Domestic Violence Isn’t Just About What Men Do to Women

*Trigger Warning – Frank Stats About Domestic Violence*

hole in wall

A couple months ago, I read an article in Elle that impacted me so deeply, it took this long to be able to write about it.

Nina Collins, former book agent and literary scout, writes a horrifying, gut wrenching story about being a domestic abuser – and the process involved in understanding she had a problem:

In my thirty-seventh year, I divorced the father of my four kids after 16 years together, and I was arrested three times: once for assaulting him, once for assaulting his new girlfriend, and the last time for violating the order of protection he’d taken out after the first incident, when I upended a coffee table in his direction on Christmas Eve, two months after we’d separated. Aside from traffic violations, I’d never before been in legal trouble, never been in handcuffs, never seen the inside of a police station. […]

The police promised me that this was a bullshit charge—“What kind of pussy husband has his wife arrested for cursing at him?”—even though I’d indeed broken the protection order’s stipulation against verbal harassment. The police spent hours working with the DA to follow Q.’s request: Despite having me arrested, he didn’t want the judge to go beyond the “limited” order the court previously had granted; he still wanted us to communicate with each other about the children only. This negotiation lasted for what seemed like forever; at around 8 p.m. I was taken handcuffed in a squad car to Brooklyn’s Central Booking, where I’d be in a holding cell until I could get in front of a judge. My lawyer was pulling every string possible so I wouldn’t have to spend the night in jail.

Orange cinder-block walls, sticky brown floor, fluorescent lights; the cell stank, partly because of the toilet and partly because of the bits of old food lying around—stale cartons of milk, remnants of bologna sandwiches. It was packed with women: a whip-smart 16-year-old lesbian named Paradise whom I initially took for a boy, in for assault; two enormous women, lovers, who’d engaged in a domestic brawl­—one bandaged above her left eye and dressed in a white nurse’s uniform, as if she’d been headed to work when the fight erupted. And then there was Melva, a teen who’d been living on the streets since she was 12; my heart ached for the girl. Strikingly beautiful with clear dark skin, classic features, and long, thick hair, she was so obviously alone in the world—and radiating fury. An older woman said she’d been arrested by animal welfare for neglecting her bone-cancer-afflicted dog (they do that?). DeMaris, a warm Puerto Rican/Polish/black 18-year-old, was in for shoplifting for her baby, she told me.

DeMaris was sharp, and over the course of the evening she started sharing her impressions of the assembled crowd.

“What about me?” I asked.

“You? You seem white.”

Meaning that while I have light brown skin and African-American features, I looked like someone with money. I was wearing a silk Calypso blouse, a black linen skirt, and some unobtrusive gold jewelry. I hadn’t given much thought to my outfit that morning; I’d put on something that seemed businesslike, I suppose. Would it have been better to wear sweats? I wondered.

DeMaris and I actually had a nice time of sorts, chatting and supporting each other. When I told the girls in my cell that I was going to be 38 the next day, a bunch of them remarked that I was way too old to be in jail for fighting with my ex. I ruefully agreed.

Her tale is gripping, but what jumped out me more than the narrative is the nuanced way Collins introduces to talk about domestic violence. She reports on changes in the conversation around domestic violence in the last forty years, complete with a reframing of the issue. Ever since domestic violence conversations entered the public space, there have been fights to control exactly how it is being discussed. Primarily, the conversation has revolved around heterosexual, cisgendered men attacking heterosexual cisgendered women. But things have started to shift, most notably in that hetero-cis dynamic.

Experts are now breaking domestic violence into two different categories: intimate terrorism and situational couple violence. Collins explains:

So-called “intimate terrorism,” overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, is embedded in a general pattern of power and control; typically, money is part of it. The woman often can’t buy anything without the man’s permission and is socially isolated, every second of her time tracked. When she’s hit, it’s “her fault” for failing to obey her husband. This is the classic battered-wife syndrome, in other words. What I engaged in, and what women and men engage in roughly equally, according to Penn State sociologist Michael Johnson, PhD, is called “situational couple violence.” The author of dozens of papers and a book on domestic violence, Johnson says the situational type doesn’t permeate a couple’s life but bursts out when specific tensions ramp up. “Sometimes this involves some back-and-forth, but it rarely becomes life-threatening,” he writes. “Motives vary. A physical reaction might feel like the only way one’s extreme anger or frustration can be expressed.… It may primarily be an attempt to get the attention of a partner who doesn’t seem to be listening.” (Bingo, for me.)

