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What is Relationship and Dating Violence?

Dating/relationship violence is a pattern of coercive and abusive tactics employed by one partner in a relationship to gain power and control over the other partner. It can take many forms, including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual or economic abuse. Abusive relationships may include sexual violence, which is a form of physical violence. Loving someone does not mean that you can never say “no” to sex. No matter what kind of relationship you have, if you are forced to have sex, it is rape. If you are humiliated or forced to be sexual in any way, that is sexual abuse.

Relationship violence is a crime that is commonly misunderstood in our society. You may have heard people say things like, “Why would she /he stay with him/her if they are abusing them ?” or “Why doesn’t she /he leave?” These comments and questions can be hurtful and blaming of the person who is experiencing the violence. They suggest that the victim/survivor is doing something wrong, rather than the perpetrator of the violence. In reality, there are a myriad of reasons why it is difficult to leave abusive relationships that no one can understand except the person being abused.

Abusive behaviors

  • Destructive criticism and verbal attack: Name calling, mocking, accusing, swearing, making humiliating remarks or gestures, ridiculing your most valued beliefs.
  • Pressure tactics or threats: Rushing you to make decisions using guilt, fear or intimidation; regularly threatening to leave or telling you to leave; making and/or carrying out threats to hurt you or others; threatening you with a weapon, etc.; locking you in or out of the house; taking the children; threatening suicide; reporting you to the Department of Social Services; making you lose your job or something important to you.
  • Emotional abuse: Manipulating you with lies or contradictions (playing “mind games”); making you feel stupid/crazy (usually this is specific to whatever makes you feel the worst); not following through on agreements; manipulating the children; abandoning you in a dangerous place; refusing to take care of you or get help when you are sick or hurt; destroying your possessions.
  • Stalking: Following, harassing, or threatening you repeatedly; telephoning and text messaging constantly; waiting on you outside or inside places; watching you from afar, or sending unwanted letters or emails..
  • Sexual violence: Degrading treatment; forcing you to have sex; using threats or coercion to obtain sex or perform sexual acts; coercing sex during or after a violent incident.
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming: Making light of behavior; insisting it’s not serious; denying the abuse happened; shifting responsibility for abusive behavior (“It’s your fault, you made me do it.”)
  • Physical violence: Being violent to you, others, or household pets; slapping; punching; grabbing; kicking; choking; pushing; biting; holding you to prevent your leaving.
  • Harassment: Making uninvited visits; following you; embarrassing you in public; refusing to leave when asked; accusing you of seeing someone else (being overly jealous); obsessive web communication, such as e-mails, instant messages, Facebook, and cell phone calls and text messages.
  • Economic control: Interfering with your work or not letting you work; threatening to withhold money; refusing to give you money or taking your money; taking your car keys or otherwise preventing you from using the car; ruining your credit; forcing you to do illegal acts for money.
  • Isolation: Preventing or making it difficult for you to see friends or relatives; making family and friends so uncomfortable they do not want to visit; monitoring phone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; moving to a place where you have no support; not letting you have a phone or access to the car.
  • Intimidation: Using looks, actions or gestures to make you scared to do something differently; making angry or threatening gestures; acting “crazy” or out of control; subjecting you to reckless driving; using physical size to intimidate (such as standing in the doorway during arguments); out-shouting you.

LGBT relationship violence

While many aspects of LGBT relationship violence are similar to those experienced by heterosexual victims, it is not in all ways identical. Perpetrators often attempt highly specific forms of abuse based on identity and community dynamics, including:

  • “Outing” or threatening to out a partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity to family, employers, police, religious institutions, communities, in child custody disputes, or in other situations where this may pose a threat.
  • Reinforcing fears that no one will help the victim because s/he is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or that for this reason, the partner “deserves” the abuse
  • Alternatively, justifying abuse with the notion that a partner is not "really" lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (i.e. the victim may once have had, or may still have relationships, or express a gender identity, inconsistent with the abuser’s definitions of these terms). This can be used both as a tool in verbal and emotional abuse as well as to further the isolation of a victim from community.

But I’m a college student... I don’t have to worry about relationship abuse, right?

Unfortunately, dating and domestic abuse is a problem on college campuses and often an indication of abuse in subsequent relationships and marriages. Below is a list of warning signs of abusive personalities. If these behaviors appear in your or a friend’s relationship, it’s important to remember that they are not the fault of the victim--the perpetrator is solely responsible for his or her actions-but these behaviors may indicate an abusive relationship.

  • Warning signs of abusive personalities

  • Exhibits jealousy when you talk to others. May say that his/her jealousy is a sign of love.
  • Myth: “Jealousy is a sign of love.”
  • Fact: When a person continually accuses their partner of flirting or cheating, and is suspicious of everyone in their partner’s life, it is possessing and controlling behavior.
  • Tries to control where you go, whom you go with, what you wear, say, do, etc.
  • Attempts to isolate you from loved ones. May try to cut you off from all resources, friends, and family.
  • Uses force or dominance in sexual activity.
  • Degrades or puts you down. Runs down accomplishments that you achieve.
  • Acts like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. May be kind one minute and exploding the next; charming in public and cruel in private.
  • Threatens to use physical force. Breaks or strikes objects to intimidate you.
  • Physically restrains you from leaving the room, pushes, shoves you, etc.
  • Has hit other partners in the past but assures you that the violence was provoked.

“Why don’t they leave?”

There is a pervasive myth that a person who is in an abusive relationship doesn’t leave because they enjoy the abuse, or because the maltreatment takes the form of emotional abuse, which isn’t “real abuse.” These myths are false. Emotional abuse not only impacts the victim’s self-esteem, it can cause long- term psychological trauma. For many victims it is the most damaging aspect of abusive relationships. People who are abused by their dating or domestic partner do not stay in the relationship because they enjoy the maltreatment. The victim may stay for practical or emotional reasons including love, social isolation or shame, economic factors, or a fear of retaliation for leaving--through physical violence or homicide.

Remember, when someone hits or degrades their partner, that behavior is not provoked. While anger can be provoked during an argument, abuse is a choice the perpetrator makes to establish control during the argument. It is an intentional act or set of acts designed to force the abused partner to submit to the will of the abuser.

How can you take care of yourself?

  • Don’t blame yourself and don’t excuse your partner’s behavior.
  • Think about your safety and create a plan. In case you need to get to a safe place, always carry enough money when you are out.
  • Seek help from friends, family, or your healthcare provider.
  • Call a crisis helpline like S.A.R.A.H. 314-935-8080 or Uncle Joe’s 314-935-5099, or a women’s shelter, for advice.