Every day in our community hundreds of women are hit, verbally degraded, or sexually abused by their romantic partners. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over one in four women (22.3%) have experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime, yet we don’t actually talk about intimate partner violence (IPV).
According to the CDC, IPV can be defined as “physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression (including coercive tactics) by a current or former intimate partner (i.e., spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, dating partner, or ongoing sexual partner).” Women of all races, all educational backgrounds, and all income brackets are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner. Although men can be victims of IPV also, women are five to eight times more likely to be victimized by an intimate partner.
Exposure to IPV is likely to be associated with reduced earnings (working beneath your level of training, working only part-time, etc.). Women who have experienced IPV have a lower quality of life and may have more physical health problems relative to women who have never been abused by a romantic partner. Abusive partners often isolate a woman from her friends and family, leaving her without a supportive social network. As such, many women who have experienced IPV feel very alone and broken.
Importantly, IPV also can have some long-term emotional consequences. Mental health conditions are common following IPV, particularly Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and excessive anxiety. Emotional difficulties such as these can create a roadblock to rebuilding a healthy life following IPV. Moreover, if children are exposed to IPV in the home, there is an increased chance that as adults they will be involved in an abusive relationship, thus continuing the cycle of violence across generations.
The good news amidst all this bad news is that mental health conditions following IPV are treatable, and, with proper identification and treatment, the woman’s likelihood of becoming involved with another abusive partner drops significantly. This holds promise for both abused women and their children, as a violence-free home improves mental health for everyone.
The Athena Project at the University of Memphis specializes in mental health assessment of women who have experienced IPV. In addition to assessment, we provide treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder to women. Treatment focuses on teaching skills to manage the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, learning to set appropriate boundaries, managing guilt and other negative emotions about yourself, and acquiring skills for ongoing contact with your abuser (which may be necessary if you share custody of children).
Dr. Gayle Beck is a psychologist at the University of Memphis. Women who are interested in the services of the Athena Project may contact Dr. Beck at The Department of Psychology at (901) 678-3973. All services are free and private.
There are a number of agencies that can help women who have experienced IPV navigate the process of achieving safety and rebuilding their lives. Included among these agencies are the Shelby County Crime Victim’s Center, (901) 222-3950, and the Family Safety Center, (901) 222-4400.