There aren’t many people out there who really get domestic violence. And when I say domestic violence, I’m referring specifically to intimate partner abuse. I will refer to it as such from here on out.
I once heard someone say that not everyone needs to really understand partner abuse. That’s probably true. But the way I see it, a heck of a lot more people need to understand it, in order for us, as a society, to decrease or end it.
So I’m going to get on my soapbox and spend a few minutes explaining what partner abuse is. I mean even if one person reads this and gains better knowledge of partner abuse, that’d be a good thing, right? Here goes…
Partner abuse is about power and control. It’s about one partner gaining and maintaining power and control over the other partner through any/all of the five types of abuse (physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and financial). In addition, for the person being controlled, it is extremely difficult to end these relationships. This is because when survivors try to break off relationship with their partners, their partners feel they’re losing control and will try anything to get it back. This is why survivors are actually at more risk for abuse in the months following the breakup.
Partner abuse does not discriminate. It impacts people from every gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Partner abuse in LGBT relationships occurs at an equal rate to partner abuse amongst heterosexuals. That said, the vast majority of partner abuse survivors are women. Why is that? Well, think about it this way. Sadly, it was not too long ago that women were viewed and treated as property. Nor was it too long ago that women couldn’t own property nor could they vote. This list could go on and on. But my point is that this type of oppression was the norm for women not even a century ago. So of course, there is still misogyny and sexism. Of course, men still have more power than women do, and thus,they have power over women. So an abusive relationship is a small-scale example of institutional sexism and misogyny. It’s not that women are always wonderful partners. I know straight women that I wouldn’t recommend any of my straight guy friends date. However, even when a man is in a relationship with a woman who is awful to him, he usually (though not always) does not feel like his entire life is controlled by her nor is he in fear for his physical safety. It’s not that a woman could never completely control and instill fear into her male partner and use these tactics as a means to get her way all the time. That could happen. It does happen. It’s just that it’s a whole lot easier for a man to control a woman in a relationship, given the position of power men continue to have in society. I’m editing this later on to add that another reason it’s more likely that, in heterosexual relationships, the man is the abuser is because of societal messages boys and men are given about women. Now, don’t get me wrong. The vast majority of boys who grow up in our society do not become controlling partners as adults. But when boys get these messages not only from society but also from an influential person in their lives (i.e., father, coach, etc) they’re more likely to internalize these messages and abuse their female (or male or another gender, in LGBT relationships) partner. That said, abuse is always a choice. And no matter what messages people get earlier in life, they can still make different choices later on. So again, it’s not that a woman could not internalize negative messages about how to treat her partner, but the vast majority of messages she gets will tell her that she is not superior to her partner. Many messages she gets will tell her she’s equal to her partner, or should be, and many other, contradicting messages will tell her she’s less than and she should cater to her partner, especially if her partner is a man.
I know there are people who would disagree with me. They’d say “But I know this girl who…” Okay yes there are relationships where women call their male partners names and maybe even assault them. I know some of you are thinking, ‘Wait, where is she going with this?’ To which I say, “Hold on and hear me out.” Intimate partner abuse is about power and control. If people were to give me such examples, I’d ask them, “So is there one partner who has more control in the relationship? Is there one person whose life keeps getting smaller (i.e., fewer friends, lost jobs, etc) and the other person’s life is the same size or getting bigger?” If there is one partner who seems like she has fewer friends, lower self-esteem and fewer interests then she may very well be being abused. If she ever hits her partner, she may be acting in self-defense or trying to re-gain control that was taken from her. Her behavior is still not to be condoned and it may even be illegal. But. If her partner is controlling her, she is not doing these things to get power over her partner but rather she’s trying to get power in her own life again.
Something else that’s helpful to keep in mind is that partner abuse is related to other forms of oppression.
This is a complex issue and one I could talk about forever. But I’ll stop for now.