Fifty Shades of Abuse


Women’s Group Asks Women to Take Web Survey

to Help Distinguish Between Bad Behaviour and Abuse

An Ontario women’s group is using the soon to be released sadomasochistic thriller, 50 Shades of Grey as a backdrop to help women across the country distinguish between bad behaviour and abuse in their own lives.

But questions about whether or not the on-screen relationship between the principal characters is a safe, sane and consensual or constitutes abuse won’t be among them.

Ruthann Brown, Executive Director of Women’s Place of South Niagara and Chair of the Infrastructure and Marketing Sub-Committee for The Coalition to End Violence Against Women (CEVAW) CEVAW is an organization dedicated to ending violence against women but Brown believes that debating behaviour in a popular, fictional Hollywood movie would be a mistake.

“My friends and colleagues all wanted my take when the movie was announced,“ said Brown “I told them there are more relevant conversations to have than questioning the lead actors’ mental health, psychiatric history and personality disorders and discussing the sexual and fantasy lifestyle choices made between consenting adults.”

Brown believes her group is likely to alienate and marginalize themselves among the women they are trying to reach by taking ‘aim at the obvious’ in the film adaptation of the fastest selling book of all time.  

 “We instead are focusing on the film as an important opportunity to discuss more serious “greys” that concern our group,” said Brown. “Particularly those areas between what is bad (and unhealthy) behaviour and that which constitutes abuse in relationships,” she added.

“Most of us know the absolutes in relationships (i.e. the black and whites); as in our right to be in a safe and healthy relationship, to choose to enter into and leave these as we wish, and that behaviours that runs counter to this, such as physical and sexual abuse, are indeed abuse,” she continued.

However, according to Brown, a second absolute element of abuse can be more problematic to identify, which is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse involves controlling a partner’s behaviour and misusing the bonds of intimacy, trust and/or dependency to make one vulnerable. This is abusive but not always as obvious as physical and sexual abuse to identify.

“The reason this is so hard to identify as abuse, is that it involves interpretation of motives and intent on the part of the abuser,” said Brown.” And there can be a fine line between what constitutes poor behaviour from time to time (and probably unhealthy) in a relationship and what is abuse,” she added.

“We’ve put together a series of questions in the form of an on-line survey to help women understand when they are potentially being abused and how to access help in the community. We provide information on some areas of abuse that we don’t always clearly identify as abuse such as; verbal, digital, social, emotional, psychological, and financial” she continued.

“Obviously in some of these areas there is a difference between a partner acting poorly and being outright abusive. These are the ‘greys’ and the whole point of the survey,” she added.

Brown encourages women to consider both one-time and recurring behaviours and explore context and severity.  She also encourages women to access the resources and tools available through The Coalition to End Violence Against Women’s website resources page to help develop strategies for dealing with poor behaviour in a relationship, whether or not it constitutes abuse.

The survey is available at