Many abused women view partners as “dependable”

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In spite of physical, sexual or psychological abuse, many women in abusive relationships with men continue to view their partners as dependable, and some describe them as having positive traits such as being affectionate, according to a new study conducted by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. The study relied on survey data from the U.S. National Institute on Mental Health for 611 low-income women living in urban areas. Of those included in the survey, nearly 43% said that they had been abused by their romantic partner in the previous year. Of women who said they were abused, 54% characterized their partners as very reliable, and 21% said that their partners had many positive characteristics.

Based on the reports and perceptions of the women surveyed, nearly one fifth (18%) of abused women were in relationships with men the researchers categorized as dangerously abusive—or those who regularly engaged in physical violence and controlling behavior and frequently found themselves in legal trouble. Another 38% of women were in relationships with men who the researchers characterized as positive and controlling—meaning that they were often violent, but were also viewed by their partners as being dependable and having positive traits. Yet the largest portion of women in abusive relationships (44%) were with men who the researchers describe as dependable yet abusive—meaning that they were less frequently violent and controlling compared with men in the two other groups, and were viewed as having more positive characteristics by their partners.

The study, published in the journal Violence Against Women included survey data for urban, low-income, mostly African American women with an average age of 35. Researchers found that psychological abuse was most common, followed by physical and sexual violence. The authors say that gaining a better understanding of how women in abusive relationships perceive their abusers could aid in the development of new strategies for intervention and prevention of domestic abuse.