Intimate Partner Violence Can Be More Than Just Physical Violence
Until this past spring, I had never really heard of the term “intimate partner violence.”
I had known for years that I was in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship, but I could never quite determine what the other events I endured could be classified as.
I knew that I was being put into sexual situations that I was not fully comfortable being in; and that I was afraid of the consequences if I said no. I knew that I was being made to feel less than because of my struggling financial state. I knew that the way I was being treated was wrong; but I always blamed myself for these feelings.
I blamed myself for not being more comfortable with sex; ashamed of the virginity that I had held onto for so long. I blamed myself for being the “poor” one around a rich man; ashamed that he would have to take someone like me around his wealthy family. I was so sure that I was always the problem. I had convinced myself that I was over dramatic and crazy and every other word we always use to wrongly describe ourselves when in reality, we have just been so hurt.
For eight years, I believed I was the source of every problem I encountered in this relationship. And then one day, I finally saw the light.
On this day, I was reading through a post on Instagram, and something struck me about this particular woman’s story. What this woman experienced in her relationship, I experienced, too.
It was her post that first introduced me to the words “intimate partner violence.”
Suddenly, I realized that I was not crazy for feeling so uncomfortable, confused, and upset over what had happened to me. It was not normal, and it was not my fault. I experienced intimate partner violence, and I lived through it for years without even realizing it.
When we hear the word “violence,” I think our brains subconsciously associate it with a physical attack. This subconscious association is precisely why I never realized the depth of the abuse I endured in my past relationship. I was not being physically attacked or injured; so I assumed that intimate partner violence (often referred to as domestic violence) was not something I was experiencing.
I always blamed myself for being so upset over his actions. I had myself convinced that I was just being over dramatic. Because there were so many people who had it so much worse than I did.
But abuse and violence come in so many different forms. Trauma has a plethora of different causes. Just because you are not having the same traumatic experience as someone else, does not mean that your experience is any less traumatic, devastating, or important. Abuse is abuse, no matter the type. Abuse is never your fault, and you did not do anything to deserve it.
Intimate partner violence can include:
- Physical violence
- Sexual violence
- Reproductive coercion
- Stalking & controlling
- Financial violence
- Psychological & emotional harm
These can be inflicted upon a person by a current or former partner or spouse.
According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact. In addition, over 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Anyone can become a victim of intimate partner violence.
Continue reading to learn about the different types of IPV and where you can go to get help.
Physical violence occurs when someone hurts or tries to hurt someone else through some type of physical force, with or without a weapon.
This can be hitting, kicking, biting, pushing, or any other type of physical trauma being inflicted upon a person.
Physical violence often results in visible bruising and injuries. It is important to remember, however, that just because you cannot see an injury, it does not mean the person is not being injured. Bruises and physical trauma can be covered with clothing and make-up, so do not assume that violence is not occurring if those physical signs of trauma are not easily seen.
Any sign of physical aggression towards you from your partner is concerning and should be taken seriously. Even if you feel that their physical attacks are minor or occur infrequently, please know that this is not normal behavior in a healthy relationship.
You are not deserving of these physical attacks.
Sexual violence is a term I never imagined I would be using to describe events that occurred during a long-term, serious relationship.
When we think of sexual violence, I think many of us think of violence committed by someone we do not know well. However, sexual violence within relationships and between intimate partners is so much more common than many of us realize.
According to the CDC’s NISVS, about 1 in 5 women and about 1 in 12 men have experienced contact sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Sexual violence occurs when one partner is forcing or attempting to force their partner into a sexual act.
This can include non-physical sexual events (such as sexting), unwanted touching, sexual harrassment, sexual assault, rape, and reproductive coercion.
Just because you are romantically involved or regularly intimate with a person does not mean they have the right to do any of these things to you without your consent.
If someone is coercing you into a sexual act, this is considered sexual violence. Threatening to break up with you or hurt you if you do not engage in sexual activities with them is sexual violence. Any sexual activity you do not willingly and freely consent to is considered sexual violence.
Your body is your own, and you should never feel obligated to give it to someone else just because you are in a relationship.
Sexual intimacy is perfectly healthy and normal when both parties actually want it to be happening.
As I mentioned above, reproductive coercion is another form of sexual violence. This is another side of intimate partner violence that I was entirely unfamiliar with until recently and was shocked to find out I had also experienced.
Reproductive coercion occurs when one partner tries to control the other’s reproductive choices.
Examples of this are restricting or completely banning the use of their partner’s birth control, explicit attempts to impregnate a partner against their wishes, controlling the outcomes of a pregnancy, and coercing their partner into having unprotected sex against their wishes.
The partner inflicting this reproductive coercion could be hiding, withholding, or destroying their partner’s birth control pills, deliberately damaging or breaking condoms, removing condoms during sex, not following through with the agreed upon plans to pull out, removing contraceptive patches, rings, or IUDS, forcing their partner to have an abortion, or controlling their partner’s abortion-related decisions.
Sexual coercion and reproductive coercion can become intertwined.
If your partner is refusing to wear a condom even though you want them to, they are not only trying to force you into having unprotected sex, but they are also attempting to control and restrict your access to birth control.
