Relationship violence (also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), dating or domestic violence) is a pattern of physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abusive behaviors, used by one individual to maintain power over or control a partner in the context of an intimate or family relationship.
Abuse in relationships is much too common–it affects at least one quarter of all relationships: between men and women and same sex couples alike. However, in heterosexual relationships, men comprise the overwhelming majority of perpetrators and women the majority of victims. For this reason, in this section, we will refer to abusers as “he” and victims as “she,” although we do not intend to slight victims of any gender. The information provided here is designed to empower both survivors, their friends and family members in making decisions about their lives, in breaking free of an abusive relationship, and finding the support they need to get to a place of healing and personal empowerment.
Power and Control
As described earlier, intimate partner violence is rooted in power and control. Physical violence is the force that is used to keep someone under control when the other displays of power do not work.
These behaviors may vary for married couples with children, dating couples, or same-sex couples. There are many ways that one person can exert power and control over a partner. Victims of abuse are constantly in a state of tension or “second-guessing” the abuser to anticipate what might make him/her angry. They often talk about “walking on eggshells” in fear that something will trigger an increase in violence. And yet, most abuse survivors describe the emotional abuse as being far worse than the physical violence, largely because they begin to feel “crazy” or like they are losing their minds. Because they become isolated from their family and friends, their only reality check is the abuser. Thus, reality becomes distorted. This is why it’s so important to stay in touch with anyone you may know who is in an abusive relationship; the more isolated they become from their support system, the more dangerous their situation becomes.
Safety from Abusive Relationships
If you are in an abusive relationship:
- Think of a relatively safe place in your home to go if an argument occurs. Avoid rooms with no exits (bathrooms), or rooms with weapons (the kitchen).
- Keep a list of safe people to contact in a hidden, but easy to find location. If necessary, memorize important numbers.
- Keep your cell phone charged at all times.
- Establish a “code word” so that family, friends, teachers or co-workers know to call for help.
- Plan how you will respond to your partner if he/she becomes violent.
- Have a set of clothes and sets of important documents (savings account records, check books, safety deposit keys, birth certificates, school records, deeds, other legal documents) for yourself and for your children stored at a friend’s house or at work in the event you need to flee your house.
- Take pictures of physical injuries resulting from the abuse as soon as possible.
- If you have children, practice emergency drills with them. Teach them how to dial 911.
- If you have a protective order, carry it with you at all times. Make extra copies.
- Trust your own judgment and intuition. If a situation is serious, you may choose to give your partner what he wants in order to calm him down and temporarily de-escalate the abuse. You have the right to protect yourself however you see fit.
- Remember you have the right to live without fear and violence.
If you have left the relationship:
- Change your phone number.
- Screen calls and put a block on your number so that you can’t be identified.
- Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving the batterer.
- Change locks, if the batterer has a key.
- Avoid staying alone.
- Plan how to get away if confronted by an abusive partner.
- If you have to meet your partner, do it in a public place.
- Vary your routine.
- Notify school and work contacts.