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Domestic violence and emotional abuse in the home

Domestic violence (violence in the home), with women and children as primary victims, is a major worldwide epidemic. The majority, an estimated 90 percent to 95 percent, of victims in heterosexual relationships are women. It is estimated that at least 3 million to 4 million women are beaten by their husbands or partners annually in the US. About half of all marital relationships involve some form of domestic violence. More than one-half of the female homicide victims in the US are killed by their male partners.

A woman is more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed by a male partner than by any other type of assailant. In the US, battering is the top cause of injuries to women (more incidences than rape, muggings and car accidents combined). Women may also abuse their children. Women are often more inclined to inflict abuse verbally rather than physically. Given the absence of physical injuries, this emotional abuse is more difficult to identify.

Men can be much more dangerous than women because of their inclination towards aggressive behaviour. Some men are even willing to go as far as killing to get what they want. Domestic violence crosses all ethnic, racial, orientation, religious and socioeconomic boundaries. Authorities may be reluctant to intervene when violence occurs between two consenting adults.

In some societies, violent and abusive male behaviour towards a spouse is even condoned because of the belief that a man has the right to be physically aggressive as a means of asserting his authority in the home. Some couples appear to be willing to accept or put up with an atmosphere of constant angry shouting. Crime statistics indicate that men commit many more crimes than women do. Women commit around 10% of all murders but their motives are different. Women are typically motivated by self-preservation. Men dominate jealousy-related killings because of their territorial instincts.

Domestic violence or abuse is a deliberate strategy to control women rather than being an impulsive act. Abuse is a learned behaviour. It is learned from seeing abuse used as a successful tactic of control, typically in the home in which the abuser grew up, but also in schools, peer groups, and the media. The behaviour is target specific. Men, who abuse, don’t use this behaviour at work. They use abuse at home as a means of control over their partners.

Abusers often use violence or defence mechanisms to justify abusive behaviours, extreme jealousy and conflicting personalities. Abusers deny responsibility for their actions and they also often deny that any type of abusive behaviour has taken place. They typically present a different personality outside the home than they do inside, which makes it difficult for a woman to describe her experiences to people outside the relationship.

Abusive behaviour can include physical abuse (violence directed at causing bodily harm) and sexual abuse (forcing a partner to perform sexual acts against their will). Psychological or emotional abuse may precede or accompany physical violence as a means of control. Economic coercion is used to make a partner dependent on the abuser for money and survival.

Men tend to express their emotions primarily through violence. But equally one has to ask why men have such strong negative emotions towards women in the first place. Couples argue over sexual frequency as well as money. Men use money to get what they want while women tend to use sex. Women are often better at arguing their perspective articulately when it comes to discussing relationship issues. Women talk from their own perspective and the implication is that men are in the wrong. Men either hit out or fall silent.

Sex may be a male problem but women can be sentimental about those they love. Men know this well and they often use a woman’s love as a means of bartering for sex. A woman stays with a man because she loves him and she believes he can change. Abusive men often have times when they are charming and affectionate. A woman may try to be perfect so that her partner will show his loving side. Unfortunately, an abuser is driven by his own emotional needs and so continues his behaviour regardless of her actions.

A woman can have intercourse during her period and during pregnancy. No harm is done. Not all women want to. They may worry about being unclean or that intercourse will harm a foetus (only in the case of rape). They may also use their period or pregnancy as an excuse for a rest from the regular intercourse men require. Advanced stages of pregnancy leave a woman less able to defend herself. Medical sources suggest that about 37 percent of obstetric patients are physically abused while pregnant. About 21 percent of women who were previously abused, report an increase in abuse during pregnancy. The risk of injuries to a woman and her foetus increases.

Certain factors appear to place certain women at greater risk. Young women (aged 19 to 29) are most at risk. This age range correlates with the time when men are at their most sexually active and at their physical peak. Separated or divorced women are 14 times more likely than married women to report having been a victim of domestic violence. It is, however, likely that the violence was a direct result of the relationship breakdown. Women who have an excessively jealous or possessive partner are more at risk. Women who abuse drugs or alcohol, or who have a relationship with someone who abuses drugs or alcohol, are at greater risk than average. Men who have witnessed domestic violence between their parents are three times more likely to abuse their own wives than men who have nonviolent parents.

You deserve a man who loves you, respects you, and is attentive to your needs. Don’t feel like you have to settle for anything less. (Stephan Labossiere)

Excerpt from Learn About Sexuality (ISBN 978-0956-894748)