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January 21, 2004
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Richard Davis, ALM Understanding Domestic Violence
with Richard Davis, ALM

Domestic Violence: Regardless of age or gender

A large proportion of family violence is committed by people who do not see their acts as crimes against victims who do not know they are victims. U.S. Attorney General's Task force on Family Violence, 1984

Domestic violence by statute law in all 50 states is now generally defined as, "A threat or assault by one person against another in a familial or intimate partner styled relationship in the attempt to control or alter another's behavior through the use of fear or force, regardless of age or gender."

The issue of domestic violence is complex and multifaceted. By its very nature and necessity, domestic violence is a private, secretive, and hidden problem. It is often covertly committed by the perpetrator and assiduously concealed by both perpetrator and victim. There remains much disagreement among scholars, academics, and professionals concerning the scope and definition of domestic violence. There are few who deny that domestic violence [regardless if it is systematic and violent battering or lower level forms of abusive behavior such as pushing, slapping, spanking or psychological abuse] is an aberrant, sometimes pathological, and profoundly complicated form of social, institutional, and familial behavior. There are many forces in contemporary society that continue to condone some forms of this behavior and hence it begets others. Some form of domestic violence directly or indirectly affects every family. There is no one who does not have a family member, relative, or friend who is either an abuser or a victim of some form of domestic violence.

There are three prominent theories that attempt to explain the cause of domestic violence. Central to the FEMINIST or COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL model is that domestic violence mirrors the patriarchal organization of society and it is men alone who use violence to maintain their dominate role in the family. The behavior of these abusers is a result of learned mores and norms. In the FAMILY CONFLICT model the violence is the result of the stresses created in dysfunctional families where each abuser strives for their dominant role in the family. In this model either partner, regardless of gender, may contribute to the escalation of violence. The PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC model proffers that personality disorders and/or early traumatic life experiences predispose some people to use violence in family relationships. This model allows for individual or group therapy. The majority of professionals and researchers now understand that one or any mixture of all three are possible. There is no single model that explains all cases.

Many women suffer from violent victimization, rapes, and sexual assaults at the hands of intimates. The majority of empirical scientific evidence and data document, that men who are chronic batterers inflict the preponderance of injurious physical and/or sexually assaults in families on women. A Massachusetts study reveals that 91 percent of chronic batterers have a history of criminal behavior. A woman is more likely to be physically assaulted, raped, or murdered by a current or former male partner than any other assailant. The August 5, 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that between 700,000 and 1.1 million women each year seek care at hospital emergency rooms for acute injuries incurred from abuse by a present or former husband, boyfriend, or intimate partner. However, because data document that some men are violent abusers, does not necessarily mean that the majority of men are abusers nor does it document that no men suffer from domestic violence.

Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey report, in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, estimate, as many as 4.5 million physical assaults against women and 2.9 million physical assaults are committed against men by an intimate partner. The same authors later write, "... violence is more widespread and injurious to women's and men's health than previously thought. . ." Some assaults are relatively minor; pushing, shoving, slapping, etc., as compared with injurious physical and sexually assault. Regardless of agreement concerning the percentage or level of abuse, should not each individual be considered a victim regardless of gender?

Data in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Sourcebook, demonstrate that when a victim has less power or resources than the perpetrator, abuse can and often does occur. Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs, reports, "Running through discussions of child maltreatment, domestic violence [spousal/intimate partner abuse,] and elder abuse is the concept of unequal power in the relationship between the abuser and victim." The persons with the most power or resources have the ability to impose their will on other members of the family. Most societies condone some use of physical assault in imbalanced interpersonal relationships as a legitimate means of attaining an end. The use of physical assault or force against, women, men, children, the elderly, and those who are labeled as physically or mentally challenged is often accepted as legitimate behavior. A society that condones some use of physical assault within families, must understand that it will lack creditability to claim there is never a valid reason for one person to hit another unless in self defense.

Gay and lesbian abuse is becoming recognized as another form of domestic violence. Studies place the incidents of domestic violence incidents of same sex abuse at the level of abuse as experienced by heterosexual couples.

