Relationship violence is defined as violent or controlling behavior by a person who is, or was, in a relationship with the victim. Perpetrators of relationship violence use a pattern of coercive control in order to dominate the victim. It can include such behavior as actual or threatened physical injury, sexual assault, emotional abuse, economic control, and/or progressive social isolation. It is rarely isolated and almost always escalates in severity over time.
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All relationships have conflicts and problems, it is inevitable when two people share their ideas and values that they will not agree about everything. Conflict is healthy as long as it is dealt with fairly and non-violently. However, you may have experiences that feel very different from healthy conflict and it can be difficult to determine if there is really something wrong. Some people believe relationships are only unhealthy if physical violence is involved, this in an untrue assumption. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. This list below can be helpful in determining if a relationship is abusive or headed in that direction. If you answer "yes" to one or more of the following questions you may be in a dangerous relationship:
Does your partner:
• Make you feel afraid to disagree?
• Try to control you?
• Tell you who you can see and/or where you can go?
• Try to turn you against your friends and family?
• Put you down and then say they love you?
• Blame you for the problems in the relationship?
• Tell you no one else would want you?
• Hit, kick or push you?
• Throw or break things in your presence?
• Try to make you feel sorry for him/her when they have done something to hurt you (e.g., tell you about their hard childhood, or the difficult time they're having in class)?
• Get very jealous and/or possessive? Use jealousy to control what you do?
• Negatively affect your school work?
• Call you names?
• Accuse you of flirting or having sex with someone else?
• Pressure you to drink or do other drugs?
• Do things that make your friends and/or family say they're worried for your safety?
• Pressure you to do anything sexual you don't want to do?
• Say they can't live without you?
When we think about relationship violence, our first thought is usually physical abuse. Physical abuse is very dangerous and must be addressed but emotional and psychological can leave scars that no one sees. Many times emotional abuse can escalate to physical violence. Emotional abuse is controlling behavior through degradation and fear. The abuser's actions often work toward his/her dependency on the abuser so that the manifestation of control over him/her can escalate and become endless. Emotional abuse covers a wide range of potentially damaging and dangerous behavior:
* Diminishing his/her self-esteem by calling him/her names and insisting that she/he does not look desirable and is inadequate as a person.
* Threatening to leave him/her or cause harm to themselves or to him/her and intimidating and ordering him/her to do things that she is not comfortable doing.
* Controlling him/her economically.
* Isolating her/him from his/her family, friends, and roommates.
* Emotional/Psychological Abuse can lead and usually does lead to physical abuse.
For many people living in a violent environment abuse occurs in cycles. For each situation the cycle varies in time, intensity and in the form of abuse.
* Tension Building - Victim senses abuser's edginess and begins to feel that abuse is deserved
* Violent/Abusive Episode - Victim is battered, yet denies severity of the issues
* Loving Stage - Abuser and victim believe it will never happen again but it almost always does
Stage One: Tension Building
* Rather than using mutual communication, negotiation or compromise to solve problems, abusive individuals tend to rely on the use of force or coercion to get what they want.
* Typically, violence or abuse occurs after a build-up of tension in the relationship about issues, which are not directly discussed or resolved.
* During this period, tension mounts, communication decreases, and both partners may feel tense, edgy and jumpy.
* Arguments and criticism tend to increase during this period.
Stage Two: Violence
* After this build-up, physical violence may erupt over seemingly insignificant issues or emotional abuse may occur.
* Tension seems to be released and often the relationship seems to improve.
Stage Three: Loving Stage
* Perpetrators of violence often apologize, make promises to change and pay special attention to their partners immediately following a violent incident.
* This period is sometimes referred to as the "honeymoon period" because of the positive resulting from the release of tension and the hope that things will change for the better.
* This kind of spontaneous change rarely occurs, however, because the underlying pattern of control and lack of communication and compromise has not changed.
Adapted from Walker, L. (1979). "The Battered Women", New York: Harper & Row
* Get medical attention
* Get assistance, contact the PAWS program, 673-3424
* Find support while learning to change, deal with, or leave the violent environment
* Go to a safe place and call for advice/help. No one deserves to be abused
* Press criminal charges: you have the right to file assault and battery charges against your abuser
* You may obtain a restraining order from the court if you are threatened with abuse or have been abused
* Find those friends or relatives who support you and will offer you shelter if needed
* Tell the person that you are worried
* Be a good listener
* Offer your friendship and support
* Ask how you can help
* Encourage your friend to seek help
* Educate yourself about dating violence and healthy relationships
* Avoid any confrontations with the abuser. This could be dangerous for you and your friend.