Friday, February 04, 2011

Intimate Partner Violence (Domestic Violence)

Throughout the years one of most visited posts I had was the emotional rape post. Many people have acknowledged that post touched a relevant topic to people. In this post, I will address the social phenomenon of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), which I believe is a topic of extreme relevance, especially in the light of women issues.

This post is based on data and research done in the USA, and I am pretty sure that things are even worse when applied to Jordan and the general region that surround it. I am going to address this topic from surveys and sociology perspectives.

First, we must identify the two major types of IPV:
  • 1- Common Couples Violence
  • 2- Intimate Terrorism
Common Couples Violence (CCV) is the most prevalent form of IPV, and what differentiates CCV from Intimate Terrorism is not the degree or amount of violence, as CCV cover a wide range of violent behaviors from slamming the door in anger to attacking with a knife, and sometimes murder. But CCV is characterized as reactive, emotional, and motivated by frustration. CCV is a result of loss of control due to anger or some other forms of stress. CCV is usually mutual, in the sense that both partners participate in the acts of violence.

On the other hand, Intimate Terrorism is a much more dangerous form of IPV, and is believed to be less common compared to CCV. Intimate Terrorism is characterized as proactive, strategic, and motivated by desire to control the partner. Intimate Terrorism involves physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Common Couples Violence:

CCV is a sad reality of many intimate relationships. Everybody is pretty much familiar of how it happens; It starts with a heated argument, that escalates to name calling, then psychological aggression, and then physical violence starts. This physical violence manifests itself in various forms: Leaving the room angry, and slamming the door on the way out. Throwing something at the partner. Throwing a dish on the floor. Things might get even uglier where one partner hits, kicks, pushes, and maybe even punches their partner. There are several myths that surround CCV (and IPV in general), and I will address them now:

MYTH 1 - IPV is rare: Reasoned thinking might suggest that two people in a loving relationship would not hurt one another through violence. However, reality is not that simple; many people engage in violent behavior directed towards their significant other. In one survey, conducted by Straus in 1980, 12.1% of husbands and 11.6% of wives admitted that they engaged in physical violence against their partner. Note that this survey used self-reports methodology, in the sense that it asked participants to describe violence that they committed (as opposed to what they were subjected to). Obviously, this percentage is actually high, even considering that it must be an underestimate, since many people would not be willing to admit that they engaged in violent behavior.

MYTH 2 - IPV only happens between unhappy couples: Some people might argue that IPV only happens between unhappy couples or loveless marriages. Evidence does not seem to support this claim. Some studies have shown that 50% of newlywed couples (who also report that they are happy) engage in physical violence. Another study in 1992 has shown that high rates of engaged couples who engage in physical violence eventually get married.

MYTH 3 - Only men are violent: As the 1980 study by Straus suggests not only men are violent, but women too. In more recent studies, that also used self-reports methodology, women were reportedly being more aggressive than men. However, those studies have two known weaknesses. First, this result does not show that women are necessarily more violent, it could just mean that they are more willing to admit that they engaged in violent behavior. Secondly, those studies focused on behaviors without regard to impact. So, even if women were more likely to slap or punch their partners, the physical damage incurred in such occurrences is not symmetrical to a slap or a punch from the male partner towards the woman. So, studies that focus on violent behaviors can be misleading when the impact of violence is neglected.

MYTH 4 - IPV only happens between married couples: The rationale here is that only committed couples stay in violent relationships; Non-committed couples would simply walkaway. As previously mentioned, some engaged couples who experience violence do eventually get married. There is evidence that violence in relationships also happens in teenage relationships, college relationships, and cohabiting couples. Even some dating couples continue a relationship despite of violence.

Common Couples Violence can be categorized by the impact into two categories:
  • 1- Moderately Aggressive: This includes throwing stuff, grab, shove, slapping, non-excessive punch.
  • 2- Severely Aggressive: This includes: Bruising punches or slaps, heavy beating, threatening with a knife or gun, and attacking with a knife or gun.
In one study, newlywed couples were studied to see what is the relationship between CCV and divorce rates. After four years, 62% of non-violent couples were still married, 54% of moderately violent couples were still married, and only 7% of severely violent couples were still married. As it seems, severe aggression among couples was an important predictor of divorce, whereas moderate aggression was not a direct cause of divorce.

Many couples do not recognize violence as a problem in their relationship. In one study, women that were seeking couples therapy were asked: "What is the most important problem that you hope couples therapy would resolve?". Only 6% reported IPV as the answer to that question. On the other hand, 56% of those women reported that violence happens in their relationship. In other words, 50% of women seeking couples therapy reported that violence exists in their relationship, albeit it was not the reason they were seeking couples therapy.

