By: Ashley Rose
This article contains descriptions of intimate partner abuse.
Nationally, October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic abuse, is a habitual pattern of abusive behavior used by someone in an intimate relationship, including marriages and dating relationships. Although the word “domestic” implies that the abuse happens in a home, IPV can also happen in a relationship where the partners do not live together.
While most commonly represented as physical or emotional abuse, IPV can take many forms in a relationship, many of which may be hard to identify.
While a relationship can be abusive without physical violence, physical abuse is one of the most commonly noticed forms of IPV, as it can leave visible injuries. Often seen in the media, physical IPV can include slapping, hitting, punching, choking or usage of weapons on others. Many abusers do not immediately jump to such drastic forms of abuse, though; early warning signs like using a forceful grip, pushing their partner or cornering their partner may indicate a risk for escalating physical violence. Any marks on a person’s body that they cannot explain or become defensive about may also be a warning sign that they are being abused, especially if they have a new dating partner or have become increasingly isolated recently.
Physical abuse can also be indirect, but still cause bodily trauma to a person; for example, an abusive person might force their partner to drink too much alcohol and withhold water from them, force them to take a freezing cold shower, or scream and bang on a door to prevent their partner from sleeping.
Emotional and psychological abuse are also common forms of IPV. Behavioral patterns for these types of IPV include intimidation, belittling, constant criticism, threatening and usage of manipulation tactics. This can include making inaccurate comparisons of the partner to someone else, lying, stonewalling (giving the silent treatment) and gaslighting. Gaslighting is not the same as simply lying to a partner or denying wrongdoing; it is the use of manipulation to make someone question their own sanity, memories or ability to reason.
Not all of these behaviors have to be used for emotional abuse to be taking place; however, it’s common for more than one characteristic to appear in emotionally abusive situations. The intention of these actions is to make the abused partner have a lowered self esteem and deplete their well-being, often resulting in that person being more codependent on their abuser.
Emotional abuse can often be used to negatively impact the relationship someone has with others. This can look like creating unnecessary conflict with others, trying to convince someone their family or friends do not care for them, refusing an individual from having access to communicating with friends or family and more. These acts are used to further build a relationship of trust with the abuser, isolating the abused partner from their support system and instilling the idea that the abuser is “all someone has.”
Verbal abuse is similar to emotional and psychological abuse, as it continues the pattern of using negatively connotated words to put someone down. This form of abuse includes name calling, yelling, degradation and verbal aggression.
One of the more stigmatized forms of IPV is sexual abuse. This may involve physical force or the usage of coercion to manipulate the abused partner into engaging in sexual activity. While many cultures believe that consent is inherent in romantic relationships, or that a person should always be willing to engage in sexual activity with their partner, consent is still required, regardless of who is involved and how long the relationship has existed.
Finally, financial abuse is a tactic an abusive partner uses to control their partner’s life through money. They might limit their partner’s access to accounts or use the threat of withdrawing financial support as a way to get what they want. This can be especially limiting if one person in the relationship does not work or only works part-time, as they have less access to income than the other participant in the relationship.
Recognizing these forms of abuse can not always be easy. While some forms of abuse stick out more clearly and can be easy to identify, usage of emotional manipulation or distorted ideas of a healthy relationship can complicate identifying these issues.
In 2015, England and Wales criminalized controlling behavior in relationships, which includes all the non-physical types of abuse listed above. The U.S. has no law against psychological abuse and coercive control. However, if you or someone you know is struggling with a relationship and concerned about their safety, it is best to seek professional help.
A professional can assist in evaluating if a relationship is unsafe, and provide further assistance in helping someone access resources to leave. This can involve building a safety plan, identifying reliable contacts, securing a new housing situation and in many cases, involving legal authorities to protect the person from future contact with the abuser.
Professionals in the IU South Bend counseling center are available to help identify some of these factors and put students in contact with necessary help. The St. Joseph County Family Justice Center also offers discrete and supportive resources for survivors of IPV. Learn more at fjcsjc.org.
For access to 24/7 over the phone care, individuals can contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE), where representatives are available. In any instance of violence where you feel the safety of yourself or others at stake, it is best to contact 911 immediately and seek out a safe area to remain away from the threat.