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Women don’t just face sexual assault at work. It happens at home too.

Dec 13, 2017

Assari says we shouldn't only be talking about sexual assault in the workplace. He says we should look at what's happening in intimate relationships too.
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The #MeToo movement has launched us into a national discussion about sexual harassment, especially harassment and assault committed by men in the workplace.

Shervin Assari, an assistant professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Michigan, believes we should also be talking about another aspect of sexual assault that happens at home, behind closed doors: forced sex in intimate relationships.

One study estimates more than 12 million adults in this country, most of them women, experience intimate partner violence each year.

In his piece for The Conversation, Assari calls the problem “long-overlooked but insidious.”

Listen to Stateside's full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On what power has to do with forced sex in relationships

“One reason men commit this more is because they have… more chances for employment and also age difference.  Overall, usually men are older in the intimate relations, and that age difference has implications for power issues.”

“There is notation that power corrupts, so if you give power to people – not absolute power, just power – that corrupts..."

He pointed to the Stanford prison experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo. You can read a bit about that here.

“In marriage, if the age difference is too high, or a female is a minority individual, or unemployed, or financially dependent to the male partner, or an immigrant – so any aspect, social aspect, which changes the strength or the relative power of the partners, that becomes a risk factor [for forced sex in intimate relationships].”

On other risk factors

“One big risk factor is substance use. So substance use  –  drugs, especially problem alcohol use. So not just entertaining with substance, but a substance problem, that would increase the risk." 

"And also depression. So it’s not just intimate partner violence exposure [that] makes people depressed. Depression is also a risk factor for committing or perpetuating the violence. So it is both ways. And also another part is impulse issues, or anger management or emotional regulation issues."

"So it’s very interesting – we go to school and by going to school, we learn how to regulate our emotion. That is why on average, a higher socio-economic place would be lower in these problems. That is not because they have moral standards more than the other group, it’s just because they have received higher quality of education, and they have learned to regulate their emotions. And that means prevention of these types of behaviors.” 

On consequences victims of intimate partner violence face

“It’s very difficult to assume that being exposed to intimate partner violence increases risk of asthma, but it does. It increases risk of heart disease… there is almost no medical or psychiatric problem that exposure to intimate partner violence doesn’t increase that risk.”

On what you can do if you suspect a friend or a relative is being sexually abused by a spouse or partner

“One issue is that these people are suffering in silence. So the people around them need to approach them and have the conversation and say, ‘It’s not your fault,’ – making distance from victim blaming, because victims may blame themselves…”

“Conversation would be difficult because this is still taboo… but overall, approaching each other, increasing social support, having conversations about all of this – especially in close relationships, like a close friend or parents, like parents asking their children.”

“So if you saw a dysfunctional relation[ship], that may signal the presence of something in the relation[ship]. The other one is that, again, mental health problems are cause and consequences, so if you see someone getting depressed... more and more than before, that might be related to some of these exposures. So be aware of those signals, and then approaching people and trying to offer them some help.”

Listen above to hear Assari explain how he thinks we as a society should confront this problem of forced sex in intimate relationships.

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