence with little or no options for the victim. However, this is more or less an issue of perspective between two consenting adults, whereas children, locked in abusive situations, are essentially wards of their parents, with little or no recourse unless they could prove physical abuse and or gross neglect. If this recourse was extended to children, would it be a liberation of countless children suffering under the tyranny of their parents, or a hugely problematic Pandora’s box unlocked to reveal all manner of bogus charges and vindictive attacks all around?


Nancy Dicario
Nancy D7 years ago

My children are victims of emotional and Phycological abuse and the courts say its absurd. My childrens father put bullets in my 5yr olds hand and taught him it was ok to kill someone when your mad. He put a tattoo(fake) on my 4yr old daughter in her bikini groin area and made her pose with just her panties on on pull them down just enough to see the tattoo. I had child services involved and a child advocate. They both did nothing. I was denied legal representation and had to represent myself w/out a laywer about a PFA for myself and my children. The child advocate left before the trial even started and never represented my children to which he was appointed by the courts. Their father also tells my children I am going to die and that they need to be strong. I had them in Therapy and I got reprimanded by the judge b/c I did not get the fathers approval for therapy so they cannot see a therapist. My children are so emotionally and mentally messed up now b/c of their fathers abuse and I cant do anything about it. there is alot more to this story and I do not have enough room to type. I feel there should be laws against it and it should be criminal and people should be evaluated by professionals along w/good evidance to which I had but in that judges court room, she does not believe in proof she just goes by word of mouth.

Patricia Castillo-Briceno
Past Member 7 years ago

It would be complicate to adequately manage that matters.

Tamara Zenner
Tamara Z7 years ago

I, too, have been a victim of emotional abuse. I am 29 years old, and just recently left an abusive relationship. While I agree that psychological abuse often starts with verbal, it will be very difficult to prosecute verbal abuse with the First Amendment freedom of speech... It seems there would need to be a paper-trail of sorts, like 'controlling statements" in emails, trips to a psychiatrist, etc... But I will be interested to see if such a law can be passed.

Monica M.
Past Member 7 years ago

Verbal abuse is the first start of physical abuse and needs to be targeted, assuming the person involved even understands what is happening. I'm pleased the French have acknowledged this but it does need really good guidelines. Physical abuse leaves physical bruises or scars, mental doesn't. And, as was pointed out, arguments or disagreements could end up in court. Children who won't behave may take their parents to court. This is going to be a very difficult law and I will be interested to see how it goes.

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Donna O.
.8 years ago

I'm passionate about this subject as I've been a victim of emotional abuse as a child. Emotional abuse is hard to detect as it leaves no wounds. However, it does leaves deeper wounds and breaks the child's spirit -- causing psychological, social, emotional and cognitive damage and for many children, taking those wounds into adulthood. I would one day love to prevent the damage caused by emotional abuse.

Denise L.
Denise L8 years ago

Psychological abuse can be crippling, you are always questioning yourself, wondering if you are making a big deal out of nothing, wondering if you are going crazy. It is a very serious matter and should be dealt with seriously.

Naoko H.
Naoko H8 years ago

very diffiult, but possible. and i hope it will happen. i suffer from past experience, it was like mental rape of 2 years.

Linda J.
Linda J8 years ago

Being abused verbally or otherwise is an everending constant that is replayed in your mind over and over and over.You have to learn to break through that maze (that is what I call it)of mirrors.Breaking free is like detoxing you self youir body,mind,soul from all the poison that was given to you.Yes,I was verbally,mentally and (not from the same person)physically abused.I strive daily to rise above.With God AlL Things Are Possible.

Beth N.
Beth Nadeau8 years ago

Thanks to all of you for sharing.. I have been married for 20 yrs, We were together 2 yrs. before that. I am blessed to have 2 beautiful children,but I wished I had never met him. Our marriage has been of and on for yrs. We've been seperated for a yr at a time sometimes. He was cheating on me before our marriage and then continued with the same women until I finally figured it out. He was jailed several times for abuse of me. Now he just uses his evil words. He's to afraid to hit me as he knows where he would go. My oldest daughter tells me all the time she does snot know why I put up with it ,she says just tell him to leave. I don't know whats olding me back,maybe depression? Maybe just been with him to long.
I don't know. I am just happy for those of you who can get out..

Lady Xanadu
Lady Xanadu8 years ago

It never goes away unlike the bruises etc... Haunting is how it feels & the damages is deeper then even the abused person realizes. I still recall hateful hurtful things said to me from my childhood by my own Mother. OMG the sickening degrading things a former boyfriend would say to me still make me cry though I'm well over him.