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 and/or financial abuse (using money and financial tools to exert control).
Batterers can make it very difficult for victims to escape relationships. This can cause many survivors of intimate partner abuse to suffer from abuse for decades. It’s important for survivors to know that the abuse is not their fault, that they are not alone, and that help is available.
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 may stay because they believe that they caused the violence and that they can also cause it to stop. Victims may stay because they are made to think they cannot survive on their own, financially or otherwise. Often abusers create a financial situation that makes it nearly impossible for the victim to afford to leave.
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 victim may return to the abuser because that’s the person the survivor fell in love with, or because they believe the abuser’s promises to change. It’s not easy for anyone to let go of hopes and dreams.
Are there any warning signs of abuse?
The abuser may give off warning signs but they may be subtle, such as:
- They insist on moving too quickly into a relationship.
- They are very charming and seem too good to be true.
- They insist that you stop participating in leisure activities or spending time with your 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 may make frequent put-downs and may criticize their partner’s appearance.
- Their words and actions don’t match.
Any one of these behaviors may not indicate abuse, but they may be red flags and it’s important to be alert to them.
Are men victims of intimate partner abuse?
Yes, men can be victims of intimate partner abuse.
A 2001 U.S. study revealed that 85 percent of the victims were female with a male batterer. The other 15 percent included persons 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 does Intimate Partner Abuse Look Like in the LGBTQ+ Community?
Is there abuse in the LGBTQ+ community?
Intimate partner abuse does occur in LGBTQ+ relationships. Studies show that intimate partner abuse occurs in LGBTQ+ relationships with the same amount of frequency and severity as in heterosexual relationships; 25-30% of the LGBTQ+ community experiences intimate partner abuse in their lifetime.
Is abuse in the LGBTQ+ community different?
LGBTQ+ and straight victims of intimate partner abuse may experience similar patterns of abuse. However, LGBTQ+ victims may experience some notable additional vulnerabilities due to society’s long and deeply rooted history of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
LGBTQ+ folks face additional obstacles when seeking help including, but not limited to, the following:
- Abusers may threaten “outing” their partner to work colleagues, family and friends.
- LGBTQ+ victims may be more reluctant to report abuse to legal authorities because of the ongoing structural and interpersonal discrimination they face in their personal lives, employment, housing, health care, as well as in the public sphere.
- LGBTQ+ victims may be reluctant to seek help out of fear of not being believed or taken seriously due to heterosexism.
- LGBTQ+ survivors may fear revictimization based on their sexual orientation and gender identity by law enforcement, criminal justice and social service workers.
- Abusers may threaten to take away the children from the LGBTQ+ 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.
- LGBTQ+ survivors may fear retaliation, harassment, rejection or bullying from their interpersonal circles and available resources when seeking help because of the lack of civil legal protections.
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. Rather, it is an excuse used by abusers so they can justify their behavior.
Do drugs and alcohol cause abuse?
Drugs and alcohol themselves do not cause abuse. Many people use drugs and/or alcohol and are never abusive. However, the violence may intensify when abusers use drugs or alcohol and abusers will sometimes blame drugs or alcohol as the reason for their behavior. Abusers who overuse 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 abusive incident. They may hear the abuse or its violence from other rooms or see the aftermath of the abuse. They may be used as a tool by the abuser. They may become homeless when they and their abused parent leave the abuser.
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 effects, children who have been exposed to intimate partner abuse often learn destructive lessons about the use of violence and power in relationships. In abusive environments, 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. For children, these lessons can have a powerful negative effect that impacts their social interactions and relationships throughout childhood and adulthood.
If there’s intimate partner abuse in the home, does that mean there is also child abuse?
Partner abuse in a home does not directly mean that child abuse is occurring. However, studies show that children and teens exposed to an abusive parent are at higher risk of experiencing 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 both their partner and their children.
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. Direct them to resources they can use to get help, such as the phone number for CORA’s intimate partner abuse hotline. Acknowledge their fears and the risk they’re taking in confiding in you. If you believe abuse is occurring but the victim doesn’t want to acknowledge it, respect their right to privacy and to refuse help. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t force them to discuss the relationship if they’re not ready. Don’t tell them to simply leave the relationship. Encourage them to get help to develop a safety plan and a safe means of escape. And above all, don’t encourage others to intervene with the abuser unless the victim asks for that assistance.