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New Stormy Daniels claim raises dark questions

The Stormy Daniels saga took an even darker turn on Friday morning during an interview with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. That’s when the attorney for the adult film star — who drew a following in January after alleging that she was paid hush money to keep quiet about an affair she says she had with Donald Trump — revealed that physical violence was floated as potential punishment if Daniels came forward about the alleged relationship. 

Was she threatened in any way?” Morning Joe co-host Brzezinski asked lawyer Michael Avenatti.

“Yes,” Avenatti answered.

“Was she threatened physical harm?” a stunned Brzezinski continued.

“Yes,” Avenatti replied, adding that he would not say anything further about it before the 60 Minutes Daniels interview airdate, March 25.

And while the focus on how this may impact Trump’s presidency is important, that conversation threatens to eclipse a crucial one about an invisible epidemic: psychological abuse.

Stormy Daniels; Donald Trump. (Photo: Getty Images)

Although largely overlooked in discussions about domestic violence, psychological abuse — also called emotional abuse — is as common as physical abuse in America — and its effects can be just as life-altering. 

“There’s a cycle of violence that happens to people, and everybody thinks that unless you appear with a black eye that it’s not domestic violence,” Wendy Dickson, director of domestic violence services at the YWCA in Evanston, Ill., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But really, the emotional abuse is much more difficult for people to get over.”

The American Medical Association classifies psychological abuse as a form of domestic violence, one that it says “can precede or accompany physical violence as a means of controlling through fear and degradation.”

In the organization’s diagnostic treatment guidelines, it identifies psychological abuse as a form of violence marked by threats of harm, intimidation, false accusations, blame, and physical (or social) isolation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly half of all women and men in America have faced psychological aggression of this nature by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

It’s a predicament that can leave lasting scars, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While it affects both genders, women are particularly vulnerable to threats of physical harm. In one section of the CDC’s report on female stalking victimization, 68 percent of women said they had been threatened with physical harm — reporting it as the main tactic used in the psychological abuse they endured.

Dickson has been helping women recover from these crimes for 22 years, seeing firsthand how psychological aggression can go unnoticed. 

Part of the excruciating nature of emotional abuse, she says, is its manipulative framework. As an attack on the mind, it’s designed to convince the victim that the pain being inflicted is his or her fault — and often, it does. “It’s a systematic approach to breaking down any resolve that a person has left,” says Dickson. “When someone tears you down psychologically, it’s hard to put yourself back together. People genuinely believe it’s their fault.”

The effects of this threat on 39-year-old Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, and who shocked the nation last week when she filed a lawsuit saying the nondisclosure agreement she was forced to sign is invalid because Trump didn’t actually sign it — are unknown.

Also unclear is whether Trump himself delivered the alleged threats of physical harm to Daniels. But Dickson says he fits the profile of someone who would behave that way. “Every single person I’ve ever talked with who has experienced this, no matter how old or where they come from, tells me the same story: This person was very charming; they swept me off my feet,” she says. “It’s a slow cycle where the abuser begins to take control.”

But beyond this charming, charismatic outer shell, there’s another trait these abusers share: power. “The common thread is that these abusers always come lawyered up — especially the ones that come from wealthy communities. Typically, they’re people who are well thought of in the community. They’re powerful and respected,” says Dickson. “They come well-represented; the survivors come with the shirt on their back. They don’t have the resources. They’re ashamed of what their life has become.”

After years of helping to treat women who have suffered emotional and physical abuse, Dickson has seen the debilitating nature of these types of assaults. “It impacts every single aspect of their life,” she says. “These women are so guarded, so ashamed. Their trust level is so low.” 

In spite of the harrowing stories, there is good news: There have never been more resources or as much awareness about domestic violence. Dickson, for one, hopes that will prompt more people like Daniels to come forward. “Pay attention to the warning signs and know what the resources are in your community,” she advises. “There are a lot of people out there who want to help.”

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