Dating violence happens everywhere. But many people are afraid to talk about it. Here's what you need to know about this common—and commonly ignored—problem.
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
WHO DOES IT HAPPEN TO?
- One study found that 19% of 9th-12th grade girls reported being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. Another study reported dating violence as early as 8th grade.
- One out of five college students have reported at least one incidence of abuse in their dating relationships, varying from slapping and hitting to more life-threatening violence.
- 59% of college students surveyed at campuses across the US reported personally knowing friends, relatives, or someone else close to them affected by domestic violence.
- 60% of the time, drug or alcohol use is involved in a dating violence situation.
- In 72-77% of the cases, violence occurs only after a couple has become seriously involved, rather than in the early, more casual stages of dating.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR?
- Anyone can be a victim
- Dating violence occurs in all ethnic groups, all social classes and heterosexual and same sex relationships at equally high rates
- According to FBI crime statistics, 95% of reported victims are female-however male victims are probably less likely to report due to shame involved in being hit-it is shameful enough to be a victim of partner violence as a woman, and because of cultural stereotypes, it may be even more so for a man.
- While 66% of female abusers hit their partners, male abusers are much more likely to injure their victims
- Victims and abusers both tend to have low self-esteem—the only risk factor they both share is exposure to violence between parents
- The best predictor of being involved in partner violence is previous violence—children who experience multiple acts of violence or more than one kind of violence are at a greater risk of continuing the cycle of violence
- pushes or shoves you, slaps or hits you, pulls your hair, kicks or punches you, restrains you with force, chokes you, throws objects at you, abandons you in a dangerous place, grabs you roughly, twists your arm, takes "playful wrestling" too far, pinches you, subjects you to reckless driving, threatens you with weapons.
- Ignores your feelings, withholds approval, appreciation or affection as punishment, continually criticizes you (calls you names, shouts at you), makes all decisions for you, wants to control all your actions, humiliates you in public or in private, ridicules your most valued beliefs, your religion, your culture, your race/heritage.
- Calls you sexual names, forces you to take off your clothing, touches you in ways that make you feel uncomfortable, forces you to have sex against your will, treats members of your gender as objects, insists you dress more or less sexually than you want to, minimizes the importance of your feelings about sex, accuses you of sexual activity with others.
WHAT HAPPENS IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP?
The "Cycle of Violence" is a way of looking at what happens in violent relationships; not all violent relationships work this way, but many of them do.
Tension Building -
This is where the stress is building toward an explosion. Victims often describe it as a "walking on eggshells" feeling--you know something is going to "blow" but you don't know when or why. Often victims will try to do something to keep the situation from blowing up, thinking that if they could "just get it right" the violence would not occur.
Where an incident of violence happens. Unfortunately, this is usually the thing we tend to focus on when we are not aware that partner violence can be a cycle, and so sometimes we say things like "Well, what did you do to set that person off," or "I know what a pain in the butt you can be, you must have really ticked him/her off"—not realizing that the violence is not in isolation—and not recognizing there is nothing the victim can do to keep the violence from occurring! The thing is, there is nothing the abused person did to cause this, and nothing they can do to prevent it.
This is what sometimes happens after the violence occurs. What are some of the things you might hear an abusive person say at this point? They may say things like:
- I'm sorry
- It will never happen again
- I wasn't myself
- I was drunk
- I got out of control, I couldn't help myself
- I'll get help
- I won't drink so much anymore
- I just had such a bad day
- I love you and I didn't mean for this to happen
Realize that the honeymoon stage is what really locks a person in to the cycle because we want to believe that this person who is sorry is the person we love, and this is the "real" person, and if we could just get it right, he or she would be like this all the time. But you can't get it right because it is not your fault, it is the fault of the abuser and without professional help, the cycle will start over again. Also, understand that the cycle of violence tends to increase in frequency and severity over time—so it doesn't just get better by itself! In fact, it will probably get worse.
WHY DO PEOPLE ALLOW IT TO HAPPEN AND WHY DO THEY STAY?
WHY DO BATTERERS BATTER?
- Many people confuse control and jealousy for love: "He/she loves me so much he/she won't let me out of his/her sight."
- Often peer pressure is involved—pressure to conform to a norm that says you are nobody unless you are in a dating relationship.
- The person believes the abuser and feels responsible for the abuse. They believe that if they could just "get it right" the abuse would not happen anymore.
- Fear—especially if the partner has threatened to kill the victim or to kill himself or herself. (The fear is real—in cases where death occurs in these relationships, 75% of the time it is when the person is leaving or has left the other person!)
- They love the "good" side of the batterer and truly believe "that person" loves them. Remember, violence is only part of the relationship, not all of it.
- Shame (especially with regard to physical and sexual abuse in the relationship)
- Telling parents may put newly acquired independence at risk
WHAT ARE WARNING SINGS OF A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS RELATIONSHIP?
