For all of you that have been following along, this is my final research paper on abusive relationships. It took hours upon hours (days, really) of research, pondering, emotional ups and downs, and hurdles to overcome (not the least of which is my inability to condense my thoughts – surprising, right?) but it is finally done. Considering that it’s due exactly 24 hours from now, I am mostly satisfied with the finished (ha.) product. There are so many avenues to take with this, and although I jokingly say that I will write a book, it is more likely that I will continue gathering data at a leisurely pace (I hate deadlines) and write the book when it’s ready to be written. In any case, I appreciate your feedback and support. =)
I should also note that, unfortunately, you will be missing the charming footnotes included in the paper. I do not think word press will allow me to format the post that way. But I should be able to include all of the in-text citation and the table I used, as well as my works cited and bibliography, in case you are interested in the references I used for further reading. I wish I could have read each book cover to cover, but I did not have the time nor the emotional stability to do so. Another time.
The most devastating wounds in the world are not visible. Intimate partner abuse is not only pervasive, but for too long goes unnoticed and unattended by victims and society. Most individuals define abuse as violent acts, but nonviolent abuse is more common. Nonviolent abuse is not the cultural stereotype, and a victim who experiences it may not realize it is happening or seek help. Society identifies females as the primary victims of abusive relationships, but an equal number of victims are male. This information changes the conversation about intimate partner abuse. If gender is symmetrical in terms of victim and aggressor, it is no longer about gender – it is about people. Several decades ago, intimate partner abuse became a relevant social issue and there has been a massive effort to reduce violence among intimate partners. Unfortunately, the majority of these changes have helped only half of abuse victims: women. Many male victim testimonies state that most resources available to females are not available to males. In essence, this is a two-fold problem: the full range of symptoms of abuse are not understood by victims and society, and gender, while not affecting who abuses whom, is relevant in terms of aiding the victim.
Society, and as a result, victims, have a skewed understanding of what behavior is classified as abuse. The collective misconception is that most abusive behavior is associated with violence when, in fact, there are more nonviolent abusive behaviors than violent ones. Even the dictionary has a limited definition of abuse, but definitions are based on common usage rather than science. Because nonphysical abusive incidents frequently precede violent ones, it is important to understand the full range of abusive behavior.
THE POWER AND CONTROL WHEEL
The Power and Control Wheel, created by Love is Respect, is an online resource for abuse victims. Abuse encompasses many different kinds of behavior so it can be confusing for a victim to understand what is happening. Many victims can ascertain that something is wrong in the relationship, but are sometimes unsure of how to define the treatment.
Love is Respect created The Power and Control Wheel to make it easier to understand how different behavior patterns can be classified as abuse. The Wheel separates behavior by the following categories: using social status and peer pressure; anger and emotional abuse; intimidation, threats, and sexual coercion; minimize, deny, and blame; and isolation and exclusion. The Power and Control Wheel helps a victim understand the way he or she is being treated and how it is abusive.
Note that this resource is called The Power and Control Wheel, rather than The Abusive Behavior Wheel or The Violence Wheel. “Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect while abusive ones are based on power and control” (LoveisRespect). This assertion is consistent with the conclusions of many social scientists. Abuse comes from an aggressor’s desire to control the victim, either by making the victim afraid and therefore more agreeable, or removing the victim’s feeling of freedom. One might think that aggressors are violent solely to injure victims or cause them physical pain, but in reality, aggressors abuse victims to get them to behave in a certain way. It is a form of mind-control and manipulation. There are a variety of tactics used to accomplish this and there are more nonviolent tactics than violent ones. The Power and Control Wheel is important because it raises awareness about different kinds of abusive behavior.
Because this tool is so effective in identifying abusive behavior, I used it during interviews with abuse victims. I interviewed several males and females and they shared their stories about abusive incidents from each category. For this paper, one male and one female interviewee have been selected as representative of their demographic. Note that all names and identifying information have been changed and all paraphrasing is derived from personal communication with the victim.
