Above 50% of the women in abusive relationships think their partners are highly reliable and have good qualities, a survey has revealed.
A new study by researchers in Toronto and 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.
"We wanted to see whether survey information from women who were not currently seeking treatment or counselling for relationship abuse could be a reliable source for identifying specific types of male abusers," said Patricia O'Campo, a social epidemiologist and director of the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
She added that past research has underscored abused women's personal evaluations of their intimate relationships-specifically, their commitment to the relationships and positive feelings about the abuser and/or the relationship-as critical in their decisions to continue or terminate abusive relationships.
"We wanted to learn more," said O'Campo.
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 percent 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 percent) perceived their partners as extremely controlling, while 1.2 percent 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 percent) saw their partners as highly dependable, while one in five (21 percent) felt the men in their lives possessed significant positive traits (i.e., being affectionate).
The researchers said that the 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. This is just one step toward potentially increasing our understanding of how to find additional ways to improve women's safety," said O'Campo.