Research has indicated that it is very difficult to leave a violent relationship and that survivors undergo an agonizing process to achieve safety for themselves and their children. Understanding early warning signs and characteristics of intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetrators are critical factors in developing educational messages to help women avoid engaging in relationships with abusers.
National studies with urban, suburban, and rural African American, Hispanic, and White women found the following early warning signs: whirlwind romances involving attempts to quickly and completely involve the woman, extreme charm and flattery, excessive gestures to please her family, jealousy, and early efforts to control and isolate her from her social support system. Other early warning signs include abuse in his home of origin, his abusive behavior toward other women, blaming others for his failures and misbehavior, and alcohol and drug abuse. Additional factors found to be associated with perpetration of partner violence include lower socioeconomic status, deficits in interpersonal skills, and acceptance of the use of violence within relationships. As for the survivors of IPV, studies have found that women with histories of child abuse are more likely to experience IPV as adults.
Numerous national, state, and community domestic violence programs, colleges, and other organizations working with IPV victims and perpetrators have posted Web pages that support the empirical findings and are based on the experience of many IPV survivors. The following points are synthesized from several of these Web sites. They describe a potentially violent partner as someone who
- is jealous and possessive, won’t allow the woman to have friends, and puts down people who are important to her;
- checks up on the woman or makes her check in with him;
- gets too serious about the relationship too fast;
- won’t accept breaking up;
- exhibits controlling behavior by being very bossy, giving orders, making all the decisions; tells the woman what she should or shouldn’t wear, doesn’t take her opinion seriously;
- yells, swears, manipulates, spreads false and degrading rumors, or tries to make the woman feel guilty;
- threatens, criticizes, or humiliates; makes the woman feel stupid, incapable, lazy, ugly, worthless, helpless, crazy, or trapped;
- owns or uses weapons;
- is frightening and causes worry about reactions to things said or done;
- has unpredictable mood swings, has a history of fighting, is cruel to animals or children, loses his temper quickly, or brags about mistreating others;
- thinks destructive displays of emotion are signs of love;
- pressures the woman for sex, is forceful or threatening about sex; thinks women or girls are sex objects;
- drinks too much or uses drugs; pressures the woman to take drugs or blames the alcohol and drugs for his behavior;
- blames the woman when he mistreats her; says she provoked him, pressed his buttons, made him do it, led him on;
- has a history of bad relationships and blames the other person for all the problems or feelings (e.g., saying, “Girls just don’t understand me”);
- does not accept responsibility for his actions;
- believes in stereotypical gender roles for males and females; believes one person should be in control and have all the power in a relationship and the other person should be passive and submissive;
- accepts or defends the use of violence by others;
- has been warned against by the woman’s family and friends, who may have told her they were worried for her safety.
One Web site cautions that it is important to get to know someone for a long time before getting serious with him, because abusers can be polite and charming for several months at a time to convince their dates that they are acceptable partners.
It has been speculated in the literature that extreme charm and flattery foster a sense of trust on the part of unsuspecting victims and may groom them for succumbing to forceful control later in the relationship. Additionally, early attempts to control behavior may be construed in a positive fashion given the context of flattery. Flattery combined with early forms of control may make women more vulnerable to escalating attempts to control a large number of areas of their lives.
Statistics indicate that one in three teenagers have experienced violence in a dating relationship. Young people initiating dating relationships need to be better prepared for the likelihood of encountering an abusive partner. Although the information summarized here is easily available, additional prevention and intervention programs and targeted messages that reach the right audiences at the right times are needed.
- Advocates for Youth. (2006). Dating Violence Among Adolescents. Retrieved from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/fsdating.pdf
- Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2006). Early warning signs that your date may eventually become abusive. Retrieved from http://www.vidvsac.org/dating-violence/
- Bauer, H. M., Rodriguez, M. A., & Perez-Stable, E. J. (2000). Prevalence and determinants of intimate partner abuse among public hospital primary care patients. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 15, 811–817.
- The Haven of RCS Domestic Violence Center. (2006). Early warning signs of teen dating violence. Retrieved from http://missourifamilies.org/features/divorcearticles/relations59.htm
- Health First. (2006). Twenty-three warning signs of abusive relationships. Retrieved from http://www.drdaveanddee.com/ab.html
- Holtzworth-Munroe, A., Bates, L., Smutzler, N., & Sandin, E. (1997). A brief review of the research on husband violence. Part I: Maritally violent versus nonviolent men. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2, 65–99.
- Holtzworth-Munroe, A., Smutzler, N., & Bates, L. (1997). A brief review of the research on husband violence. Part III: Sociodemographic factors, relationship factors, and differing consequences of husband and wife violence. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2, 285–307.
- Short, L. M., et al. (2000). Survivors’ identification of protective factors and early warning signs in intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 6, 273–287.
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