Young people fall victim to abuse in romantic relationships

By Pham Nga   April 13, 2024 | 08:31 pm PT
In the middle of the night, neighbors rushed towards Hong Hoa’s room following her terrified screams. Her boyfriend had brutally assaulted her, with violent blows and kicks to her back and stomach.

It was not the first time the sophomore at a university in Hanoi endured physical abuse. Whenever her boyfriend lost his temper, he would launch into an offensive rant, which would sometimes escalate into violence.

Hoa recounted a particular bad fight between them at the entrance of their apartment. The conversation had barely begun when her boyfriend, a man of considerable size standing 1.8 meters tall and weighing 80kg, unexpectedly elbowed her in the back.

"I was in so much pain, so I attempted to flee to my room. But he yanked my hair and slapped me so hard that I got knocked onto the ground," Hoa revealed.

Hong Hoa in her hometown, early March 2024. Photo courtesy of Hoa

Hong Hoa in her hometown, early March 2024. Photo courtesy of Hoa

Quoc Anh has been suffering his girlfriend’s excessive jealousy. Every single day, the 16-year-old guy had to report his whereabouts and whatever he was doing to his girlfriend.

"She would give me a video call in the middle of the night just to verify my location," Anh lamented.

From the start of their relationship, Anh’s girlfriend had been controlling his social interactions, particularly with his female friends.

She required him to give her the passwords to all of his devices, as well as full access to his social media accounts. The number of Anh’s social media followers eventually reduced, as his female friends would unfriend or even block him.

"I love my girlfriend, but I’m also emotionally exhausted. I’ve addressed this problem so many times, and she still doesn’t listen to me," he said.

Hoa and Anh are both victims of relationship abuse, which is increasingly prevalent nowadays.

According to a survey conducted on women aged 18-30 years old in the 2014-2015 period by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), 59% reported experiencing psychological abuse, 23% were subjected to cyberbullying, and 24% endured post-breakup harassment and abuse.

In Vietnam, the second nationwide study on violence against women in 2019 showed that nearly two-thirds of women aged between 15 and 64 had experienced at least one incident of abuse caused by their husband or romantic partner.

While there is a lack of official data on male victims, La Linh Nga, Director of the Psycho-pedagogy Research and Application Center in Hanoi, emphasized that relationship abuse is not gender-specific.

"Abuse is not confined to physical harm; it can also take the form of verbal offense, emotional bullying, or sexual coercion, all of which lead to trauma in the victims," Nga shared.

According to Dr Nguyen Thi To Quyen, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Sociology and Development, Academy of Journalism and Communication in Hanoi, young people nowadays have more means to meet new people and explore potential romantic partners. However, it is possible to end up in toxic relationships if people jump into relationships without fully understanding their partner.

"Some people might take their relationship for granted because it is increasingly easier to get together with someone. This could lead to physical abuse towards their partner whenever they feel upset," said Quyen.

In addition, the expert attributed relationship abuse to egoistic issues, poor impulse control, and a lack of social understanding.

Nga suggested that people with inherent violent tendencies often come from troubled family backgrounds. Meanwhile, victims of abuse, particularly those exhibiting codependent traits, find it challenging to break free from the cycle of harassment. Even in cases of physical violence, victims often forgive their abusive partners following an apology, continuing to hope for the perpetrators to change.

Sometimes, victims choose to stay silent, which is driven by shame and fear of societal judgment. This is especially prevalent in cases involving sexual coercion or threats of sharing explicit messages or images.

Relationship abuse is increasingly prevalent. Illustration photo by Pexels

Relationship abuse is increasingly prevalent. Illustration photo by Pexels

Hoa’s ex-boyfriend is a classic example of the cycle of abuse. Since a very young age, he and his mother were subjected to abusive behaviors from his father and they often got kicked out of their home in the dead of night.

"My ex-boyfriend told me that he felt very hurt and lonely as a child. Yet, whenever he gets angry, he would do exactly what his father did, despite knowing it was wrong. It’s as if he was avenging his past," recounted Hoa.

Hoa wanted to break up and cut him off after repeated instances of physical abuse. But every time her partner stood at her door, saying sorry and making countless promises, Hoa would forgive him again.

Anh’s girlfriend also had a rough childhood, marked by her father’s infidelity. When she turned 8, she was dragged by her mother into a violent confrontation with her father’s mistress.

"The mistress slammed my girlfriend’s head to a wall, resulting in a bloody injury. That’s why she does not trust men and constantly fears betrayal," recalled Anh, leading him to seek professional help for their relationship.

According to Nga, victims of relationship abuse can potentially suffer from depression, anxiety, as well as feelings of insecurity and grief.

"Victims often feel terrible about their situation, leading to self-doubt. Over time, this can result in a loss of self-worth and social isolation," the expert explained.

According to the same aforementioned study by UN Women, 21% of participants reported experiencing emotional or physical harm as a result of abuse, with over 6% confessing to having suicidal thoughts after the traumatic experience.

Hoa used to contemplate suicide. She tried to cut ties with the abusive boyfriend, but he would apologize and beg her to stay. And then after seeing Hoa’s determination to break up, he resorted to blackmailing her, threatening to send explicit videos of them to her friends and family before uploading them on social media.

Hoa was too frightened to leave the house or tell anyone. She confined herself to her room for days, waiting for the bruises on her body to heal.

Nga cautioned about the severe long-term consequences of enduring an abusive relationship.

"Staying with an abusive partner can never lead to happiness, not to mention the harmful effects on future generations," Nga remarked.

Even after escaping an abusive relationship, abuse victims often struggle to form new relationships due to the deep-seated fears and emotional scars.

Dr To Quyen advised young adults to thoroughly understand their potential romantic partner, including their family background, personality, and work, before committing to any relationship.

"This process can take very long. Young people should avoid rushing into relationships as this can lead to adverse outcomes," said the expert.

Nga further emphasized the importance of clear communication in a relationship, especially when one partner exhibits abusive behaviors. She suggested documenting thoughts right after the event, and having a candid discussion once both parties have calmed down. In some cases, involving a person who has influence on the abuser can help curb their abusive tendencies.

"Forgiveness can be extended once or twice. But if the abuse is recurring, you should leave," Nga concluded.

Hoa has now successfully exited the toxic relationship after finding the courage to tell her parents.

"My parents told me whenever he threatened to release explicit videos, I should threaten to call the police. I listened to them, and have not met him ever since. What I thought was so complicated turned out to have a very simple solution," said Hoa, who added that she was now in a happy and healthy relationship.

*Names have been changed for privacy

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