More than 1 in 3 women in the United States have been victims of intimate partner violence (IPV), including physical assault, rape, or stalking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Although heterosexual males remain the largest class of offenders, there is growing recognition of the impact of IPV committed by heterosexual women on their male partners as well as IPV within same-sex relationships.
Alarmingly, most cases of IPV are never reported to the police (Frieze & Browne, 1989). Survivors of IPV choose not to report the crimes for a variety of reasons, including shame, embarrassment, concern that law enforcement officials will not be supportive, or fear of retribution from their intimate partner.
The stigma associated with IPV may be especially pervasive in minority victim populations, including men abused by women, people in same-sex relationships, or transgender individuals. These victims may be especially reluctant to report IPV to law enforcement, resulting in a cycle of abuse in which violent partners escape the criminal justice system and become repeat offenders. The reluctance of sexual minority individuals to report IPV is illustrated by a 2013 study in which 59 percent of gay and bisexual men reported that they believed police would be less helpful for gay IPV victims than heterosexual female victims (Finneran & Stephenson, 2013).
In the general population, nearly 30 percent of women and 10 percent of men have reported being victims of IPV and experiencing a negative impact on their everyday lives (CDC, 2010). This might include persistent fear or concern for personal safety, need for health care services, medical injury, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), need for housing assistance, absenteeism from work or school, or need for victim’s advocacy services.
Rates of anxiety and depression are higher among victims of IPV compared to non-victims. In particular, victims often report that they replay the abuse in their minds, feel emotionally detached, experience sleep disturbance, and have anxiety about entering intimate relationships.
IPV also contributes to social isolation, as victims may withdraw from friends and loved ones out of a sense of shame or embarrassment. This social isolation further increases their vulnerability to recurrent physical or psychological abuse.
Being trapped in an abusive relationship can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness, but it’s possible to reclaim your life. The first — and often hardest — step is to tell someone about the physical, psychological, or emotional abuse you’ve endured. This might be a therapist, trusted friend, religious leader, or doctor. Calling a domestic abuse hotline is another way to talk to a sensitive, non-judgmental person who can help you make decisions.
After creating a plan to ensure your safety, seeking therapy can help you cope with your complicated emotional reactions. Finding a therapist with experience working with IPV victims will allow you to discuss the shame, fear, worry, sadness, and other factors affecting your everyday life.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Executive Summary.
Frieze, I.H., & Browne, A. (1989). Violence in marriage. In L.E. Ohlin & M.H. Tonry (eds.) Family Violence. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Finneran, C., & Stephenson, R. (2013). Gay and bisexual men’s perceptions of police helpfulness in response to male-male intimate partner violence. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 14(4), 354-362.
World Health Organization (2013). Responding to intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int.