Chenelle A. Jones
“The face is sensitive and I don’t believe he really wanted to knock her unconscious, he just happened to hit her in one of the sensitive spots that would make anyone fall out if hit there…”
Clearly the award for the most ignorant, most insensitive, and most despicable victim blaming statement goes to the individual who posted this comment on Facebook. The commentator was referring to the recent incident involving Ray Rice, a former Baltimore Ravens Running Back and his fiance’ (now wife) Janay Palmer. During the incident, Rice knocked Palmer unconscious and then carelessly dragged her lifeless body from a casino elevator. The graphic scene was caught on video and then disseminated through televised and social media outlets. This situation, which occurs in homes across the country, is commonly known as intimate partner violence (IPV) – the physical, sexual, and/or psychological harm of an individual by a current or former partner or spouse (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2014).
Research has consistently shown that women are overwhelmingly victims of IPV and men are overwhelmingly perpetrators of the violence against them (Adams et al., 2008). IPV both nationally and internationally is a serious problem. Justifying or attempting to explain the reprehensible behavior of an abuser is not only loathsome, it endorses an abusive culture, perpetuates the oppression of women, and promotes their continued victimization. Furthermore, statements such as the above are ill-informed. The entire body is sensitive, and whether a person is hit on their face, shoulder, or leg is irrelevant, the fact that the person was hit in the first place, is a problem. No one has the right to inflict physical harm/injury onto another individual. Furthermore, justifying physical harm against anyone (in this scenario a woman) preserves a victim blaming culture in which the victim is held responsible for the abuse that was inflicted upon them. This distorted form of thinking and slanted rationalization is problematic. Physical, emotional, sexual, and/or psychological abuse of any kind is not ok; and suggesting a woman is at fault for her own victimization removes accountability from the abuser.
Nearly 36.2 million women in the United States have suffered from IPV in their lifetime (Black et al., 2011). Although 1 in 3 women have been slapped, shoved, or pushed by an intimate partner, nearly 1 in 4 women have experienced severe physical violence (kicked, slammed, beat, choked, burned, etc.) by an intimate partner (Black et al., 2011). Of those experiencing severe physical violence by an intimate partner, approximately 16 million (14%) women have been hit with a fist or something hard, similar to the situation involving Rice and Palmer (Black et al., 2011).
In addition to physical violence, studies have found 50% to 100% of all women in the United States have experienced some form of psychological aggression by their intimate partner in their lifetime (Adams et al., 2008; Black 2010; Arias & Pape, 1999). According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), psychological aggression refers to the systematic perpetration of malicious and explicit nonphysical acts against an intimate partner (2014). The most commonly reported forms of psychological aggression include being insulted and/or called names, isolation, physical threats, witnessing an intimate partner behave in a dangerously intimidating manner, and/or having whereabouts tracked by an intimate partner (Black et al., 2011; NCADV, 2014).
Another form of psychological aggression is economic abuse which involves behaviors that control a woman’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources (Adams et al., 2008). This is typically accomplished by controlling a women’s access to money, discouraging women from working outside the home, interfering with employment searches, and/or sabotaging their ability to sustain employment. When researching the prevalence of this phenomenon, it has been found that approximately 94% to 99% of women who suffer from IPV also suffer from economic abuse (Adams et al., 2008; Postmus et al., 2010). The ultimate goal is to keep the victim financially dependent on the abuser.
In addition to the harm caused by physical, psychological, and economic abuse, women who experience these forms of abuse often suffer greatly from mental health problems. Several scholars have found significantly high rates of depression, suicidal ideations, and posttraumatic stress symptoms among victims of IPV (Adams et al., 2008; Cascardi, O’Leary, Lawrence, & Schlee, 1995; Golding, 1999; McCauley et al., 1995). Research has also correlated abuse with substance use, poor health, chronic disease, and low self-esteem.
