What is intimate partner abuse?
Intimate partner abuse is a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior that can include physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse or financial abuse (using money and financial tools to exert control).
Batterers make it very difficult for victims to escape relationships. Sadly, many survivors suffer from abuse for decades. It’s important for survivors to know that the abuse is not their fault, and they are not alone. Help is available for those who suffer from intimate partner abuse.
Why do victims return to or stay with abusers?
A better question is, “Why does the abuser choose to abuse?”
The deck is stacked against the victim when confronted with leaving or not. Batterers are very good at making victims think that the abuse is their fault. Victims often believe that they caused the violence and that they can also stop it. Victims stay because they are made to think they cannot survive on their own, financially or otherwise. Often abusers create a financial situation that makes leaving nearly impossible.
There is also a real fear of more abuse or death if they leave. In fact, a victim’s risk of getting killed greatly increases when they are in the process of leaving or have just left.
A survivor may return to the abuser because that’s the person the survivor fell in love with, and they believe the promises to change. It’s not easy for anyone to let go of hopes and dreams.
Are there any warning signs of abuse?
Some of the subtle warning signs include:
- They insist on moving too quickly into a relationship.
- They can be very charming and may seem too good to be true.
- They insist that you stop participating in leisure activities or spending time with family and friends.
- They are extremely jealous or controlling.
- They do not take responsibility for their actions and blame others for everything that goes wrong.
- They criticize their partner’s appearance and make frequent put-downs.
- Their words and actions don’t match.
Any one of these behaviors may not indicate abusive actions, but it’s important to know the red flags and take time to explore them.
Are men victims of intimate partner abuse?
Yes, men are sometimes victims of domestic abuse.
A 2001 U.S. study revealed that 85 percent of the victims were female with a male batterer. The other 15 percent includes intimate partner violence in gay and lesbian relationships and men who were battered by a female partner.
When we talk about intimate partner abuse, we’re not talking about men versus women or women versus men. We’re talking about violence versus peace. We’re talking about control versus respect. Intimate partner abuse affects us all, and all of us – women, children and men – must be part of the solution.
What causes abuse?
Does anger cause abuse?
Anger is a normal and healthy emotion and does not cause abuse. Even though abusers can be angry at times, abuse happens when an individual chooses manipulative, threatening or physically violent behavior to gain power and control over another individual. Abusive tactics may occur without any anger evident in the abuser.
Is abuse caused by stress?
While stress is a commonly used rationale for abuse, stress does not cause abuse. Everyone experiences stress. Most stressed people do not hurt others. Research does not support stress as a primary cause of abuse but rather an excuse used by abusers so they can continue their behavior.
Do drugs and alcohol cause abuse?
Many people use drugs and/or alcohol and are never abusive. Drugs and alcohol do not cause abuse. However, the violence may intensify when using drugs or alcohol and abusers will sometimes use them as an excuse for their behavior. Abusers who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol have two separate problems – abusive behavior and substance abuse.
What are the Effects of Intimate Partner Abuse on Children?
Does intimate partner abuse affect children?
Intimate partner abuse affects every member of the family, including the children. Statistics show that more than 5 million children witness abuse in their home each year.
Children are affected by intimate partner abuse, even if they are not present during an explosive incident: they may hear the violence from their rooms, see the aftermath of the abuse, they may be used as a tool by the abuser, or they become homeless when a parent leaves the abuse.
How are children affected by intimate partner abuse?
The child’s reaction to a home environment where abuse is present can vary. For most children, exposure to intimate partner abuse is traumatic and their reactions are similar to children’s reactions to other traumatic stressors.
Short-term effects may include:
- Generalized anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- High activity levels
- Increased aggression
- Increased anxiety about being separated from a parent
- Intense worry about their safety or the safety of a parent
Long-term effects, especially from chronic exposure to intimate partner abuse, may include:
- Physical health problems
- Behavior problems in adolescence (e.g., juvenile delinquency, alcohol, substance abuse)
- Emotional difficulties in adulthood (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD)
In addition to these, children who have been exposed to intimate partner abuse often learn destructive lessons about the use of violence and power in relationships. Children may learn that it is acceptable to exert control or relieve stress by using violence, or that violence is in some way linked to expressions of intimacy and affection. These lessons can have a powerful negative effect on children in social situations and relationships throughout childhood and adulthood.
If there’s intimate partner abuse in the home, does that mean there is also child abuse?
In short: not necessarily. While the presence of partner abuse in a home does not directly mean child abuse is present, studies show that children and teens exposed to an abusive parent are at higher risk of child abuse and neglect. In a national survey of more than 6,000 families, 50% of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children. An abusive parent may resort to child abuse in an effort to maintain power and control over their partner and children.
What does Intimate Partner Abuse Look Like in the LGBTQ Community?
Is there abuse in LGBTQ community?
Intimate partner abuse in LGBTQ couples does occur. Studies have found that intimate partner abuse occurs among same-sex couples at comparable rates to straight couples: one out of four. Studies suggest that it is even higher in transgender relationships.
Is abuse in the LGBTQ community different?
Both straight and LGBTQ victims of intimate partner abuse experience a similar pattern of abuse, albeit with some notable distinctions, including:
- Abusers may threaten “outing” their victims to work colleagues, family and friends.
- LGBTQ victims may be more reluctant to report abuse to legal authorities. Survivors may not contact law enforcement agencies because doing so would force them to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- LGBTQ victims may also be reluctant to seek help out of fear of showing a lack of solidarity among the community. They may hide the abuse out of a heightened fear that society will perceive LGBTQ relationships as inherently dysfunctional.
- Victims in the LGBTQ community are more likely to fight back than are heterosexual victims. This can lead law enforcement to conclude that the fighting was mutual.
- Abusers can threaten to take away the children from the victim. In some states, adoption laws do not allow same-sex parents to adopt each other’s children. This can leave the victim with no legal rights.
How Can I Help Someone Experiencing Intimate Partner Abuse?
What can I do to help someone who is experiencing intimate partner abuse?
If your friend tells you they’re in an abusive relationship, believe them. Give them resources they can use to get help, like the number for CORA’s domestic violence hotline. Acknowledge their fear and the risk they’re taking in speaking with you. If they don’t want to acknowledge the abuse in the relationship, respect their right to privacy and to refuse help. Don’t force them to discuss the relationship if they’re not ready. Don’t be judgmental and don’t tell them to simply leave the relationship. Encourage them to get help in developing a safety plan and a safe means of escape. And above all, don’t encourage others to intervene with the abuser unless they ask for that assistance.