No one should ever guilt, threaten, or force you into sexual acts you are not willing to engage in. If your partner is refusing to comply with your requests to use your desired birth control, please know that this is not a normal behavior.
You always have a say in your own reproductive rights. Always.
My ex tried to guilt me into having unprotected sex by telling me that not engaging in it meant that I did not trust him. He tried to convince me that I was being foolish and hurting his feelings. He tried to flip the situation by saying that I was suggesting he had STDs and wasn’t clean. And he tried so hard to make such a simple request a battle.
That is not how you treat someone you love. Love is respect, love is kindness. Not coercion or guilt. Love is understanding and patient; not manipulative and degrading.
If you are uncomfortable engaging in sexual activity, regardless of the precautions that may or may not be taking place, you have the right to say no. Even if you have engaged in this activity before, you have the right to say no the next time or any other time after a time you consented.
Consent is always an ongoing question. Saying yes once does not mean that you have said yes forever.
Stalking & Controlling Behaviors
Stalking occurs when a partner engages in a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact that causes the victim to become concerned about their own safety or the safety of someone close to them.
According to the CDC’s NISVS, 10% of women and 2% of men report having been stalked by an intimate partner.
Controlling behaviors can include a range of examples, including: monitoring their partner’s activities, controlling whether or not their partner is able to go to school or work, how much their partner is allowed to see or speak to their family and friends, and limiting the amount of time their partner is allowed to use their phone and/or other sources of communication.
Someone who is trying to control you will do whatever they can to isolate you from others in your life. They will not want you speaking to anyone who might speak ill of them or tell you the truth about the abuse you are enduring.
An intimate partner who engages in controlling behaviors might also go so far as to follow you, check your internet search history, or read your texts and social media messages. Though stalking and controlling behaviors do not always occur simultaneously, they can most certainly be linked to one another in some instances.
Whether someone is engaging in unwanted and uncomfortable contact and attention with you and/or they are monitoring your every move, please know that neither of these types of behaviors are part of being in a healthy relationship.
A healthy relationship allows for each person to retain their personal freedom and live their lives as they please. Committing to being in a relationship with someone does not mean you are also giving control of your life over to this person. Love is not synonymous with control.
Psychological Violence & Emotional Violence
Though psychological aggression and emotional violence do not leave any visible scars on a victim, their effects can be just as damaging as physical violence.
Psychological aggression includes the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally.
It can include the use of intimidation and threats in order to cause fear in one’s partner. They may also go so far as to threaten to hurt themselves, their partner, or their partner’s loved ones if their partner ever tries to leave the relationship. These types of behaviors are often done in order to gain control over their partner and to try to make it nearly impossible for them to ever leave.
Emotional violence can severely damage one’s self-worth, which makes the victim even more susceptible to their partner’s abuse. This type of violence includes humiliation, insults, and criticism. The abusive partner might try to minimize their partner’s feelings and make them feel ashamed or guilty for even having those feelings in the first place. They may blame you for their bad behaviors. They will do anything they can to diminish your accomplishments and belittle you in order to get you to believe that no one else will want you but them. The more they damage your self-esteem, the easier it will be for them to continue their abuse.
A healthy relationship involves partners who want what is best for each other and who are always there to support each other. Though disagreements are inevitable, psychological and emotional violence should not be.
You do not have to leave bruises on someone in order to hurt them.
Financial violence = financial control.
If your partner is attempting to control your bank accounts, savings, or spending habits, they are committing financial violence against you. They may also try to control your finances by making important financial decisions with money shared between the two of you without you.
Financial violence also occurs when your partner takes your money without your permission. If your partner is trying to control your access to school or your job, they are also attempting to control you financially by placing limitations on the money you are able to earn. Once your partner has this financial control over you, they have basically left you powerless and completely dependent on them.
This is one more way they are able to trap you in a relationship.
If your partner ridicules you due to your financial state, they are trying to make you believe that you will not be able to survive without them. They may give you allowances; but with these allowances, come strict rules and conditions. They may dictate exactly how and where you spend that money. They may only allow you to buy and wear certain clothing or eat certain foods; because they are doing everything they can to control every aspect of your life.
If they take away every source of outside financial help from you, you will have almost no other choice but to stay with them. Don’t be fooled by flattery and sweet-talk about them making enough money to provide for you so that you do not have to work. If this is not the life you want for yourself, then you do not have to live it. You are allowed to work and be financially stable and successful, while also being in a healthy relationship. This is most certainly not an “either or” situation.
I almost married the person who put me through all of this abuse. I almost committed myself to a dream and a life I never wanted. And I almost lost everything I had to be with someone who hurt me over and over again. But I got myself out of this situation, and you can, too. You are so much stronger than you think you are. I promise you that a happier, safer life is out there waiting for you.
Just because you have suffered through this abuse does not mean that you have to suffer forever.
You can heal, and you can live a happy, fulfilling life, free from abuse. No one is deserving of abuse, and no one should have to suffer in silence. You are not alone, and you can always seek help.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above forms of abuse or violence, please visit thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233 (US only).
You are not your abuse. One day, you will be able to return home to yourself.