The upshot, Johnson says, is that while sociologists talk in averages, those who are trying to stop domestic violence have to drill down to the level of the individual. Based on survey data, he says that out of any 100 cases of situational violence, roughly half are mild, maybe even a once-in-a-marriage occurrence, in which the violent party feels true remorse. The vast majority of the other half are couples who chronically mix it up but no one is injured. In a small portion of cases, however—one in six, Johnson estimates—the situational violence gets more severe with time.

In general, conversations around domestic violence are complicated to discuss, because it calls to mine so much of our personal histories with intimate partners or what we saw within our families. As we saw with the conversations around Rihanna and Chris Brown (and the lack of non-hip-hop world conversation around Joe Budden and Esther Baxter/Tahiry) responses to domestic violence vary greatly. Women are still doubted far more often than they are believed, which makes every second of public conversation precious. We may be far away from the era when domestic violence was considered a private matter between husband and wife, but a lot of the same attitudes still persist. The recent controversies have brought the normal tenents of the conversation back into sharp focus. Rich, powerful men like Charlie Sheen can brush off domestic violence charges as a big misunderstanding, despite attacking a girlfriend in 1996 and allegations he “menaced” his wife with a knife in 2010 (he only admits to mutual arm slapping and breaking her sunglasses). People in the public eye find themselves whirled into the public opinion. Rihanna and Chris Brown sparked worried whispers when they renewed public contact with each other over twitter while both considering very practical matters like the restraining order’s impact on his career. Allegations of domestic violence can haunt major stars (Budden is suspected) as well as deceased rap icons Big Pun and Notorious B.I.G. (who both were also known abusers), but not significantly impact their careers and their public personas adds to the problem. Here, I refer to major stars of color, since they are they people I pay most attention to – but the problem crosses communities.

However, there are so many stories that go untold in our current conversations.

First, there never seems to be any space for conversations about domestic violence in queer relationships. Collins provided a glimpse in her article but the stats are frightening. According to the University of Missouri’s National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center:

How common is lesbian partner violence?
About 17-45% of lesbians report having been the victim of a least one act of physical violence perpetrated by a lesbian partner (1,5,6,13). Types of physical abuse named by more than 10% of participants in one study included:

  • Disrupting other’s eating or sleeping habits
  • Pushing or shoving, driving recklessly to punish, and slapping, kicking, hitting, or biting.
  • Sexual abuse by a woman partner has been reported by up to 50% of lesbians (12)
  • Psychological abuse has been reported as occurring at least one time by 24% to 90% of lesbians

The research usually has been done with mostly white, middle-class lesbians who are sufficiently open about their sexual orientation to have met researchers seeking participants in the lesbian community. Subsequently, these findings may not apply to women who are less open, less educated, or of other ethnic backgrounds.

Why would a lesbian batter another woman?
Lesbians who abuse another women may do so for reasons similar to those that motivate heterosexual male batterers. Lesbians abuse their partners to gain and maintain control. Lesbian batterers are motivated to avoid feelings of loss and abandonment. Therefore, many violent incidents occur during threatened separations. Many lesbian batterers grew up in violent households and were physically, sexually, or verbally abused and/or witnessed their mothers being abused by fathers or stepfathers.

How is lesbian partner violence different from heterosexual partner violence?
There are several similarities between lesbian and heterosexual partner violence. Violence appears to be about as common among lesbian couples as among heterosexual couples. In addition, the cycle of violence occurs in both types of relationships. However, there also are several differences.

In lesbian relationships, the “butch” (physically stronger, more masculine or wage-earning) member of the couple may be as likely to be the victim as the batterer, whereas in heterosexual relationships, the male partner (usually the stronger, more masculine, and wage-earning member) is most often the batterer. Some lesbians in abusive relationships report fighting back in their relationship.

In addition, a unique element for lesbians is the homophobic environment that surrounds them. This enables the abusive partner to exert “heterosexist control” over the victim by threatening to “out” the victim to friends, family, or employer or threatening to make reports to authorities that would jeopardize child custody, immigration, or legal status. The homophobic environment also makes it difficult for the victim to seek help from the police, victim service agencies, and battered women’s shelters.

Gay men don’t have any easier – estimates again range from as low as 15% to as high as 45%. I had some difficulty finding the type of easily shared information as I found for lesbian violence, but in the resources at the bottom of the post is the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project, which is geared toward helping abused partners safely exit relationships.