Peter is a 21-year-old male who grew up in New England. Peter describes his upbringing as a close, tight-knit family. He was raised in a loving, stable home and his parents have been married over twenty years. Peter has had two abusive relationships. The first relationship started when he was fifteen and lasted approximately three years. The abuse began seven months after they met and continued consistently until the relationship ended. His second abusive relationship started when he was in college and lasted three months. The abuse began about a month after they met.
Michelle is a 26-year-old female who grew up in New England. She comes from an emotionally-stable home with parents who love one another very much and are equally supportive of one another. Michelle has had three abusive relationships. The first relationship started when she was eighteen and they were together six months. Her second relationship started when she was twenty-one and their relationship lasted a year-and-a-half. Michelle’s third abusive relationship started when she was twenty-four and she was in the relationship at the time of the interview (Spring 2013).
USING SOCIAL STATUS AND PEER PRESSURE
Using social status in an abusive way includes: treating the victim like a servant, making all the decisions in a relationship, acting like the “master of the castle,” and defining gender roles in the relationship. Using peer pressure in an abusive way includes: threatening to expose weaknesses about the victim, spreading rumors and malicious lies, and revealing secrets about the victim.
Peter reports both abusive partners behaved this way. They would demand that he buy them things and would tell him that, as the man, it was his responsibility to take care of them. They did not acknowledge that he was a sensitive person with needs. They would also make decisions about where they went and what they did. Peter had one abusive partner that used peer pressure. After the breakup, she told his friends that he would hit her when angry. This was a lie meant to punish Peter and ruin his reputation.
Michelle experienced similar situations with multiple abusive partners. One partner made frequent comments about her subservience to him. Another partner complained that Michelle was not fulfilling her female role in the relationship because she did not cook, clean, or do the laundry. Multiple partners would make decisions for her by manipulating her into behaving in a way that she normally would not. Michelle had a partner threaten to tell both lies and secrets about her to her friends.
ANGER AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE
The following behavior is classified as using anger and emotional abuse: putting the victim down verbally, making the victim feel bad about him or herself, name calling, making the victim think he or she is crazy, playing mind games with the victim, humiliation, and making the victim feel guilty. These are all nonphysical types of IPV using words to wound the victim’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. The lower a victim’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth, the more willing he or she is to allow the abusive behavior.
Peter listed multiple abusive partners that used anger and emotional abuse. Both partners put him down repeatedly. They called him useless and that he was going nowhere in his life. They called him derogatory names, especially when Peter tried to express concern about the abuse or relationship. The aggressors also tried to make him think the abuse was his fault by claiming that he provoked them in some way. This tactic was extremely effective. The behavior was so outrageous that Peter was convinced something was wrong with him to cause women to treat him this way. Sometimes they denied that the abuse was happening at all, or refused to have a conversation about it. One partner would play mind games with Peter, cheating on him and then when he forgave her, she would tell him that he obviously didn’t love her if he wasn’t angry. Peter also didn’t love her if he didn’t behave the way she wanted him to.
Michelle also had abusive partners that used anger and emotional abuse. Some partners told her she was fat and lazy while others told her that her friends didn’t like her. She has been called every profanity; some partners even addressed her with a curse word instead of her first name. Some also played mind games, having what Michelle referred to as a “violent fit of rage” and then a few minutes later start crying and go into a state of depression, asking for her to help. Some also humiliated Michelle, one in particular by refusing to acknowledge that they were in a relationship. Some also made her feel guilty for either not taking care of them properly or because the breakup caused additional problems in the aggressors’ lives. Some also made Michelle think she was crazy or that she had made them abuse her.
INTIMIDATION, THREATS, AND SEXUAL COERCION
Intimidation is used by making the victim afraid by looks and gestures, smashing things, destroying property, abusing pets, and displaying weapons. Threats are used by threatening the victim with violence, threatening to leave or commit suicide if the victim does not behave in a certain way, making the victim drop charges, or making the victim do illegal things. Sexual coercion is used to manipulate the victim or making threats to have sex, threatening to take the victim’s children away, getting the victim drunk or drugging the victim for sex, and repeatedly making sexual advances after the victim has said no. This category contains more commonly recognized signs of abuse, including physical violence. The Power and Control Wheel does not have a separate category for physical violence, but violent behavior typically falls under this category.
