Center for Research on Women logo
University of Memphis Photo
Violence Against Women

Relationship Violence

Relationship violence is a broad term used to describe violent and controlling behavior by a person who is currently with or was previously with the victim.  Relationship violence includes those who are married or dating and those who may share a child in common.  It happens just as much in straight relationships as it does in same sex relationships.

Relationship violence may include any of the following: threatened or actual physical injury, psychological and emotional abuse, sexual assault, economic control and social isolation.

The behaviors listed below may be present at any time during the relationship and may vary in degree or intensity.  It is important to note that not all of these behaviors need be present for it to be an abusive relationship.  An abusive partner may exhibit one or all of these characteristics. 

  • Emotional Abuse: A pattern of behavior that diminishes or destroys a persons sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Emotional abuse includes jealous behavior, ignoring feelings, belittling values, restricting social activities with others, and withholding love, approval, and affection.
  • Verbal abuse: Using words to injure another person. This includes name calling, insults, threats of physical and/or sexual violence, threats of self-harm and/or suicide, humiliation, intimidation, and exaggerated criticism for mistakes.
  • Sexual abuse: Includes any forcible sexual activity that occurs without consent. This can range from unwanted touching to forcible penetration. Sexual abuse also includes verbal criticism of one's body.
  • Physical abuse: Includes any behavior that causes or threatens bodily harm. Some examples are hitting, slapping, grabbing, breaking things, or threatening to do any of the above.   

How do I Recognize a Violent Relationship?

Does the Person You Are Involved With Exhibit a Pattern of These Behaviors?

  • Gets jealous easily
  • Criticize your behavior
  • Insist on making all the decisions
  • Tries to control what you wear or who you spend your time with
  • Threatens to "out" you
  • Insults or humiliates you
  • Turns everything around on you or makes you feel crazy
  • Checks up on where you have been or insists that you "check in" while your out

Has your partner ever:

  • Shoved, pushed, slapped, kicked, punched, pinched, bit, or physically intimidated you?
  • Demanded or insisted that you have sex or pressured you into sex when you did not want to?
  • Threaten bodily harm or threaten to kill you or those around you?
  • Threatened to commit suicide?
  • Thrown or broken objects?
  • Stopped you from leaving or calling for help?

Cycle of Abuse in Relationships

Abuse in relationships can follow a cyclical pattern. There are times when abusive behavior happens only once, but unfortunately this is not the case in most abusive relationships. Violent behavior typically repeats throughout the cycle. Keep in mind that not all of the victim/abuser behaviors listed below always occur, they are just some examples of commonly reported reactions.

Stage 1:  Tension building: The abuser may become edgy and start to react more negatively to frustrations. The tension may rise to a point where the abuser feels that he/she has lost control over the behavior/actions of the victim.

  • Possible abuser reactions: moody; withdraws affection; criticizes and puts victim down; threatens; yells.
  • Possible victim reactions: attempts to calm abuser; nurtures; withdraws from daily activities; feelings of walking on eggshells.

Stage 2:  Acute explosion: This is often the shortest of the stages because violence most always occurs at this point. The abuser may outwardly express more intense anger. Some victims become more emotionally detached because becoming emotional with the abuser could be more likely to trigger violence. It typically ends after a violent outburst by the abuser.

  • Possible abuser reactions: physical violence like hitting, choking, slapping; sexual violence ranging from unwanted touching to forcible rape; emotional violence like humiliation, yelling, name calling, badgering; use of weapons.
  • Possible victim reactions: attempts to protect self; calling police, family, or friends; tries to calm abuser; tries to reason with abuser; fights back; withdraws.

Stage 3:  Honeymoon: This is typically a welcomed stage by both the abuser and the victim. The abuser usually expresses remorse for his/her actions and the victim starts to believe that the abuser can change and stop being abusive. This stage often continues until the abuser begins to feel confident again and starts to feel a loss of control over the victim's behavior. This stage has shown to decrease in length over time and has been shown to in some cases, disappear totally.

  • Possible abuser reactions: promises to get help; asks for forgiveness; gets gifts for victim; promises love and devotion.
  • Possible victim reactions: agrees to stay; sets up counseling; feels happy and hopeful.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

Relationships should be a source of mutual respect, support and companionship.  Unfortunately, not every relationships is based on these principles.  Take a look below at these examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships and see where your relationship lies. 

Healthy Relationships Involve:

Communication:

  • The sharing of thoughts and ideas
  • Being a good listener
  • Using respectful language and gestures even when in disagreement

Trust:

  • Being honest with, and accountable to, your partner
  • Being dependable
  • Believing your partner

Connection:

  • Having support from friends and family
  • Being able to rely on other people besides your partner for needs

Balance:

  • Having equal decision-making power with your partner
  • Being able to both "give" and "take" in your relationship

Safety:

  • Having a partner who is emotionally supportive and encourage
  • Having a partner and being in a relationship that is peaceful

Unhealthy Relationships Involve:

*The following examples are "RED FLAGS" for dating violence!!

Jealousy:

  • Calling partner over and over again
  • Getting angry with partner for spending time with other people

Emotional Abuse and Victim Blaming:

  • Using derogatory language to describe partner
  • Constantly finding fault with partner
  • Making partner feel bad about herself/himself

Isolation:

  • Making partner "pay" for spending time with other people
  • Persuading partner into giving up activities that she/he enjoys
  • Making all of the decisions in the relationship

Coercion:

  • Ignoring partners wishes or needs
  • Manipulating or forcing partner into doing something against his/her will

Physical and Sexual Abuse:

  • Grabbing or pushing partner
  • Throwing or breaking objects
  • Forcing partner to engage in sex or sexual activity

*The above information regarding Relationship Violence was adapted from the following resources: Stop Abuse at Virginia Tech site: www.stopabuse.vt.edu and from the Red Flag Campaign; www.theredflagcampaign.org.

**The Cycle of Abuse information is adapted from Walker, L. (1980) The Battered Woman and a brochure titled "Dating Violence" from Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance, Rutgers University.

Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is a broad term that covers any coerced or forced sexual activity against a victim without his or her consent OR sexual contact with a person who is unable to give consent (e.g., a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or "passed out" or asleep).  SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT ABOUT SEX. It is about asserting power over a victim and it includes--but is not limited to--the following: 

  • Unwanted kissing and fondling, forcible vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse, forcible vaginal, oral or anal penetration with an object or a finger
  • Sexual Assault happens to both men and women
  • Sexual Assault can happen between members of the opposite sex or the same sex
  • It may include alcohol, date rape drugs or other substances
  • Most sexual assault victims know the perpetrator.  That person may be the victim's best friend, lover, partner, date, family member, neighbor, teacher, employer, doctor, classmate, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife or casual acquaintance.

Common Reactions to Sexual Assault

Traumatic experiences affect everyone in different ways.  There is no "right" or "wrong" reaction to sexual assault.  Below are a few possible reactions to sexual assault.

Physical

  • Pain
  • Headaches
  • Stomach Aches
  • Exhaustion
  • Hyperactivity
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Loss of Energy
  • Loss or increase of appetite
  • Change in sleeping pattern
  • Physical injury
  • Muscular tension
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Pregnancy
Emotional
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Paranoia
  • Fear
  • Shock
  • Sense of disbelief
  • Anger
  • Numbness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear of being alone
  • Confusion
  • Denial
  • Embarrassment
  • Humiliation
  • Powerlessness
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Hopelessness
  • Despair
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sad
  • Vulnerability
  • Flashbacks

Mental

  • Maybe it was my fault
  • What will people think?
  • He/She didn’t mean it
  • Will people blame me?
  • Will they reject me?
  • Why did this happen to me?
  • Am I damaged goods?
  • What if I had or hadn’t done…?
  • He/she owes me an apology
  • Why did he/she do this?
  • If I forget about it, it will go away
  • I want to confront this person
  • I am scared to be around this person

Social

  • Withdrawal
  • Afraid to be alone
  • Uncomfortable around other people
  • Afraid/nervous in crowds
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Hypersensitive when relating to others
  • Afraid to leave the house (especially alone)
  • Less productive
  • Difficult time relaxing
  • Disruptions with sexual relations
  • Difficulties/apprehension around men, especially if they look like the assailant

*Common Reactions to Sexual Assault adapted from Columbia University Health Services: www.health.columbia.edu

Common Myths about Sexual Assault

Myths are beliefs that are culturally formulated, socially transmitted, and Factually unfounded. Myths about sexual assault deny the violent, hostile, and demeaning nature of these crimes and often shift the blame from the abuser to the victim.

Myth: Sexual assault results from an uncontrollable, impulsive, sexual urge of biological origin.

Fact: Sexual assault is motivated by hostility, power, and control. Clinical studies of offenders find that sexual assaults are not motivated by a biological desire. Unlike animals, humans are capable of controlling how they choose to act on or express sexual urges.