Transgender people also have a rough time reporting domestic violence as it happens. One of the main problems, as explained by advocacy group FORGE, is lumping bisexuals and transgender people in with lesbians and gay men, who are often the only groups represented in studies and surveys. Unfortunately, statistics are even harder to come by for the trans community. However, some information is known:

  • As an already oppressed minority, trans+/SOFFAs are often hesitant to address issues that many fear will further “taint” the community. The LGBT community often wonders why they need to take on this issue as well as the others facing the community.
  • The “battered women’s” movement often avoids the fact that women batter, and men are victims. The pervasiveness of this myth has led police, hospital workers, and people in the criminal justice system to deny male victims or female perpetrators. (This is further “muddied” when people are not clearly “male” or “female”.)
  • Transgender and SOFFA individuals may be cautious in approaching medical providers, police, or the courts due to past experiences related to gender. These individuals may fear revictimization through transphobia, degradation, hostility or accusations from these service providers/public safety workers.
  • Shelters are typically “male-” or “female”-only. Transgender people and SOFFAs may not be allowed entrance into shelters or emergency housing facilities due to their gender/genital/legal status.
  • There have been many custody cases lately involving trans+ people. The risk of losing custody of a child might influence a trans+ or SOFFA individual from coming forward about abusive behavior.
  • FORGE’s handout sheet is full of links to other papers and explorations, well worth a careful read.

    Racial differences also aren’t discussed in many conversations about domestic violence, but the specific community break down is chilling.

    The American Bar Association has a commission on domestic violence, and they provide the following information complied from dozens of community specific studies (all emphasis is mine):

  • Native Americans are victims of rape or sexual assault at more than double the rate of other racial groups.
  • For Native American victims of violence, the offender was slightly more likely to be a stranger than an intimate partner, family member or acquaintance.
  • Black females experienced intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and about 22 times the rate of women of other races. Black males experienced intimate partner violence at a rate about 62% higher than that of white males and about 22 times the rate of men of other races.
  • Approximately 40% of Black women report coercive contact of a sexual nature by age 18.
  • The number one killer of African-American women ages 15 to 34 is homicide at the hands of a current or former intimate partner.
  • In a study of African-American sexual assault survivors, only 17% reported the assault to police.
  • Overall, the victimization rates of Hispanic women peaked at lower levels than non-Hispanic women in every age group, but spread over a wider range of ages.
  • 77% of all Hispanic Texans indicate that either they, a family member and/or a friend have experienced some form of domestic violence, indicating that approximately 5.2 million Hispanic Texans are personally affected by the epidemic of domestic violence. If the current prevalence rates remain the same, by the year 2030, more than 12.2 million Hispanic Texans could be personally affected by domestic violence.
  • 40% of Hispanic Texans who reported experiencing at least one form of domestic violence took no action.
  • 83% of all Hispanic Texans agree that a husband who abuses his wife is more likely to also abuse his children; yet only 47% indicate a belief that domestic violence passes from generation to generation.
  • 12.8% of Asian and Pacific Islander women reported experiencing physical assault by an intimate partner at least once during their lifetime; 3.8% reported having been raped. The rate of physical assault was lower than those reported by Whites (21.3%); African-Americans (26.3%); Hispanic, of any race, (21.2%); mixed race (27.0%); and American Indians and Alaskan Natives (30.7%). The low rate for Asian and Pacific Islander women may be attributed to underreporting.
  • Project AWARE (Asian Women Advocating Respect and Empowerment) in Washington, DC, conducted an anonymous survey in 2000-2001 to examine the experiences of abuse, service needs, and barriers to service among Asian women. Using a sample of 178 Asian women:
      67% “occasionally” experienced some form of domination or controlling psychological abuse; 48% experienced it “frequently” in the past year.
      32% experienced physical or sexual abuse at least “occasionally” during the past year.
      28.5% of the survey participants knew of a woman who was being abused by her in-laws.
  • The AAPI community also has some specific break out groups and surveys done by various advocacy and research groups.

    Cambodians In a study conducted by the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence in Boston, using a self-administered questionnaire at ethnic fairs:

    44-47% of Cambodians interviewed said they knew a woman who experienced domestic violence, by either physical abuse or injury.
    37% of the respondents know a man who is being beaten by his partner.

    Chinese In a random telephone survey of 262 Chinese men and women in Los Angeles:

    18.1% of respondents reported experiencing “minor physical violence” by a spouse or intimate partner within their lifetime, and 8% of respondents reported “severe physical violence” experienced during their lifetime. [“Minor-severe” categories were based on the researcher’s classification criteria.]

    In a survey of 214 Korean women and 121 Korean men in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted in 2000:

    42% of the respondents said they knew of a Korean woman who experienced physical violence from a husband or boyfriend.
    About 50% of the respondents knew someone who suffered regular emotional abuse.

