It’s a public health problem that plagues 7.7 million people each year, 4.8 million of them women. In America, 1200 women have lost their lives to it. The repercussions run deep into the psyches and emotions of 10 to 69 percent of women around the world. And it is closer to home than one might imagine.
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is considered by the Center for Disease Control to be a serious and preventable public health problem. Behind closed doors, millions of people are in abusive relationships. This includes individuals who live in fear, are threatened by their partners, are bullied, belittled, and made to feel hopeless and helpless.
“Unfortunately, violence is not uncommon on college campuses, and it can take many forms,” said Robert Buelow, Violence Prevention Coordinator of UCI’s Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE), which focuses on sexual violence and relationship abuse. “Violence and abuse is not always physical, however. Psychological, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse occurs in many relationships even when physical violence is not present.”
In the United States, 1 in 5 adolescents reports being emotionally abused by a partner each year. There are 7.7 million reported cases of abuse and assault yearly, 4.8 million of those from women. One in 11 high school students reports being a victim of physical dating abuse. According to a survey done in 2000, it has been estimated that 20-25% of female college students will survive rape or attempted rape during their college careers.
Family and community support is necessary to end the cycle of abuse.
“Individuals who feel supported by close family members, will not hesitate to find a way out of the abuse cycle,” Noha Alshugairi, a marriage and family therapy intern currently working in private practice in Newport Beach, believes. “What helps perpetuate the abuse cycle is the alienation of the abused and their disconnect from family and community.”
It is often assumed that family violence is rare, that if the abuse were horrifying enough the victim would leave, or even that some people deserve to be hit and abused. In reality, however, family violence is present in nearly 30% of all marriages, many people cannot leave because of dangers that may arise, and the belief that some people deserve it is false.
According to Salma Abugideiri, a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has a private practice in Virginia and is the co-director of Peaceful Families Project (cited by Alshugairi), abuse can lead to depression and anxiety; low self-esteem; eating disorders; problems with relationships; withdrawal from the community; insomnia; spiritual identity crisis; physical symptoms; personality disturbances.
In far too many abuse-prone families, the environment is repressive. Some family members live in fear of one another, instead of being consulted and included in the family’s decisions. In most cases of abuse, women are disproportionately victimized; violence oftentimes becomes an assertion of power in a household. Female subordination to male dominance is also a cultural phenomenon that leads to physical and emotional abuse, as Buelow makes clear. On the other hand, men are oftentimes socialized to become abusive. In fact, IPV is caused by observation as well as experience and reinforcement from family, the community, and/or the media. It can be “perpetuated because it is tolerated through denial of its existence or when no one wants to get involved,” according to Abugideiri.
“When women are being socialized to be passive and non-confrontational, and to accept that ‘boys will be boys,’ it is no wonder women are disproportionately victimized by male violence,” Buelow said. “By breaking down these rigid gender roles, we can reconstruct notions of masculinity and femininity that will allow us all to build healthy, respectful and mutually fulfilling relationships with each other.”
To end the cycle, it is important that each individual examine his or her own personal beliefs and attitudes. Buelow calls upon students to take action and stand in solidarity with those who are victims of abusive relationships, rather than advise patience or assume that the victim’s actions are to blame for the aggressor’s violence.
“Have conversations about things you see on TV, or lyrics in songs, that you feel are harmful or negative. Speak out or take action if you hear or see someone abusing their partner. If the situation is not safe for you to get involved, call the police. Don’t ignore the ‘little things’ either,” Buelow said.
By paying attention to those who are abused, we can break the cycle of abuse.
“When we talk about abuse we need to be aware of the long term impact of abuse in all its forms. These scars color the life and experiences of people involved in the abuse cycle irrevocably. The scars never heal. They become part of the psyche of everyone involved and they impact how they react to others, how they view themselves, and how they view the world,” Alshugairi said. “It is these scars that leave have the biggest impact on society even when the abuse cycle has ended.”
HADEER SOLIMAN is a third year Public Health Science and Spanish double major at the University of California, Irvine.