What’s the most common type of relationship abuse?


Q: What’s the most common type of abuse in a bad/unhealthy relationship? 

A: The best way to answer this question is to look at surveys which ask people about their experiences with abuse in relationships. 

The 2009 American College Health Association (ACHA) assessment at Ohio State reported that in the preceding 12 months, 9.9% of respondents were in a relationship that was emotionally abusive, 2.4% were in a relationship that was physically abusive, and 1.4% were in a relationship that was sexually abusive.  From this data, it seems clear that emotional abuse is the most common.  The problem is that the survey doesn’t define what constitutes “emotional abuse,” so we are left trying to figure out what behaviors would fit that definition.    

For example, we hear a lot about “technological and/or communications” abuse.   According to a 2007 Technology & Teen Dating Abuse Survey:

  • 1 in 3 teens (30%) say they are text messaged 10, 20, or 30 times an hour by a partner inquiring where they are, what they’re doing, or who they’re with.
  • 68% of teens say boyfriends/girlfriends sharing private or embarrassing pictures/videos on cell phones and computers is a serious problem.
  • 71% of teens regard boyfriends/girlfriends spreading rumors about them on cell phones and social networking sites as a serious problem

An abusive relationship refers to a pattern of controlling behaviors, and a bad/unhealthy relationship will undoubtedly be emotionally abusive, and might also be verbally, physically, sexually, and perhaps financially abusive.

The Sexual Violence Education and Support program in the Student Wellness Center can help students identify and make decisions about an abusive relationship.  Additionally, the “it’s abuse” campaign on campus offers great resources and information.

Deborah Schipper, Sexual Violence Education and Support (OSU SWC)

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)