Is It Domestic Violence or Sexual Abuse?
When domestic violence and sexual assault overlap, as they do in cases of intimate partner sexual abuse, specialized counselors, prosecutors and other responders trained in only one or the other type of violence may not provide sufficient support to victims. Few responders are trained in the subject of intimate partner sexual abuse. Counselors, police officers and prosecutors trained in one area – sexual assault or domestic violence – may be ill-equipped or uncomfortable conducting investigations that overlap with the other area.
For many victims, the clergy is their primary avenue of support. Some clergy are unsupportive of victims of domestic violence; even those who are supportive may be uncomfortable dealing with sexual (as opposed to physical) violence. This can deter victims who seek guidance from them.
Intimate partner sexual abuse victims often find that police and prosecutors do not appreciate the impact of this kind of sexual violence. Instead, they buy into the myth that because the couple was used to having consensual sex, whatever the victim is reporting is of no great consequence.
The judicial system's structure and environment often do not encourage or support disclosure of intimate partner sexual abuse, even in cases where the victim has disclosed such abuse to a responder. The advent of domestic violence courts has often had the unintended consequence of severing consideration of physical and sexual violence. If a victim of domestic violence alleges rape, she may be turned away from family court/domestic violence court and directed to file a criminal complaint, since a felony sex offense is not within the jurisdiction of civil family court. Also, when a victim with children reports abuse, she may risk loss of custody by child protective services, thereby further harming her family.
This module discusses policies and practices of victim services agencies, clergy, police, prosecutors, child protective services and the courts that can undermine or support victims of intimate partner sexual abuse, and best practices for improving responses of these institutions when dealing with victims of intimate partner sexual abuse.