Roots of Intimate Partner Violence
The roots of IPV are the result of cultural, social, economic, and psychological factors. IPV is a learned behavior. It can be learned through early childhood observations and exposure to violence, a person’s own experience of victimization, and living in a culture of violence (i.e. violent movies or videogames, community norms, and cultural beliefs). IPV is modeled by individuals, institutions, and society, which may influence the perspectives of children and adults regarding its acceptability.
Stereotypical gender roles also perpetuate IPV. Boys see and hear countless messages from a myriad of sources (television, music, books, internet, culture, religion) telling them to “be strong,” “act like a man.” Males may try to get their friends’ approval by acting like they do not care about anything or anyone. Such messages can take on an aggressive and physical tone. Conversely, females are taught to “act like a lady,” “to be cooperative.” Girls, and society, often accept the idea that it is a “guy thing” to control or “strong arm” girls. These cultural and societal messages may prevent girls from “finding their voice,” expressing their dislike for a behavior or even saying “no” to a forced sexual act. Gender roles often dictate how young men and young women are supposed to act and many of these roles can have negative consequences for relationships.
The number of girls who are the victims in abusive relationships exceeds the number of boys who are abused; however, IPV affects both males and females, people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic groups. In fact, the messages that boys receive about what it means “to be strong” or “be a man” perpetuate their vulnerability because they may have trouble recognizing and admitting to an abusive situation.
It is important that professionals be sensitive to language that is used and assumptions about “boys as the abusers/girls as the victim.” Language should be gender-neutral (i.e., partner vs. boyfriend or girlfriend). Should a male or female disclose that he/she is mistreating their partner, they need support as well to help them change their behavior.