Long-Form Research Essay: Intimate Partner Sexual Violence
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, every 9 seconds, a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten (1995). Therefore, it is no question whether intimate partner violence against women is a serious problem. Individuals recognize that women are at risk of physical abuse and are advocating for a change. However, another form of intimate partner violence; sexual violence, is often overlooked. There seems to be an uncertainty about it, especially when it comes to rape; a form of sexual violence. In fact, a study once showed that eighty-four percent of men who were involved in a date rape did not realize that what they did met the legal definition of date rape (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987). The numerous misconceptions regarding intimate partner sexual violence, the lack of one consistent definition, and the social construction of gender roles, calls for more awareness programs so that everyone is equally educated and women are less at risk.
One misunderstanding relates to the term intimate partner. Although it may appear like it refers strictly to current or past boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s or husband’s/wife’s, intimate partner actually refers to any close personal relationship. This can be distinguished as regular contact with that individual, an emotional connection, identifying as a couple, ongoing sexual behavior, or even knowledge about each others lives. Additionally, there is also an uncertainty about the term sexual violence. As stated by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent (2016). They describe sexual violence as being divided into three categories, beginning with the use of physical force to pressure a person to engage in a sexual act against their will, regardless of whether the act is completed or not. A completed or attempted sex act involving a person who is unable to understand the condition of the act, decline participation, or to convey unwillingness to engage in the sexual act. The incapability of communicating reluctance to a sexual act could pertain to an illness, a disability, the influence of alcohol or other drugs, and or because of intimidation. Finally, the last category of sexual violence relates to any unwanted sexual contact or noncontact sexual experiences.
Not only are the terms intimate partner and sexual violence misleading on their own but there is also evidence that suggest that the few studies done on intimate partner sexual violence are only making definitions harder to understand. Authors of the article Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: A Review of Terms, Definitions, and Prevalence show evidence that researchers use different definitions for the same terms when studying intimate partner sexual violence (2015). Just the term rape had more than five distinct definitions from different researchers. In particular, some definitions incorporated the use of physical force while others did not. Which therefore proves why society has a difficult time defining intimate partner sexual violence, if researching cannot come to a conclusion about the definition, how are young adults expected to be able to define it? In addition, the lack of a proper definition suggests that there is inadequate assistance for victims of abuse.
Regardless of the ambiguity of the term, sex without consent is a crime. Some readers may challenge my view by insisting that this rule does not apply for intimate relationships. However, regardless of whether the two individuals are just friends, it is the first date, have been dating for some time or are married with children, sex without consent is considered to be sexual assault. It is unfortunately too prevalent, in fact The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey declared that, 51% of rape victims reported [to have been] raped by an intimate partner (2010). Some men believe that it is their intimate partner’s duty to have sexual relations with them and therefore do not see themselves as rapists. Nevertheless, men are not owed access to a woman’s body under any circumstances. The notion that consent is already given within an intimate relationship is a form of misogyny since it degrades women and gives men a sense of entitlement which puts women at risk of intimate partner sexual violence.
The same concept applies when alcohol is involved, which should never be a cause for rape yet is often used. According to the RAINN Organization, “Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in drug-facilitated sexual assault”. Alcoholic drinks are unfortunately part of a scheme to coerce the victim into things she might not do otherwise. Which leads me into the fact that just because a woman is unable to say no to sexual intercourse, does not mean she is agreeing to it. In that case, she is a victim of sexual coercion which is defined by The Band Together Project as, “the act of using subtle pressure, drugs, alcohol, or force to have sexual contact.” Silence does not equal a yes, yes means a yes! Whoever is initiating sexual activity should ask approval at every level. What the woman was wearing or her behavior should not matter either. Not only does that shift the blame away from the abuser and on to the victim but it also reinforces the rape culture in the United States.
Moving forward, intimate partner sexual violence can cause an array of lifelong complications even after the abuse has ended, thus prevention programs are essential to end the abuse before it begins. There are several programs that all differ in approach, yet so far, according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, only three have been successful in reducing the risk factors and preventing sexual violence perpetration. One of the three includes Safe Dates, designed for 8th and 9th grade boys and girls. Their goal includes preventing the initiation of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in adolescent dating relationships by changing gender-role norms within them. Their strategies include a ten session course, a play script, a poster contests, parent materials, and a teacher training outline. Shifting Boundaries also has a similar method, but it is designed for middle school students instead. One of their goals includes increasing awareness about sexual abuse and harassment which they accomplish with a six session classroom course. At last, there is Real Consent whose focal point is men in college and aims to prevent sexually violent behaviors towards women by correcting misperceptions in normative beliefs about sex and rape.
While prevention programs have proven to be effective within educational institutions (DeGue et al, 2014), there should also be a shift in mentality within our society to abolish IPSV. The expectation that men should be powerful, masculine, and strong adheres to why we continue to live in a patriarchal society and therefore to why women continue to be victims of intimate partner sexual violence. The social construction that creates gender roles for men and women as well, is to blame for why in many ways, women are still considered the minority. For this reason, men feel like it is the norm to hold all power and control within relationships. The structure of male dominance is embedded in U.S history as women were once not allowed to go to school or vote. Men have been made to believe they have a right of dominance over women, to threaten, to sexually victimize, to psychologically abuse her. Although matters have improved we still have a long way to go since gender inequality can still be seen today. An example would be the gender pay gap, according to the U.S Department of Labor, women make on average 78 cents for every dollar that a man earns (2014). In addition, the media often portrays women as solely objects. Women are sexualized everywhere from television shows, magazines, and movies. That teaches young boys to see girls merely for their sexual use instead of as a human being who can make decisions of her own.
In conclusion, a lack of proper definition and the plenty of misconceptions regarding IPSV should not have to leave a victim to possibly suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or sexually transmitted infections. It should be up to everyone to teach adolescents at a young age what is right and wrong when engaging in sexual activities. I encourage everyone to learn more about intimate partner sexual violence and take what you learn to teach family members and friends. With everyone understanding the definition of intimate partner sexual violence, women will be less as risk.