Data reveal that as many as 3 million children are annually reported as victims of maltreatment and at least 1/3 of these cases are confirmed. Data from child protective services agencies between 1990 and 1996 document the number of victims of child maltreatment increased by 18 percent. In the Final Report on Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women, the authors report that 40 percent of women and 54 percent of men surveyed said they were physically assaulted as a child by an adult caretaker. In homes where spousal/intimate partner abuse occurs, children are much more likely to be abused.

In 1992, a congressional committee reported that an estimated 1.5 million elder Americans suffer from physical, psychological, or financial abuse. Based on a number of surveys, the National Aging Resource Center on Elder Abuse estimates that between 701,000 and 1,093,560 elders are abused by a spouse.

The majority of psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists agree that domestic violence is caused by various complicated behaviors that are still not altogether completely fathomed or understood. Most studies demonstrate that not all but, the vast majority of abusers:

  • Were themselves abused or witnessed abuse as children
  • Now live in or lived in a violent home/environment
  • They or others in the home have chronic alcohol and drug abuse problems
  • Have interpersonal skills problems
  • Have a low socioeconomic and/or educational status, and
  • Have high levels of anger/hostility that are caused by a variety of personality disorders such as; passive dependent/compulsive behavior, borderline personality, and antisocial or narcissistic behavior problems.

The following behavior can be viewed as "red flags" concerning those who may be abusers. They are only indicators, however, if your partner exhibits two or more of the following indicators you should seek professional intervention.

  • Jealousy, isolation, and/or other controlling behaviors
  • Cruelty to anyone smaller or weaker, including animals
  • Any use of force or ultimatums concerning sex
  • Constant verbal abuse or other consistently demeaning behavior
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Consistent threats of violence or other volatile behavior
  • Past physical abuse of you or strangers during disagreements
  • Always blames others for their own faults and failures
  • Displays a Dr. Jekyll behavior around others is Dr. Hyde around you
  • A history of violent criminal behavior.

Sadly, many victims become abusers themselves. Society often demands a single answer for cause of an enigma or clamors for a single solution to a problem. However, research document that there is not one cause nor is there a single cure concerning domestic violence.

We may not be able to completely prevent domestic violence, however, there are in place many forms of assistance to minimize its impact and provide assistance. Too often victims think they must continue with Although there is still a great deal of debate concerning cause, consequence and cure for domestic violence, there are few who will deny that every day, thousands of children, women, and some men suffer some form their victimization because they do not understand that they are victims or they believe there is no way out. Anyone can become a victim but, too many remain victims because they believe there is no help and no hope. As we begin the 21st century there are now many forms of education and assistance for victims of domestic violence. It is important that when each and every one of us views a domestic violence incident, we do not remain bystanders. Silence is acceptance, to accept is to condone. If you make a positive impact in a life outside your own family you have made a positive difference in the life of your family. If you choose not to act, you are now part of the problem.

10 Points To Ponder

1. The dynamics of an abusive relationship often create a dysfunctional co-dependant relationship between people.
2. Abuse can evolve out of vulnerability in the abuser, the victim, or both.
3. Victims of abuse need compassion and assistance; and abusers need sanctions and possibly treatment.
4. It takes two or more to maintain abusive relationships.
5. Some victims are able to escape abuse but many need long-term support.
6. All victims and some abusers need and/or want assistance.
7. If you choose to ignore domestic violence you have chosen to condone it.
8. It is a sign of strength not weakness to recognize your plight and ask for help.
9. When you escape a violent relationship you are a survivor not a victim.
10. As a survivor you must be especially proud of the present and not ashamed of the past.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

If you have information that others need, please feel free to place it here. This is not a forum for complaining or criticism without also presenting a remedy. Please, if you are going to write what is wrong, include what is right.

Add your comments to the discussion on Richard Davis's column in the Domestic Violence forum


About the author

Richard L. Davis completed studies in criminal justice management at LaSalle University. He has a graduate degree in criminal justice from Anna Maria College, and another in liberal arts with a concentration in history from Harvard University.

Contact Richard Davis.





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