Peter had many abusive incidents with multiple partners on varying levels. One partner threatened to commit suicide if he left her and he stayed with her because he did not want that on his conscious. Another partner threw things when she was angry, punched windows and walls, punched him, threatened to drive her car off the road while he was in the vehicle, and punched mirrors. If Peter did not want to have sex, his partners got angry and stomped out of the room or ignored him. His partners also made him steal for them. As previously mentioned, Peter’s aggressors defined his gender role in the relationship as the provider. If Peter could not afford to purchase something, the partners demanded that he steal it for them. Peter did this because they did not present it as an option.
Michelle had partners who used these tactics as well. She has been choked while being pinned against a wall, shoved so hard she flew across the room, champagne dumped on her head, kicked in the lower back, hit with a bat, and pushed onto a floor of broken glass. One partner broke her bedroom door trying to break into her bedroom when she fled. Her phone has been thrown in a toilet, and one partner even tried to push her friend down a flight of stairs. Michelle stated that her abusive partners were very careful not to injure her to the point where she would need to seek medical attention, although one partner did break her finger by slamming it in a door. The partners also insisted that Michelle do illegal things for them, such as driving drunk to get more alcohol for the aggressor, or driving the aggressor to buy illegal drugs.
MINIMIZE, DENY, AND BLAME
When an aggressor uses minimization, denial, and blame against a victim, he or she is reinforcing that the victim has no value or credibility. This is a very effective tool used to manipulate victims into behaving in a certain way. The behaviors include making light of the abuse and not taking it seriously, denying that the abuse ever happened, shifting responsibility for the abuse to the victim, and telling the victim that he or she caused the abuse.
Peter’s abusive partners handled addressing the abuse in different ways. Some partners pretended nothing happened and others told him he was being ridiculous. Sometimes his partners brought up something that Peter did a long time ago to change the topic of conversation, or told him that it was his fault.
Michelle had partners who told her the abuse was her fault. Other partners claimed that she was being dramatic and told her she got upset over everything. Others claimed to not remember the abuse happening.
ISOLATION AND EXCLUSION
Isolation and exclusion are types of abusive behavior aimed at limiting the victim’s contact with the outside world. The aggressor may try to control with whom the victim spends time or where he or she goes. The aggressor frequently uses jealousy as the reason for behaving this way.
Peter had one partner that would use isolation and exclusion in an abusive way. She would tell him who he could and could not hang out with, told him what music to listen to, and what to wear. Peter described her as very possessive and controlling.
Michelle had multiple partners treat her this way. One would text and call her up to one hundred times a day when she wasn’t with him, and another would make her feel like she could never leave his side because he needed her so much.
The multiple tactics an aggressor will use to control and hurt a victim are frighteningly effective. Both Peter and Michelle experienced this treatment across multiple partners and over an extended period of time – these were not isolated incidents. Typically, abuse starts with the least-severe types of nonphysical abuse and becomes increasingly severe over time. In many cases, victims are either not aware that this behavior is abuse or are unsure how to address it. Even after the victim realizes what is happening, it is common that he or she will stay in the relationship. The reasons for this vary, but every victim deserves respect and kindness. Society will commonly judge a victim harshly for staying in an abusive relationship, but it is hard to understand the mental and emotional trap that exists within one. For both Peter and Michelle, they did not want to fail. They both believed they could fix the relationship if they tried hard enough. Other individuals may be too financially unstable to separate from the partner, there may be children involved, or friends and relatives may pressure the victim to fix the broken relationship. Often victims stay because they do not believe they deserve better treatment, or they feel an obligation to support and take care of the aggressor. They may feel what is happening is wrong, but their self-esteem and self-worth are low and they are hesitant to make a change. In any case, it is complicated and difficult to extract oneself from an abusive circumstance.
