Highly educated women in violent relationships

According to a recent survey, more than one fourth of university-educated women have experienced intimate partner violence. In the study, intimate partner violence included physical, psychological, sexual, social and financial abuse.

According to a recent survey 27% of university-educated women have experienced intimate partner violence. In a national study conducted a decade ago, one in five Finnish women reported experiencing intimate partner abuse.

The study is related to the European Commission’s Domestic Violence Met by Educated Women project and was conducted with an electronic survey form. The survey received responses from 302 women, most of them Master’s or doctoral degree holders. Most of the respondents were in the 35–44 age range.

The results of the survey were analysed by Maiju Pitkänen, Bachelor of Theology, who will also use them to write a Master's thesis for the discipline of church sociology at the University of Helsinki.

More common than thought

“I was surprised to hear that young women studying at university are most at risk of intimate partner violence," Pitkänen says. “I am one of them.”

The effort put into answering the open-ended questions was also astonishing.

“These women clearly had a desire to communicate their experiences.”

“I was also shocked at the cruelty of the violence and the many forms it can take. I knew from previous research that the psychological trauma from violence is often much more severe than the physical injury. The survey responses demonstrated that the psychological consequences can last for many years and can cause many different kinds of trauma. The women’s self-esteem may never return, they may lose their ability to work due to depression, and there can be a lingering fear – of people in general and of men in particular.”

Self-esteem and the ability to work can disappear – but fear remains.

“The biggest challenge was keeping a distance from the material. The responses sometimes brought tears to my eyes and the shocking details they depicted would stay with me,” Pitkänen explains.

Name-calling, kicking, rape

The most common forms of psychological violence discussed in the study were name-calling, threats of violence and jealousy.

Typical acts of physical violence were preventing the woman from moving, holding on and slapping. In addition, a third of the women who had experienced intimate partner violence had had a partner pressure, force or try to force them into sex.

The most common type of social violence was the partner trying to prevent the woman from speaking to other men as well as interrogating the women as to who they were with and when.

University-educated women are significantly more likely to experience financial abuse.

“In comparison with a previous Finnish study, financial control exercised by the partner was much more common specifically among university-educated women,” Pitkänen explains.

Six per cent of the respondents stated they were in an abusive relationship at the time of the survey, and just over a fifth had previously been in an abusive relationship.

No more silence

According to the survey, the women rarely seek help. The most common reasons for keeping the abuse a secret are shame, fear of retaliation and a feeling that the abuse wasn’t serious enough.

“The women typically turned to a friend, relative, family member or doctor. They were most satisfied with the help they received from shelters and public legal aid offices,” Pitkänen says.

Women rarely dare to seek help.

According to Pitkänen, the best way to reduce intimate partner violence would be to make the topic as visible as possible, and to talk about it more openly.

“Violence is a great source of shame, which means it is difficult to tell anyone about it. The woman feels alone, and often responsible for the violence herself. Recognising the issue and talking about it are the key to helping women leave abusive relationships or get help.”

“Some of the respondents thanked me for the opportunity to tell their stories – some had never spoken of them before.”

Pitkänen is interested in studying the topic further.

“I hope to continue researching this topic after I finish my Master’s thesis. My goal is to help find ways to reduce intimate partner violence.”

Puhumatta paras – site includes a link to an English-language summary of the research results