Relationship Violence

Also called Dating/Partner Violence or Intimate Partner Violence

Dating/Partner violence includes but is not limited to, any verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse of one partner by the other. It affects people of all ages, cultures, and gender. All people, regardless of gender, age, race, culture, sexual orientation, economic status, national origin, disability, or religion, can be victims of abuse. It’s not always easy to spot an abusive relationship. Many abusers don’t take responsibility for their actions. It’s not uncommon for them to blame the victim for their violence.

Abuse is not accidental. It isn’t caused by stress, alcohol or other drugs though these factors can trigger a specific incidence of violence. Abuse is an intentional act that one person uses to control the other. Abusive partners have learned to abuse so that they can get what they want.

Physical abuse is any unwanted contact with the other person’s body and does not have to leave a mark or bruise (including but not limited to):

  • Scratching
  • Physical restraint
  • Pulling hair
  • Strangling
  • Spitting
  • Using a weapon
  • Shoving
  • Slapping
  • Kicking

Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual behavior or contact (including but not limited to):

  • Unwanted kissing/touching
  • Forcing someone to sexually go further than comfortable
  • Restricting someone’s use of contraceptives and protection (often referred to as reproductive abuse)
  • Coercing someone to take nude/explicit images
  • Sending unwelcome sexual images
  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity

Research indicates that survivors of partner rape are more likely to be raped multiple times when compared to stranger and acquaintance rape survivors. As such, partner rape survivors are more likely to suffer severe and long-lasting physical and psychological injuries

Verbal/Emotional Abuse– is manipulating or controlling someone’s feelings or behaviors by saying or doing things that cause the victim to be afraid of have lowered self-esteem (including but not limited to):

  • Name-calling
  • Yelling/Screaming
  • Threatening to commit suicide
  • Making the person feel responsible for the violence/abuse
  • Making the person feel guilty about wanting to leave the relationship
  • Excessive or Unwanted text-messaging or phone calls to “check up” on someone
  • Making racial, ethnic, or religious slurs about the person
  • Demeaning the faith of the victim
  • Preventing the other person from talking to friends or family
  • Threatening to expose personal information

If you are in an abusive relationship, you may observe

  • Your partner continually criticizes what you wear, what you say, how you act, and how you look.
  •  Your partner calls you insulting and degrading names.
  • You feel like you need to ask permission to go out and see your family and friends.
  • Your partner harasses and interrogates you about where you were and who you were with.
  • You are always being accused of being unfaithful.
  • Your partner threatens to hurt you or someone you love if you leave.
  • Your partner forces you to have sex
  • Your partner abuses you (physically, verbally, or sexually)

The Cycle of Violence

Violence between partners is often cyclical. This cycle can be characterized by four stages:

Tension Building: The abuser starts to get angry

  • Abuse may begin
  • There is a breakdown of communication
  • Victim feels the need to keep the abuser calm
  • Tension becomes too much
  • Victim feels like they are ‘walking on egg shells’

The Incident: Any type of abuse occurs (physical/sexual/emotional)

Making-Up: Abuser may apologize for abuse

  • Abuser may apologize for abuse
  • Abuser may promise it will never happen again
  • Abuser may blame the victim for causing the abuse
  • Abuser may deny abuse took place or say it was not as bad as the victim claims

Calm: Abuser may act like the abuse never happened

  • Physical abuse may not be taking place
  • Promises made during ‘making-up’ may be met
  • Victim may hope that the abuse is over
  • Abuser may give gifts to victim

The cycle can happen hundreds of times in an abusive relationship. Each stage lasts a different amount of time in a relationship. The total cycle can take anywhere from a few hours to a year or more to complete. It is important to remember that not all domestic violence relationships fit the cycle. Often, as time goes on, the ‘making-up’ and ‘calm’ stages disappear.

Wheel of Violence (The Power and Control Wheel)

The Power & Control Wheel is a useful tool in understanding patterns of abuse. Below you’ll see one example of the ways in which abuse can be manifested in relationships. For more examples check out The Power and Control Wheel Gallery at Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs.

Power and Control Wheel

This Wheel demonstrates ways the abusers get and keep control.