Extreme jealousy -
- It happened in their home growing up - research indicates that male batterers in particular probably saw their male parent batter.
- Batterer was a victim - The batterer was a victim of violence as a child
- Need for control - it is not an anger issue. Batterers have a need for control, and they use violence to control the situation and get what they want. What this actually means is that batterers need the victim—more than the victims need them. Without a victim, they do not have that much-needed sense of control.
- Because they can - We allow batterers to get away with it when we don't confront them, when we don't report it, and when we allow a culture that allows battering.
Everyone gets jealous sometimes, the key word here is "extreme." If your partner gets mad when you talk to other people, have good friends, or express warm feelings for anyone else, he/she may be abusive.
It is not love to call you all the time. It may seem like a lot of great attention at first, but it can turn in to "checking up on you." If you have to "check in" with your partner at certain times, that could be a red flag. A danger if someone treats you as if they own your body and/or your time.
- No one should be telling you how to wear your hair, your makeup, your clothes, who you can and cannot talk to, etc. If one partner completely rules the relationship, and makes all the decisions, this is a danger sign.
- If you are starting to be afraid to tell your partner things for fear of how he/she will react, or if you ask your friends not to tell your partner things because you are concerned about them "taking it wrong," be aware.
Strict gender roles
- No one should demean your gender, or use language that indicates they think women are less than men, or vice versa. It may seem like "old fashioned" or "gentlemanly" behavior, but it is something to watch for.
- In a dating relationship, a person with low self-esteem may say, "I'm nothing without you," or "You are my world." They may also threaten to hurt themselves if the partner ever leaves them. Remember, that is also abusive behavior!
Blaming and being overly sensitive
- You may notice the person blames other people for their problems (grades, work, friends, parents) even when it is obviously something they did to themselves. They may become easily angered or easily misinterpret what other people say to them always "taking things the wrong way."
Unpredictable mood swings
- You notice dramatic shifts from being jealous, controlling, or angry to being sweet, charming, and loving.
Alcohol and drug use
- Intoxication is often used as an excuse for violent behavior. Alcohol and drugs DO NOT create violence; they only lower existing violent inhibitions.
- Watch out for people who seem to get "too angry". These people may hit walls, yell loudly, call names, or actually threaten others with violence. They may also get really angry when driving, or may talk about being mean to animals or children.
Too much, too soon
- Too many phone calls, telling you "I can't live without you" very quickly, talking about a commitment and future plans after a very short time, wanting to be "exclusive" too soon and wanting to spend inordinate amounts of time with you.
WHAT ARE HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS?
In healthy relationships, people:
- Compromise and resolve conflict together for a win-win situation, not a win-lose one
- Provide safe places for others to "be themselves"
- Value each others opinions, and appreciate each other's difference
- Allow their partners to have other interests and friends and goals apart from the relationship
- Are honest and honestly sorry
- Have a healthy respect for one another-sexually, emotionally, and intellectually.
If you don't have these things in your current relationship, you deserve to have them! We all do!
WHAT IF YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT A FRIEND?
If you think a friend might be a VICTIM
in an unhealthy relationship, these are things to look for:
- changes in behavior
- increased isolation
- changes in attending activities like school and other organizations
- difficulty making decisions
- appearance of being "down"
- appearance of being "afraid" of partner
- asking you not to mention certain things to the partner
If you think a friend might be an ABUSER
in an unhealthy relationship or if a person tells you he/she has been behaving in any of the abusive ways outlined above:
HOW CAN YOU HELP A VICTIM?
- Let him/her know this is not healthy behavior and that it is wrong.
- Encourage the person to seek help—professional help! Remember, this does not get better by itself! The victim may leave the batterer, but if the batterer does not get help, he/she will just go on to batter another person.
- Do not "feed into" discussions that demean members of the opposite sex or treat them as objects.
HOW CAN YOU HELP YOURSELF?
- Break the silence—express concern for the person. Offer to listen and be supportive; let the person know they are not alone and you are there for them
- Be patient - most people leave several times before they are able to separate permanently.
- Help your friend to know these situations generally do not get better by themselves, and in fact, the cycle of violence usually becomes accelerated and more dangerous over time. Batterers need professional help!
- Educate yourself about the resources available in the community and offer to accompany your friend to places they can get professional help. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DEAL WITH THE SITUATION YOURSELF!
- Victims may need to develop a safety plan and each plan needs to be personalized—with professional assistance!
- DO NOT ask the victim what he/she did to provoke the batterer. There is no such thing-it is a control issue, and the victim cannot "make" the violence stop.
If you think you might be a victim, you are too valuable not to get help. If you think you might be an abuser, you are also too valuable not to get help. Things CAN change and no one deserves to be hurt!
You can start by calling your local domestic violence shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE!