FAQs/Myths and Facts

Frequently Asked Questions/Myths and Facts

Relationship Abuse FAQs

1. Isn’t Relationship Abuse a Rare Occurrence?

No. Approximately 1 in 3 women in this country will experience relationship abuse in her lifetime.* Women and children are more at risk of violence in their homes and relationships, by men they know, than in the street. Domestic violence never shows up in statistics as much as it occurs.

* American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family: Report on the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family (1996), p. 10.

Visit Futures Without Violence for more information on the prevalence of domestic violence.

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2. Does Relationship Abuse Happen in Same-Gender Relationships?

Relationship abuse occurs at roughly the same rate in same-sex relationships as it does in heterosexual relationships. The elements of abusive relationships are similar for heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and there can be different tactics of control used; for instance, the abusive partner may threaten to out the other partner to her family or professor. The abuser may be the larger or the smaller partner. In our still largely homophobic society, the threat of “outing” someone who is not ready can be used to isolate and silence a person who is experiencing relationship abuse.

For more information, please see our resources on Same Gender & LGBT Relationships.

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3. Does Relationship Abuse Happen to Teens?

Women of all ages are at risk for domestic and sexual violence, and those ages 20 to 24 are at the greatest risk of experiencing nonfatal intimate partner violence. One in five U.S. teen girls report ever experiencing physical and/or sexual IPV.

Adapted from Catalano, Shannan. Intimate Partner Violence in the United States. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007); Tween and Teen Dating Violence and Abuse Study, Teenage Research Unlimited for Liz Claiborne Inc. and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (2008); CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (February 2008); and Silverman et al. (2001).

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4. Isn’t Relationship Abuse Caused by Alcohol?

No. Abuse is a choice. Although alcohol and drugs are often associated with domestic violence, they do not cause the violence. A lot of people drink and use drugs and most people do not abuse. Not all abusers drink and not all people who drink are abusive. Violence often continues even after an abuser stops drinking.

Adapted from Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse.

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5. What About Mental Illness?

Personality disorders, mental illness, poor impulse control, and generational abuse do not cause domestic abuse. Even in cases where a particular mental illness may cause a person to be abusive (such as Alzheimers), the abuse is not specifically targeted at one person but to everyone around during the episode. However, an abuser who is severely depressed or isolated may stop caring about the consequences of their actions.

Adapted from Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse.

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6. How Do We Hold Abusers Accountable?

Holding abusers accountable is important because it sends a message to others that abuse of any kind will not be tolerated in our community.  Unfortunately, there are still many barriers to justice in the criminal justice system, and when professionals do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence, it can make it difficult to adequately identify and prosecute abusers.  In addition, many women cannot rely on the criminal justice system due to institutional barriers, including discrimination or homophobia. Therefore, it is important for us to hold abusers accountable on an individual level as well.  Do not blame the survivor. Teach your children that violence is never the answer to a problem, and that controlling another person is wrong.

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7. Don’t Women Abuse Just as Much as Men Do?

No. 90-95% of domestic violence victims are women and as many as 95% of domestic violence perpetrators are men.* However, men can be victims and women can be perpetrators, and domestic violence occurs in same-sex relationships.

* Bureau of Justice Statistics Selected Findings: Violence Between Inmates (NCJ-149259), November 1994; A Report of the Violence Against Women Research Strategic Planning Workshop sponsored by the National Institute of Justice in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995.

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8. But What About Those Studies That Show Women Are Just as Violent as Men?

These studies use a research tool called the “Conflict Tactics Scale,” which does not control for the context in which the violence occurred, such as use of force in self-defense or retaliation. So, for example, if a man is strangling a woman and she scratches him to get him to stop, they each get “one point” on the conflict tactics scale for use of violence! Even more significantly, if a woman has been abused by a man for years, he pushes her into the wall, and she picks up a knife, brandishes it and says “get away from me,” she will get two points and he will get one. This is the substance of studies that found women are more violent than men. Furthermore, other studies consistently find that no matter what the rate of violence or who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured in acts of intimate partner violence than men are.

Adapted from Susan McGee, Minerva, Inc.

For more information, please see A Critique of the Conflict Tactics Scale (PDF).

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9. Isn’t Most Violence Against Women Committed by Strangers?

No.  Most violence against women is committed by a current or former partner.   76% of women who report having been physically assaulted or raped were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date. Only 14% of physical assaults against women are committed by strangers.*

*Patricia Tjaden & Nancy Thoennes. Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, 1998. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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10. Why Don’t Women in Abusive Relationships Just Leave Their Partners?

Many people ask “Why doesn’t the victim leave? Why does the victim stay?” as if it is that simple. It is important to understand that there are many barriers to safety in an abusive relationship. The better question is “Why does the abuser do this and how can I help the survivor gain access to safety?” Leaving is often dangerous and there are many factors an abused partner must consider in the analysis of how to respond to an abusive partner.

Please see Barriers to Leaving for more information.

