how dating violence happens
The abuse process
There are three elements in an abusive relationship, all leading toward the goal of rendering the victim powerless and dependent:
- Isolation—the abuser seeks to cut off his victim from her friends, family and outside activities
- Humiliation—the victim is subjected to incessant and often public criticism and demeaning comments, in order to convince her that her abuser is the only person in the world who cares about her, and that she is unworthy of even his attention
- Domination—having deprived his victim of her social support and sense of self-worth, the abuser now provides the only significant relationship in her life, to the extent that she may even come to believe that her behavior actually warrants the abuse.
The cruelty of such a campaign of oppression is not diminished by the fact that it often stems from the abuser’s own profound insecurity. Manifestations of that insecurity are sometimes seized upon by the victim as signs of the abuser’s underlying sensitivity or vulnerability, and used as justification for remaining in the relationship.
The victim bent on justifying her continued presence in the relationship frequently resorts to the rationalization that “at least he hasn’t hit me yet.” It is quite possible that he never will. Emotional and psychological battering, lesser forms of physical domination or threats of violence may suffice. Indeed, the girl who resorts to the “he’s never hit me” argument has almost surely been victimized by these less obvious but equally destructive techniques.
From the outset, and at each succeeding stage, there are obvious warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship:
- Romantic intensity—In the beginning of the relationship, he seeks to sweep you off your feet. He establishes a strong rapport with your family and friends. This provides him potential allies if you try to end the relationship.
- Dual Personality—When he is with your friends and family, he remains charming and friendly. When you’re alone, he becomes caustic and critical of everyone in your life.
- Jealousy—What began as flattering attention becomes a campaign to reduce your contact not only with male friends who might become rivals, but with your girl friends, school groups, family and any other distractions from your relationship with him. Some girls find jealousy ‘romantic’. Jealousy has nothing to do with romance. It is equivalent to a two-year-old’s refusal to share a favorite toy.
- Hurtful criticism—The abuser, who previously professed to admire your every attribute, turns critical and sarcastic. Nothing you do pleases him. He demeans your intelligence, judgment, taste and personality in the harshest terms—often in the presence of others.
- Control—His criticism escalates as he seeks to convince you that you can do nothing and be nothing without him.. He begins to make every decision affecting the relationship—and your life.. While your best course at this point would be to walk away, the odds are greatly against you. Remember, 80 percent of dating abuse victims continue in the relationship.
- Sexual pressure—Urging or forcing you to engage in sexual activity against your judgment and wishes is a certain sign of disrespect for you. He sees you not as a person but as a possession, whose value lies in serving his needs and desires.
All of this can be achieved by a clever abuser without resort to physical force. If force is used, it is likely, at the outset, to be limited to grabbing, shoving or restraining you. But the almost universal judgment of the experts interviewed in the course of developing this report [i] was that even these actions constitute violence, and the only safe course for the girl is to get out of the relationship immediately! To remain in it or, worse still, to return to it, amounts to an endorsement of the abuser’s behavior, and will usher in an escalation of the violence.
Only one authority felt there could be an alternative to ending the relationship. She expressed the belief that, a teenage boy not hardened into a chronic abuser might, with proper counseling, learn to have a healthy dating relationship. Her suggestion was for the girl to tell the boy that she would remain in the relationship with him only if he would go with her to a counselor, and that this was a one-time offer. She conceded that, without formal counseling, the violent behavior was likely to continue.
The obvious question for an objective observer is why a girl would remain in a relationship that showed signs of turning abusive. There are a number of reasons:
- Status—there is a perception among teenagers that a girl with a boyfriend has more social stature than a girl without one. The higher the standing of the boy in the teen community, the greater the conferred status.
- Social pressure—the abuser may have manipulated the girl’s friends and parents into holding him in high regard, so that they urge her to stay in the relationship. If the boy is part of her social circle, she may worry that her friends will side with him if she breaks off the relationship. And she will face the prospect of having to deal with him socially after the relationship ends. If he enjoys a higher social standing than she does, she may fear the loss of status resulting from the breakup.
- Role perceptions—Women are typically presented as society’s nurturers and peacemakers. A girl may feel that the responsibility for maintaining the relationship falls to her—a view the abuser will strongly support for selfish purposes. If she was brought up in a male-dominated home, she may accept the subordinate role her abuser assigns.
- Inexperience—A girl with little experience in dating may not see the signs of an abusive relationship in the making, or imagine that she can deal with it. Since teenage girls frequently seek to date boys older than themselves, they may be seriously out of their depth in dealing with a seasoned abuser.
- An abusive upbringing—If the girl comes from a home in which there was abuse, she may consider the behavior normal.
- Romantic attachment—the girl may truly believe that she loves and is loved by the abuser. If the relationship cycles between anxiety and happiness, the girl may feel the abuse is worth enduring.
- Fear—Her abuser may have threatened her with violence if she seeks to leave him. Or he may have implied or openly stated that he would harm himself if she left. Even in the absence of overt threats, the girl may read the abuser’s personality well enough to believe he could be dangerous.
- Empty promises—The abuser typically raises one of two defenses when the girl protests his bad behavior: “It was just (the alcohol, the drugs, my temper) that caused me to do it and I’ll never do it again,” or “I only did it because I love you.” The abuser, assuming he’s not a coldly calculating manipulator, might even be sincere in the first of these statements, though it is highly unlikely that he will live up to the promise. The second, in the context of an incident of abuse, simply makes no sense. Genuine love and abuse can’t coexist.