Although many of the abusive incidents that Peter and Michelle experienced lefts visible signs of abuse, there are far more emotional wounds – the most devastating wounds in the world are not visible. Peter, for example, drank heavily after the abusive incidents and was depressed for a long time. At one point, he considered committing suicide, even putting a belt around his neck in preparation and stopping at the last minute. Even though these events happened several years ago, Peter described himself as jaded and has episodes of depression. His aggressors’ tactics changed the way he feels about himself and relationships.
ABUSE AND SOCIETY
The Power and Control Wheel is comprehensive, but not all-inclusive. Because some abusive behaviors are more severe than others, society generally defines abuse as violent acts. The behaviors described in the preceding paragraphs might seem common, and that is because most relationships contain one or more of these behaviors from not just one, but both partners. To further complicate things, pop-culture defines our gender roles and we subconsciously play our parts. Men and women are defined in specific ways – often with the woman being represented as emotional, needy, and overbearing. The man is often represented as unfeeling, masculine, and invulnerable. These representations have affected the way human beings see one another. Aggressors know this, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, and can easily take advantage of preconceived notions to play into the stereotypes.
For example, a man can treat a woman as overly emotional, dramatic, needy, and weak. The woman is more likely to accept this treatment because society and pop-culture have trained her to believe these things about herself. Decades ago, intimate partner abuse became a widely accepted cultural phenomenon and there has been much progress to combat the “War on Women”. There are many websites, organizations, and resources for abuse victims. Unfortunately, most of these resources are catered towards women, with some even stating that the most common victims of abuse are women, even though nearly every scientific study conducted shows that there are an equal number of male and female victims and aggressors (Fiebert).
|Canadian National Survey||Lupri, 1990||Severe
|Canadian General Social Survey||1999||Overall Rate||7.0%||8.0%|
|British Crime Survey||1996||Overall Rate||4.2%||4.1%|
|National Comorbidity Study||Kessler, 2001||Minor
|National Alcohol and Family Violence Survey||Straus, 1995||Overall Rate
|Dunedin Health and Development Study||US Dept of Justice, 1999||Overall Rate||27.0%||34.0%|
|National Violence Against Women Survey||Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000||Overall Rate||1.3%||0.9%|
|Youth Risk Behavior Survey||Center for Disease Control, 2006||Overall Rate||8.8%||8.9%|
|National Youth Survey||Wofford-Mihalic, Elliott, & Minard, 1994||Overall
|Percent of Emergency Room Visits for PV [partner violence]||Ernst et al., Annuals of Emergency Medicine, 1997||19.0%||20.0%|
Note: From Murray Straus, Ph.D., Co-Director Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, presentation to the National Family Violence Legislative Center conference “From Ideology to Inclusion,” Sacramento, California, February 2008. Courtesy of Murray A. Straus. (Cook, p 13)
This table, located in Philip W. Cook’s book Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (courtesy of Dr. Murray Straus), reveals the truth about male and female perpetrators. There are ten examples from the hundreds of studies that have been conducted by social scientists. The last two columns – male and female – identify the aggressor of the violence in the relationship. Statistically speaking, there are an equal number of male and female aggressors. This information is crucial in how society handles intimate partner abuse. One of the first studies conducted was in the 1970’s by Dr. Murray Straus, a highly-respected social scientist in the field of partner violence. The study reflects the same results: there is gender symmetry in the aggressors of intimate partner abuse. A second study conducted by Dr. Straus, ten years later, reflects the same information. By 1986 there were twenty-three surveys, including two national ones, which reflected the insignificance and symmetry of an aggressor’s gender. This information is alarming, because after almost forty years of research and data, there are still men – including Peter – that say they are indeed the victim and not the aggressor. The results have not changed the way society views intimate partner abuse.
