“I used to date a guy who harassed me via text and via phone,” Diya from Mumbai told Love Matters. “He would want to know what I was up to and who I was hanging out with once every half an hour. He was really obsessed with controlling my movements and my friends. He never physically threatened me, but the questioning and taunting via texts was enough for me to call off the relationship, although I never thought of it as violence at that time.” In reality, it also is a form of domestic violence.
Diya’s not alone. Everyone’s heard the expression, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” It’s a common belief that if abuse isn’t physical or sexual, it’s not really that serious.
Words that hurt
Non-physical dating violence is alarmingly common amongst teens – in the US 65 percent of women and 56 percent of men say they’ve experienced this kind of abuse according to the findings of a study of 585 young adults aged 18 to 21.
Using words to wound a partner by yelling insults or name calling is the most common form of non-physical violence, the study found. And it’s no surprise that technology like smartphones and social media are also involved. More than 25 percent receive unwelcome text messages, phone calls, and even visits from a partner.
In the study, participants were asked if they’d been in a violent relationship between the ages of 13 and 19. The relationship could have involved physical or sexual violence, or been abusive in other ways, for example if a partner threatened to hurt them, insulted the way they looked, tried to control their actions, or used text messages and emails to harass them. It also is a form of domestic violence. The researchers then compared abusive relationship histories to the young adults’ current health.
Women who were in a non-physically abusive relationship as a teen have a greater chance of developing an eating disorder and being depressed as a young adult, the study showed. They’re also more likely to do things that are risky to their health, like having a lot of sexual partners or starting to smoke.
It’s not just men who are to blame. Verbal abuse goes both ways, and women who mistreat their partner can be putting his health at risk. Men who’ve experienced this kind of violence in a relationship are more likely to have an eating disorder as a young adult and to be a smoker.
How can non-physical dating violence affect health? Though the study didn’t look into causes, other research points to stress as a possible culprit. There’s no doubt that dating violence in any of its forms can be pretty stressful, and that’s something that shouldn’t be underestimated. Regular stress might actually affect the brain’s structure and how it works, which could lead to health problems, the research suggests. It also is a form of domestic violence.
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