By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Today’s post explores a very difficult issue, and I want to start by saying that this is a topic that parents and other adults should use discretion in discussing with young people, and some of the quotes today may present triggers for those with a history of trauma. So, please proceed to reading this post with those cautions in mind.
The original sample of our survey with intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors included 219 participants. Of these, 125 participants reported to us that they had experienced sexual abuse within their past abusive relationships. We can’t say that 57% of all survivors of IPV experience sexual assault due to the way we collected our data, as we can’t generalize that rate to others. However, the fact that the majority of participants in our research were abused sexually by their partners suggests that abusive dynamics often play out within couples’ sexual interactions when IPV is present. Today, I want to share with you some of the experiences that the participants in our research shared with us to provide examples of how sexual abuse may occur within the context of IPV.
But first, it’s important to note that even today, there are still people who fail to acknowledge that rape and sexual assault can occur within an established relationship, including marriage. This issue recently made the news when Richard Black from Virginia campaigned for a seat in Congress. During his previous time in the Virginia state legislature, Black “opposed making spousal rape a crime, citing the impossibility of convicting a husband accused of raping his wife ‘when they're living together, sleeping in the same bed, she's in a nightie, and so forth.’" Although Black has since dropped out of the race, this news brought to light the fact that some people still don’t recognize the existence or impact of sexual abuse within IPV.
The experiences of many survivors of intimate partner violence, including those who participated in our research, tell a different story. As one participant said, “Married or not, rape is rape.” The following participants’ quotes further demonstrate the different ways that sexual abuse and assault may occur as part of overall abusive dynamics:
As I wrote in another blog post earlier this month, relationship commitment does not grant free and unrestricted use of one’s partner’s body. I believe that the experiences of these participants demonstrate the need for ongoing recognition of the potential for sexual abuse within abusive intimate relationships. This recognition is needed in prevention initiatives, interventions, and community resources for survivors.
The issue of sexual abuse within intimate relationships is highly complex, and I suspect this complexity is part of what has kept it an under-recognized aspect of intimate partner violence. However, given what we know about the power and control dynamics that underlie abuse, it is not surprising that these dynamics play out in such an intimate and personal domain as the couple’s sexual relationship. Therefore, we must work to continue to bring more attention to this issue so that survivors can receive the support they need and to prevent further abuse.