Society’s interpretation of gender roles affects the way intimate partner abuse is handled when it comes to the support of the victim. It is well-known that female victims have a plethora of support and resources in a time of crisis. Law enforcement officers are better equipped to handle what was, at one time, seen as a private family matter. It is easier to obtain and enforce a restraining order. There are crisis hotlines, shelters, and support groups. All of these resources and tools are wonderful for a traumatized victim. It is hard to leave an abusive relationship – the more help the victim has, the better chances of success. Sadly, only half of the victims in question have access to this support: females.
Male victims have little-to-no support by comparison. With society assuming men to be the aggressor and not the victim, the resources available to women are not available to men. Male victims also struggle with how to feel about the abuse received from a female. Many men are bewildered, confused, embarrassed, and ashamed. These emotions exist in female victims, but are exaggerated in males due to the pressure of society’s expectations and preconceived notions about gender roles. Peter had a similar problem – he did not tell anyone about the abuse while it was happening, and seldom talked about it afterward. When a male victim finally does speak out and tries to seek support to make the abuse stop, they encounter many roadblocks. Many male victim testimonies reinforce this fact, as seen in the following victim interviews conducted by author Philip W. Cook:
My attorney was no use. She was slow to act and never requested a restraining order. (p 68)
I had read in M.S. magazine that if you are the victim of domestic assault, you should get treatment, take photographs, which I had a friend do, and call a domestic violence shelter. So I spent several hours that evening calling, saying, ‘This is what happened. The police refuse to take a report. I need a restraining order. How can I get her arrested?’ They [the domestic violence shelter] said, ‘Well, we don’t help know what to say to a man.’ Or, ‘We just help women.’ They would refuse to answer my questions because I am male. (p 69)
If it had been a man beating up a woman, they would have made an arrest. They [the police] said, ‘We ain’t taking no report from you buddy.’ (p 68)
The judge asked me about my career plans. I told him that I was working on building up a consulting practice in my home (which I had experience in), using the computer, fax, and modem, so I could be at home most of the time to take care of the kids. The judge (who is in his seventies), looks at me and says ‘Young man, you need to go out and get a regular job, and fulfill a more traditional father role.’ [Later in the interview, the interviewee tells Cook that full custody of the children was awarded to the ex-wife, despite overwhelming evidence of abusing the interviewee.] (p 72)
The problems associated with intimate partner abuse are numerous and overwhelming. Explored in this research paper are abusive behaviors and the role of male victims in relation to society’s perception of gender roles. The victim is often confused as to which behaviors can be classified as abusive. The Power and Control Wheel is as informative as it is valuable in assisting the victim to feel validated. Society’s understanding of aggressor gender roles is inaccurate and negatively affects the support and resources available to only half of all abuse victims. These two issues only represent a small portion of problems. Others include the victim’s long-term psychological complications as a result of intimate partner violence (including posttraumatic stress disorder), ineffective prevention methods, and limited awareness. The limited awareness raises the most questions. Why is it that, after forty years of research and over two hundred studies, the collective view on intimate partner abuse is so inaccurate and unchanging? Specifically, how it is not common-knowledge that an equal number of victims are male, rather than the stereotype that most victims are female? If this misconception exists for intimate partner abuse, it is likely that it also applies to other relationships as well. This type of treatment extends beyond intimate relationships to relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and strangers. If we, collectively, understand the full spectrum of abuse – and the variety of ways that we can hurt one another – perhaps we can end the cycle and exist in a more respectful community.
“abuse.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. Web. 16 Jul. 2013.
Cook, Philip W. Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997. Print.
Fiebert, Martin S. “References Examining Assaults By Women On Their Spouses Or Male Partners: An Annotated Bibliography.” References Examining Assaults by Women on Their Spouses or Male Partners: An Annotated Bibliography. Department of Psychology, June 2012. Web. 18 July 2013.
Felson, Richard B. Violence & Gender Reexamined. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2002. Print.
Jasinski, Jana L., and Linda M. Williams. Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Review of 20 Years of Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998. Print.
“Loveisrespect.org.” Web. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2013.
O’Leary, K. Daniel, and Erica M. Woodin. Psychological and Physical Aggression in Couples: Causes and Interventions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.