Living With Polio

Partner Abuse, Part 2

“Promoting Positive Solutions,” From Post-Polio Health (Volume 30, Number 4, pages 8, 9, 10). Part 2.

Dr. Machell addresses female to male and same sex partner abuse: Intimate partner violence (IPV) isn’t just about male perpetrators and female victims. Men can be abused by a female partner. And in same-sex relationships men are abused by men and women are abused by women.

Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or economic. Withholding of medication, assistive devices or care; keeping someone from medical appointments; or threatening nursing home placement, competency evaluation or the removal of their children are forms of abuse too. Abuse, regardless of the form it takes or the gender of perpetrator and victim, is always about power and control. The cycle of abuse and the blaming of the victim by the perpetrator are also the same.

Given the level of under reporting, I believe the statistics on the frequency of men abused by female partners are meaningless. It is wrong to assume that such abuse is primarily emotional or psychological. Regardless of size or physical strength differentials, women can and do physically and sexually abuse men.

No matter what form the abuse takes, men abused by women report feeling shame and isolation. They may question their masculinity, or believe that others would, especially if as often happens the abuser states or implies this is why the abuse is occurring. When male victims disclose abuse, they may experience or fear they will experience skepticism and ridicule. And even without false accusations by the abuser, many people, including police and judges, assume the abuse must be mutual.

In the recent past, abuse in same-sex relationships has been more openly acknowledged. In spite of this, in my own practice I have seen gays and lesbians who are connected with their own communities and comfortable with their identities – nevertheless experiencing ambivalence about leaving abusive relationships. It is much harder for those who are less comfortable and/or who live in less enlightened parts of the country. If they are not out, their perpetrators may threaten to out them. Reporting the abuse, even telling a friend or family member, may out them anyway. Police and others may not take abuse between same-sex partners seriously. Even if they do leave, victims may not be able to access shelters or protective orders. And a closeted victim may have few or no supports among family or friends.

Some men in same-sex relationships report being told that leaving shows they aren’t really gay or that they believe gay relationships are wrong because men are naturally violent and this is a natural part of sexuality between men. Men who are conflicted about being in a same-sex relationship may even believe that the abuse is punishment that they deserve.

Women abused in same-sex relationships often feel especially isolated, especially if they believe that women are never perpetrators of abuse. Because lesbian communities are small and interconnected, it may be difficult for the victim to escape her perpetrator without disconnecting from her support systems. Women in same-sex relationships who don’t identify as lesbians may feel additional confusion and shame.

All people with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of IPV as those who are temporarily able-bodied. While being targeted due to physical weakness or vulnerability seems obvious, many people with disabilities are at high risk for emotional and psychological abuse due to poor self-image. For example, an abuser can exploit or reinforce a polio survivor’s belief that he or she is less attractive or desirable and therefore lucky that anyone would want them. Individuals who have experienced trauma or who have attachment issues may also be more vulnerable to all forms of IPV. And if the abuser also provides care, transportation or income for the victim, it becomes even more difficult to leave.

If IPV is happening to you, no matter what the perpetrator tells you, it isn’t your fault. You don’t deserve it. And you can leave.

The recommendations for leaving safely and the phone numbers in Rhoda’s response (Part 1) will work for you too. Use them. Be safe.

Tags for this article:
Mental Health
Psychological Health
Quality of Life