Poll shakes commonly held beliefs about marital violence

The way that life as a couple can descend into emotional or physical abuse has been the subject of many a film, play and novel, as well as sociological research. The Technical College (TEI) of Crete’s social work department recently conducted a survey of 1,122 Greeks aged 18 to 65 in 10 municipalities in Athens and two in Crete, headed by Georgia Tzamalouka, Maria Papadakaki and Ioannis Chliaoutakis. They found that half of the respondents said they had either been the victims or witnesses of abuse within the family when they were children, making it highly likely that they, in turn, will themselves practice abuse. In searching for the roots of the problem, it appears that in every couple usually one person is in control. At best, the other partner is a «co-pilot.» «Although the theory of equality within relationships satisfies the need for justice, in practice, in a couple, there is usually a ‘boss,’» said Chliaoutakis. In other words, the one in charge is the one who sets the terms and wields power in the relationship. In most cases, violence occurs when the other partner wants to prevail but is unable to. This can range from grumbling and emotional blackmail to physical violence. Both sexes culprits The survey showed that some forms of abuse between a couple, such as verbal and emotional, are not unusual by any means, nor is marital violence committed solely by men. Several entrenched beliefs and stereotypes were shaken by the results of the survey. Although women are more likely to fall victim to physical violence, they are frequently the perpetrators. «Men might not report cases of violence against them quite as frequently, because they feel it would affront their manhood,» explained Chliaoutakis. During the survey, however, members of both sexes admitted that they had abused their partners physically to about the same degree. Education levels appeared to have no effect on the statistics. Meanwhile, the extent of violence between sexual partners in Greece does not appear to differ from what is known about other countries. Other useful conclusions concerned the age and length of cohabitation or marriage. Couples in the 50-65 age bracket were less likely to use violence. Single and divorced people were more likely to do so than married couples. The longer a couple were together, the less likely they were to be violent. The «dangerous» period appears to be from the first to the seventh year. Couples with no children or those with four or more tend to be more violent that those with only two or three. The survey considered 16 forms of abuse on four different levels: verbal, emotional, physical and sexual. Different levels Verbal abuse. The most common form of abuse, practiced by both partners. Seven in 10 people said they were subjected to complaints over finances and their activities and six in 10 said they were the subject of allegations, blame, and accusations of mistakes and negligence. Half said that their partners used sarcasm. Emotional abuse. As common as verbal abuse. Around 60 percent of couples said that their partner used silence as a weapon and half said their partner tried to control the way they dressed. Sexual violence. This has been subject to misinterpretation, since even withholding sex is a form of abuse. Half of those questioned said their partners woke them up to have sex, two in 10 said they were forced to engage in sex when not in the mood. The same percentage said their partner withheld sex. Physical violence. A rare occurrence. About 20 percent said they had been pinched or scratched and 10 percent reported hitting or biting. Looking at the 16 acts of abuse, the most common by far was complaining, as 816 out of the 1,122 men and women said this was a common occurrence. Accusations and blame came second (700 said they were victims of these forms of abuse) followed by controlling behavior («Where were you?» «Why are you late?»), and in fourth place, silence. The rarest form of abuse appears to be using one’s hands (hitting, pulling hair) and biting, all reported by 115 people. Researchers found no great statistical differences between the two sexes apart from sexual coercion, experienced by 59 percent of women. Some forms of abuse are committed by both sexes in equal measure (using silence as a weapon, shaking, pinching and scratching), or almost so. Of the 512 people who reported that their partner tried to prevent them from having any time alone, 52 percent were women. Of the 250 who said their partners deliberately smashed objects in the house, again 52 percent were women. What was interesting is that both sexes said abuse was due to both partners; there was a 3-4 percent tendency to see oneself more as the victim than as the perpetrator. «Violence is part of life, an innate part of our nature. The question is how much it can be controlled, depending on how civilized we are,» said Chliaoutakis.