*Trigger Warning: this blog defines and discusses specifics of domestic violence.
Our silences do not protect us.
We don’t talk about intimate partner violence – it’s uncomfortable to sit with the idea that we harm each other, particularly the people we love most. This silence serves to further stigmatize and isolate those who experience abuse and violence, and many folks I’ve worked with have felt like they are the only ones they know who struggle with abuse. If this is you, you’re not alone! With 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men** reporting experiences of rape, violence, and/or stalking — we all know at least several people who have experienced intimate partner violence, even if we haven’t been told about it. (**Violence happens to people of all genders, but general data collection hasn’t yet made space for all people.)
This post is meant to be an informational overview about intimate partner violence. Healing can only begin when we start to acknowledge what’s going on. Let’s start a dialogue.
Typically, intimate partner abuse happens between two people that have a close, and usually, sexual relationship where one person maintains their power in the relationship by abusing the other person.
The abuse can be:
- Emotional/Verbal: “Emotional abuse is any abusive behavior that isn’t physical, which may include verbal aggression, intimidation, manipulation, and humiliation, which most often unfolds as a pattern of behavior over time that aims to diminish another person’s sense of identity, dignity and self worth, and which often results in anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” This definition is from Join One Love; they have a great informational page on what emotional abuse really means. Physical abuse is almost always preceded by emotional abuse.
- Sexual: Forcing someone to have unwanted sexual interactions, whether by force, making threats, or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.
- Financial: When one partner controls the other’s access to financial resources, thereby lessening the victim’s ability to support themselves and forcing them to be dependent on the perpetrator. Financial abuse happens in 99% of domestic violence cases.
- Physical: An intentional act to cause bodily harm to another person, like shoving, scratching, or strangling.
It’s important to note that the risk of violence is higher for people who are already marginalized. People that don’t have legal status in the US can be at greater risk, as the person abusing them might tell them that they have to stay with them or they will call the authorities and they will not be allowed to see their child again. For people that identify as part of the LGBTQ community, their partner might threaten to out them, to tell others their HIV status, or say no one will listen to them because of their sexual identity, etc. Trans people of color are 2.6x more likely to experience partner violence than non-LGBTQ people.
In therapy, we might work with an individual that is being abused, the abuser and/or a couple. Working with a couple experiencing intimate partner violence is controversial in the therapy world. Like all things, there is a spectrum from a person being violent one time to a person being violent daily. The job of a therapist with a couple is to assess if couples therapy is safe to engage in or not.
If we are working with a person being abused, we might help that person create a safety plan. For example, we might help them think about how to be prepared if things start to escalate in the house. This plan might involve having a bag packed with money, clothes, medications, phone numbers (shelters, friends, or people with whom they can stay) so that if things start to escalate at home they can leave without having to pull things together in a heated situation.
My goal is not to get the person to leave their partner. People that are being abused are already often isolated, feel a lot of shame, and don’t have people to go to because they love their partner and don’t want to be told to leave. They also can blame themselves for what is occurring in the relationship. “If I didn’t rag on him/her/they so much this would never have happened.”
We all can think of reasons why we stayed in a relationship longer than might be good for us, including that we love our partner, we are financially dependent on them, we need them, and we believe it will get better. Therapists help clients build up their self-esteem so they can make the best decisions for themselves.
For the person abusing the other person, my experience has been that they have a sense that they are being rejected and fear being abandoned; and that at their core, they feel unlovable. Abusive partners are often quite charming, but can become volatile quickly, especially around jealousy. There is a tendency to blame other people for their problems, and a difficulty in seeing their impact on others. This usually stems from trying to prevent themselves from feeling out of control and small. Therapists help people that abuse others by supporting them in seeing their worth as well. We help them manage their violent behaviors, and explore their fears, and emotions. These are a few ways we help things from becoming more damaging.
If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, and are in need of immediate shelter, these are good places to start:
La Casa De Las Madres:
Provides up to 8 weeks in safe confidentially located housing and supportive services for women and children fleeing violence, with 24-hour intake capacity.
Intake line: 877-503-1850
24-7 Violence support line, and a daily inventory of bed space at domestic violence shelters.
Support line: 415-864-4722
Drop-in center: 26 Boardman Place, San Francisco, CA 94103
Asian Women’s Shelter:
Offers a 24/7 crisis line and shelter (12 weeks maximum stay) for victims of domestic violence or human trafficking and their children.
Crisis line: 877-751-0880
Main line: 415-751-7110
Address: 3543 18th Street, Suite 19, San Francisco, CA 94110
Rosalie House Emergency Shelter:
Offers emergency shelter at a confidential location for female victims of domestic violence with or without children.
Intake line: 415-255-0165
Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA):
Offers emergency housing, counseling, support groups, and legal assistance for victims/survivors of domestic violence. Also offers 24/7 crisis hotline.
24/7 hotline: 800-300-1080
Main line: 650-652-0800
If this all looks overwhelming, try calling WOMAN Inc (the first resource listed) and let them know what’s going on for you. They might be able to help point you in the right direction.
Additionally, if you and your partner aren’t sure how to break the cycle, but are committed to healing, we encourage you to reach out to us. We will assess and determine if couples therapy is the best fit, or help connect you to resources that make more sense for your situation.