Phone: 805-756-2511
Fax:     805-756-6525

8:30 AM - 4:30 PM | M-F
Building 27

Relationship Violence

What is relationship violence?

Relationship violence is the physical and/or psychological harm that occurs between current or former intimate partners. It includes all acts of violence within the context of family or intimate relationships. Within the United States a woman is beaten every 15 seconds. Relationship violence is, in fact, the leading cause of injury to women in this country. Men are also sometimes the victims of intimate partner violence.

Relationship violence is not confined to any one socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, racial, or age group. It knows no geographic or educational boundary. The extent of relationship violence is difficult to obtain because of underreporting. Common forms of relationship abuse are:

Physical Abuse - slapping, shoving, choking, biting, pushing, entrapment, punching, beating, kicking, and pulling hair.

Isolation - controlling what they do, who they talk to, where they go, denying access to car, and removal of support system

Threats - making and/or carrying out threats to hurt them physically or emotionally, threatening to commit suicide

Sexual Abuse - forced penetration, rape by intoxication, making someone too afraid to say "yes" or "no" regarding any sexual activity, pressure to have sex (especially unsafe sex)

Emotional/Mental/Verbal Abuse - putting them down, name-calling, making them think they are crazy, playing mind games, stonewalling

Economic Abuse - preventing them from getting a job, controlling access to money, using money to get what they wants, controlling possessions


When a couple is having a relationship violence problem, it is just that they have a bad relationship. Often, poor communication is the problem.


Bad relationships do not result in or cause relationship violence. The idea that bad relationships cause violence is one of the most common and dangerous misconceptions about relationship violence. First, it encourages all parties involved - including and especially the victim - to minimize the seriousness of the problem and focus their energies on "improving the relationship" in the false hope that this will stop the violence. It also allows the abuser to blame the bad relationship and the violence itself on the victim, rather than acknowledging his/her own responsibility.
More importantly, improving the relationship is not likely by itself to end the violence. Violence is learned behavior. Many couples have had bad relationships yet never become physically violent. Many batterers are violent in every one of their relationships, whether they consider them bad or good. The violent individual is the sole source and cause of the violence, and neither his/her partner nor their relationship should be held responsible.


Most relationship violence incidents are caused by alcohol and drug abuse.


Many people have alcohol and/or drug problems but are not violent. Similarly, many batterers are not substance abusers. How people behave when they are "under the influence" of alcohol and/or drugs depends on a complex combination of personal, social, physical and emotional factors. And like many other types of behavior, alcohol or drug-affected behavior patterns are culturally learned. It is often easier to blame an alcohol or drug abuse problem than to admit that you or your partner is violent even when sober. Episodes of problem drinking and incidents of relationship violence often occur separately and must be treated as two distinct issues. Neither alcoholism nor drugs can explain or excuse relationship violence.


Most relationship violence occurs in lower class or minority communities.


Relationship violence occurs at all levels of society, regardless of their social, economic, racial or cultural backgrounds.
Researchers and service providers have found, however, that economic and social factors can have a significant impact on how people respond to violent incidents and what kind of help they seek. Affluent people can usually afford private help - doctors, lawyers and counselors -- while people with fewer financial resources (i.e., those belonging to lower economic class or a minority group) tend to call the police or other public agencies. These agencies are often the only available source of statistics on relationship violence, and consequently, lower class and minority communities tend to be overrepresented in those figures, creating a distorted image of the problem.


The victim did something to provoke the violence.


No one deserves to be beaten, battered, threatened or in any way victimized by violence. Batterers will rarely admit that they are the cause of the problem. In fact, putting the blame for the violence on the victim is a way to manipulate the victim and other people. Batterers will tell the victim, "You made me mad" or "You made me jealous" or will try to shift the burden by saying "Everyone acts like that". Most victims try to placate and please their abusive partners in order to deescalate the violence. The batterer chooses to abuse, and bears full responsibility for the violence.


Most batterers simply lose control during violent incidents and do not know what they are doing.