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11. What About Culture?

All cultures have both traditions of resistance to domestic violence as well as forms of acceptance of it. The issue is also not an economic one; sexual and dating violence occur across all communities. Culture cannot excuse domestic violence—though abusers may use “culture” as a way to justify their choice to abuse.  The issue is also not an economic one; sexual and dating violence occur across all communities. Abuse is not inherent or natural to any culture or group — it is always a choice, and focusing on culture or economics takes the focus away from accountability.  Unfortunately, relationship abuse is prevalent in all cultures.  Across the world, different cultures may have different responses to domestic violence, and some may hold abusers more accountable than others. Perpetrators need to be held accountable in every culture and with equality (e.g. not disproportionately jailing African American men in the United States). Culture is ultimately defined by the individual, so ask a survivor about her definition of her culture before making any assumptions and recognize that every individual has the right to live a life free from violence and abuse.

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12. Won’t Therapy for the Abuser Stop the Violence?

Referral of a batterer to a Batterer Intervention Program (BIP) or therapy often provides victims with a false sense of security. Research outcomes on the effectiveness of treatment for batterers are inconclusive at this time. The effectiveness of BIPs is measure d by victim reports and re-arrest. Victim reports can be potentially unsafe, and re-arrest data grossly under-estimates the actual re-offence, making accurate data difficult to attain. What is known about these programs is the rate of attrition (drop out) is around 50%, and the people who drop out are also the most likely to re-offend.* The batterer program alone will not effectively reduce a batterer’s potential for violence. It should also be noted that marriage therapy is generally ineffective and can be dangerous when there is domestic abuse in a relationship.

* Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse

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13. Do All Boys Who Witness Domestic Violence Grow Up to Be Batterers?

Studies have found that 30% of male child witnesses choose to become batterers as adults. The remaining 70% do not become batterers. Witnessing domestic violence does not mean that a child will become abusive as an adult. For more information on children and relationship abuse, click here.

* California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) Resource Guide, 2006; Campus Advocacy Network, University of Illinois at Chicago.

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14. Isn’t Domestic Violence Usually a One Time, Isolated Occurrence Due to Anger or Stress?

Battering is a pattern of control that includes the repeated use of a number of tactics including threats, intimidation, isolation, economic and financial control, psychological and sexual abuse. Domestic violence is not caused by stress or “anger issues.” Most perpetrators do not abuse their friends or boss, no matter how angry they are. Abuse is targeted and controlled — perpetrators choose to be violent only against their intimate partners. Physical violence is only one of the tactics used to control another person.

* Safe place, ending sexual assault & domestic violence (n.d.).

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15. Don’t Battered Women Provoke the Abuse? Explain the Myth of Masochism.

Victim provocation is no more common in domestic violence than in any other crime. Abusers make a choice to use abuse; an abuser can always make a choice to break up with the person rather than use abuse. There are no studies that show women like being abused. Battered women often make repeated attempts to leave violent relationships, but are prevented from doing so by increased violence and control tactics on the part of the abuser. 75% of domestic violence-related deaths occur after a victim takes steps to separate from the abuser. Therefore, staying in a relationship is often a survivor strategy.
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16. Why Does Language Framing Matter?

Let’s say that John and Mary are in a relationship and John chooses to act abusively. If we say “Mary was beaten,” it makes us focus on Mary and her actions, when we should be thinking about John. “John beat Mary” is more effective because it draws attention to John, who is at fault. When we say violence against women we continue to try to figure out what is wrong with the women. When we say men’s violence against women or violence committed by someone in same gender relationships we start to look at specifically what has the perpetrator done to the woman. Gender-based violence encapsulates both, but important to note that this does not mean we are being gender neutral, we are being gender inclusive.

This sort of reframing is important when it comes to statistics about relationship abuse and sexual assault.

Most of the statistics are framed like this: “Worldwide, including in the United States, at least 1 in 3 women will experience relationship abuse or sexual assault in her lifetime.” (World Health Organization, 2013)

When they should be reframed to look like this: “Worldwide, including in the United States, a man will commit relationship abuse or sexual assault against at least 1 in 3 women.” (World Health Organization, 2013)

Here are some more examples of how to reframe the World Health Organization statistics so that we focus on who is committing the violence:

  • Men will hurt 1 in 3 women in a relationship
  • Men will rape 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men
  • A man or woman will hurt his/her partner in 1 in 4 same-gender relationships

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17. Doesn’t Abuse Occur When the Perpetrator Loses Control?

Abuse is not about anger management. For example, abusers do not choose to hit their bosses or TAs, no matter how angry they are. The abuse is targeted and controlled—perpetrators choose to be violent only against their intimate partners.

For more information, please see What Causes Relationship Abuse?

