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Relationship Violence: A Path To Prevention

By Maricela Rios-Faust, Chief Executive Officer of Human Options

Words are powerful.

They can cause a listener to feel strong emotions because of a person’s past experiences, beliefs, or ideals. Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence are among those words and can be used interchangeably. They often elicit images and stories that include extreme acts of physical violence, often depicting the abusive partner exerting power and control over the victim.

Those images influence our reactions when we hear a victim’s story. Some individuals react with compassion, some with discomfort rapidly changing the subject, and some “know all about it”, making conversation on the issue difficult. This can be the difference between a victim feeling heard and reinforcing the abusive partner’s words, “no one will ever believe you”.

Domestic violence is often understood by its legal definition as, “threats of abuse or abuse between people in an intimate relationship,” further reinforcing the misconception that domestic violence only includes physical violence, creating barriers for individuals experiencing any other form of violence in their relationship. Removing these barriers was the impetus for Human Options to shift its language to relationship violence.

Words can change our perspective.

Relationship violence is a pattern of abuse by one person in a relationship to gain power and control over their partner. It can take many forms, including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, emotional, sexual, or economic abuse. It can occur within any type of interpersonal relationship (marital, dating, cohabitating, same sex) and extends beyond the boundaries of a single home. Its impact can transcend multiple generations, leaving a legacy of abuse.

Human Options believes that the shift to relationship violence invites a more nuanced conversation about a pattern of abusive behaviors that can lead to physical abuse.  As individuals we can all relate to the complex nature of relationships. From negotiating boundaries, establishing respect for each other’s independence, respectful communication, and sharing power which are key to a healthy relationship.

In deepening the conversation, we can all visualize the severity and impropriety of physical violence. Understanding the concept of relationship violence helps us to recognize red flags early in the relationship. They are subtle patterns of behavior that increase in frequency overtime and are aimed at instilling fear and gaining control over a partner.  

These can include an intimate partner exerting power and control over the other partner using a pattern of abusive behaviors, such as:

  • Pushing physical boundaries that they know makes their partner feel uncomfortable.
  • Belittling them and their choices.
  • Isolating them from their support system and loved ones by dictating who they can or can’t spend time with.
  • Controlling their partners’ finances and how they spend their money, or gradually stripping them of their autonomy.  
  • Gaslighting their partner by making them feel responsible for the abuse they are inflicting when it is not the victim’s fault.
  • Their anger makes the victim feel unsafe.

At its most dangerous it could be threatening to harm or outright physically hurt them to control them and take their power away.

Words can empower.

The abusive partner is counting on the community being unable to see the subtle patterns and behaviors that are utilized to gain control of the victim. The victims and their families we work in service of are relying on each member of our community to be aware of the signs.

A deeper understanding of the dynamic opens the door for earlier prevention efforts. When you know the signs of an abusive relationship you can take action to support the individual who is being abused. Together, we can create a safer, healthier community through all types of relationships, fostering respect and empathy.

If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship violence, Human Options is here to support, starting with our 24/7 hotline (877) 854-3594.


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