"Partner Violence: Does It Pertain to Me?"
By Judith Rand, Ph.D.
What is intimate violence?
Stories about domestic violence dominate the national headlines. We readily recognize the most
severe cases, those of Nicole Brown Simpson or Laci Peterson, as domestic violence. It is more difficult
to identify less severe cases and those closer to home as domestic violence. What is domestic violence
and how do we know when it is happening to us or to someone close to us?
Although it is well documented that random violence is on the rise in our society, women of all ages and
children are still at the greatest risk of physical violence from their current or former partners, parents
or parental figures, and other family members. Teenage women often experience violence in the context
of dating relationships. Relationship violence pertains to violence that occurs within the context of
any intimate, dating, or family relationship.
The two most important aspects about intimate violence are the actual act and the intention behind the
act. Violence is any act carried out with the intention of physically hurting another person. Hurting
implies causing pain or other injury. The victim must believe she or he is being physically hurt or will be
physically hurt by the actions of the abuser. An act is considered violent if the intention to hurt is there
regardless of whether it results in injury or not.
The act of violence can range from a few slaps to the use of lethal weapons. The resulting physical hurt
can range from slight pain to severe injury or even death. Professionals recommend measuring violence and
physical injuries separately because a measure of injuries often greatly underestimates the level of violence
in a relationship. The absence of bruises of broken bones does not always accurately reflect the severity of
violence. Whether or not the violence results in injury may depend entirely on the accuracy of the abuser’s
aim, the ability of a bystander to intercept the blow, or other circumstances. The act of pointing a gun and
firing at one’s wife is considered violent whether or not she is unharmed, injured to some extent, or killed.
Even seemingly minor incidents of violence or infrequent violence should be a cause of concern because they
have the potential to escalate to more severe forms of violence and can change the dynamics of the
relationship. A single act or threat of violence is often enough to establish unreasonable dominance and
control over the victim. The impact of the violence is the establishment of fear and the loss of a sense of safety
with one’s partner. Fear leads to the loss of trust. When trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain.
Who are the victims?
The strongest risk factor for being a victim of partner violence is being female. The only other consistent
risk factor identified to date is exposure to violence between one’s own parents or caregivers while growing
up. There is no other single set of characteristics that identify potential victims of partner violence. Violence
in intimate relationships occurs at all levels of society and battered women come from every demographic
group: urban or rural, rich or poor, black or white. Domestic violence discriminates
along gender lines rather than class lines in American society.
How common is it?
For women and children, the family is the most violent group to which they are likely to belong. Battering is
one of the primary causes of injury to women in the United States. During an average year, an assault
against a woman by her male partner occurs in almost 35 of every 100 couples. Nearly one in every three
adult women experience at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood. About two thirds of all
men who batter repeat their violence during a given year. Many women who have been battered once
are battered again within 6 to 12 months after their partner is arrested for the violence
if there is no further intervention such as counseling.
Myths about partner violence
Many people believe that intimate violence ends when the woman leaves the relationship. The violence
often does not stop when the relationship is terminated. Women are especially vulnerable during periods
of separation and divorce. The risk of serious or lethal violence may actually increase after separation.
The greatest risk of serious injury or death is at the point of separation or at the time when the woman
makes the decision to leave. At least 70% of reported injuries occur after the separation of the couple as
opposed to before the separation. Wives who leave violent relationships are at a 75% greater risk of being
killed by their husbands than those who stay.
Many people believe that intimate violence “takes a break” when the woman becomes pregnant.
Abuse does not necessarily stop when the woman is pregnant. Pregnant women who have been battered
prior to their pregnancy are at high risk to be battered during their pregnancy. The proportion of
battered women who report abuse continues during pregnancy has been estimated to be as high
as 36%. For some women the first incidence of battering occurs during their pregnancy.
The prevalence of physical abuse during pregnancy ranges from 8 to 17%.
What it all means
Secrecy and isolation are the greatest deterrents to ending the violence in intimate relationships.
Research must rely on reported events from those women who do seek assistance outside
their homes because the population of abused women who remain with their abusing partners
and who do not seek assistance from public agencies is unknown.
Historically, the stories and issues related to partner violence are similar; only the barriers to leaving the
relationship have been different, depending on the resources the woman has had to support herself and
her children on her own. Today, battered women do not need to suffer alone or to feel “stuck” in their
relationships. Education of the public, new laws such as the Violence Against Women Act, battered
women’s shelters, the Domestic Violence Hot Line, and the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund** are among
the resources available to assist all battered women who make the decision to leave.
The greatest resource in dealing with intimate violence is social support; let someone who can help know
what is happening to you or to someone you love. Help is just a phone call away. To discuss your concerns
related to intimate violence in an anonymous way, please call: THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
HOTLINE at 1-800-799-SAFE. If you are in immediate danger, please dial 911.
At The Family Prosperity Institute, we are often contacted when women suspect they may be victims of
intimate violence but are not quite sure. Sometimes they experience angry outbursts by the men in their lives,
but are able to attribute them to “having a bad day” or “being under a lot of stress.” We provide a safe and
confidential place for women to check out their hunches and to determine whether a situation is an isolated
event or part of a developing pattern of intimate violence. When a woman determines that intimate violence is
present, we will connect her with the resources she needs to overcome the isolation she may feel. We will
work with her to begin the process of positive change as she defines it.
**To discuss your concerns related to intimate violence in an anonymous way, please call: THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
HOT LINE at 1-800-799-SAFE. If you are in immediate danger, please dial 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.**
**If you are the victim of violence, Dr. Rand will assist you in applying
to the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund in order to pay for counseling and other services and expenses.**
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