People have a hard time grasping the potential severity of psychological abuse and women’s violence against men, according to a study from Lund University in Sweden. The research reveals discrepancies in how victims – in contrast with the rest of society – evaluate different types of violence.
The study – “What you say and what I hear—Investigating differences in the perception of the severity of psychological and physical violence in intimate partner relationships” by Sverker Sikström, Mats Dahl, Hannah Lettmann, Anna Alexandersson, Elena Schwörer, Lotta Stille, Oscar Kjell, Åse Innes-Ker, and Leonard Ngaosuvan – appeared in PLOS ONE.
For this study, the research team asked 113 participants to write a text describing either psychological or physical violence that they had experienced in an intimate relationship, and to rate how severe the violence was. These texts were then given to 340 other participants, that read them and also rated them for severity. The psychological abuse was rated as less severe by those reading about it, compared with those who had experienced it. In contrast, physical violence was rated as more severe by the readers.
The results showed that physical violence is often perceived as more severe than psychological violence. The same applies when a man is physically abused by a woman, as opposed to the other way round.
“We often focus on how dangerous physical violence is and forget how much people suffer from psychological abuse”, said Sikström. ”This may simply be a communication issue, where we are unable to convey psychological suffering in the same way”.
Isolation from others, verbal aggression, threats, control, harassment or insults are examples of psychological violence that are often experienced as worse than physical violence such as hitting, kicking, slapping, shaking, punching or choking.
The Lund researchers also examined the significance of gender for how physical violence is perceived. This was done by swapping the names of female and male perpetrators and victims. The violence was rated as worse if the rater incorrectly believed it was carried out by a man against a woman, than if it was the other way round.
“IPV is obviously closely connected to gender differences, since most partner relationships are heterosexual,” the researchers stated, adding that – nonetheless – “although violence against women is recognized as a global problem, women are not always the victims of IPV. Some studies have found that women are just as likely as men to inflict IPV as both men and women may resort to violence to resolve conflicts in an intimate relationship.”
The findings have implications for society, according to Sikström.
”We have laws against physical violence, whereas many types of psychological violence are legal, and lack any real consequence. We hope that our study can form the basis for a more accurate assessment of violent crimes, where communication difficulties and preconceived notions based on gender are taken into account,” ended Sikström.