Myth: Sexual assault happens to women who "ask for it" by dressing provocatively.

Fact: Sexual assault is not the result of the way a person dresses or acts. It is the assailant who decides to assault another person.

Myth: When a woman says "no" she means "maybe" or "yes".

Fact: When a woman says "no," she means NO. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape. A person has the right to control her/his own body.

Myth: Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

Fact: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.

Myth: Spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and partners cannot sexually assault each other.

Fact: Spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and partners can and do sexually assault each other. Being in a relationship or marriage does not give either partner the right to have sex without their partner's consent.

* This information was obtained from the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline. For more information, call their toll free number at 1-800-838-8238.

Drug Facilitated Sexual Assaults

General Information

“Date rape drugs” are narcotics used to incapacitate someone or get them to the point where forced or non-consensual sexual activity can take place with little resistance. While alcohol remains the primary drug involved in sexual assaults, use of drugs such as Rohypnol (roofies), GHB (liquid E), and Ketamine (special K) are becoming increasingly common and pose a serious threat to personal safety.

Date Rape Drugs

  • Are often colorless, tasteless, and odorless, and dissolve quickly in drinks
  • Are intensified in effect when mixed with alcohol or other drugs
  • Have a quick reaction, often within 15 minutes

Warning Signs

  • Feeling more intoxicated than usual for the amount you drank, or feeling “woozy” or “out of it”
  • Remembering taking a drink but not being able to remember anything afterwards
  • Dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, drunk-like effects, blackouts, amnesia
  • Having an impression or feeling of having had sex, but not being able to remember the details

Risk Reduction

While there is no guaranteed protection against sexual assault, the following steps can increase your awareness and safety:

  • Go to parties, bars, and clubs in groups, and use the buddy system to watch out for each other’s safety. Have a plan to leave together, or to check in and let each other know where you are going and with whom
  • Only accept mixed or open drinks from the bartender or server
  • Don’t accept drinks at parties if they are being mixed in large containers
  • Always keep your drink with you, and in sight
  • Be wary of drinks that are unusually salty, have a strange odor, or have foam or residue on the surface
  • If you hear someone “kidding” about date rape drugs, pay attention

If you think you or a friend has been drugged:

  • Get to a safe place
  • Ask a person you trust to stay with you, or remain by your friend’s side, until help comes
  • Seek immediate medical attention and tell the examiner anything you remember
  • The presence of drugs can sometimes be detected through urine analysis, but this will only be done at the discretion of the District Attorney’s office if a police report is filed.

*Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault information adapted from Columbia University Health Services: www.health.columbia.edu

Stalking

Stalking is a course of conduct that places a person in reasonable fear for their safety.  It is a pattern of threats or harassment that is directed repeatedly toward a specific individual and is experienced as unwelcome, intrusive, or fear inducing. It can include physical appearances of the stalker and harassing behaviors such as sending unwanted letters, phone calls, messages, gifts, and unwanted instant messages, email correspondence or text messages.

While a few victims are picked at random by their stalker, most stalking victims know their stalker, usually having had some type of present or past relationship. The perpetrator can be an intimate partner or former partner, classmate, roommate, or other acquaintance. A victim can be stalked for several days or for many years. The stalker's actions can also affect family, friends, and co-workers. Stalking and criminal harassment can be difficult to distinguish.

What Does Stalking Look Like?

Stalking can sometimes be a difficult thing to determine.  Not only can this be difficult for law enforcement, but it can be difficult for a victim to determine as well.  Take a look a the following scenario:

After having gone out on a date with someone, you decide that person was just not for you and you do not want to see him or her again.  That night, however, you receive a phone call from that person.  He or She leaves a message letting you know what a wonderful time he or she had with you and asks you to please call back.  

You make the decision not to call that person back.  The next day you get another phone call and message.  Again you decide not to call back.  Then you receive a text message, "I've called and left a couple of messages 'PLEASE' call me back." 

Ignoring the text message, you leave for your job at the campus book store.  While stocking the shelves you see your 'date' asking a co-worker if you are there.  Your co-worker tells that person no, but he or she argues with them saying that they "KNOW YOU ARE THERE!" 

By this time you feel a little creeped out, but you decide to blow it off.  That night as you are sitting in your dorm room, you get another phone message from your 'date', "Hi!  I was just walking by your dorm and I see that your lights are on, so I know you are there.  Why aren't you returning my phone calls?  I don't understand!  You NEED to call me!"  By now you are very creeped out, but you don't know what to do about it, so you ignore the phone call and go to bed.

