Relationship violence is an issue that affects people from all ages, genders, races, social classes, and sexual orientations. It affects both married and unmarried couples, heterosexual and homosexual relationships, children, and parents.
While certain groups may be more likely to experience relationship violence, every individual still has a chance of being affected at some point in life, regardless of background. In this lesson, we will learn about who the victims of relationship violence are, and what puts certain groups of people at a higher risk of experiencing relationship violence.
Gender and Age
Women account for 85% of all victims in reported cases of domestic violence. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 4 women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. Women are more likely to experience sexual abuse, and are also more likely to experience more than one type of abuse in their lifetime. Women are also more likely to be murdered by a current or former partner. It is important to note, here, that this does not mean that men are never victims of domestic violence. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 7 men over the age of 18 has been a victim of severe physical violence by a partner, and 1 in 10 men has been a victim of sexual abuse or stalking by a partner.
One gender difference in victims is the likelihood to report the incident to the police: women are far more likely to report abuse. Due to cultural factors, it can be assumed that men may be more reticent to report relational violence than women. Men are often taught not to express emotion or vulnerability, which may inhibit them from admitting or reporting abuse.
Other factors that may contribute to a lower rate of reporting is the stereotype that men cannot be victims, or the fear that their abuse will be taken lightly. Despite these cultural influences, and the fact that a majority of victims of relational violence are women, there are services and support for victims of both genders. Just as both men and women can be victims, individuals of any age can be a victim of domestic violence. That said, women between the ages of 16 and 24 are those most likely to report being victims of relational violence.
Race and Socioeconomic Status
Individuals of all races experience relational violence. However, African Americans experience higher rates of domestic violence than other races. One study found that black women are 35% more likely to experience domestic violence than white women, and black men are 62% more likely to experience domestic violence than white men.
In fact, the number one killer of black women ages 15 to 34 in the United States is murder by either a current or former partner. Hispanic and Native American women are also at a higher risk of being victims of domestic violence. And, although people in all tax brackets are affected by domestic violence, those of lower socioeconomic statuses are more likely to be victims of abuse.
When thinking about the victims of relational abuse, we typically think of younger individuals and families. However, the elderly are a population that are at ever-increasing risk for experiencing domestic violence. The National Center on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who is trusted by the elder.
This includes the failure of a caregiver to satisfy an elder’s basic needs, or to protect an elder from harm. Types of abuse include: physical, emotional, economic, sexual, and neglect. While it is difficult to know exactly how many cases of elder abuse happen each year, a recent study by the National Center on Elder Abuse revealed that 7.6% to 10% of participants reported experiencing abuse in the previous year. It is also estimated that for every reported case of elder abuse, 24 cases go unreported.
Domestic violence in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Questioning (LGBTQ) community occurs at the same rate as in the heterosexual community. However, relational violence within this group tends to be underreported at higher rates than within other groups for a number of reasons, including discrimination, shame, and fear of further isolation. While we have already been introduced to the types of domestic violence, there are a few kinds of violence that are specific to the LGBTQ community.
Threatening to “out,” or expose a partner’s sexual identity, is one of the most common forms of abuse within the LGBTQ community. This is a threat that can have serious consequences for a person’s relationships, career, and even physical safety. An abuser may use this threat to coerce or control his or her partner, or to keep his or her partner from leaving the relationship. As many individuals who identify as LGBTQ are already discriminated against in today’s society, particularly in more rural areas, the fear of being outed is high.
Access to support groups and services specific to LGBTQ individuals may also be decreased in more rural areas, which could cause someone who has been outed to feel further isolated.
Another issue that arises within the LGBTQ community is that of custody. In many states, same-sex couples do not have legal rights to claim children if they are not the biological parent(s). This means that an individual in an abusive relationship might not be able to leave the relationship for fear that he or she will no longer have legal rights to see their children again.
In addition to domestic violence occurring within intimate partner relationships in the LGBTQ community, this group may also be more likely to experience abuse from their parents and other family members. Family members who disapprove of their sexual orientation may react with emotional and physical abuse. Some LGBTQ individuals are subject to sexual abuse in another’s attempt to altogether change their sexual orientation. LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable to abuse as they are frequently disowned or rejected from their families, which leads to higher rates of homelessness in LGBTQ youth.
We have learned that individuals of all genders, ages, races, social statuses, and sexual orientations are victims of domestic violence. In future lessons, we will learn more about why victims remain in abusive relationships and how they can find help.