The recent media attention to the abuse of women by their high status partners is bringing much needed attention to an all too prevalent form of encounter between intimate partners. While movies theaters have been presenting a wide variety of treatments of this issue (from marital rape in Gone With the Wind, to the “Gaslighting” of Ingrid Bergman, the abuse of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, Farrah Fawcett’s Burning Bed, to Sleeping With the Enemy, and now an interesting new twist in Fifty Shades of Grey) for over three quarters of a century, violence and abuse between partners show little change in dynamics or consequence.
Both men and women can be the battered or the batterers. The message that intimate violence and domestic abuse transcend gender, ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, age, occupation, sexual orientation, and any other demographic variable people might try to promote as sacred is increasingly communicated and accepted.
What is growing more concerning is the evidence that our society is being desensitized to violence. Whether it is the video/computer games being played, the films being viewed, or living in gang war territory or any other forms of exposure, they all contribute to this effect. Further, there seems to be a cultural promotion of expressing violence or taking out your bad day on innocent others as “a normal reaction” to a bad day. Violence is not an acceptable manner of coping when things don’t go your way. Abuse of any type—emotional, physical, mental, sexual, intellectual, spiritual, and the list goes on—is an incident that no one should have to expect or accept. However, in too many relationships, the onset of the abusive incident becomes something is expected and accepted.
In 1979, Lenore Walker determined that there were predictable stages in the cycle of intimate partner violence and absue and these have been distilled into three stages:
The dynamics of abuse may take on different guises depending on the particulars of the individuals in the relationship, but it falls into a cycle of repetitive and often increasingly cruel behaviors.
Unfortunately, the tendency to assert power through control of another merely communicates the lack of control an individual feels he or she has in their lives. Healthy people do not need to bolster their self-esteem by battering the significant people in their lives in any way, shape, or form. Modeling by parents or others in a person’s life may explain where they “learned violence,” but this does not “excuse violence.” Watching professional athletes punch their lovers and drag them unconscious out of elevators does not make domestic violence OK for high school athletes or Pee Wee League football players—even if the concussed girlfriend later marries the guy who punched out her lights.
According to statistics from LoveIsRespect.org, 25 percent of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse, and 70 percent of college students have been sexually coerced. In fact, young women between 16 and 24 are the most frequent targets of abuse, but when they stay silent and allow the abuse to continue, their young batterers are being given the tacit message that abuse is OK and acceptable.
Further, in a culture that encourages anonymous online lives, in which individuals can create identities in virtual space that allow them to engage in all of the primitive and base actions they crave with no penalty or censure, the need to be aware of the signs of potentially abusive relationships is paramount.
There is a pattern to abuse and while it starts out subtle, as a victim is “tested” or “groomed” to accept abuse as a part of the relationship dynamic, it typically only increases in intensity until the relationship is terminated—by a partner walking out or the victim being put in the hospital or the morgue due to the final assault.
The first time a partner belittles you, makes you feel bad about yourself, forces you to do something against your will, or harms you needs to be made the last time. When apologies, placing blaming on you, and promises of change are quick to follow the abuser’s actions, these should be the last “red flags” you need to walk away before you are caught up in the cycle and it becomes too late.
We should never have to live in fear of someone who truly loves us.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
Walker, Lenore E. (1979) The Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row