The intersectionality of physical, psychological, and economic abuse, paired with declining mental health, contributes to the virtual entrapment of women. Oftentimes, people question (as they did with Palmer) why victims of IPV remain in abusive relationships. What is not recognized in this questioning, is the fact that leaving could prove extremely dangerous and there are several barriers to leaving which include lack of resources, fears of retaliation, threats, economic barriers, hopes that the abuser will change, cultural and/or religious pressures to maintain relationships, shame and/or guilt, children, isolation from family and friends, and no place to go (Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, 20014). Furthermore, questioning why women stay further removes accountability from the abuser and implies the woman continues to be abused solely because she chooses to remain in the relationship. The question however, should focus on the abuser and why he continues to abuse.
It is clear that IPV has deleterious effects on women and despite its harmful effects, people still engage in victim blaming behavior. What must be understood however, is that a victim blaming disposition, is to 1) underestimate the magnitude of the problem and 2) misjudge the destructive effects of IPV. Furthermore, victim blaming promotes the notion that something is wrong with the woman (Karmen, 2012). It suggests that she is somehow different from women who are not victimized and assumes her victimization is the result of her non-conforming behavior. This is problematic because research has shown that IPV often results from a man attempting to exert power and control over a woman (Dobash, Dobash, Wilson, & Daly, 1992; Johnson, 1995). Furthermore, victim blaming promotes the idea that women should change their behavior and the way they think in order to avoid harm from men (Karmen, 2012). This is also problematic because many women do not precipitate violence against them. More importantly, men should be held responsible for their actions against women and forced to change their behavior, not women. Additionally, victim blaming enables men and disempowers women. It provides justification for the perpetuation of violence and serves as a way to shame women. Lastly, victim blaming further victimizes women (Karmen, 2012). While already suffering from physical, psychological, emotional, and economic abuse often paired with declining mental health, victim blaming adds another layer of misery to an already devastating situation.
Recognizing the logical fallacies of victim blaming, people should be more open to embracing a victim defending disposition towards individuals who suffer from physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse. Victim defending rejects the notion of victim blaming and challenges the idea that people should change in order to prevent victimization (Karmen, 2012). For many, it is concept that defies historically patriarchal ideologies and challenges people to rethink their existing worldviews. For some this may prove difficult, but it is necessary if society is to understand the debilitating effects of IPV and collectively work to stop this cycle of abuse.
Adams, A. E., Sullivan, C. M., Bybee, D., & Greeson, M. R. (2008). Development of the scale of economic abuse. Violence Against Women, 14(5), 563-588.
Arias, I., & Pape, K. T., (1999). Psychological abuse: Implications for adjustment and commitment to leave violent partners. Violence and Victims, 14, 55-67.
Black, M., Basile, K., Breiding, M., Smith, S., Walters, M., Merrick, M., Chen, J., Stevens, M. (2010). National Intimate Partner and Violence Survey. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cascardi, M., O’Leary, K. D., Lawrence, E. E., & Schlee, K. A. (1995). Characteristics of women physically abused by their spouses and who seek treatment regarding marital conflict. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 616-623.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Intimate Partner Violence. Retrieved fromhttp://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/.
Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness (2014). Why Women Stay. Retrieved fromhttp://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/faq/#faq8.
Dobash, R., Dobash, R. E.,Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1992). The myth of sexual symmetry in marital violence. Social Problems, 39, 71-91.
Golding, J. M. (1999). Intimate partner violence as a risk factor for mental disorders: A meta- analysis. Journal of Family Violence, 14, 99-132.
Johnson, I. M. (1995). Community attitudes: A study of definitions and punishment of spouse abusers and child abusers. Journal of Criminal Justice, 23, 477-487.
Karmen, A. (2012). Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology, 8th ed. Cengage.
McCauley, J., Kern, D. E., Kolodner, K., Dill, L., Schroeder, A. F., DeChant, H. K., et al. (1995). The “battering syndrome”: Prevalence and clinical characteristics of domestic violence in primary care internal medicine practices. Annals of Internal Medicine, 123, 737-746.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2014). Psychological Abuse. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ncadv.org/files/PsychologicalAbuse.pdf .
Postmus, J., Plummer, S.B., & Murshid, N. (2010). Effects of IPV and Economic Abuse on Life Outcomes for Survivors. Center on Violence Against Women & Children Rutgers, School of Social Work. Retrieved from