Sexual Assault in the Context of Domestic/Dating Violence

by Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs

Helping the Hidden Survivors

We pass these people on the streets of our communities:  the young mother who is afraid to refuse sex because her partner is so intimidating when he drinks, the woman who has been taught that marital sex is obligatory, the college student whose dating partner takes nude pictures without consent and threatens to post them online after an argument, and the older woman who has endured a lifetime of sexual aggression from her physically abusive husband.

Sixty-eight percent of women who are being physically abused also report sexual violence in their relationship with the abusive partner.  Yet Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV) is still something of a hidden issue.  Why is it so important to identify this issue?  First, so we can begin to address and prevent this highly damaging and traumatic form of sexual violence.  Second, so that survivors can feel understood and receive appropriate services, whether they approach a sexual assault program or a domestic violence program. Third, because the presence of sexual violence in an abusive relationship heightens the risk of murder by the abusive partner.  There are many other reasons to pay attention to IPSV, including the possibility of reproductive health consequences and the impact on children.

What can we do about this form of sexual violence?

  1. Educate ourselves.  We need to become informed and aware of this issue.
  2. Build partnerships to raise awareness and coordinate services.  Other victim service providers, schools, parents, community members, law enforcement, health care providers, and other systems partners need to know about IPSV.
  3. Learn how to ask appropriate questions and train others to do so.  A recent study showed that having healthcare providers simply ask about reproductive coercion reduced the likelihood of reoccurrence by 70%.

Incorporate inclusive language and activities into our prevention and intervention services so that the full range of IPSV victimization is addressed – from teen sexual coercion to marital or partner sexual assault to elder abuse.