Domestic violence constitutes the willful intimidation, assault, battery, sexual assault or other abusive behavior perpetrated by one family member, household member, or intimate partner against another.
In most state laws addressing domestic violence, the relationship necessary for a charge of domestic assault or abuse generally includes a spouse, former spouse, persons currently residing together or those that have within the previous year, or persons who share a common child.
Domestic violence has been present since the early days of recorded history, and was even sanctioned in English common law as late as the early twentieth century. The women’s movement in the 1970s, which brought to light the social plight of women and advocated for women’s rights, fostered a growing concern over the treatment of women in the home. In response to this increase in public consciousness, shelters and resources were established to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence. The first shelter for battered women was established in 1974. Since then, hundreds of shelters and domestic violence programs throughout the United States provide emotional, financial, vocational, and sometimes legal assistance and support to domestic violence survivors and their children.
Domestic violence affects not only those abused, but witnesses, family members, co-workers, friends, and the community at large. Children who witness domestic violence are victims themselves and growing up amidst violence predisposes them to a multitude of social and physical problems. Constant exposure to violence in the home and abusive role models teach these children that violence is a normal way of life and places them at risk of becoming society’s next generation of victims and abusers.
Dynamics of Domestic Violence
Power & Control – Domestic violence is about power and control. The abuser wants to dominate the victim/survivor and wants all the power in the relationship-and uses violence in order to establish and maintain authority and power. Perpetrators of domestic violence are usually not sick or deranged, but have learned abusive, manipulative techniques and behaviors that allow them to dominate and control others and obtain the responses they desire.
Isolation – An abuser will often restrict a victim’s outlets, forbidding the victim to maintain outside employment, friends, and family ties. This has an isolating effect, leaving victims with no support system creating dependency. Abusers also limit a survivor’s options by not allowing access to checking accounts, credit cards or other sources of money or financial independence.
Emotionally Abusive – Perpetrators of domestic violence may constantly criticize, belittle and humiliate their partners. Causing the victim to feel worthless, ugly, stupid and crazy does not allow for a survivor’s healthy self-perception. Low self-esteem may contribute to victims feeling they deserve the abuse, affecting their ability to see themselves as worthy of better treatment.
ANYONE CAN BE A VICTIM! Victims can be of any age, sex, race, culture, religion, education, employment or marital status. Although both men and women can be abused, most victims are women. Children in homes where there is domestic violence are more likely to be abused and/or neglected. Most children in these homes know about the violence. Even if a child is not physically harmed, they may have emotional and behavior problems.
Perpetrators of Domestic Violence
There is no typical domestic violence perpetrator, but psychologists have identified some common characteristics. Many abusers suffer from low self-esteem, and their sense of self and identity is tied to their partner. Therefore, if abusers feel they are somehow losing the victim, either through separation, divorce, emotional detachment, or pregnancy (fearing victims will replace love for them with love for a child), they will lash out. If victims “leave” through any of these methods, abusers feel they are losing power, control, and their self-identity. This is why it is particularly dangerous for victims during periods of separation or divorce from their partner. Abusers will often do anything to maintain control and keep the victim under control. This dynamic also makes escalating violence inevitable, as many victims must become emotionally unavailable, or must physically leave, in order to survive.
While the public may think of domestic violence abusers as out of control, crazy, and unpredictable, the contrary is most often true. Use of psychological, emotional, and physical abuse intermingled with periods of respite, love, and happiness are deliberate coercive tools used to generate submission. Abusers may violently assault, then minutes later offer words of regret. Many will buy gifts of flowers, candy and other presents in order to win favor and forgiveness. This creates a very confusing environment for victims. Abusers may say they will never harm their partners again, and promise to obtain help or counseling. Often, these promises are only made to prevent victims from leaving. Without getting help, the violence will most likely recur.
The violence used by abusers is controlled and manipulative. Victims often can predict exactly when violence will erupt. Many law enforcement officers have commented on their surprise at finding significant evidence of a violent incident, a harmed victim, and a composed perpetrator casually speaking with officers as if nothing occurred.
Finally, many victims describe domestic violence perpetrators as having a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Abusers often experience dramatic mood swings of highs and lows. They may be loving one minute, and spiteful and cruel the next. Abusers are frequently characterized by those outside the home as generous, caring, and good, and behave drastically differently in their home environment. Perpetrators of domestic violence are rarely violent to those outside of their home.
Why Victims May Stay
Very few individuals would become involved in a relationship they knew to be violent. Domestic Violence has subtle origins. What starts out as love, courtship and concern, may turn into domination, forced adherence to rigid sex roles and obsessive jealousy. Victims are not masochists. They do not enjoy being hurt, abused, battered and controlled.