Intimate Partner Violence
“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.”
As much as love can endure, what happens when love hurts?
Have you ever experienced violence from a partner? Or maybe you know someone who is in an abusive relationship? How do you stand up against it?
When Love Hurts
It all started sweet and he is everything one could wish for in Mr Right. He buys you lavish gifts for your birthday and showers you with words of affection whenever you are out together.
Your friends adore both of you and it looks like everything is going well. You both look like the perfect couple… but are you, really?
One day you go into the office and your colleagues comment on the mark on your left arm and slight bruise on your forehead. But you just dismiss it and explain it as a careless accident on your part.
This is an example of what a victim of partner violence could experience.
So what is it?
What is intimate partner violence and how is it different from other forms of violence, such as rioting or robbery?
The perpetrator of the violence is usually a significant other, or specifically, an intimate partner. This could refer to a date, steady, spouse, girl/boyfriend, or life partner.
Hence this is different from violence inflicted by a stranger, say a rioter or robber. With partner violence, the existing relationship between the victim and the perpetrator has a big part to play in how the victim perceives the violent behaviour, how ready he is to do something about it, and how long it might take for him to recover from the violence.
A partner is usually someone we love, trust and seek comfort from. But when this relationship becomes abusive, it may initially be difficult to recognise it as violence, partly due to the mixed feelings of shock, disbelief and denial.
Power & Control
It’s easy to assume that violence is just about using force and beating up someone. However, in violent and abusive relationships, it’s about one partner (the perpetrator) exerting power and control over the other (the survivor).
It happens when one partner intentionally exerts that power through behaviours that seek to control the other. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their social class, educational level, profession, gender and sexual orientation.
It can take many forms: physical and sexual attacks, emotional and psychological abuse, even financial exploitation. For same-sex couples, there is the threat of outing someone’s sexual orientation to others, such as family members or work colleagues. In relationships where one partner is HIV-positive or transgender, abuse can take the form of threatening to expose their HIV status or gender identity to others.
In a violent relationship, the perpetuator will use his power, and various ways of holding on to that power, to control his victim. For example, by having access to all mobile phones, email accounts, bank accounts and passwords.
Hence, he would try to maintain a hold on the victim and keep himself in a position of control. For example, by limiting access to friends, publicly humiliating his partner, making belittling comments in private, and in extreme cases, only allowing the partner to seek medical attention under close supervision, to prevent disclosure of the cause of the injuries.
Other common manipulative tactics include attempting to convince the partner that the violent behaviour is his way of showing love and concern, or even blaming the partner for being the cause of the violent behaviour.
Barriers to Help
Sadly, many in the gay community still do not believe that someone will be abused or hurt by a same-sex partner. Many think that it is as easy as fighting back or walking out.
There are survivors who are afraid that by revealing their abusive experience, they are also exposing their sexual orientation and same-sex relationship to others. This has much to do with a general lack of awareness about partner violence in the gay community, which may also explain why many survivors do not see the need to seek help, are unaware of where to go for support, or feel embarrassed to reach out.
It is also a common misconception that it needs to be physical for it to be considered as violence. Sometimes, even the victims get confused with whether the violence is an acceptable part of their relationship, or they are just being too sensitive. For example, in cases of sexual violence, the abused partner may think it is just part of role-playing in bed, even though consent was not given.
Offering & Getting Help
It is important that concerned family members and friends adopt different approaches toward helping survivors and perpetrators.
For the survivor:
- Offer a listening ear
- Assure them it is not their fault that their partner used violence on them
- Encourage them to talk to someone, such as a professional, to help with their issues
- Check in on them regarding their safety
- Invite them to call you in case of an emergency
- Offer to call the police for help when there is danger
For the perpetrator:
- Let them know that they should seek professional help with their issues
- Encourage them to work on using other ways of resolving their issues
- Provide a listening ear, but do not condone their abusive actions, or agree with what they are doing as being right.
If you are reading this, and find yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe, because there is violence or you’re being abused, please know that you are not alone.
You can do the following:
- Tell someone that you trust about what is going on. This could be a friend, colleague or relative. Create a code or signal with this person to alert them when you are in danger.
- Develop an escape plan from your partner in case he becomes violent.
- Keep a list of important numbers with you, saved into your phone. These numbers may include the close friends, crisis hotlines and the police.
- Keep a record of the violence, such as photos of the physical injuries or a diary of what happened. When you’re ready to press charges, these may be used as evidence.
- Approach a helping professional - social worker or counsellor - should you want to speak about your situation.