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“Fifty Shades of Grey” Romanticizes Sexual Abuse, Study Says

Aaron Davidson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Natalie Collins married early, at age 17.  Her husband, who the Wickford, England, woman at first described as charming, soon exhibited a darker side.  He became manipulative and controlling, isolating her from friends and family.

Looking back, Collins says, she was too young to recognize what was going on: "I didn't have any understanding of what abuse was and no skills necessary to make good relationship choices."

His emotional abuse soon escalated to sexual assault.  After a rape when she was six months pregnant, she was taken to the hospital and doctors delivered her son three months premature.  But the attack gave her a way to escape from the relationship; she got herself transferred to a different hospital and she soon separated from her husband.

But the trauma from her experience would shape her life.  So when she first learned about Fifty Shades of Grey, and it's best-seller status, she was in disbelief.

"The fact the books are presenting an abuser as desirable to millions of people across the globe concerned me so much I decided to develop a group to challenge it," Collins said.

The group, called 50 Shades of Domestic Abuse, has spoken out many times about what it believes is the book's romanticization of behaviors consistent with domestic abuse.  Other groups have also voiced their problems with the book.

Now, a new study that compares the events in the book to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines for intimate partner violence has lent additional weight to their position.

In the study, published Monday in the Journal of Women's Health, Ohio State University researchers performed an in-depth analysis of the patterns of the novel's central relationship.  Each researcher read the novel and compared Anastasia and Christian Grey's relationship to the CDC's definition for intimate partner violence.  Their conclusion: Anastasia Steele, the novel's heroine, is actually a victim.

"I was struck by the popularity of the book and the abuse patterns," said Amy Bonomi, author of the study.  "We did not have a hypothesis beforehand, but we knew that abuse was evident, so we used the CDC definition [of intimate partner violence] to document it in a systematic fashion."

Past research suggests that intimate partner violence affects 25 to 45 percent of women.  It is characterized by physical, sexual or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse.

The authors of the new study said they could identify explicit emotional abuse patterns, including Anastasia's responses to abuse -- altered identity, yearning, entrapment and disempowerment -- throughout the book.  They also provided several situational examples of the emotional abuse and sexual violence Anastasia suffers.

"The book blatantly glamorizes violence against women," Bonomi said.

When ABC News contacted Vintage Books, the publisher of the novel, it said in an email that it had no comment.  But the novel's author, E.L. James, has addressed this controversy before, including during an appearance last year on Katie Couric's show on ABC.

"Everything that happens in [the book] is safe, sane and consensual," James told Couric last September.  "People who think that they are sort of demonizing women who actually enjoy those kinds of relationships ...it's a very, very different thing to actually be in a domestic abusive relationship.

"I can't own anyone's response," she added.  "I wrote the books for me, it's my fantasy."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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