Does your partner:
* If you answer yes to any of the above, you may be in an abusive situation.
You can seek help by calling VAST anytime, day or night.*
Domestic violence is not an isolated, individual event, but rather a pattern of repeated behaviors. Unlike stranger-to-stranger violence, in domestic violence, the assaults are repeated against the same victim by the same perpetrator. These assaults occur in different forms: physical, sexual, psychological. While physical assault may occur infrequently, other parts of the pattern may occur daily. Tactics interact with each other and have profound effects on the victims.
Why do batterers batter?
Domestic violence is purposeful behavior. The perpetrator’s pattern of abusive acts is directed at achieving compliance from or control over the victim. It is directed at circumscribing the life of the victim so that independent thought and action are curtailed and the victim will become devoted to fulfilling the needs and requirements of the perpetrator. The pattern is not impulsive or “out of control” behavior. Tactics of control are selectively chosen by the perpetrator.
Domestic violence is behavior learned through observation and reinforcement. Violent behaviors, as well as the rules of when, where, against whom, and by whom they are to be used, are learned through observation (e.g. a child witnessing abuse of his mother by his father or seeing images of violence against women in the media) or through experiences (e.g. perpetrators not held responsible, arrested, prosecuted, or sentenced appropriately for abusiveness due to a culturally sanctioned belief that men are supposed to control their partners).
Alcohol and other drugs such as marijuana, depressants, anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety drugs do not cause non-violent persons to become violent. Many people use or abuse those drugs without ever battering their partners.
While the presence of alcohol or drugs should not be considered an excuse for violence, it is relevant to the assessment of lethality and safety planning. The use of, or addiction to, substances may increase the lethality of certain episodes of domestic violence.
Perpetrators follow their own internal rules and regulations about their abusive behaviors. Some will batter only in particular ways, hitting certain parts of the body, while others will use violence toward the victim even though they may be in conflict with their boss, other family members, or the welfare worker. Some will hit only in private while others will strike the victim in public; some will break only the victim’s possessions and not their own; and others will not engage in any property destruction. The patterns vary from abuser to abuser. Perpetrators are making choices about what they will or will not do to the victim, even when they are claiming that they “lost it” or were “out of control.” Such decision-making indicates they are actually in control of their abusive behaviors.
There are many different sources of stress in our lives and people respond to stress in a wide variety of ways. Stress does not “cause” people to act in certain ways. They react to the stresses of their lives in ways they have observed as working in the past or anticipate will work in the present. Furthermore, a stress-reduction theory of violence does not explain why individuals stressed by employment, racism, or illness direct their violence at their intimate partners rather than the sources of their stress. Moreover, many episodes of domestic violence occur when the perpetrator is not emotionally charged or stressed. It is important to hold people responsible for the choices they make regarding stress reduction, especially when those choices involve violence or other illegal behaviors. Just as we would not excuse a robbery or a mugging by a stranger simply because the perpetrator was stressed, we can no longer excuse the perpetrator of domestic violence because of stress.
Looking at the relationship or the victim’s behavior as an explanation for domestic violence takes the focus off the perpetrator’s responsibility, and unintentionally supports minimization, denials, blaming, and rationalizations of violent behavior. This reinforces the perpetrator’s abuse and thus contributes to the escalation of the pattern of domestic violence. People can be in distressed relationships and experience negative feelings about the other’s behavior without being forced to respond with violence or other criminal activities. While some victims may have problems (e.g., substance abuse, poor communication skills, parenting difficulties), violence is not a reasonable, or a legal, response. Many perpetrators repeat their pattern of control in all their intimate relationships, regardless of significant differences in the personalities of their intimate partners or in the characteristics of those relationships.
Victims of domestic violence are a very heterogeneous population whose primary commonality is that they are being abused by someone with whom they are, or have been, intimate. They do not fit into any specific age cohort, racial group or personality profile. Being poor or being on welfare does not make a person more prone to be a victim of domestic violence. Consequently, just as with victims of other trauma (e.g., car accidents, floods, muggings), there is no particular type of person who is battered.
Just as some people looked to personality or demographic characteristics of the victim to explain their victimization, it has been suggested that domestic violence victims have been victims of childhood abuse and/or of previous violent relationships, and that somehow this previous victimization contributed to their current situation. Yet there is no evidence that previous victimization either as adults or as children results in women seeking out or causing current victimization. Some victims of domestic violence have been victimized in the past and some have not.
Some of the victim’s behaviors, e.g., her lack of confidence of her own abilities, her fear of the perpetrator, can be understood in light of the control the perpetrator has managed to enforce through isolating the victim. Without outside contact and information, it becomes more difficult for the victim to avoid the perpetrator’s psychological control. Some victims come to believe the perpetrator when they are told that if they leave, they will not be able to survive alone; others resist such distortions.
Even when the victim maintains contact with friends or extended family, often those relationships are mediated through the perpetrator’s control and the victim does not experience the support and advocacy needed. The perpetrator may interrogate the victim about every detail of interactions with other people and repeatedly make negative remarks about these interactions. Positive feedback or support from these relationships is often undermined by the perpetrator’s intrusions on them.
Many victims do not stay and many others come and go. The primary reason given by victims for staying with their abusers is fear of violence and the lack of real options to be safe with their children. This fear of violence is realistic. Research shows that domestic violence tends to escalate when victims leave their relationship. Some perpetrators repeatedly threaten to kill or seriously injure their victims should they attempt to leave the relationship. The victim may have already attempted to leave in the past, only to be tracked down by the perpetrator and seriously injured. Most perpetrators do not let victims simply leave relationships.
*If you have question and are unable to locate the answer on this page, please contact VAST (208) 265-3586*