Intimate partner sexual violence often misunderstood

By Malinda Williams
For The Taos News
Posted 5/14/18

Community Against Violence is one of only a few agencies in New Mexico that is a “dual” agency, one providing services to child and adults survivors of sexual violence and domestic …

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Intimate partner sexual violence often misunderstood


Community Against Violence is one of only a few agencies in New Mexico that is a “dual” agency, one providing services to child and adults survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence.

CAV chose to be a dual agency because it’s common for people whose current or former spouse or intimate partner is committing domestic violence against them to also be sexually assaulting them. This is called intimate partner sexual violence; it affects people of all ages, backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations.

People who have experienced further trauma from being sexually assaulted within the context of domestic violence can face additional barriers to healing. The persistent misunderstanding of sexual violence committed by a partner within the community, including law enforcement and service providers, is difficult to overcome.

Sometimes an abusive partner may not be physically battering the victim but is coercing or forcing them to have sex as an act of power, control and aggression. These offenders sometimes even force pregnancies or intentionally infect their partners with sexually transmitted diseases.

Survivors of this type of sexual violence often feel shamed, demoralized and degraded. And when combined with physical violence, the likelihood of serious injury and homicide rises. These survivors must be considered differently than survivors of (non-intimate partner) sexual violence.

In the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Program’s publication, “Connections,” writer Louise McOrmond-Plummer presents a list she compiled that includes research on common issues experienced bu survivors of sexual violence by intimate partners:

Longer-lasting trauma: A common notion is that IPSV doesn’t have as much of an impact as sexual assault by a stranger. In fact, research reveals that the trauma can be longer lasting it is not recognized and survivors may not be able to share the pain (Finkelhor & Yllo, 1985).

Higher levels of physical injury: If we accept that most rapes are not physically violent, those that do involve injury are likely to be partner rapes. Survivors of IPSV suffer the highest frequency of multiple rapes (Myhill & Allen, 2002).

Higher levels of anal and oral rape: Partner perpetrators commonly use these forms of assault to humiliate, punish and take “full” ownership of their partners (Finkelhor & Yllo, 1985).

Advice to “put up with” rape: Marital rape victims are often advised by church, family or friends that they should be grateful that the rapist is a good father and that it’s their duty to submit (Adams, 1995). It’s hard to imagine any other class of rape victim being given this advice, and this advice is what leads to further endangerment.

Financial dependency on the rapist: Women with children who are permitted no money or employment of their own may feel that they have no escape path.

Safety issues: The IPSV survivor may need a place of refuge, court orders and assistance with legal and custody matters.

Difficulty defining the acts as sexual assault: Women are socialized to see rape as involving nonconsensual sex between two strangers. These victims may be reluctant to define a partner she loves as a “rapist.”

A general climate of sexual assault and abuse: Women living with intimate partner sexual violence may face a host of repetitive behaviors that are not common in rapes committed by strangers, such as hurting their breasts, forced sexual touching of the perpetrator and degrading name-calling (Easteal & McOrmondPlummer, 2006).

Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. (CAV) which offers free confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; counseling; shelter; transitional housing; and community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV’s 24-hour crisis line at (575) 758- 9888 or


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