If batterers were truly out of control, as many claim to be during violent incidents, there would be many more domestic violence homicides. In fact, many batterers do control their violence, abusing their victims in less visible places on their bodies, such as under the hairline or on the torso. Furthermore, researchers have found that relationship violence occurs in cycles (see below), and every episode is preceded by a predictable, repeated pattern of behavior and decisions made by the batterer.


Relationship violence does not occur in same-sex relationships.


A major barrier to recognizing abuse in same-sex couples is that domestic violence has traditionally been portrayed as a heterosexual issue with male perpetrators and female victims. A report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects found that one in four partners in same-sex relationships will experience relationship violence in his or her lifetime.

What are the signs of relationship violence?

If you believe you may be in an abusive relationship, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you ever been physically hurt, such as being kicked, pushed, choked or punched by your partner or ex-partner?
  • Has your partner ever used the threat of hurting you or people you care about to get you to do something?
  • Has your partner ever abused or injured your pets?
  • Has your partner ever destroyed your property?
  • Has your partner ever tried to keep you from seeing your family, friends, or from doing other things that are important to you?
  • Do you feel like you are being controlled or isolated by your partner? For instance, does your partner control your money, transportation, activities or social contacts?
  • Have you ever been forced by your partner to have sex when you did not want to or to have unsafe sex?
  • Is your partner jealous and always questioning whether you are faithful?
  • Does your partner regularly insult you or blame you for things that you cannot control?
  • Are you afraid of your partner?

If you believe that you may be an abusive partner, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you feel jealous often? Are you jealous of other people in your partner’s life?
  • Do you often question her/him about her/his whereabouts, phone calls or conversations?
  • Do you feel you have the right to tell your partner what to do, who to talk to, where to go, what to wear?
  • Do you have difficulty controlling your anger in front of your partner? For instance, have you broken, punched, or thrown things around when you are angry?
  • Do you blame others for your problems or feelings?
  • Have you grabbed, pushed, kicked, or put your partner down with offensive language?
  • If you hurt your partner do you blame her/him?
  • Do you make excuses for your reactions?

There are signs of relationship violence that observers might see in a relative or friend who is in an abusive relationship.

  • Being prone to accidents or being repeatedly injured.
  • Having injuries that could not be caused unintentionally or that do not match the story of what happened to cause them.
  • Having injuries on many different parts of the body, such as the face, throat, neck, chest, abdomen or genitals.
  • Having bruises, burns or wounds that are shaped like teeth, hands, belts, cigarette tips or that look like the injured person has a glove or sock on (from having a hand or foot placed in boiling water).
  • Having wounds in various states of healing.
  • Often seeking medical help or, conversely, waiting to seek or not seeking medical help even for serious injuries.
  • Showing signs of depression.
  • Using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Attempting suicide.

What are the health effects of relationship violence?

The affects of relationship can be far-reaching and longstanding. Besides the obvious physical injuries, relationship violence can lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Abuse may also trigger suicide attempts or psychotic episodes.

If you know someone who is being abused, you can help.

Here are some tips:

  • Listen to them without judging
  • Help them to realize that what is happening is not normal
  • Help them to talk to trusted adults to get help
  • Help them to develop a safety plan
  • If they are able to break off the relationship, continue to be supportive once they are alone

If you are in an unhealthy relationship:

  • Talk to a counselor
  • Take a self defense class
  • Make a safety plan
  • Keep a support network of friends and family that you can talk to about the abuse
  • Document the abuse. When possible take pictures of bruises, scratches, etc.
  • Make sure your residence is safe
  • Make sure that anyone else who may be affected by the abuse knows about the violence (e.g., parents, employer, school, etc.).

If you have a friend who is abusive:

  • Help you friend to focus on how their behavior makes other people feel
  • Talk to them about the serious effects of their on their partner
  • Make it clear that they are responsible for their behavior
  • Express that you think non-violent behavior is okay

For further information and resources:

To report an assault:

Community Police - 911

University Police Department (UPD) - 805-756-2281

For confidential counseling:

Cal Poly Counseling Services - 805-756-2511

Confidential Campus Support:

Safer- 805-756-2282


Community Resources

Lumina Alliance 


Women’s Resource Center - SLO

District Attorney Victim/Witness Assistance Center

Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) Clinic

National Domestic Violence Hotline


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