    A study of 160 South Asian women (who were married or in a heterosexual relationship), recruited through community outreach methods such as flyers, snowball sampling, and referrals in Greater Boston, found that:

    40.8% of the participants reported that they had been physically and/or sexually abused in some way by their current male partners in their lifetime; 36.9% reported having been victimized in the past year.
    65% of the women reporting physical abuse also reported sexual abuse, and almost a third (30.4%) of those reporting sexual abuse reported injuries, some requiring medical attention.

    Clearly, this is an everyone problem. All communities, all sexual orientations, all gender identifications, all racial and ethnic groups, everyone. Any sort of person has the potential to become an abuser; any sort of person has the potential to fall into an abusive relationship. It’s amazing how many things we don’t discuss.

    So what will it take to start breaking the silence? How do we provide space for all of these conversations?


    The Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project
    National Violence Against Women Prevention Center
    National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

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    • domestic abuse survivor only

      To “guest of dishonor” please continue to reach out for help for yourself and for your partner. It is very difficult to feel empowered to do so but the strength is in your survival not your shame!

      As a survivor of lesbian domestic violence, let me first state that as an educated, employed, woman of color living in a major urban area I did reach out for assistance from some of the very same organizations listed on this feed. Many provided initial support, answered the phone, maybe invited me in for a consult, but none offered support group work or identified follow-up (i’m also a healthcare professional so I knew what I was searching for) I even sent several emails in search of support groups that went unanswered.

      In the end, it was up to me and the few friends/family who opened a door to me because the police were of no help either (you look like nice girls, why would you want to go to jail tonight?) At times it was of little help to reach out to friends(even mutual ones I thought could assist) because they thought everyone has problems and couldn’t possibly understand the terror of a partner driving the car into on-coming traffic or pushing you out of bed in the middle of the night.

      Readers, remember abusers are the most manipulative, conniving and persuasive individuals you’ve ever met. And at times can make abusse seem like its only “situational”. Abuse is abuse, how about starting with that? It is as simple as this….keep your hands to yourself!

      What was up to me was the potential loss of my home, of  finanical security and of several mutual friends but the potential loss of sanity and/or my life was worth it.
      If you know of someone you suspect is suffering violence at home communicating an open door policy may be all they need to know. That someone won’t hang up, close the door or snicker in their face can be the first step toward helping a friend out of  the darkness of violent relationships.

    • Anonymous

      Psychology, counseling, and family therapy are all looking at different ways to take a more fine-grained approach to understanding types and dimensions of IPV.  Terms like intimate terrorism, situational violence, and mutual combat (another term that pops up a lot in women-on-men and same-sex IPV) are attempts to recognize that different types and contexts of violence may require different strategies for support and treatment. 

      I can say that having experienced situational violence in relationships of mine, it was incredibly unhelpful to me when people around me reacted as though I were experiencing the kind of ongoing, potentially lethal violence that I now associate with intimate terrorism.   People jumped straight to “well you clearly have to leave, you can’t stay with a person who’s laid hands on you, it will just happen again, what if it’s worse next time, etc. etc.” and it was very hard for me to find space for my perception, which was that the experience was idiosyncratic, and what I needed was for it to be addressed within the relationship, not by leaving.

      I don’t see it as an effort to reify one type of experience as “real IPV” or “better/worse than” another type, just an attempt to look at the complexities and describe people’s different experiences more effectively.

    • Empower and Advocate

      For one, we
      can break the silence by confronting the Audism that has made many domestic
      violence resources unavailable for Deaf survivors. There is still a need for
      culturally and linguistically sensitive domestic violence resources for Deaf,
      Heard-of-Hearing, and Deaf-Blind survivors nationwide.

      Imagine being d/Deaf
      and needing to find help after a domestic violence crisis. Your language is
      ASL.  You can’t just pick up a phone and call a domestic violence shelter for

      Audism is the reason why many d/Deaf survivors of domestic violence are often
      left out of a lot of public and internet discussions of domestic violence’s
      methods/manners of power and control.

      Ironically, the
      d/Deaf domestic violence outreach programs that exist also recognize the very stats
      you share about domestic violence in the LGBT community and why there is
      limited access. As a result their services are also extended to LGBT and even
      men who are the survivors.

      Many Domestic
      Violence agencies do not have TTYs or videophones on staff, despite the ADA,
      due to lack of training and awareness, and also lack of understanding of the
      Deaf community, all effects of Audism in society.  

      Just as there is a
      lack of understanding of the cultural, physical and informational barriers that
      keep d/Deaf survivors from getting the help they need, there is also a lack of
      understanding of what full access looks like for a d/Deaf survivor. 

