On Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is often discussed as two different, significant phenomena: domestic violence and dating violence.  Domestic violence is uniquely problematic because the abuser and the abused live together, meaning it may be more difficult for the abused person to leave.  That said, dating violence is still an incredibly common problem, and one worth understanding as well. IPV can take on many forms.  Although it is most commonly discussed as physical violence, emotional/psychological violence and abuse, as well as sexual violence, can also occur in the context of domestic or dating relationships.  Unlike physical violence, which often has noticeable effects like bruising, sexual violence and psychological abuse often have fewer visible signs.  In addition, even if the abusive partner does not actually physically harm the other person/people, he or she may physically intimidate them, and this is still a part of abuse.

First, a little about IPV: approximately 28% of men and 36% of women report experiencing some form of intimate partner violence over the course of their lifetimes, including physical or sexual violence, or stalking.  These figures exclude psychological abuse, which means that the numbers are higher across gender lines.  Some estimates indicate that as many as 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence over the course of their lifetimes, but as previously mentioned, domestic violence is situated in a particular type of living situation.  Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are the most at-risk for dating violence, and approximately 10% of high school students and between 20% and 50% of college students report experiencing dating violence.  As if that were not scary enough, intimate partner violence accounts for approximately 13% of all violent crime each year in the US, and approximately 1 in 3 female murder victims was killed by an intimate partner.

Most domestic violence and dating violence cases are never reported, and there are several reasons for this.  First, the victim may not recognize that he or she is being abused; this is especially true in cases of sexual coercion or psychological abuse.  Victims are often made to feel like they are overreacting (a process called gaslighting), or made to feel like what is happening is their own fault.  The victim may also be unwilling to admit that he or she is really being abused because they may want the situation to change.  Because intimate partner abuse is a complicated issue, victims may feel conflicted, because in addition to hurt they may also still feel emotionally and even romantically connected to their abuser.  Second, the victim may not feel able to report their abuse even if they recognize that they are being abused.  They may fear retribution from their partner, be economically or otherwise reliant on their partner, fear blowback from their family or community if they leave their partner.  Their partner may create barriers to their leaving the house or spending time alone, or may physically intimidate them if they want to leave.  As a result, this crime is under-reported, and many victims never receive help. One study indicated that as many as 53% of victims who did tell someone about their abuse reported that no one did anything.  While its understandable that many people may not know WHAT to do, the rest of this post will contain tips on how to stop red flags for abuse, and how to help someone if you suspect they are being abused.

If you are concerned that you, or someone you know, may be in an abusive relationship, consider the following:

1. Does the person blame you/your friend for how they treat you/them?

2. Is the person sexually coercive-~-that is, do they pressure or force you/their partner to have sex when you/they do not want to?

3. Are they physically rough with you/their partner in a non-playful way?

4. Do they try to isolate you/their partner or control whom you/they see or spend time with?

5. Do they consistently tell you/their partner how to dress or act?

6. Do they call you/their partner names or target particular insecurities in order to win fights or when they are angry, drunk, etc?

7. Are you/a person of concern afraid to break up with their partner?

8. Does the person humiliate you/their partner, or criticize/yell at you/them constantly or in public?

9. Do they try to take or control your/their partner’s money, or your/their partner’s access to money?

10. Do they threaten to hurt you/their partner?

11. Do they attempt to control your/their partner’s behavior, including where they go, if they leave, etc.?

12. Do they threaten to self-harm in order to get their way or deter you/their partner from leaving them?

13. Do they regularly check your/their partner’s email, phone, social media, etc., or try to take away access to technologies?

14. Do you/their partner express fear regarding their behavior or potential reactions on a regular basis?

15. Has your friend been giving up things that previously matter to or interested them, or have they recently changed their appearance?

(See more red flags for dating violence here.)

If several of these signs sounded familiar, you or someone you know may be experiencing dating violence.  IF YOU ARE IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE SUPPORT, please call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233

If you are concerned about a friend or loved one, please approach the situation with care.  While you may be picking up on problematic behavior’s by someone’s partner, the person you care about may not feel able to use the word “abuse” or “violence” to describe their situation, and they may be in denial or not be sure what to do.  If you are concerned about someone, or you know someone is in trouble, please consider the following:

1. Approach the person in a time and place where your conversation can be kept confidential.  Remember that computers and text messaging can be monitored, so try to talk in person, away from other people.  Start by expressing concern (“I’m worried someone may be hurting you, and I’m concerned about your safety…”).  Be very patient, and don’t blame the person you are trying to help: remember, they may feel powerless or unable to leave, and they need your support.

2. Tell the person they are not crazy.  Again, many victims of IPV are made to feel like their emotions are invalid or like what they are experiencing is their fault.  This is a part of emotional control, and validating their feelings and helping them recognize that what they are experiencing is real is an important step in helping them.

3. Do a safety assessment.  What is the person most concerned about?  Is it physical safety?  Is it yelling and criticism?  Is the person in need of medical care?  Ask your loved one questions and try to work out a way to help them address their biggest safety concerns.

4. Do a needs assessment.  Does your loved one want to leave their partner/are they ready to do so?  What would they need in order to carry out such a plan?  It’s important to respect your loved one’s choices in this regard-~-he or she may not feel safe leaving yet, or may still feel too conflicted to walk away, or may fear what their partner will do if they actually leave.  Help them figure out what they need and how to get it, step by step.

5. Try to connect them with resources.  Again, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline online here or via the phone at 1-800-799-SAFE.  You can also find your local domestic violence hotline and call yourself, not on behalf of your loved one, but in order to find out what other resources may be available.  If the person feels that they have been sexually coerced or is a victim of sexual violence, please also consider connecting them with RAINN.

6. Regardless of whether or not the person is ready to leave, there are ways that the person can do to protect themselves.  Help your loved one work on identifying their abuser’s red flags-~-signs that they are about to lash out-~-as well as safe places they can go inside and outside of the home.  You can also come up with a code word so that they can signal to you that they are in danger and need help.  In addition, you can help them make an escape plan in case of an emergency: help them identify what they would need in order to leave on a moment’s notice, and help them acquire those things (clothes, money, ID, etc.)

Remember, even if the situation is not physically violent, the person may feel afraid, or feel like they are at fault or like they otherwise cannot leave.  Your best bet is to help the person see that what is happening is not their fault, that they are not imagining what is happening, and that they can walk away if they want to.  If you have experienced intimate partner violence, remember: you are not responsible for what your partner has done, and not every relationship will necessarily be like this.  Give yourself time to heal, and time to feel safe again as you move forward.

~ by Randi Saunders on May 8, 2014.

One Response to “On Intimate Partner Violence”

  1. Thank you for articulating the nuances and distinctions. Very important!

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