The next morning you leave your dorm room and as you walk out of your door you find trash all over the floor and all of your door decorations ripped off and on the ground.  You clean it up and go to class.  When you get back you have another phone message from your 'date' who is now raging mad, "WHY AREN'T YOU CALLING ME BACK?  I THOUGHT WE HAD A GOOD TIME THE OTHER NIGHT.  ARE YOU TRYING TO LEAD ME ON? YOU OWE ME AN EXPLANATION.  YOU BETTER CALL ME BACK THIS TIME!"

By this time your are not creeped out...you are frightened.  You decide to leave campus and as you approach your car you see that your windshield has been broken and there are deep scratches along the side of your car. 

AT WHAT POINT DID THIS BECOME STALKING?  This can be a difficult thing to determine for many people.  For some the stalking began after the first phone call.  For others the second; for some when the text messages began or when this person showed up at his or her place of employment; and still for others it began when that person was outside his or her dorm room. 

Now, think about that person being someone you know.  Would it be more difficult to "see" or believe that that person was stalking you? In cases like these it may be easier for you to justify his or her behavior and ignore what your gut is telling you, but it is important to listen to what your body is telling you--if you feel that something is wrong, then you are probably right.

What To Do if You are Being Stalked

Cut Off All Communication with Stalker! If this is a person that you know, or as in the previous scenario, have gone out on a date with--tell this person once, and only once, that you are not interested in pursing a relationship and to leave you alone. Often times a person who finds his  or herself  in this type of situation will try to stop this behavior by being nice or friendly hoping that if they just act politely this person will go away.  Still others will behave negatively by being cruel, mean, curt or abrasive hoping that this behavior  will cause the person to go away.  It is important to note that no matter what your reaction is--friendly or abrasive--it is still a reaction and that is all a stalker is looking for.  So, remember, tell that person once and only once that you are not interested and to leave you alone and cut off all contact thereafter. 

Tell Someone!  It is important that you tell someone if you believe you are being stalked.  Share your concerns with a family member, friend, professor, school counselor or law enforcement officer. 

Document! Make sure to keep an incident log. Keep track of any type of contact (e.g., unwanted phone calls, text messages, emails, Facebook or Myspace contact, letters, cards, gifts, contact through a third party, unannounced visits or sightings of the person, etc.)  Write down: the date, time, location, witnesses present, the type of contact, what was said or what happened.  This information starts a paper trail and is useful should you decide to involve law enforcement. 

Alert Those Around You! If you are being stalked make sure to let those around you know what is happening.  Tell your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, church--even your local video store or pizza delivery place! Ask them not to give out your personal information.  This will alert those in your community to what your are experiencing. Those people can help to look out for you by being aware of any strange things happening around your home, place of work, where you do business and even where you shop! 

Report this Crime!  Call  UofM Campus Police Services to report this crime or call 911.  Make sure that whether the police respond or not that your complaint has been logged and request a copy of that report.  Put these reports with the rest of your documented paper trail.   If you are not comfortable contacting police services on your own contact someone at the UofM Counseling Center for assistance or call CRISIS-7 (274-7477) for 24 hour free and confidential assistance in dealing with this crime.

Consider Pressing Charges or Getting an Order of Protection!

Other Steps You Can Take

  • Try not to walk alone. If you are on campus after dark call the Tiger Patrol (678-HOME) for an escort.
  • Know your surroundings.  Take a look at the UofM Campus Map and familiarize yourself with the campus.
  • Know where the UofM Safety Phones are located.
  • Choose different routes to school, work or other routine places you frequent.
  • Park in well-lit areas.
  • Check the front and back seats of your vehicle before getting in.
  • Make sure to lock your car and house doors.
  • Change the locks to your home.

Need immediate help?  Call CRISIS-7 (274-7477)


This page contains information on:

Relationship Violence

Sexual Assault

Drug Facilitated Sexual Assaults

Stalking


Learn about violence against women

How to file a report

Protocol for Faculty & Staff

Information for Students

Campus Resources

What can men do?

Related links

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

RAINN Information on Campus Safety

Information on the Memphis Safe Campus Project

Text Only | Print | Got a Question? Ask TOM | Contact Us | Memphis, TN 38152 | 901/678-2000 | Copyright 2014 University of Memphis | Important Notice | Last Updated: 
Last Updated: 1/20/12