      In domestic violence
      shelters, there should be access to interpreters, ADA kits that have alarm
      clocks that a lamp can be plugged into to flash lights for knock on the bedroom
      door. There should be a baby crier that has flashing lights. There should be
      TTY and videophone on the premises that is operational, always plugged in and
      ready to be used. Domestic violence shelters, hospitals, police should have on
      hand telephone numbers to contact an ASL interpreter to show up to assist the

      There is a lack of
      awareness of why it is perfectly legal for a D/Deaf survivor to bring a hearing
      ear dog into the building, and stay at a domestic violence shelter with her
      hearing ear dog.

      Audism is the
      attitude or belief that the ways that hearing people operate culturally is how
      d/Deaf people should adapt or that the hearing means of communicating is
      superior/more reliable/”better” than that of d/Deaf people.

      A prime example of
      how Audism impacts Deaf survivors’ access to help is, often times, police,
      medical personnel, and entities that assist survivors of crimes will rely on
      family members to interpet for the survivor. 
      Abusers who are hearing or speak may step in to interpret for survivors,
      and thus manipulate the situation so that Deaf survivors do not get the help
      they need.

       (This is why it is Audist to  for police or medical staff to ask hearing
      family members to interpret for a d/Deaf person in a domestic violence crisis
      or medical crisis as a result of it.  The
      assumption is the hearing people are always reliable, truthful and trained to
      “speak” for Deaf people is dangerous for survivors’ safety.  Only licensed ASL interpreters and transliterators
      are approved by law to interpret.  It is legally
      required for hospitals, police stations to contact an interpreter to
      communicate with Deaf people. (Just recently the new modifications to the
      Americans With Disabilities Act includes that it is illegal for children to
      have to interpret for Deaf parents.)

      In domestic violence
      shelters, a d/Deaf parents may face being told that they need parenting classes
      and that their child has misbehavior issues because their children stomp the floor
      to get their attention. Yet in Deaf Culture it is okay to stomp the floor to
      get a Deaf person’s attention.

      Even arriving at a
      domestic violence shelter can be tricky.

      Does their building
      have an entrance door with a window to see the person inside, or do they rely
      on an intercom system that requires you to talk into the intercom and listen
      for the buzz sound?   This is why
      Universal Access design in buildings benefits all of us because it means that
      everyone of us has access, Deaf, hearing, in a wheelchair, et cetera.

      What about calling a
      domestic violence shelter for help? Is the staff trained to handle IP Relay,
      and Video Relay calls from a Deaf survivor?

      It is only until 2010
      that there was created a National Deaf Domestic Violence hotline that is a
      videophone hotline. And even then it is not 24 hour hotline.

      Now, National
      Domestic Violence hotline does have a TTY number that is a 24 hour

      One issue with
      getting help due to domestic violence is, what if you are not at home with your

      TTY machines are
      larger than cellphones, about the size of half of an opened netbook. Use of a
      TTY requires a working TTY compatible phone to use, a private place to sit at a
      table to type on it. Not every Deaf person has a TTY in their purse when they
      leave their home. In a crisis you need an easier way to seek out help.

      Many of us have
      pagers (what hearing people call cellphones) that may have Video relay, IP
      relay that can be used to call voice phone numbers, and a means to make video
      calls as well.  When a phone call is
      answered, we are dependent on the person who answers the phone understanding
      what a relay call is, and that the protocol is to wait for the relay operator
      to finish interpreting and receiving what the deaf person has typed before translating
      it to the emergency contact person on the phone. 

      Deaf people have
      dealt with telephone calls being hung up on them when they reach out to
      different entities for assistance. Relay conversations are often long, because
      the Deaf person has to wait for the operator to finish reading their typed
      words and then wait for a response back from the hearing person and vice versa.

      As a result of this,
      some organizations offer an instant messaging screenname, text-messaging, a
      videophone number, as well as email, to open up more access for d/Deaf
      survivors who are seeking out help.

      In 2011, d/Deaf
      survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and/or stalking still need full
      access to the same services that are offered to hearing domestic violence
      survivors. We can’t end the silence about domestic violence if we can’t see
      past how the effects of Audism affects whether a Deaf survivor will seek out
      help and whether this help is accessible to her.

      Not every state in
      the United States has linguistically and culturally sensitive domestic violence
      programs for d/Deaf survivors.  . . and
      that is a shame!

      Check out Accessing Safety Initiative’s website about those issues:

      I recently created a
      blog that has a link to a list of the most up-to-date Deaf Domestic Violence
      Resources I could find.  It is illuminating
      just how much there is a need for resources for d/Deaf survivors.

      More information sources:

      Deaf Power and
      Control Wheel :

      (It illustrates using
      Hearing privilege to abuse the survivor, also a part of Audism)

      10 Commandments of
      Deaf Culture

       (This is useful for domestic violence services
      providers to examine what Audist behaviors are, and how to avoid them.)

