Frequently Asked Questions About Relationship Abuse
1. Isn’t Relationship Abuse a Rare Occurrence?
No. Approximately 1 in 3 women in this country will experience relationship abuse in her lifetime.* Women and children are more at risk of violence in their homes and relationships than in the street. Domestic violence never shows up in statistics as much as it occurs.
2. Does Relationship Abuse Happen in Same-Sex Relationships?
Abuse does occur in same-sex relationships. In fact, statistics show same-sex relationship abuse is just as common as heterosexual relationship abuse. The elements of abusive relationships are similar for heterosexual and homosexual relationships. An individual’s size, strength, politics or personality does not determine whether she or he could be abused or an abuser.
3. Don’t Women Abuse Just as Much as Men Do?
No. 90-95% of domestic violence victims are women and as many as 95% of domestic violence perpetrators are men.** However, men can be victims and women can be perpetrators, and domestic violence occurs in same-sex relationships.
4. But What About Those Studies That Show Women Are Just as Violent as Men?
These studies use a research tool called the “Conflict Tactics Scale,” which does not control for the context in which the violence occurred, such as use of force in self-defense or retaliation. So, for example, if a man is strangling a woman and she scratches him to get him to stop, they each get “one point” on the conflict tactics scale for use of violence! Even more significantly, if a woman has been abused by a man for years, he pushes her into the wall, and she picks up a knife, brandishes it and says “get away from me,” she will get two points and he will get one. This is the substance of studies that found women are more violent than men. Furthermore, other studies consistently find that no matter what the rate of violence or who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured in acts of intimate partner violence than men are.***
5. Isn’t Most Violence Against Women Committed by Strangers?
No. Most violence against women is committed by a current or former partner. 76% of women who report having been physically assaulted or raped were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date. Only 14% of physical assaults against women are committed by strangers.****
6. Why Don’t Women in Abusive Relationships Just Leave Their Partners?
People ask “Why doesn’t the victim leave? Why does the victim stay?” as if it is that simple. It is important to understand that there are many barriers to safety in an abusive relationship. The better question is “Why does the abuser do this and how can I help the survivor gain access to safety?” Leaving is often dangerous and there are many factors an abused partner must consider in the analysis of how to respond to an abusive partner.
7. What About Culture?
All cultures have both traditions of resistance to domestic violence as well as forms of acceptance of it. Culture cannot excuse domestic violence—though abusers may use “culture” as a way to justify their choice to abuse. Unfortunately, relationship abuse is prevalent in all cultures. Across the world, different cultures may have different responses to domestic violence, and some may hold abusers more accountable than others. Culture is ultimately defined by the individual, so ask a survivor about her definition of her culture before making any assumptions and recognize that every individual has the right to live a life free from violence and abuse.
8. How Do We Hold Abusers Accountable?
Holding abusers accountable is important because it sends a message to others that abuse of any kind will not be tolerated in our community. In the criminal justice system, it is important for us to hold abusers accountable on an individual level as well. Do not blame the survivor, regardless of any history they may have. No one deserves to be abused. Teach youth about healthy relationships to help put an end to the cycle of violence.
*American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family.
** Bureau of Justice Statistics and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
*** Susan McGee, Minerva, Inc.
****U.S. DOJ, Office of Justice Programs, NIJ, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Special thanks to the Center to Stop Relationship Abuse.
This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.