In Part 3 of "It's (Just) the Way That I Love You: Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships," I detailed the complete cycle of intimate partner violence/abuse (IPV/A), also known as domestic violence/abuse, in the heterosexual community. It's now time to demonstrate how the victim can make his or her "great escape." But first, let's recap what this atrocious, demeaning and potentially life-threatening behavior really is.
Battering is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person with whom an intimate relationship is or has been shared through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Battering happens when one person believes that they are entitled to control another.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs defines it thus:
Domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence/abuse) is defined as a pattern of behaviors utilized by one partner (the abuser or batterer) to exert and maintain control over another person (the survivor or victim) where there exists an intimate, loving and dependent relationship.
Statistics show that this form of abuse occurs with similar frequency in same-sex relationships and heterosexual relationships. Additionally, new research suggests that a greater percentage of LGBTQ individuals than previously thought is living in fear of an abusive partner. Each year, between 50,000 and 100,000 lesbians and as many as 500,000 gay men are battered by a partner. About one in four LGBTQ relationships/partnerships is abusive in some way.
Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn't "play fair." Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her "thumb." Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.
Segal and Smith add:
The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it's coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult. You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.
So let's explore how you can make your "great escape." The Women's Justice Center, which is headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., outlines various steps that an individual can take to free himself or herself, which I've paraphrased below:
- Your struggle to escape is heroic. As you begin your own struggle to free yourself from domestic violence and abuse, often remind yourself that yours is one of the most worthy and difficult struggles of all.
- Reawaken your dreams. Oftentimes, domestic violence and abuse can snuff out all your hopes and dreams. However, to free yourself, you'll need those hopes and dreams to help carry you through the obstacles and tough times of escaping. Dare to hope and dream again.
- Deal with fears and risks. The majority of IPV/A victims feel fear, which can immobilize them from acting on their own behalf. Indeed, those fears are justified, and the risk of those fears actually occurring is very real. However, you can help alleviate your fears by having the courage to tell anyone who will listen about your abusive and violent situation.
- Don't be ashamed if you still love your partner. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It's entirely possible to love the abuser and, at the same time, be determined to stop the violence and abuse -- because the abuser is not going to stop on his or her own.
- Often, the best strategy for breaking free of IPV/A is the exact opposite of the strategy for surviving it. In order to survive IPV/A, the victim usually does everything possible to avoid offending or upsetting the abuser and exposing him or her. Freeing yourself from IPV/A requires the exact opposite strategy; escaping necessitates gathering your strength and asserting your power against the abuser to the max. The more you mentally rehearse this behavioral change, the readier you will be when you finally decide to make your great escape.
- You deserve help. You need it. You can find it. Although you may be feeling ashamed or unworthy of asking for help, it's important to remember that it's the abuser who caused you to feel this way, and that it's his or her behavior that's criminal and unacceptable, not yours. So don't be shy about asking for assistance every step of the way.
- Know your legal rights. You have a right to equal protection of the law. You have a right to live free of violence, threats, and any kind of abuse. Do research to know exactly what your rights are where you live.
- There are officials and institutions that can help you safely escape IPV/A. These include the 911 operator, the police, county jail, the district attorney and victim assistance. Become knowledgeable about, and avail yourself of, these critical resources.
Part 5 will focus on the victim's decision to heal.
If you or someone you know is experiencing IPV/A, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or the Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project Hotline (1-800-832-1901). And always remember that it ain't (just) the way that he or she loves you.
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