      Sidenote: I use the
      word d/Deaf to refer to both people who are culturally

      Deaf who identify
      with the Deaf community and those who are deaf 
      who may not be immersed in the Deaf community. I include both terms
      because abusive relationships seek to demean and disempower through Audism in
      various forms.

      I also want to call
      attention to this because domestic violence programs may not even have
      awareness of how those things manifest and fit into the power and control

      If she is dating or
      married to a hearing partner, and the phone rings, a  d/Deaf person in an abusive relationship may
      watch the phone being answered and hung up, and be told it is a telemarketer by the abusive partner,
      but it was her family or friends calling her.

      If she is out of the
      room or her back is turned, her abusive partner may answer the phone saying
      that she is not home. 

      Other means of power
      and control involve lying about her in the Deaf community so she has a hard
      time finding employment.

      It may also include
      making fun of her speech or making fun of her ASL skills or preventing their
      children from communicating with her in ASL.

      Looking right at her
      and whispering insults to her under one’s breath, then denying it when she
      asks, “what did you say?” or responds in shock or anger of what is said to her.

      It may be expecting
      her to socialize with hearing people and preventing her from socializing with
      Deaf people.

       Yelling in her ear, her face, using ASL very
      aggressively in her face, throwing objects at her head and then saying that’s
      accepted in Deaf culture.

      Speaking for her to
      authority figures, speaking for her in hospital emergency rooms to assure that
      her needs are ignored, and what she wants to say to medical staff is ignored or
      dismissed by hospital staff. 

      Telling people at
      social events that she is just crazy if she shows that she is upset or hurt by
      an abusive statement made to her outside of everyone’s awareness. 


    • alex

      I think the situational violence argument is bullshit, because as a survivor of intimate violence, who has met many survivors of the same, our relationships evolved into the “trying to get your attention” through the use of violence before the violence got worse. And even the worse violence was “trying to get our attention”

      If anything, this article should illustrate why people find themselves in those relationships. We rationalize it as not being too bad because we ewre not hit or if we were not it wasnt too hard or it wasnt with a fist just a slap et cetera. 

      I know too many women and some men whose relationships did not begin with ass-whuppings but began with destroying furniture or verbal abuse or holes in walls. This is why we need to teach girls and women how to spot that yelling, throwing stuff, verbal abuse, holes in walls is exactly when its time to end the relationship.

      To me “situational violence” means they are in early stages of an abusive relationship.

      Re: Male survivors…if anytime you believe there is nothing outside of the home that is better than what is in the home, and if you believe that your child needs a father at home, your mindset is similar to many survivors who are in abusive relatinships.

      (Abuse is strongly psychological in its effects. Many surivvors do not know their legal rights and how to go about asserting it.
       A father can legally and physically have contact with his child through the court system. Many survivors may not realize the damage it does to a child to witness their father being abused by their mother.)

       I hope you call the domestic violence hotline as they will get you resources to feel better about yourself, and assert your rights as a father if you leave your marriage and also help you come up with a safety plan, and teach you how to think differently so that you have the courage to leave.

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    • Chloe H

      As a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate and a survivor of rape myself, I can tell you right now that “intimate terrorism” and “situational couple violence” are about as real as “battered woman syndrome”.  By fabricating and utilizing unique and ostracizing terms for what is ACTUALLY domestic violence, we continue to Other those victims that do not fit into the heterosexist, cissexist mold.  It is increasingly important to raise awareness about intimate partner violence as it occurs both within and outside of the heterosexual relationship (and evidence suggests that no matter what, across all identities and couplings, the rates of violence remain quite similar) and to do so within the context of the various oppressions that are occurring, rather than using some destructively normative language to “break it down”.

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    • A guest if dishonor

      I’m in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship. I’m a cisgensered hetero male. I stay because I’m afraid of my daughter growing up without me as a father in the home. There is so much shame and victim blaming that comes toward men like me. We seldom ever mention it. I’m unemployed and would probably lose everything I own in a divorce. Spousal abuse is a horrific experience no matter how severe or slight. Thank you for posting this.

      I’m a regular poster in the comment section on this blog.

      • Anonymous

        My heart goes out to you, friend.

        Emotional abuse is hard to deal with, especially because we don’t really have language for it. When I was in a relationship – damn, even now, I still hesitate to say abuse, since the word is so heavily linked to physical in my head – it wasn’t until I was out of it and having nightmares about him finding me again that I realized I had gone through something traumatic. But I always explained it away because he never hit me. (My stuff, yes. Walls, yes. Me, no.)