This suggests that many couples don't see CCV as a problem in and of itself, but rather a manifestation of some other problems. So, if for example, one couple were arguing over a financial situation, and this argument escalates to physical violence, those couples are more likely to think that financial difficulties is the real problem, rather than CCV.

Intimate Terrorism:

Definition: A systematic and sustained effort to control and dominate a partner through physical violence, verbal and psychological abuse, sexual coercion and abuse, economic and social control, and threats.

CCV is reactive. Couples who fail to properly channel their anger and frustration, would let verbal fights escalate to physical violence. In CCV, couples lose control over their behavior an engage in hostile acts. However, Intimate Terrorism is proactive. It is purposeful and systematized. And the purpose of Intimate Terrorism is to control and dominate the partner. To put the partner in a state of fear and submission.

One of the mostly important contributions to the field of Intimate Terrorism is the "Power and Control wheel" (pdf).

This wheel shows "Power and Control" as the center as all the behaviors that are exhibited have one common goal, which is to gain power and control. The rim of the wheel shows "physical violence" because all of the behaviors being described are enabled through the use of physical violence. The behaviors mentioned are as follows:
  • Emotional Abuse: Belittle and name calling. The idea is that the abuser tries to convince the victim that she is worthless, incompetent, and even not worthy of love. The abuser might say something like: "You are worthless. Luckily for you, I love you, because if I didn't love you, nobody else would!". The idea is that if she believes that she is worthless, then she would be broken, yet feeling in-debt to the abuser. Hence the abuser gains complete control.
  • Sexual Abuse: Spousal rape. Disrupting sleep to have sex. Forcing unwanted sexual activities. Unfounded accusations of sexual infidelity.
  • Isolation: To control who the victim knows, sees, or interacts with. Cutting ties with the family and the outside world, to make sure that the victim cannot get the help she desperately needs.
  • Minimizing, denying, and blaming: The abuser denies that his actions are violent, convinces the victim that she is overreacting, blaming her for the violence. The abuser might say something like: "Well, had you done the things I asked you to do, I wouldn't have had to hit you. So next time be a dear and do exactly as I say."
  • Using children: Making the victim feel responsibility towards the children, possibly by threatening violence towards the children if she does not obey.
  • Economic Abuse: Denying women the right to work and making them dependent on the abuser. Closing their bank accounts, cutting their credit cards. All of these actions make the victim dependent on the abuser, and consequently giving them control.
  • Male Privilege: Using social norms and gender roles to enforce and justify the situation.
  • Intimidation, Coercion and Threats: Making threats of using physical violence.

One of the questions that arise is: Why do women who are with an abusive partner remain in the relationship? The question is difficult, but there are some good reasons that explain this behavior. First of all, those women are usually helpless. As explained by the behaviors mentioned above, those women are in a state of terror, their confidence is eroded, their ties with the outside world is limited, they are emotionally and financially dependent, and they are afraid that any attempt to escape will create extreme violent reactions from their partner. In USA, there are battered women shelters, which host battered women, give them protection, and in extreme cases those shelters would give the women new identities so that they can escape safely from their partners. However, some women in abusive relationships might not even know of the existence of those shelters, because their partner has cut down all routes of information which may be used to seek help.

Another important reason is revealed through the cycle of abuse (pdf).

The cycle of abuse happens in three phases (some might say four):
  • Tension-building: The abuser shows signs of discontent, creates tense situations. This phase lasts for several days.
  • Abusive incident: This is when the violence happens.
  • Reconciliation: This is the most crucial phase. In this phase the abuser apologizes, promises to change, and promises the abuse would not happen again. The problem is that this phase creates positive reinforcement. After the abuse, the victim feels rewarded by for sticking around and not walking away from the relationship. The victim feels rewarded for forgiving her partner. It is also important to realize that the victim is highly motivated to believe those promises, because she is dependent on the abuser, and she is forced to a certain extent to put up with the abuse. And hence, this "honeymoon" phase is misinterpreted as a positive experience.
Studies have shown that the best way to resolve Intimate Terrorism is to help the victim escape, preferably with the aid of professionals who work for humanitarian causes.

As usual, awareness if the first line of defense. So being educated about those issues should be crucial to battling those phenomena.

PS: This entry is based on lecture by professor Benjamen Karney, titled "Managing Differences, Part 2"

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