Opinion: Understanding intimate partner violence is important for supporting survivors

Many people have misconceptions about intimate partner violence. Some believe only physical violence is abuse while others think this is a problem only straight couples face. Some even believe intimate partner violence is a private, family matter. In reality, abuse is a complex problem that impacts many people and society as a whole.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines intimate partner violence as aggression within a romantic relationship, which includes physical and sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression.

An abusive individual may prohibit their partner from accessing money or transportation. Researchers found that coercive control is often more subtle — like a violent partner showing remorse for abusive actions without changing or making false promises.

Abusers can also use technology in controlling ways, like monitoring their partner’s movements or threatening to expose their secrets on social media, according to a study in The British Journal of Criminology in 2019. Coercive control makes leaving very difficult or impossible for survivors.

Contrary to many theories that domestic violence only exists in heterosexual relationships, intimate partner violence can be present in any romantic relationship. Research published this year showed LGBTQ+ college students were more at risk of emotional, sexual and physical abuse than their straight, cisgender peers.

Seventy-two percent of a national sample of transgender and gender-nonconforming people experienced intimate partner violence at some point in their life, according to a study in Virginia.

Intimate partner violence impacts society. About one in five women and one in seven men say they have survived such abuse during their lifetime, according to the CDC. It takes an economic toll on survivors in lost wages, destroyed property, medical expenses and legal representation.

The U.S. government covers about $1.3 trillion of the economic burden faced by intimate partner violence victims, which is only 37% of what it costs survivors over their lifetime, according to research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2018.

Social work assistant professor Rachel Voth Schrag and her colleagues found that intimate partner violence also disrupts academic engagement for college women. When people are prevented from fully participating in education, the workplace or their own lives, society is deprived of their unique gifts and talents.

Intimate partner violence is a complex problem because abusive behaviors can come in many forms.

Learning about this issue is important for everyone, as it may help people spot red flags in their relationships or the ones of those around them. It may not be easy to accompany a person through their recovery after an abusive relationship, but it may be well worth it.


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