While I hope you will never have to talk about serious abuse in Spanish, it’s important to know the difference between the words that refer to abuse, harassment, and basic annoyance. If you’re not careful, you could either over-exaggerate a tame situation or poorly explain a very serious situation. Here are 4 Spanish words you can use to Express “abuse.”
4 Spanish Language Words to Express Different Levels of Abuse
Molestar confuses a lot of non-native speakers. For obvious reasons, most people think molestar means to molest or abuse. However, it actually just means to bother or annoy someone/something. For example: Mi hermano siempre me molesta means “My brother always bothers me.” Clearly, it is very important to understand that if you needed to report actual abuse, molestar would not be the correct word.
Maltratar is a combination of the words mal (bad) and tratar (to treat), which may be why many non-natives assume that this is a more mild word meaning something along the lines of mistreat. While is can be used to mean “to treat badly,” it can also be used as “to abuse physically.” For example:
El hombre siempre maltrata su esposa cuando está borracho.
The man always abuses his wife when he is drunk.
Abusar de can be used for situations as mild as someone being taken advantage of, or as serious as someone being abused sexually. For example:
Los ejecutivos abusaron de sus privilegios.
The executives abused their privileges.
El hombre abusó del niño.
The man (sexually) abused the boy.
Acosar means to harass. It is more serious than molestar. It can be sexual or non-sexual. For example:
Ella sentía acosada por su jefe.
She felt harassed by her boss.
Ella sentía acosada sexualmente por su jefe.
She felt sexually harassed by her boss.
Do you know of any other words to include to describe types of abuse?
Check out these other articles about the Spanish Language.