        I also feel like men are in some kind of spot. When I showed Boyfriend the post and the stats on black men, he was quiet for a minute. And then he said he was shocked by the number but not necessarily what it represented. But it’s just not something men talk about because men are supposed to just handle it. For me, if I apply my not-rape framework, there’s a whole other conversation about not-abuse we could have…

      • snedna

        I’m really reacting to the fact that you are unemployed and going through this situation/relationship. I know first hand what it is like to be with someone who is paying all the bills, and it can make defending one’s self anywhere from difficult to forbidden. It’s a terrible situation to be in at all, and a more terrible situation to be in especially if the person you are with is abusive in any way. 

        If I can say anything in advice or support it would be to try to gain whatever independence you can, see if you can consult a lawyer about getting a divorce, record the conversations you have to you can prove she is abusive, and if you feel like it maybe start a conversation about it; Like “Hey, this is what you sound like when you talk to me.” Sometimes things don’t hit home until someone gets a mirror up to their actions.

        Domestic Violence is generational and can happen to anyone, and like some others have said is linked to the systems of oppression that we all live under. 

        I understand there is a lot of shame and victim blaming that comes toward men like you, but think about your daughter. Imagine if she would be with a man and treat him the way your wife treats you. 

        It feels like we don’t get to see enough healthy relationships in action these days. Mostly because all these systems of oppression are normalized. I hope shining the light on how unhealthy many of our romantic/familial relationships are, helps people refocus on how important it is to strive towards  healthy loving and non-violent romantic and familial structures. 

      • Chloe H

        Thank you for posting this.  There is no hierarchy of abuse… the trauma you are suffering is just as legitimate and just as destructive as if your partner were to be physically abusive to you.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to domestic violence hotlines… “Solving the problem” or leaving is not an option for everyone, but sometimes, just having the space to talk about it can help a bit.  All my best to you.

    • Donn

      Wow, for once an article that looks at domestic violence from an honest perspective, instead of boiling down to mind addled frothing about demonic males.  The stats about black males were really eye opening(and I didn’t even know about the statistics with regard to homosexual men, but was aware of lesbian violence), though I still get the overall hint from the interviewees that DV is fine as long as it is against males. But as Irish said, this issue is pretty much owned(and rather jealously guarded) by the heterosexual women’s movement.

      Another org I’d like to toss out there with the orgs others mentioned is SAVE, which also has domestic violence as a focus.

    • Xenu01

      A long time ago, I was going through a very rough patch in my life and when my partner and I were having an argument, I shook him.  Afterward, I stared at my hands like they were someone else’s.  How could I do that?  I am a cis, het woman and I have had a long bad time with abusive partners, the last of which caused me to flee across the country and yet- even knowing that hurt, pain & betrayal from the other side- I could STILL raise a hand to my partner.

      I broke down crying right there and called a hotline.   An hour later, I had an appointment with a sliding-scale therapist.  We still fight sometimes, but we work it out, and neither one of us has ever abused the other since.  It scares me, though- the thought of what I did, that I COULD do it- this is why I read that article with tears streaming down my face.  Because I understand. 

      Maybe what I did wasn’t so bad (what does that mean, not so bad?)?  Yes it was.  It WAS bad, because I callously used violence to get my partner’s attention.  It’s not ok no matter who is doing it and no matter what the alleged reason.  Never.


    • Jo

      Yeah beckeck, agreed. The “intimate terrorism” thing feels questionable, but I didn’t have enough time to look more deeply into it to really know how I felt about it. 

      but I second everything said here. 

      • Amanda Lord

        I wish they’d acknowledged that intimate terrorism can happen to more than just women as perpetrated by men. 

        I do see where there’s a difference though.  I’ve known people who’ve experienced each one.  In one case, a woman who was battered and took years to leave her husband because she was so isolated.  The other a man whose wife who, on a couple occasions, hit him during a few arguments. 

        The first left deeper scars and was much harder to get out of due to the isolation.  It is terrorism and it is psychologically damaging.

        The second got *complicated* in weird ways.  He felt limited because he felt he wasn’t allowed to fight back (because he’d be hitting his wife).  He felt people wouldn’t take him seriously because, well, what guy can’t take being hit by a woman, right?  He could leave her, but, he did love her.  She wasn’t controlling his life though.   While it was emotionally complicated (and our stupid social structures added issues), he hadn’t been put in a situation where he was completely dependent on her.  He suffered some heartbreak but not that deep damage that difficult to recover from.

        That doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong or wasn’t worth talking about.  It also doesn’t mean that one moment of anger means someone is automatically a chronic abuser, which I also think we’ve been neglecting to talk about.  We tend to see guy who’s ever lost his temper as someone who’s a chronic spouse abuser and danger. 

        So… there is a difference.  And our ideas of masculinity as dominate and ideal, with femininity as lesser and all things that fall out of the cis-gendered and heteronormative boxes as other and alarming (in party because they threaten the kyriarchy’s boxes) damage all of us. 

    • Irish Man

      I am a heterosexual guy myself and the most supportive and understanding  friend I had dealing with it is a lesbian. I always find it strange that the issue got owned by the (heterosexual) womens movement and everyone else got airbrushed away.

      People should be able to expect legal protection irrespective of their age , gender or orientation and that should include the children , siblings and parents etc of violent adults.

      Well done on the excellent article.

    • Bagelsan

      Experts are now breaking domestic violence into two different categories: intimate terrorism and situational couple violence.

      This sounds like a really important distinction; MRA’s love to trot out the argument that women are violent to their partners just as often as men are, but carefully obscure the differences in intensity/duration/type of violence.

      (To totally wildly speculate) I could also imagine that the “situational couple violence” might vary more by age or cultural background than “intimate terrorism.” Some couples and families etc. seem to accept more physical argumentation than others do, where a slap might be not a big deal for one relationship while it’s a deal breaker for another. Also little kids get into fights that they are expected to grow out of, so younger couples might have a harder time “using their words” than older couples and it would be a matter of training and maturity rather than intent to abuse.

      Intimate terrorism sounds a lot more like something universally unacceptable, and less likely to resolve with couples counseling or be waved off as a cultural/stylistic difference. Like in the spanking discussions, reasonable people differ on whether kids should ever be spanked (“situational parental violence”?) but I haven’t seen anyone say that kids should be subjected to sustained campaigns of fear and violence to totally control them (“parental terrorism”?)

      • Guestaroo

        Nobody, including people in this thread who work with domestic violence, seems to be familiar with these terms. To me, it seemed like it was a way for the original author to say “Well I was abusive, but it wasn’t [em]abuse[/em] abuse”

      • D.J.


        You’ve just exemplified why MRAs exist. I’ve been to some of those sites myself, so I can tell you that they don’t obscure the differences; rather, they highlight the similarities.

        When a man is in an abusive home situation with a female abuser — as I have been in the past — it takes him a while to even recognize that what is happening is, in fact, abuse. The realization that it is abuse is not empowering — it is isolating. There is no help for men. There are no funds, resources, or shelters available. Friends look at you like there’s something wrong with you, if you try to talk about it. And as for the police — men know better than to ever call the police on an abusive female partner, because of mandatory-arrest laws which state that the male must be arrested (even if he is the one calling for help).

        So, please, recognize that you don’t need to make light of this issue for men in order to discuss its impact on women. When a man sees that… you drive him away, and right into the arms of an MRA. MRAs are a reactionary phenomenon to this kind of speech.

    • Disengaged

      The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities is a great starting point.

    • Whitney Washington

      This was an excellent, well-researched article. I’d be very interested to learn how economic, education, and racial differences play out within couples.

    • Grace

      Thank you for this. The stats are alarming, but I greatly appreciate the inclusion of LGBTQQI issues–it isn’t done nearly enough. Jo’s observatio of the connection between violence and oppression (as also evidenced by the post on spanking). All very illuminating. Already shared it on my Facebook page. I wonder though how we can further the converstion. I have many friends and family, including those impacted by varying forms of oppression who couldn’t even half be arsed to read blogs like this or Colorlines, or read books within “activist academia”, or become any type of activist, and I’m quite clueless as to how to engage, particularly with an issue as important as this.

    • Jo

      Thanks for this. As someone who has worked & volunteered in both the mainstream and LGBTQ anti-partner abuse movements, I’m really happy to see this discourse on such a large platform. 

      Firstly, I wanted to throw out another resource. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which is housed at NYC’s Anti-Violence Project, is a coalition of organizations working to end violence within and toward LGBTQ & HIV+ communities, and has contact info to local member organizations across the US. (

      Second, I think there is another major piece of this conversation missing, an analysis of the link between oppression and partner abuse. Partner abuse and domestic violence are fundamentally about power and control, and are products of a world in which violent, hierarchical, uneven, power-over structures of individual and institutional power are condoned and normalized. That is, ending partner abuse must also be about working against racism, homo/bi/transphobia, sexism, ableism, classism, and every other form of oppression. This is not to say that they are all identical, but rather that the same logic of domination perpetuates and condones them. 

    • DocJennifer

      Thanks for a thoughtful, well researched, nuanced discussion.  Domestic violence and intimate partner sexual assault are “everyone problems,” and we need to look at the root causes in our society while supporting survivors.