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Sexual Assault FAQs

1. What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is an unwanted or forced sexual act committed without consent. It can occur either against a person’s will, by force or coercion, or when a person is incapable of giving consent, such as when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Force includes actual physical aggression, threats of physical aggression, emotional coercion, and/or psychological blackmailing.
Under federal and state law, sexual assault includes, but is not limited to: rape, forcible sodomy, forcible oral copulation, sexual assault with an object, sexual battery, forcible fondling (e.g., unwanted touching or kissing for purposes of sexual gratification), and threat of sexual assault.


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2. What is the difference between regretted sex and sexual assault?

Regretted sex is when two individuals consent to sexual intimacy, but one or both people experience regret or feel guilty afterwards. Though they may regret that encounter, they do not feel like they did not have a choice. In contrast to regretted sex, sexual assault is about one person taking control and proceeding without consent.

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3. Why isn’t rape considered an act of uncontrollable sexual desire?

Rape is an act of dominance, hostility, control and violence. Rape is a means by which one person uses their power to violate another person. A rapist is in complete control and can stop at any time if he wanted to stop. To claim that men can become so consumed by a sexual desire that they cannot help raping someone is an insult to men and their sexual agency.

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4. What constitutes consent?

“A person consents if s/he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” Sexual Offenses Act, section 74.

  • In the absence of mutually understandable words or actions, it is the responsibility of the initiator, or the person who wants to engage in the specific sexual activity to make sure that he or she has consent from the partner.
  • Silence (or lack of resistance) does not equal consent.
  • Consent to some form of sexual activity does not necessarily imply consent to other forms of sexual activity. Mutually understandable consent must be obtained by the initiator at every stage of sexual interaction.
  • Kissing someone or going back to their room is not “implicit consent”.
  • Consent which is obtained through the use of fraud or force, whether that is physical force, threats, intimidation, or coercion, is ineffective consent.
  • Consent cannot be implied by attire, or inferred from the spending of money on a date.
  • If the complainant was incapacitated, and the respondent knew, or should have reasonably have known of the incapacity, indications of consent are irrelevant.

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5. Why do we focus on women as victims and men as perpetrators?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 99% of sexual assault offenders in single-victim incidents were male. An estimated 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female and 9% are male. We focus on the gendered nature of this crime.

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6. Does rape not affect men?

Both men and boys are victims of rape. In addition, any man who knows someone who has been raped may be deeply affected. All men have something to gain by being a part of ending violence against women and the gender hierarchy that influences these crimes.

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7. Does this affect college students?

A 2006 college survey indicated that 1 in 4 women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. (2006 CALCASA Report)

Women who are most often raped are between 16 and 24 years of age. Since this is the period when young women begin to date, they are particularly vulnerable to being a victim of date rape. The peak rate of victimization occurs in the 16 – 19 year old age group with the next highest rate of victimization occurring between 20 and 24 years of age.

Eight in ten college rapes involved someone the attacker knew, more than half involved a date. Eighty-six percent of these rapes occurred in off-campus housing or in a car. Prior to the rape 42% had not been sexually active. (Rape on Campus: Facts and Measures)

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8. Why does she change her story?

Many victims of sexual assault will experience Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS). As the victim works through the stages of RTS, denial and memory loss are often experienced, followed by flashbacks and slowly coming to terms with the trauma of the event. During this process, victims may not be able to remember specifics or order of details. The amount that they remember will change over time.

Survivors may also face social pressures to change their stories. She may be afraid of her attacker, especially in cases where sexual assault is linked to relationship abuse, and change her story once he finds out she has pressed charges. She may also be ashamed because of the way her family, friends, or other communities are judging her as a result of the incident and change her story so people will not judge her as much.

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9. Why doesn’t she report?

There are many barriers to reporting. Consider the ways reports of sexual assault are usually handled in the media, in communities, and in the criminal justice system. Often, the victim’s sexuality and sexual history are questioned along with her clothing, drinking choices, and behaviors. Victims are often scrutinized just as harshly, if not more harshly than the perpetrators they accuse. This process is re-victimizing and does not make reporting an appealing option. Also, given the often private setting of the crime, there is rarely substantial evidence. Victims may recognize this and think that no one will believe them if they come forward. In many cases, women may not recognize what they experienced as a crime because of the proliferation of sexualized violence in the media and expectations that liberated women should be willing to have sex. Victims may also deny or minimize what happened to them as a coping mechanism. There are also substantial physical barriers to reporting. Women may not have the time, money, knowledge, support system, or language capacity needed to access the reporting process.

In one study, the following explanations were found as to why no report was made after a sexual assault:
43% thought nothing could be done
27% thought it was a private matter
12% were afraid of police response
12% felt it was not important enough

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10. How can I help a friend/respond to survivors?

11. What can I do right now?

  • Learn about sexual assault and its impact on society.
  • Speak out against sexual assault and sexual violence – even the “little things” that might seem less important, like language that degrades women or makes a joke out of sexual assault.
  • Change the conversation – move from victim-blaming dialogue to offender accountability when you here sexual assault discussed.
  • Support agencies that are a resource for survivors.

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