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Over half of women in abusive relationships still see good in male partners: study

A new study by researchers at St. Michael’s and Adelphi University in Garden City, New York suggests that many who live with chronic psychological abuse still see certain positive traits in their abusers — such as dependability and being affectionate — which may partly explain why they stay.

Toronto, April 13, 2010

Using survey data from a project funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, the researchers explored the experiences of 611 urban-dwelling, low-income American women.

  • Overall, 42.8% of those surveyed said they had been abused by their intimate male partners in the year preceding the survey.
  • Psychological abuse was significantly more of an ongoing problem than physical abuse, while sexual abuse was reported as least common.
  • A relatively small number of women (2.3%) perceived their partners as extremely controlling, while 1.2% reported that their partners engaged in extreme generally violent behaviours.

But a considerable number of women felt their abusive male partners still possessed some good qualities: more than half (54%) saw their partners as highly dependable, while one in five (21%) felt the men in their lives possessed significant positive traits (i.e., being affectionate).

The researchers say their findings suggest there is value in studying the problem of male violence through the perceptions of abused women, including those who are currently “outside” the social services and legal systems designed to help them.

“The importance of listening to women’s voices cannot be highlighted enough and needs further exploration,” says Patricia O’Campo, a social epidemiologist and director of St. Michael’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health. “This is just one step toward potentially increasing our understanding of how to find additional ways to improve women’s safety.”

The study, entitled “Profiling Abusive Men Based on Women’s Self-Reports: Findings From a Sample of Urban Low- Income Minority Women,” was published in the March 2010 issue of the journal Violence Against Women.