This Wheel demonstrates ways the abusers get and keep control.

Rates of Violence in Relationships

For more relationship violence and sexual assault statistics, visit The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS).

  • 1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner while 1 in 7 men experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • 59% of female victims and 30% of male victims are stalked by an intimate partner.
  • 81% of women who experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner reported significant short and long term impacts related to the IPV experienced such as fear, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and injury, while 35% of men reported such impacts from the IPV experienced.
  • More than 1 in 3 lesbians, 1 in 2 bisexual women, and 1 in 4 heterosexual women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
  • Approximately one quarter of all men, regardless of sexual orientation, reported being slapped, pushed, or shoved by an intimate partner at some point during their lifetime.
  • 21% of college students report having experienced dating violence by a current partner. 32% experience dating violence by a previous partner.
  • More than half (60%) of acquaintance rapes on college campuses occur in casual or steady dating relationships.

Reasons People Stay in Violent Relationships

In an abusive situation, the victim’s decision to leave is often difficult as well as dangerous.  There are many barriers in the way of someone who is trying to leave an abusive relationship. Although many people ask the question, “Why didn’t they leave?” in a way that shifts responsibility on the victim, the real question is Why doesn’t the abuser stop perpetrating abuse? Be patient and supportive for those attempting to leave an abusive relationship. It will often take a victim an average of seven tries before successfully leaving. Some of the reasons it can be difficult to leave may be:

Fear for safety

  • Fear of what the abusive partner will do when it is found out that the victim has left.
  • Fear that the abusive partner may carry out a threat to harm or kill the victim, their children, or others.
  • Fear that the partner will carry out a suicide threat if the victim leaves.

 Fear of isolation

  • Fear of being alone, that no one will understand or help.
  • Fear of being rejected by family and friends.
  • If in a same sex relationship, the victim may fear being “outed” or not believed.

 Promises from the abuser

  • The victim believes that things will get better.
  • The victim believes that no one else will love them.

 Pressures from cultural or religious communities

  • The victim wants to try to keep the family together and live up to religious or cultural commitment to remain with their partner.

 Fear of being deported.

  • Immigrant partners might stay in an abusive relationship because their partners have threatened to have them deported. Not being fluent in English might also be a challenge.

 Pressure from family and friends to stay

  • The victim may feel ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated and doesn’t want anyone to know what is happening.
  • Friends and family point out many reasons to stay, such as “your partner is a good provider,” you would be tearing your family apart,” or “it’s your obligation to keep the partnership together.”
  • Fears that others will think he/she is stupid for staying so long.

Fears of the Criminal Justice System

  • The victim fears going to court and having to tell what has happened.

It is important to remember that while the list of barriers may seem overwhelming, many victims have been able to leave abusive relationships and go on to have safe, healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives.  The key to doing so is for the victim to believe that they deserve a life free from violence and abuse.

Help is Available

Getting Help

  • Believe in yourself and do not second-guess your feelings.
  • Know that you are not alone. There are over 2 million reports of dating/domestic violence every year.
  • Ask a friend, family member, professor, or crisis center for help.
  • If you are physically hurt – seek medical attention.
  • Getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself and your health.
  • Remember, what happened to you is not your fault.
  • Know that you have legal choices. Call your local crisis center or police department to learn about your choices.

Giving Help

    • Believe the person. They need you to be supportive and understanding.
    • Do not ask too much. They may feel uncomfortable about involving others. The individual will open up when ready.
    • Be supportive by listening or gathering information and resources.

Resources for Help

GMU Student Support and Advocacy Center 703-993-9999

GMU’s 24-hour Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Crisis Line 703-380-1434

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (1-800-787-3224 TTY)
Virginia Family Violence & Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-838- 8238
Violence Action Alliance 1-804-377-0335
Virginia Crime Assistance Info Line 1-888-887-3418
Fairfax County Domestic Violence Shelter 703-435-4940 (703-435-1235 TTY)
Fairfax County Victim Assistance Network 703-360-7273 (703-435-1235 TTY)

Love Is Not Abuse:

Break the Cycle:

National Network to End Domestic Violence: