Domestic Violence

Course Objectives:                 

1.  Describe and clarify the different typologies of the abusing spouse.

2.  Identify potential countertransference issues when working with abuser.

3.  Describe psychodynamic intervention techniques used with perpetrators.

4.  Identify available community resources for victims and their families.

5.  Learn to identify cultural factors that may contribute to an abusive relationship.

6.  Describe the dynamics within an abusive same sex relationship.


 Domestic Violence is defined as violence or mistreatment an individual may experience at the hands of a marital, common-law, former or same-sex partner.  The abuse may happen during a relationship or after it has ended. There are many different forms of abuse, below is a list of the types of abuse.  A victim can experience more than one kind of abuse at a time.

Physical abuse may include the use of physical force that can include injuries, including beating, hitting, pushing, choking, and kicking.  Physical abuse can include threats and/or assault with a weapon. Other forms of physical abuse may include confinement or restraint.

 Sexual abuse and exploitation includes all forms of sexual assault including rape, coercion and sexual exploitation. Forcing someone to participate in unwanted or unsafe or degrading sexual activity, without that persons consent is abusive and against the law. 

 Emotional abuse includes verbal attacks, such, social isolation, intimidation or exploitation to dominate another person. Stalking including threats to a person or their family is abusive behavior.

 Economic or financial abuse includes withholding money that is necessary to buy food or medical treatment or preventing a partner from working while withholding money.  These are also forms of economic abuse. 

 Spiritual abuse includes using a person's religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control them. It may include preventing someone from engaging in spiritual or religious practices, or ridiculing their beliefs.

 Family Violence

Domestic violence is a global issue and is not limited to any one gender, religious, cultural or income group. A wide range of studies agree that the causes of violence are multi-factorial, and that the co-occurrence of factors may increase the likelihood that a person will abuse a family member, such as a parent, partner or ex-partner, child or sibling. Ultimately we need to intervene at multiple levels in order to be effective in reducing family violence. By combining individual-level risk factors with findings of cross-cultural studies, a model has been developed that contributes to understanding why some societies and some individuals are more violent than others.

 At the individual level these include:

• being abused as a child or witnessing violence in the home

• being a very young, under-resourced or ill parent (in the case of child abuse)

• sexist attitudes about the role of men and women (in the case of partner abuse).

 At the level of the family and relationship, there are risk factors present where:

• family members are vulnerable, disempowered or in a dependent position, for example, women with very young children, or children themselves

• families have a lack of practical, social, psychological and financial support

• there is parental incapacity, parental illness, or a basic lack of parenting skills and support (in the case of child abuse)

• there is male control of wealth and decision-making within the family (in the case of partner abuse)

• one or both caregivers abuse substances.

At the community level, risk factors include:

• the lack of safe, inclusive and nurturing communities, which may minimize opportunities for intervention and the transmission of non-violent norms of behavior and contribute to the isolation and lack of social support for both victims and caregivers

• peer groups that condone and legitimize violence towards women and children

• barriers to community participation, such as poverty, cultural alienation, and racism that create and sustain social isolation.

At the societal level, risk factors exist where there is:

• acceptance of violence as a means to settle interpersonal disputes

• reinforcement of violence as glamorous and exciting through film and television

• social tolerance of physical punishment of women and children

• a lack of effective sanctions against intra-familial violence

• rigidly defined and enforced gender roles

• the linkage of the concept of masculinity to toughness and dominance

• the perception that men have ‘ownership’ of women, or parents have ‘ownership’ of children

• barriers to independence, participation, self-fulfillment, dignity and the resulting isolation and low self esteem

• a cultural norm about women’s role as caregivers

• lack of funding for family violence prevention programs.

The Causes of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Most interventions employ a mixture of theories in their curriculums, the most common of which is a psychoeducational model that encourages profeminist attitude change while building interpersonal skills using cognitive-behavioral techniques.  Three categories of theories of domestic violence dominate the field. Each locates the cause of domestic violence differently, and each theory leads practitioners to employ different approaches to batterer intervention:

Society and Culture - Social and cultural theories attribute the problem to social structure and cultural norms and values that endorse or tolerate the use of violence by men against women partners. The feminist model of intervention educates men concerning the impact of these social and cultural norms and attempts to re-socialize them by emphasizing nonviolence and equality in relationships. 

Batterer intervention programs were started in the 1970s when feminists and others brought public attention to the problem of domestic violence and grassroots services began to be established in response. The feminist perspective has influenced most batterer intervention programs.

Central to the perspective is a gender analysis of power, which holds that domestic violence mirrors the patriarchal organization of society. In this view, violence is one means of maintaining male power in the family. Feminist programs, which attempt to raise consciousness about society’s sex-role conditioning and how it constrains men’s behavior, present a model of egalitarian relationships based on trust instead of fear.

Support for the feminist analysis comes from the observation that most batterers, when “provoked” by someone more powerful than they, are able to control their anger and avoid resorting to violence. Further support comes from research showing that batterers are less secure in their masculinity than non-batterers.

Family Systems Theory- Family-based theories of domestic violence focus on the structure of the family, interpersonal interactions within the family, and the social isolation of families. The family systems model of intervention focuses on developing healthy communication skills with a goal of family preservation and may use couples therapy, a treatment approach prohibited by 20 State standards and guidelines regulating batterer intervention (to protect the safety of the victim).

Couples counseling, an intervention based on family systems theory, is controversial because of its failure to assign blame for the abuse to one person and to identify a victim. Couples counseling is also considered dangerous to the victim because it encourages the victim to discuss openly issues that may spark later retaliation by the batterer.

This model regards the problem behaviors of individuals as a manifestation of a dysfunctional family, with each family member contributing to the problem.  Both partners may contribute to the escalation of conflict, with each striving to dominate the other. In this view, either partner may resort to violence. Intervention involves improving communication and conflict resolution skills, which both partners can develop. It focuses on solving the problem rather than identifying the causes.

The Individual - Psychological theories attribute domestic violence to personality disorders, the batterer’s social environment during childhood, biological disposition, or attachment disorders. Psychotherapeutic interventions target individual problems and/or build cognitive skills to help the batterer control violent behaviors.

Attachment theory - a form of social learning theory, focuses on the interaction of caregivers with their children and the impact of that first attachment on an individual’s ability to establish safe and healthy relationships later in life. Batterer interventions based on this theory attempt to facilitate secure attachments between batterers and loved ones (intimate partners, children, and parents).

Psychodynamic approaches target the underlying psychological cause of the violence, while cognitive behavioral approaches teach batterers new patterns of nonviolent thinking and behavior. These perspectives, which focus on the individual, hold that personality disorders or early traumatic life experiences predispose some people to violence. Being physically abusive is seen as symptomatic of an underlying emotional problem, which may be traced to parental abuse, rejection, and failure to meet a child’s dependence needs.

From this perspective, two forms of batterer intervention—individual and group psychodynamic therapy and cognitive-behavioral group therapy— have evolved. The former involves uncovering the batterer’s unconscious problem and resolving it consciously. Although a recent study revealed that the approach retained a higher percentage of men in treatment than did a feminist/cognitive-behavioral intervention, critics fault psychodynamic therapy for not explaining what can be done to stop the behavior, allowing the behavior to continue until the underlying problem is solved, and ignoring the cultural acceptability of male dominance.

The cognitive-behavioral approach focuses on the conscious rather than the unconscious and the present rather than the past to help batterers function better by modifying how they think and behave. The approach is compatible with a criminal justice response, simply addressing the violent acts and attempting to change them, without trying to solve larger issues of social inequality or delve into deep-seated psychological problems. Feminists fault the approach for failing to explain why many batterers are not violent in other relationships.

Critics claim the feminist perspective overemphasizes sociocultural factors to the exclusion of traits in the individual, such as growing up abused.  In their view, feminist theory predicts that all men will be abusive. Other criticisms hold that feminist educational interventions are too confrontational and as a result self-defeating because they alienate batterers, increase their hostility, and make them less likely to enter treatment. Another concern, revealed in some evaluations, is that the education central to the feminist program may transmit information but not deter violent behavior.

It is important for criminal justice professionals to understand the assumptions and goals of service providers whose interventions have divergent theoretical bases, because not all intervention approaches employ techniques that are equally compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system—protecting the victim as well as rehabilitating the offender.

Both feminist educational and cognitive-behavioral interventions can be compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system—protecting the victim as well as rehabilitating the offender. However, feminist educational programs offer some advantages. By contrast, family systems interventions conflict with criminal justice goals by failing to identify a victim and a perpetrator.

Origins of Domestic Violence and Eclectic Approaches

The origins of domestic violence are the subject of active debate among victim advocates, social workers, researchers, and psychologists concerned with batterer intervention. More than in most fields, the theoretical debate affects practice. Over the last two decades, a number of practitioners representing divergent theoretical camps have begun to move toward a more integrated “multidimensional” model of batterer intervention in order to better address the complexity of a problem that has psychological, interpersonal, social, cultural, and legal aspects.

In practice, few batterer programs represent a “pure” expression of one theory of domestic violence; the majority of programs combine elements of different theoretical models. As a result, when discussing program theory with batterer intervention providers, criminal justice professionals need to understand not only the primary theory the program espouses but also the program's content, because programs may identify with one theory but draw on or two more theories in their work.

Experts caution criminal justice agencies against accepting an eclectic curriculum uncritically: program components borrowed from different theoretical perspectives should be thoughtfully chosen to create a coherent approach, not a scattershot attempt hoping to hit some technique that works.

The primary intervention strategy for spousal and partner abuse is to insure the safety of the victim and children.  The confidentiality of the victim is to be maintained unless it conflicts with the safety of the children.

The Cycle of Violence

Many people who work with violent families have noted a pattern or cycle of violence. While there is no uniformity on how long a phase lasts, there seems to be a pattern, however: the tension building phase, the explosion or acute battering incident, and the calm, loving respite. There are also other models of domestic violence dynamics.

In phase one, the tension builds. In this phase the abuser becomes increasingly edgy. The victim, noticing this behavior, may try to calm or appease the abuser in ways that have worked in the past. There may be minor outbursts of violence for which the abuser may quickly apologize using such words as "I'm really sorry that I hit you, but if you only had (or hadn't) done . . ." Usually the victim forgives and assumes the guilt for these incidents. The victim will rarely become angry because she fears that her anger would serve to escalate the violence. The abuser is aware of his inappropriate behavior even if he doesn't acknowledge it. This serves to make him even more fearful that she will leave him. He attempts to keep her captive by being more abusive, possessive and controlling. His ability to defend these assaults or to placate his victim becomes less effective. The tension builds to a point where an assaultive explosion is inevitable.

Phase two is the shortest and most violent part of the cycle. It may begin with the abuser attempting to teach the victim a lesson, not with the intent of doing her physical injury, although this is the result of his unrestrained rage. At the end of the episode the abuser cannot fully understand or remember what has occurred.* Although the victim will often let her anger out during this phase, she does not usually fight back because she believes that to do so will only bring her more abuse and injury. Although most victims are seriously beaten at the end of this phase, they consider themselves "lucky" for surviving and will often placate the abuser by denying the extent of their injuries.

Phase three is a period of calm.** Some victims, sensing that phase two is in-evitable, will "encourage" its appearance and completion because they know that once the violence of phase two is over, phase three brings the "reward" of a kind, caring, if not contrite, partner. The abuser is usually sorry for his behavior even if he does not acknowledge this. He promises never to do it again and the victim wants to believe him. He may even become especially helpful and compromising in his behavior. Just prior to this phase a victim may have sought outside help, perhaps in connection with treatment for injuries. The appearance of her idealized, loving husband during this phase provides her with a glimpse of what she hopes for -- that people who truly love one another can overcome all odds. The apparent calm and bliss of phase three often undercuts a victim's interest in seeking and utilizing help. The cycle of violence inevitably continues as phase one behavior unfortunately reappears.

Not all violent situations follow this pattern. Some abusers have been known to wake their victims up with physical assaults. In some cases, violence occurs only sporadically while other abusers engage in violent behavior of some form on a consistent or daily basis.

Some suggest there is never "calm", merely periods of respite.

 An Overview of a Batterer

 Not all batterers are alike, but they often share some common characteristics. Batterers appear to:

  • have intense, dependent relationships with their victims;

  • have low self-esteem;

  • believe all the myths about domestic violence;

  • be traditionalists, believe in male supremacy and stereotyped masculine sex roles;

  • have poor impulse control or explosive tempers;

  • have limited tolerance for frustration and severe reactions to stress;

  • often present a dual-personality -- loving or violent;

  • have difficulty acknowledging or describing feelings;

  • deny and minimize their violent behavior;

  • not believe their violent behavior should have negative consequences;

  • be extremely jealous, possessive, controlling and fear they will be abandoned;

  • be depressed and vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse.

Why Do Abusers Continue to Abuse?

Why do men batter and continue to batter? Most of the men in batterers' programs have been violent throughout their relationship with their victims. Most often, these men have learned to use violence as a way of managing everyday stress and frustration. They may not use violence at work, because they know that they would be fired. They have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. At the same time, they have low self-esteem. Thus, they are extremely dependent on their partners for their sense of self-worth and for a sense of control over their lives. Because of this dependency they are often extremely jealous and possessive of their partners. In some cases, the fearful rage that can result has impelled an abuser to murder his partner rather than let her leave him.  Abusers may not like their violence, but they know of no other options. Because most of them cannot accept what they are doing, they will minimize, deny and even lie about their abuse.

Profile of a Battered Woman

While battered women are different from one another in circumstances and characteristics and vary as much as non-battered women from one another, there are some characteristics that appear to be common to victims of domestic violence. And these characteristics often correspond to the needs of their violent abusers. Victims appear to:

  • believe all the myths about domestic violence;

  • be traditionalists about home, family unity and female sex roles;

  • accept responsibility for the batterer's behavior;

  • have low self-esteem;

  • feel guilt, self-blame and self-hatred and deny legitimacy of their own feelings and needs;

  • show martyr-like endurance and passive acceptance;

  • hold unrealistic hopes that change is imminent;

  • become increasingly socially isolated;

  • act compliant, helpless and powerless in order to appease the offender;

  • define themselves in terms of other people's needs;

  • have a high risk for drug and alcohol addictions;

  • exhibit stress disorders, depression and psychosomatic complaints.

Why Do Abused Women Stay?

For some women, physical punishment in their childhood was rare or mild, but their homes were controlled, traditional and authoritarian. Other women experienced violence in their childhood homes and appear to expect it in their homes and relationships. Both groups of women cling to the hope that it will never happen again and that the batterer's promise to stop is true.

Battered women often hold fiercely to conventional views of marriage and sex-stereotypical roles. They believe they are responsible for their husband's well being. They make excuses for his behavior. They believe it is a woman's responsibility to insure the peace and success of the family. These women think they can change their partner's behavior by acting more loving or being better wives themselves. They believe they can save their partners. Violence for many has been interpreted as "their cross to bear."

Women also stay because they are socially and economically dependent on their abusing partner. Some women with children often stay because they cannot imagine how the children will be fed and clothed without the income from their spouse. Others believe that a violent father is better than no father at all. Some women have been told that the family must stay together at all costs.  These reasons combine into what been has called "learned helplessness." The victim becomes passive and submissive because she believes that she has no control over the relationship's violence or her own children's safety.

The Psychological Impact of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can also have psychological effects including depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide. Victims may also feel anxious, helpless, afraid, demoralized, ashamed and angry and may experience panic attacks. Battered Women Syndrome (BWS) is a psychological condition that is characterized by psychological, emotional and behavioral deficits arising from chronic and persistent violence. The central features of BWS include ‘learned helplessness’, passivity and paralysis. In relation to domestic violence, common features associated with PTSD include anxiety, fear, and experiencing flashbacks or persistently re-experiencing the event, nightmares, sleeplessness, exaggerated startle responses, difficulty in concentrating, and feelings of shame, despair and hopelessness. There is little doubt that psychiatric illness, particularly PTSD, depression and anxiety is greater among people who have experienced domestic violence compared to those who have not.”

Prerequisites for identifying and responding to family violence:

Due to the high prevalence of family violence in the population and the negative health effects of this abuse, health professionals need to become competent in abuse intervention. This includes knowing how to ask questions to identify the presence of abuse, and having the procedures in place to support brief intervention and appropriate referral of identified victims.

 Health care providers should have received appropriate training on issues of:

• cultural competency

• principles of increasing safety and respecting autonomy of abused women.

• care and protection issues related to abused children.

These are considered to be core competencies that should have been achieved as part of any clinical training. In the event that an individual provider does not have these skills, assistance should be sought from a more experienced colleague and the provider should take active steps to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. Good practice will be best achieved and maintained in settings where there is sufficient organizational and institutional support for addressing abuse as a critical health care issue, and where health care providers work in partnership with community-based service providers who can provide other support to abuse victims. Health care providers should have established working relationships and referral pathways with local family violence agencies in their community prior to undertaking intervention for family violence. CEU

The Goal of Domestic Violence Treatment:

The goal of treatment is to make the victim and perpetrator recognize that Domestic violence is unacceptable behavior.  Every human has the right is to live free from intimidation, abuse and violence. The abuser is 100% responsible for his abusive behavior. Domestic violence is not the fault of the victim.  No one ever deserves to be abused no matter what is said or done. Violence towards a partner is intentional behavior.  Abusers can change their behavior.  It is within their control and they can choose to stop. Making changes is not easy.  Sufficient motivation is required for change to occur. When a victim first comes to see you she almost always needs information. It is important to discuss with the victims what their options are and help them to find a way to be safe.

In beginning domestic violence sessions the counselor should put safety of the victim first. Developing a safety plan with a client can mean the difference between her getting out of a dangerous situation and her being abused again. Additionally, beginning domestic violence sessions should focus on educating the client on the dynamics of abuse. Teaching clients the dynamics of abuse helps minimize the client's feelings of isolation and helps them to start to look at the abuse in the relationship as something that is not their fault.

Currently, because of the predominance of individual and socio-cultural factors in understanding the etiology of domestic violence, most treatment programs for domestic violence offenders are based on a cognitive behavioral approach.  The focus of understanding has been on individual and/or socio-cultural pathologies.  Group approaches are also based on the assumption that domestic violence offenders have deficits in knowledge or skills that are necessary for avoiding battering. Building on such assumptions is a treatment orientation which holds that the behaviors of domestic violence offenders can and need to be changed through a re-educational process.

Consequently, the core components of these treatment programs generally include communication training, direct education about violence, anger management, conflict containment, and stress management and raising awareness of patriarchal power and control. The resulting psycho-educational programs usually focus on confronting participants so they will recognize and admit their violent behaviors, take full responsibility for their problems, learn new ways to manage their anger, and communicate effectively with their spouse.

Questioning the Victim

Indirect Questions

Particularly if the abuse has been happening over a long period of time, the victim is likely to feel depressed, insecure and lacking in confidence and self-esteem. She may be extremely afraid of the situation, and that fear may include a fear of talking to anyone about what has been taking place. Women who experience domestic violence often try to explain it to themselves, and others, by seeing it as their responsibility or fault, and the response of others to their situation may have reinforced this view. Before asking direct questions, it may help to begin with some indirect ones to help in establishing a relationship with the patient and developing empathy, for example:

• Is everything alright at home?

• Are you being looked after properly/is your partner taking care of you?

• Do you get along well with your partner?

Direct Questions

Women may not disclose violence unless asked directly.  The following questions are intended as prompts; it will not always be necessary or appropriate to ask all of these. In particular, the questions tend to focus on evidence of physical assault and injury, but many women who routinely access health care services and who are experiencing domestic violence, will not have physical evidence of injuries at the time.

Explain why you are asking the questions. For example:

“I am sorry if someone has already asked you about this, and I don’t wish to cause you any harm, but we know that throughout the country 1 in 4 women experiences violence at home at some time during their life. I noticed that you have a number of bruises/cuts/burns (as appropriate)”

1 Could you tell me how you got those injuries?

2 Do you ever feel frightened of your partner, or other people at home?

3 Have you ever been slapped, kicked or punched by your partner?

4 Have you ever been in a relationship where you have been hit or hurt in some way?

5 Are you currently in a relationship where this is happening to you?

6 Does your partner often lose their temper with you? If he/she does, what happens?

7 Has your partner ever:

a)     destroyed or broken things you care about?

b)     threatened or hurt your children?

c)      forced sex on you, or made you have sex in a way you did not want?

d) withheld sex or rejected you in a punishing way?

8 Does your partner get jealous of you seeing friends, talking to other people or going out? If so, what happens?

9 Your partner seems very concerned and anxious about you. Sometimes people react like that when they feel guilty, was he responsible for your injuries?

10 Does your partner use drugs or alcohol excessively? If so, how does he behave at this time?

Motivation and the Domestic Violence Offender

A major therapeutic hurdle when working with offenders is the issue of motivation. Most domestic violence offenders are involuntary, court-mandated clients who are not self motivated to receive treatment. Many practitioners who work with court mandated domestic violence offenders are only too familiar with defensiveness, commonly manifested in constant evasiveness, silence, phony agreement, and vociferous counterarguments when participants are confronted with their problems of violence. Many participants stop attending the program altogether.

According to one survey, nearly half of the treatment programs faced dropout rates of over 50% of the men accepted at intake.

In addition, some professionals have begun to raise doubts about how a focus on deficits, blame, and confrontation can be conducive to stopping violence or initiating positive changes in offenders. Because blaming is one of the main strategies used by offenders to intimidate victims and to justify their own abusive acts, using confrontation and assigning blame in treatment may re-create a similar and non-helpful dynamic in abusive relationships. The effectiveness of a deficit perspective or a blaming stance in treatment is dubious if one looks at the characteristics of domestic violence offenders.

The most consistent risk markers for violent males have been identified as having experienced and/ or witnessed parental violence, frequent alcohol use, low assertiveness, and low self-esteem. As a result, a high percentage of domestic violence offenders are likely to be insecure individuals at the margins of society who victimize others to boost their own low self-esteem. Studies on personality further indicate that many domestic violence offenders fit the profile of narcissistic or borderline personality disorder.

Cultural Factors

Women and children constitute approximately two-thirds of all legal immigrants in the United States. Increasing evidence indicates that there are large numbers of immigrant women trapped and isolated in violent relationships, afraid to turn to anyone for help. A survey conducted by the Coalition for Immigrant Rights revealed that 34% of Latinas and 25% of Filipinas surveyed had experienced domestic violence either in their country of origin, in the U.S., or both.  Battered immigrant women encounter obstacles that can be attributed to language, culture, citizenship status, or lack of access to services.

Immigrant Women    

In addition to the physical violence, a battered immigrant woman may experience:

ISOLATION:  The abusing partner often keeps his victim isolated from family and friends - and from anyone who speaks her language. He also may not allow her to learn English.

THREATS:  The mate may threaten to report her to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to have them deported. Or he may threaten to withdraw the petition to legalize her immigration status.

INTIMIDATION:  He may hide or destroy important papers (such as her passport, identification card, Green card, health insurance card). He also may destroy the only property she has from her country of origin, including important mementos.

ECONOMIC ABUSE:  He may report her to the INS if she works "under the table" -- or threaten to do so. He may not let her obtain job training or schooling so she can become financially independent.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE:  The abusive spouse may lie about her immigration status. He may write lies about her to her family and friends. He may call her racist names.

CHILDREN USED:  He may threaten to take her children away from the United States, or to report her children to the INS. Or he may threaten to hurt them.

LANGUAGE BARRIERS:  When a battered immigrant woman tries to get assistance from a domestic violence agency, she may not be able to use the help that is offered because it is not in her language and no one is available to translate.

CULTURAL ISSUES:  Services provided by domestic violence programs may not address relevant cultural issues, so the agency may propose ideas that are not culturally appropriate or may not be able to offer her the right kind of assistance.

LACK OF ACCESS TO SERVICES:  Domestic violence agencies may not understand immigration laws and issues, and therefore be unable to help her solve her problems. Immigration agencies or attorneys may not recognize the signs of domestic violence, or know how to help.CEU

Abuse Dynamics and Stats

  • Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate reported that alcohol had been a factor.  Among spousal victims 3 out of 4 incidents were reported to have involved an offender who had been drinking.  By contrast, an estimated 31% of stranger victimizations where the victim could determine the absence or presence of alcohol as perceived to be alcohol-related.

  • Family members were most likely to murder a young child -- About one in five child murders was committed by a family member -- while a friend or acquaintance was most likely to murder an older child age 15 to 17.

  • A child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

Domestic Violence and Its Impact on Children

Domestic violence can affect children in many ways. Young people may witness terrible acts of violence against their parents or caregivers. Some children may never see the violence, but they may feel the tension, hear the fighting, and see the injuries left behind. Young people may be physically injured themselves if they try to intervene to stop the violence. Children may be asked to call the police or to keep a family secret. No matter the details of a family’s situation, children and young people bear the burden of domestic violence, too.

Children react in many different ways to violence in their homes. Individual children may respond differently even within the same family. Some children may become violent themselves, while others may withdraw. Some may "act out" at home or at school, while others constantly try to act like the perfect child.

Although domestic violence impacts children tremendously, it is only recently that domestic violence has been taken into account when determining child custody in families where domestic violence has occurred. The laws regarding child custody in families with domestic violence histories are still different from state to state. Even when a violent relationship has ended, the abuser may continue to have contact with the children. It is important to plan for the safety of the children and adults in the family at all times.

Children often appear:

  • sad, fearful, depressed and/or anxious;

  • aggressively defiant or passively compliant

  • to have limited tolerance for frustration and stress;

  • to become isolated and withdrawn;

  • to be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, sexual acting out, running away;

  • to have poor impulse control;

  • to feel powerless;

  • to have low self-esteem;

  • to take on parental roles.

Domestic violence may be kept from relatives, neighbors, clergy and others, but the children of violent partners know what is happening. In one home there may not be any physical violence against a child whose adult caretakers have an abusive relationship, while in another home there may be physical abuse of the child as well. Either way, a child who lives in a house where domestic violence occurs is a victim all the same.

A home that is characterized by physical, emotional, sexual or property abuse is a frightening, debilitating and unhealthy place. The children in such a home are often unable to be children. They worry about protecting their parents. They are concerned that they not become an additional source of stress or problem, and fear for their own safety and security. They have the burden of carrying around a tremendous family secret.

Children from violent homes often suffer from depression. Some become isolated. Many do not want to bring friends home because of the shame and unpredictability of violence. They may spend much time away from home and get into trouble for truancy, petty crimes or disturbances. Children from violent homes often experience nightmares, sleep disturbances and nighttime bed wetting. A child's ability to handle his or her school work the next day is often adversely affected. Domestic violence incidents often occur during late evening hours, just at the time a child is getting ready for bed, and often wakes them up with shouts and noise.

Children from violent homes often feel responsible for everything bad that happens to themselves or to their parents. If they were neater, quieter, helped more or were smarter in school, maybe the violence would stop.  Children of abused moms have more internalizing, externalizing and behavior problems.

Same Sex Relationships:

What is NCAVP?

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) is a coalition of 25 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victim and documentation programs located throughout the United States. Before officially forming in 1995, NCAVP members collaborated with one another and with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) for over a decade to create a coordinated response to violence against our communities. Since 1984, members have released an annual report every March, promoting public education about bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. As the prevalence of domestic violence in our community has emerged from the shadows, NCAVP member organizations have increasingly adapted their missions and their services to respond to violence within the community as well. The first annual domestic violence report was released in October 1997. This is the second report and is released in conjunction with National Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Research Questions, Methods, and Definitions

The purpose of this report is to investigate the following research questions and to summarize our findings:

  • How prevalent is domestic violence among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?

  • Do state statutes permit victims of same-sex domestic violence to obtain domestic violence protective orders?

The first question was selected because domestic violence in this community is an ignored, even invisible phenomenon that most people have never considered; the second, to determine whether or not equal legal protection was available to sexual minority victims. In answering these questions, we reviewed academic literature on same-sex battering, conducted a survey of state domestic violence statutes and significant, relevant case law, and conducted our own member survey, described below.

Domestic violence encompasses a broad range of relationships including but not limited to romantic partner abuse, abuse of elders, abuse from an HIV caregiver or to other caregiver, abuse occurring in other intimate relationships. For the purposes of this report, however, we limited the definition of domestic partnerships that were romantic in nature.  Similarly, domestic violence typically includes many forms of abuse, often occurring simultaneously and in a pattern that escalates over time. For the purposes of this report, abuse is defined as any non-consensual behavior that causes another fear, causes another emotional, financial, or physical harm, or restricts another's freedom, rights, or privacy. Common forms of abuse, including threats, emotional or psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and stalking.

The Prevalence of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Domestic Violence

The Number of Cases NCAVP documented during 1997 rose by 975 cases or 41% compared to 1996. During calendar year 1996, a total of 2,352 cases were documented by NCAVP compared to 3,327 during 1997, an increase of 975 cases or 41%. Of the twelve locations, nine (75%) reported increases, two (22%) reported decreases, and one (11%) stayed the same.

  • The risk of losing their children is even greater for lesbian and gay couples when domestic violence is involved.

  •  In same sex relationships violence can be physical, sexual, emotional and psychological.

Definition and Types of Marital Rape

Marital rape is the term used to describe nonconsensual sexual acts between a woman/man and her husband/wife, ex-husband/wife, or intimate long-term partner. These sexual acts can include: intercourse, anal or oral sex, forced sexual behavior with other individuals, and other unwanted, painful, and humiliating sexual activities. It is rape if one partner uses force, threats, or intimidation to get the other to submit to sexual acts.

It is important to note that, although battered women are more at risk for marital rape than their non-battered counterparts, some men will rape their wives and never beat them and vice versa. These issues may be inter-linked or seemingly unrelated. Don’t make assumptions about their victimization based on partial facts.

Types of Marital Rape:

Battering Rape

This involves forced sex combined with beatings. This type of sexual assault is primarily motivated by anger towards the victim. The sexual abuse is either part of the entire physical abuse incident or is a result of the husband later asking his wife to prove she forgives him for the beating by having sex with him.

Force-Only Rape

The husband uses only as much force as necessary to coerce his wife into sexual activity. This type of sexual assault is primarily motivated by the need for power over the victim. In his mind, he is merely asserting his right to have sex with "his" wife on demand. This is the most common type of marital rape.

Obsessive Rape

The husband’s sexual interests run toward the strange and perverse, and he is willing (or even has a   preference) to use force to carry these activities out. This is the least common, yet arguably the most physically damaging, type of marital rape.


If and when a victim is able to leave her battering environment, it is essential that she has a "safety plan" to increase her opportunity for a successful departure. Advance planning is crucial. Start by assessing the battered-generated and life-generated risks with her. Based on this information, concerns and actions may need to include the following:

  • Does she have family and friends with whom she can stay?

  • Would she find a protective or restraining order helpful?

  • Can a victim advocate safely contact her at home? What should the advocate do if the batterer answers the phone?

  • Does she know how to contact emergency assistance (i.e., 911)?

  • If she believes the violence might begin or escalate, can she leave for a few days?

  • Does she know how to contact a shelter? (If she doesn't, provide her with information for future use.)

  • Does she have a neighbor she can contact or with whom she can work out a signal for assistance when violence erupts or appears inevitable?

  • If she has a car, can she hide a set of keys?

  • Can she pack an extra set of clothes for herself and the children, and store them--along with an extra set of house and car keys--with a neighbor or friend?

  • Can she leave extra cash, checkbook, or savings account book hidden or with a friend for emergency access?

  • Can she collect and store originals or copies of important records such as birth certificates, social security cards, drivers' license, financial records (such as banking and other financial accounts, mortgage or rent receipts, the title to the car, etc.), and medical records for herself and her children?

  • Does she have a concrete plan for where she should go and how she can get there regardless of when she leaves?

  • Does she have a disability that requires assistance or a specialized safety plan?

  • Does she want access to counseling for her children or herself?

  • Are there any other concerns that need to be addressed?

The following link provides information for practitioners working with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. CEU

Domestic Violence Tactics

The types of domestic violence actions perpetrated by abusers include physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and psychological tactics; threats and intimidation; economic coercion; and entitlement behaviors. Examples of each are provided below. Some of the behaviors identified in the following lists do not constitute abuse in and of themselves, but frequently are tactics used in a larger pattern of abusive and controlling behavior.

Physical Tactics

  • Pushing and shoving;

  • Restraining;

  • Pinching or pulling hair;

  • Slapping;

  • Punching;

  • Biting;

  • Kicking;

  • Suffocating;

  • Strangling;

  • Using a weapon;

  • Kidnapping;

  • Physically abusing or threatening to abuse children.

Sexual Tactics

  • Raping or forcing the victim into unwanted sexual practices;

  • Objectifying or treating the victim like a sexual object;

  • Forcing the victim to have an abortion or sabotaging birth control methods;

  • Engaging in a pattern of extramarital or other sexual relationships;

  • Sexually assaulting the children.

Verbal, Emotional, and Psychological Tactics

  • Using degrading language, insults, criticism, or name calling;

  • Screaming;

  • Harassing;

  • Refusing to talk;

  • Engaging in manipulative behaviors to make the victim believe he or she is "crazy" or imagining things;

  • Humiliating the victim privately or in the presence of other people;

  • Blaming the victim for the abusive behavior;

  • Controlling where the victim goes, who he or she talks to, and what he or she does;

  • Accusing the victim of infidelity to justify the perpetrator's controlling and abusive behaviors;

  • Denying the abuse and physical attacks.

Threats and Intimidation

  • Breaking and smashing objects or destroying the victim's personal property;

  • Glaring or staring at the victim to force compliance;

  • Intimidating the victim with certain physical behaviors or gestures;

  • Instilling fear by threatening to kidnap or seek sole custody of the children;

  • Threatening acts of homicide, suicide, or injury;

  • Forcing the victim to engage in illegal activity;

  • Harming pets or animals;

  • Stalking the victim;

  • Displaying or making implied threats with weapons;

  • Making false allegations to law enforcement or CPS.

Economic Coercion

  • Preventing the victim from obtaining employment or an education;

  • Withholding money, prohibiting access to family income, or lying about financial assets and debts;

  • Making the victim ask or beg for money;

  • Forcing the victim to hand over any income;

  • Stealing money;

  • Refusing to contribute to shared or household bills;

  • Neglecting to comply with child support orders;

  • Providing an allowance.

Entitlement Behaviors

  • Treating the victim like a servant;

  • Making all decisions for the victim and the children;

  • Defining gender roles in the home and relationship.

Domestic violence is reinforced by cultural values and beliefs that are repeatedly communicated through the media and other societal institutions that tolerate it. The perpetrator's violence is further supported when peers, family members, or others in the community (e.g., coworkers, social service providers, police, or clergy) minimize or ignore the abuse and fail to provide consequences. As a result, the abuser learns that not only is the behavior justified, but also it is acceptable.

Psychopathology, substance abuse, poverty, cultural factors, anger, stress, and depression often are thought to cause domestic violence. While there is little empirical evidence that these factors are direct causes of domestic violence, research suggests that they can affect its severity, frequency, and the nature of the perpetrator's abusive behavior. Although there is debate among researchers regarding a definitive theory to explain domestic violence, there is little disagreement that it is an insidious problem requiring a complex solution.

Evolving Societal Responses to Domestic Violence

Many believe the historical inequality of women and gender socialization of females and males contribute to the root causes of domestic violence. Until the 1970's, women who were raped or suffered violence in their homes had no formal place to go for help or support. Shelters and services for victims of domestic violence did not exist and there was little, if any, response from criminal or civil courts, law enforcement, hospitals, and social service agencies. Society and its formal institutions viewed domestic violence as a "private matter." As awareness and recognition of this problem grew, groups of women organized an advocacy movement that focused on addressing the safety needs of victims and the systemic barriers and social attitudes that contributed to domestic violence. Volunteers established safe havens and crisis services for victims of domestic violence in their homes and held meetings where they began to define violence against women as a political issue. This grass roots effort, commonly referred to as the "Battered Women's Movement," revolutionized the responses to injustices against women into a social movement that forms the foundation of existing domestic violence advocacy and community-based programs throughout the country.

The need for safe alternatives for victims of domestic violence called for a major social transformation and the Battered Women's Movement was an essential part of that struggle. Feminists, community activists, and survivors of rape and domestic violence responded with three primary goals: (1) securing shelter and support for victims and their children, (2) improving legal and criminal justice responses, and (3) changing the public consciousness about domestic violence.

Through a collective vision, the Battered Women's Movement was guided by a set of inherent principles that continue to direct the current network of community-based domestic violence programs and advocacy efforts. These principles include:

  • Safety for victims and their children;

  • Victims' rights to self-determination, which includes their decision to either remain with or leave their abusive partner;

  • Accountability for perpetrators of domestic violence through societal and criminal sanctions;

  • Systemic change to combat social oppression of victims and to promote victims' rights.

Today, community-based domestic violence programs throughout the country provide an array of services, including:

  • Shelter and safe houses;

  • National, State, and local emergency hotlines;

  • Crisis counseling and intervention;

  • Support groups;

  • Medical and mental health referrals;

  • Legal advocacy;

  • Vocational counseling, job training, and economic support referrals;

  • Housing and relocation services;

  • Transportation;

  • Safety planning;

  • Children's services.

Domestic violence programs also engage in continuous advocacy efforts that include developing public awareness campaigns, collaborating with community service providers, and being active in political lobbying efforts aimed at improving safety for victims and their children. One of the benefits of the increased awareness of the problem garnered by these activities is the greater recognition that many sectors of society—beyond shelters, law enforcement, and the judicial system—have important roles to play in identifying and addressing this problem. These sectors include child welfare, health care, mental heath, substance abuse treatment, business, and faith communities. Along with the recognition that legal sanctions are not always the best response, there is a growing awareness that communities themselves must take responsibility for preventing and aiding victims of domestic violence by establishing programs and services that meet the needs of their citizens. One example is a community-based approach that involves combining the efforts of law enforcement, domestic violence victim advocates, social service providers, faith-based communities, and community members.

Society's recognition that domestic violence is no longer a private matter, but a widespread social problem, is evidenced in the establishment of approximately 2,000 shelters and domestic violence programs, legislation in every State identifying domestic violence as a criminal act, legal rights to civil protection orders, and Federal legislation that provides funding and national recognition regarding its seriousness. Exhibits 3-1 and 3-2 outline Federal legislation that addresses domestic violence and child maltreatment and provides a legal framework and guidance for providing services and intervention.

Exhibit 3-1
Federal Domestic Violence Legislation

Family Violence Prevention and Services Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-457)

The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act of 1984 (FVPSA) was Congress' first attempt to address domestic violence in the country. This legislation was intended to assist States with their efforts to increase public awareness about domestic violence and to provide Federal funding for domestic violence shelters and victim services. States and nonprofit organizations also were awarded grants to develop domestic violence and child maltreatment programs and to provide training and technical assistance for law enforcement officers and community service providers.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (P.L. 103-322)

In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which marked a turning point in Federal recognition of the extent and seriousness of domestic violence. This legislation demonstrated the Federal government's commitment to address domestic violence. There are four titles within the Act—the Safe Street Act, Safe Homes for Women, Civil Rights for Women and Equal Justice for Women in the Courts, and Protections for Battered Immigrant Women and Children—and each act addresses domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and protection against gender-motivated violence. The provisions of VAWA call for improving law enforcement and criminal justice responses, creating new criminal offenses and tougher penalties, mandating victim restitution, and requiring system reform geared towards protecting victims of domestic violence during prosecution of the perpetrator. VAWA also authorized support for increased prevention and education programs, victim services, domestic violence training of community professionals, and protections from deportation for battered immigrant women.

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) - Wellstone/Murray Amendment (P.L. 104-193)

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. The Wellstone/Murray Amendment of PRWORA includes a provision entitled the Family Violence Option, which addresses the safety and economic barriers faced by victims of domestic violence. Through this amendment, each State has the option to enact procedures that temporarily exempt identified victims of domestic violence from meeting certain time limit and other work requirements.

Exhibit 3-2
Federal Child Abuse and Neglect Legislation
  • The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974 (P.L. 93-247) was established to ensure that victimized children are identified and reported to appropriate authorities. The Act was most recently amended in 1996 (P.L. 104-235) and continues to provide minimum standards for definitions and reports of child maltreatment.

  • Family Preservation and Support Services Program enacted as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66) provides funding for prevention and support services for families at risk of maltreatment and family preservation services for families experiencing crises that might lead to out-of-home placement.

  • The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) was built on earlier laws and reforms in the field to promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of maltreated children. A component of ASFA is the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) Program, which was developed from and expanded upon the Family Preservation and Support Services Program mentioned above. While the legislation reaffirms the importance of making reasonable efforts to preserve and reunify families, it also specifies instances where reunification efforts do not have to be made (e.g., when a child is not safe with his or her family), establishes tighter time frames for termination of parental rights, and promotes adoption initiatives.

  • Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program Reauthorization of 2002 (P.L.107-133) continued to build upon ASFA by extending the PSSF Program for an additional 5 years and increasing discretionary funding. It also created several new programs including a new State grant program that provides education and training vouchers for youth aging out of foster care and a mentoring program for children with incarcerated parents.CEU

Victims of Domestic Violence

This section describes some common characteristics of victims of domestic violence, dynamics of the victimization (e.g., common barriers to leaving an abusive relationship, protective strategies), and the impact that domestic violence has on the individual and on parenting behaviors.

Who Is the Victim?

Victims of domestic violence do not possess a set of universal characteristics or personality traits, but they do share the common experience of being abused by someone close to them. Anyone can become a victim of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence can be women, men, adolescents, disabled persons, gays, or lesbians. They can be of any age and work in any profession. Normally, victims of domestic violence are not easily recognized because they are not usually covered in marks or bruises. If there are injuries, victims have often learned to conceal them to avoid detection, suspicion, and shame.

Unfortunately, an array of misconceptions about victims of domestic violence has led to harmful stereotypes and myths about who they are and the realities of their abuse. Consequently, victims of domestic violence often feel stigmatized and misunderstood by the people in their lives. These people may be well-intended family members and friends or persons trained to help them, such as social workers, police officers, or doctors. Exhibit 3-3 presents common myths about victims of domestic violence.

Case Example

Myth One: Only poor, uneducated women are victims of domestic violence.

Victims of abuse can be found in all social and economic classes and can be of either sex. They can be wealthy, educated, and prominent as well as undereducated and financially destitute. Victims of domestic violence live in rural towns, urban cities, subsidized housing projects, and in gated communities. The overrepresentation of underprivileged women in domestic violence crime reports may be due to several factors, including the fact that those seeking public assistance or services are subject to data tracking trends that often capture this information. Victims of domestic violence who have higher incomes are more likely to seek help from private therapists or service providers who can protect their identity through confidentiality agreements.

Myth Two: Victims provoke and deserve the violence they experience.

An abusive tactic used by perpetrators is to accuse their partners of "making" them violent. This accusation is even more effective when the perpetrator and other people tell the victim that he or she deserved the abuse. As a result, many victims remain in the abusive relationship because they believe that the violence is their fault. Many victims make repeated attempts to change their behavior in order to avoid the next assault. Unfortunately, no one, including the victim, can change the behavior except for the perpetrator. The perpetrator is accountable for the behavior and responsible for ending the violence.

Myth Three: Victims of domestic violence move from one abusive relationship to another.

Although approximately one-third of victims of domestic violence experience more than one abusive relationship, most victims do not seek or have multiple abusive partners. Victims of domestic violence who have a childhood history of physical or sexual victimization may be at greater risk of being harmed by multiple partners.

Myth Four: Victims of domestic violence suffer from low self-esteem and psychological disorders.

Some people believe that victims of domestic violence are mentally ill or suffer from low self-esteem. Otherwise, it is thought, they would not endure the abuse. In fact, a majority of victims does not have mental disorders, but may suffer from the psychological effects of domestic violence, such as posttraumatic stress disorder or depression. Furthermore, there is little evidence that low self-esteem is a factor for initially becoming involved in an abusive relationship. In reality, some victims of domestic violence experience a decrease in self-esteem because their abusers are constantly degrading, humiliating, and criticizing them, which also makes them more vulnerable to staying in the relationship.

Myth Five: Victims of domestic violence are weak and always want help.

Some victims of domestic violence are passive while others are assertive. Some victims actively seek help, while others may refuse assistance. Again, victims are a diverse group of individuals who possess unique qualities and different life situations. Victims of domestic violence may not always want help and their reasons vary. They may not be prepared to leave the relationship, they may be scared their partners will harm them, or they may not trust people if past efforts to seek help have failed.

Barriers to Leaving an Abusive Relationship

The most commonly asked question about victims of domestic violence is "Why do they stay?" Family, friends, coworkers, and community professionals who try to understand the reasons why a victim of domestic violence has not left the abusive partner often feel perplexed and frustrated. Some victims of domestic violence do leave their violent partners while others may leave and return at different points throughout the abusive relationship. Leaving a violent relationship is a process, not an event, for many victims, who cannot simply "pick up and go" because they have many factors to consider. To understand the complex nature of terminating a violent relationship, it is essential to look at the barriers and risks faced by victims when they consider or attempt to leave. Individual, systemic, and societal barriers faced by victims of domestic violence include:

  • Fear. Perpetrators commonly make threats to find victims, inflict harm, or kill them if they end the relationship. This fear becomes a reality for many victims who are stalked by their partner after leaving. It also is common for abusers to seek or threaten to seek sole custody, make child abuse allegations, or kidnap the children. Historically, there has been a lack of protection and assistance from law enforcement, the judicial system, and social service agencies charged with responding to domestic violence. Inadequacies in the system and the failure of past efforts by victims of domestic violence seeking help have led many to believe that they will not be protected from the abuser and are safer at home. While much remains to be done, there is a growing trend of increased legal protection and community support for these victims.

  • Isolation. One effective tactic abusers use to establish control over victims is to isolate them from any support system other than the primary intimate relationship. As a result, some victims are unaware of services or people that can help. Many believe they are alone in dealing with the abuse. This isolation deepens when society labels them as "masochistic" or "weak" for enduring the abuse. Victims often separate themselves from friends and family because they are ashamed of the abuse or want to protect others from the abuser's violence.

  • Financial dependence. Some victims do not have access to any income and have been prevented from obtaining an education or employment. Victims who lack viable job skills or education, transportation, affordable daycare, safe housing, and health benefits face very limited options. Poverty and marginal economic support services can present enormous challenges to victims who seek safety and stability. Often, victims find themselves choosing between homelessness, living in impoverished and unsafe communities, or returning to their abusive partner.

  • Guilt and shame. Many victims believe the abuse is their fault. The perpetrator, family, friends, and society sometimes deepen this belief by accusing the victim of provoking the violence and casting blame for not preventing it. Victims of violence rarely want their family and friends to know they are abused by their partner and are fearful that people will criticize them for not leaving the relationship. Victims often feel responsible for changing their partner's abusive behavior or changing themselves in order for the abuse to stop. Guilt and shame may be felt especially by those who are not commonly recognized as victims of domestic violence. This may include men, gays, lesbians, and partners of individuals in visible or respected professions, such as the clergy and law enforcement.

  • Emotional and physical impairment. Abusers often use a series of psychological strategies to break down the victim's self-esteem and emotional strength. In order to survive, some victims begin to perceive reality through the abuser's paradigm, become emotionally dependent, and believe they are unable to function without their partner. The psychological and physical effects of domestic violence also can affect a victim's daily functioning and mental stability. This can make the process of leaving and planning for safety challenging for victims who may be depressed, physically injured, or suicidal. Victims who have a physical or developmental disability are extremely vulnerable because the disability can compound their emotional, financial, and physical dependence on their abusive partner.

  • Individual belief system. The personal, familial, religious, and cultural values of victims of domestic violence are frequently interwoven in their decisions to leave or remain in abusive relationships. For example, victims who hold strong convictions regarding the sanctity of marriage may not view divorce or separation as an option. Their religious beliefs may tell them divorce is "wrong." Some victims of domestic violence believe that their children still need to be with the offender and that divorce will be emotionally damaging to them.

  • Hope. Like most people, victims of domestic violence are invested in their intimate relationships and frequently strive to make them healthy and loving. Some victims hope the violence will end if they become the person their partner wants them to be. Others believe and have faith in their partner's promises to change. Perpetrators are not "all bad" and have positive, as well as, negative qualities. The abuser's "good side" can give victims reason to think their partner is capable of being nurturing, kind, and nonviolent.

  • Community services and societal values. For victims who are prepared to leave and want protection, there are a variety of institutional barriers that make escaping abuse difficult and frustrating. Communities that have inadequate resources and limited victim advocacy services and whose response to domestic abuse is fragmented, punitive, or ineffective can not provide realistic or safe solutions for victims and their children.

  • Cultural hurdles. The lack of culturally sensitive and appropriate services for victims of color and those who are non-English speaking pose additional barriers to leaving violent relationships. Minority populations include African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic groups whose cultural values and customs can influence their beliefs about the role of men and women, interpersonal relationships, and intimate partner violence. For example, the Hispanic cultural value of "machismo" supports some Latino men's belief that they are superior to women and the "head of their household" in determining familial decisions. "Machismo" may cause some Hispanic men to believe that they have the right to use violent or abusive behavior to control their partners or children. In turn, Latina women and other family or community members may excuse violent or controlling behavior because they believe that husbands have ultimate authority over them and their children.

    Examples of culturally competent services include offering written translation of domestic violence materials, providing translators in domestic violence programs, and implementing intervention strategies that incorporate cultural values, norms, and practices to effectively address the needs of victims and abusers. The lack of culturally competent services that fail to incorporate issues of culture and language can present obstacles for victims who want to escape abuse and for effective interventions with domestic violence perpetrators. Well-intended family, friends, and community members also can create additional pressures for the victim to "make things work."

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Victims

As with anyone who has been traumatized, victims demonstrate a wide range of effects from domestic violence. The perpetrator's abusive behavior can cause an array of health problems and physical injuries. Victims may require medical attention for immediate injuries, hospitalization for severe assaults, or chronic care for debilitating health problems resulting from the perpetrator's physical attacks. The direct physical effects of domestic violence can range from minor scratches or bruises to fractured bones or sexually transmitted diseases resulting from forced sexual activity and other practices. The indirect physical effects of domestic violence can range from recurring headaches or stomachaches to severe health problems due to withheld medical attention or medications.

Many victims of abuse make frequent visits to their physicians for health problems and for domestic violence-related injuries. Unfortunately, research shows that many victims will not disclose the abuse unless they are directly asked or screened for domestic violence by the physician. It is imperative, therefore, that health care providers directly inquire about possible domestic violence so victims receive proper treatment for injuries or illnesses and are offered further assistance for addressing the abuse.

The impact of domestic violence on victims can result in acute and chronic mental health problems. Some victims, however, have histories of psychiatric illnesses that may be exacerbated by the abuse; others may develop psychological problems as a direct result of the abuse. Examples of emotional and behavioral effects of domestic violence include many common coping responses to trauma, such as:

  • Emotional withdrawal

  • Denial or minimization of the abuse

  • Impulsivity or aggressiveness

  • Apprehension or fear

  • Helplessness

  • Anger

  • Anxiety or hypervigilance

  • Disturbance of eating or sleeping patterns

  • Substance abuse

  • Depression

  • Suicide

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some of these effects also serve as coping mechanisms for victims. For example, some victims turn to alcohol to lessen the physical and emotional pain of the abuse. Unfortunately, these coping mechanisms can serve as barriers for victims who want help or want to leave their abusive relationships. Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors who provide screening, comprehensive assessment, and treatment for victims can serve as the catalyst that helps them address or escape the abuse.

Parenting and the Victim

Emerging research indicates that the harmful effects of domestic violence can negatively influence parenting behaviors. Parents who are suffering from abuse may experience higher stress levels, which in turn, can influence the nature of their relationship with and responses to their children. Victims who are preoccupied with avoiding physical attacks and coping with the violence confront additional challenges in their efforts to provide safety, support, and nurturance to their children. Unfortunately, some victims of domestic violence are emotionally or physically unavailable to their children due to injuries, emotional exhaustion, or depression.

Studies have found that victims of domestic violence are more likely to maltreat their children than those who are not abused by their partners. In some cases, victims who use physical force or inappropriate discipline techniques are trying to protect their children from potentially more severe forms of violence or discipline by the abuser. For example, a victim of domestic violence might slap the child when the abuser threatens harm if the child is not quiet. Seemingly, neglectful behaviors by the victim also may be a direct result of the domestic violence. This is illustrated when the abuser prevents the victim from taking the child to the doctor or to school because the adult victim's injuries would reveal the abusiveness.

The majority of victims of domestic violence are not bad, ineffective, or abusive parents, but researchers note that domestic violence is one of a multitude of stressors that can negatively influence parenting. However, many victims, despite ongoing abuse, are supportive, nurturing parents who mediate the impact of their children's exposure to domestic violence. Given the impact of violence on parenting behaviors, it is beneficial that victims receive services that alleviate their distress so they can support and benefit the children.

Strategies Victims Use to Protect Themselves and Their Children

Protective strategies that frequently are recommended by family, friends, and social services providers include contacting the police, obtaining a restraining order, or seeking refuge at a friend or relative's home or at a domestic violence shelter. It is ordinarily assumed that these suggestions are successful at keeping victims and their children safe from violence. It is crucial to remember, however, that while these strategies can be effective for some victims of domestic violence, they can be unrealistic and even dangerous options for other victims. For example, obtaining a restraining order can be useful in deterring some perpetrators, but it can cause other perpetrators to become increasingly abusive and threatening. Since these recommendations are concrete and observable, they tend to reassure people that the victim of domestic violence is actively taking steps to address the abuse and to be safe, even if they create additional risks. Furthermore, these options only address the physical violence in a victim's life. They do not address the economic or housing challenges the victim must overcome to survive, nor do they provide the emotional and psychological safety the victims need. Therefore, victims often weigh "perpetrator-generated" risks versus "life-generated" risks as they try to make decisions and find safety.

Typically, victims do not passively tolerate the violence in their lives. They often use very creative methods to avoid and deescalate their partner's abusive behavior. Some of these are successful and others are not. Victims develop their own unique set of protective strategies based on their past experience of what is effective at keeping them emotionally and physically protected from their partner's violence. In deciding which survival mechanism to use, victims engage in a methodical problem-solving process that involves analyzing: available and realistic safety options; the level of danger created by the abuser's violence; and the prior effectiveness and consequences of previously used strategies. After careful consideration, victims of domestic violence decide whether to use, adapt, replace, or discard certain approaches given the risks they believe it will pose to them and their children. Examples of additional protective strategies victims use to survive and protect themselves include:

  • Complying, placating, or colluding with the perpetrator;

  • Minimizing, denying, or refusing to talk about the abuse for fear of making it worse;

  • Leaving or staying in the relationship so the violence does not escalate;

  • Fighting back or defying the abuser;

  • Sending the children to a neighbor or family member's home;

  • Engaging in manipulative behaviors, such as lying, as a way to survive;

  • Refusing or not following through with services to avoid angering the abuser;

  • Using or abusing substances as an "escape" or to numb physical pain;

  • Lying about the abuser's criminal activity or abuse of the children to avoid a possible attack;

  • Trying to improve the relationship or finding help for the perpetrator.

Although these protective strategies act as coping and survival mechanisms for victims, they are frequently misinterpreted by laypersons and professionals who view the victim's behavior as uncooperative, ineffective, or neglectful. Because victims are very familiar with their partner's pattern of behavior, they can help the caseworker in developing a safety plan that is effective for both the victim and the children, especially when exploring options not previously considered.

In situations where certain coping strategies have adverse affects, such as using drugs to numb the pain, it is crucial that service providers make available additional support and guidance that offer positive solutions to victims of domestic violence. A thoughtful understanding of the unique approaches used by victims of domestic violence to secure their safety will help community professionals and service providers respond more effectively to their needs.

Perpetrators of Domestic Violence

This section presents common characteristics and behavioral tactics of perpetrators, indicators of dangerousness, and relevant parenting issues.

Who Is a Perpetrator of Domestic Violence?

As is the case with victims of domestic violence, abusers can be anyone and come from every age, sex, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, occupational, educational, and religious group. They can be teenagers, college professors, farmers, counselors, electricians, police officers, doctors, clergy, judges, and popular celebrities. Perpetrators are not always angry and hostile, but can be charming, agreeable, and kind. Abusers differ in patterns of abuse and levels of dangerousness. While there is not an agreed upon universal psychological profile, perpetrators do share a behavioral profile that is described as "an ongoing pattern of coercive control involving various forms of intimidation, and psychological and physical abuse

While many people think violent and abusive people are mentally ill, research shows that perpetrators do not share a set of personality characteristics or a psychiatric diagnosis that distinguishes them from people who are not abusive. There are some perpetrators who suffer from psychiatric problems, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or psychopathology. Yet, most do not have psychiatric illnesses, and caution is advised in attributing mental illness as a root cause of domestic violence. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association (DSM-IV) does not have a diagnostic category for perpetrators, but mental illness should be viewed as a factor that can influence the severity and nature of the abuse.CEU

Examples of the most prevalent behavioral tactics by perpetrators include:

  • Abusing power and control. The perpetrator's primary goal is to achieve power and control over their intimate partner. In order to do so, perpetrators often plan and utilize a pattern of coercive tactics aimed at instilling fear, shame, and helplessness in the victim. Another part of this strategy is to change randomly the list of "rules" or expectations the victim must meet to avoid abuse. The abuser's incessant degradation, intimidation, and demands on their partner are effective in establishing fear and dependence. It is important to note that perpetrators may also engage in impulsive acts of domestic violence and that not all perpetrators act in such a planned or systematic way.

  • Having different public and private behavior. Usually, people outside the immediate family are not aware of and do not witness the perpetrator's abusive behavior. Abusers who maintain an amiable public image accomplish the important task of deceiving others into thinking they are loving, "normal," and incapable of domestic violence. This allows perpetrators to escape accountability for their violence and reinforces the victims' fears that no one will believe them.

  • Projecting blame. Abusers often engage in an insidious type of manipulation that involves blaming the victim for the violent behavior. Such perpetrators may accuse the victim of "pushing buttons" or "provoking" the abuse. By diverting attention to the victim's actions, the perpetrator avoids taking responsibility for the abusive behavior. In addition to projecting blame on the victim, abusers also may project blame on circumstances, such as making the excuse that alcohol or stress caused the violence.

  • Claiming loss of control or anger problems. There is a common belief that domestic violence is a result of poor impulse control or anger management problems. Abusers routinely claim that they "just lost it," suggesting that the violence was an impulsive and rare event beyond control. Domestic violence is not typically a singular incident nor does it simply involve physical attacks. It is a deliberate set of tactics where physical violence is used to solidify the abuser's power in the relationship. In reality, only an estimated 5 to 10 percent of perpetrators have difficulty with controlling their aggression. Most abusers do not assault others outside the family, such as police officers, coworkers, or neighbors, but direct their abuse toward the victim or children. This distinction challenges claims that they cannot manage their anger.

  • Minimizing and denying the abuse. Perpetrators rarely view themselves or their actions as violent or abusive. As a result, they often deny, justify, and minimize their behavior. For example, an abuser might forcibly push the victim down a flight of stairs, then tell others that the victim tripped. Abusers also rationalize serious physical assaults, such as punching or choking, as "self-defense." Abusers who refuse to admit they are harming their partner present enormous challenges to persons who are trying to intervene. Some perpetrators do acknowledge to the victim that the abusive behavior is wrong, but then plead for forgiveness or make promises of refraining from any future abuse. Even in situations such as this, the perpetrator commonly minimizes the severity or impact of the abuse.

    It is equally important to acknowledge that abusers also possess positive qualities. There are abusers who are remorseful, accept responsibility for their violence, and eventually stop their abusive behavior. Perpetrators are not necessarily "bad" people, but their abusive behavior is unacceptable. Some perpetrators have childhood histories where they were physically or sexually abused, neglected, or exposed to domestic abuse. Some suffer from substance abuse and mental health problems. All of these factors can influence their psychological functioning and contribute to the complexity and severity of the abusive behavior. Perpetrators need support and intervention to end their violent behavior and any additional problems that compound their abusive behavior. Through specialized interventions, community services, and sanctions, some abusers can change and become nonviolent.

Indicators of Dangerousness

Different levels of violence and types of abuse are perpetrated by domestic violence offenders. Some abusers rarely use physical violence, while others assault their partners daily. There are perpetrators who are only abusive towards family members and others who are violent toward a variety of people. There are abusers who are more likely to inflict serious injury or become homicidal. Some frequently degrade the victim, while some rarely, if ever, implement that particular tactic.

It is critical that professionals and community service providers who intervene in domestic violence cases engage in thorough and continuous assessment of the perpetrator's level of dangerousness. Evaluating this dangerousness involves identifying risk indicators that reflect the capacity to continue perpetrating severe violence. Although domestic violence homicides or severe assaults cannot be predicted, there are several risk factors that help determine the likelihood that severe forms of violence may be imminent. The greater the number or the intensity of the following indicators, the more likely a severe or life-threatening attack will occur:

  • Threats or thoughts of homicide and suicide;

  • Possession or access to weapons;

  • Use of weapons in a threatening or intimidating manner;

  • Extreme jealousy or obsession with the victim;

  • Physical attacks, verbal threats, and stalking during a separation or divorce;

  • Kidnapping or hostage taking;

  • Sexual assault or rape;

  • Prior abusive incidents that resulted in serious injury;

  • History of violence with previous partners and children;

  • Psychopathology or substance abuse.

The above factors pose a substantial risk to victims of domestic violence and possibly to their children. It also is important to ask for the victim's assessment of the abuser's dangerousness. Extremely dangerous perpetrators can be safety threats to people who are involved in the victim's life, individuals trying to help, or the children. It is crucial that community professionals who work with violent families incorporate these risk indicators into their assessments and interventions because failure to do so can seriously compromise the lives of everyone involved.

Parenting and the Perpetrator

Can perpetrators be supportive parents when they are abusive towards the other parent? An emerging issue facing victims of domestic violence and child advocacy groups is the role and impact that perpetrators have in their children's lives. There are perpetrators who have positive interactions with their children, provide for their physical and financial needs, and are not abusive towards them. There also are perpetrators who neglect or physically harm their children. Although abusers vary tremendously in parenting styles, there are some behaviors common among perpetrators that can have harmful effects on children:

  • Authoritarianism. Perpetrators can be rigid and demanding with their children. They often have high and unrealistic expectations and expect children to obey without question or resistance. This parenting style is intimidating for children and alters their sense of safety around the abuser. These perpetrators are more likely to use harsher forms of physical discipline, which can make the children increasingly vulnerable to becoming direct targets of violence.

  • Neglect, irresponsibility, and lack of involvement. Some abusers are infrequently involved in the daily parenting activities of their children. They may view their children as hindrances and become easily annoyed with them. Furthermore, the perpetrator's preoccupation with controlling the partner and meeting his or her own emotional needs leaves little time to engage the children. Unfortunately, the perpetrator's physical and emotional unavailability can produce unrequited feelings of anticipation and fondness in the children who eagerly await attention.

  • Undermining the victim. The perpetrator's coercive and violent behavior towards the victim sometimes sends children a message that it is acceptable for them to treat that parent in the same manner. More overt tactics that weaken the victim's influence over the children include the perpetrator disregarding the victim's parenting decisions, telling the children that the victim is an inadequate parent, and belittling the victim in the presence of the children. Being victimized by abuse can lead children to perceive the parent in a weaker, passive role with no real authority over their lives.

  • Self-centeredness. Some perpetrators use their children to meet their own emotional needs. Perpetrators may expect their children to be immediately available only when they are interested and often overwhelm them with their problems. This can result in children feeling burdened and responsible for helping their parent while their own needs are neglected.

  • Manipulation. To gain power in the home, perpetrators may manipulate their children into aligning against the victim. Abusers may make statements or exhibit behaviors that confuse the children regarding who is responsible for the violence and coerce them into believing that they are the preferable parent. Abusers also may directly or indirectly use their children to control and intimidate the victim. Perpetrators sometimes may threaten to abduct, seek sole custody of, or physically harm the children if the victim is not compliant. Sometimes these are threats exclusively and the abuser does not intend or really want to carry out the action, but the threats are typically perceived as being very real.

Children's perception of the perpetrator's violence can play a significant role in the nature of their relationship. Children often feel anxious, scared, and angry when they witness abuse. At the same time, many children also feel affection, loyalty, and love for the abuser. It is common for children to experience ambivalent feelings towards the abuser and this can be difficult for them to resolve.

Domestic violence can influence the children's feelings toward the victim. Many children know the abuse is wrong and may even feel responsible for protecting the battered parent. Yet, they also experience confusion and resentment towards the victim for "putting up" with the abuse and are more likely to express their anger towards the victim rather than directly at the perpetrator.

Children need additional support as they struggle with their conflicting feelings towards the perpetrator. The responsibility of perpetrators as parents primarily focuses on preventing the recurrence of the violence. Some victims want their children to have a safe and positive relationship with the perpetrator, and some children crave that connection. Consequently, community service providers are confronted with the challenge of developing resources and strategies to help perpetrators become supportive and safe parents.

Examples of specific approaches that programs and service providers can use that will assist perpetrators in taking responsibility for the harm they pose to their children include:

  • Educating abusers on the damaging effects of their behavior on their partners and children;

  • Providing intensive parenting skills programs that emphasize the needs of children affected by domestic abuse;

  • Offering safe exchange and supervised visitation programs;

  • Encouraging abusers to support their children attending groups for youths exposed to domestic violence;

  • Recruiting nonviolent fathers to mentor domestic violence perpetrators.

A provocative issue for CPS caseworkers, service providers, and other community groups is determining the role abusers should have as parents or caretakers. Many voice legitimate concerns regarding the safety of the child victims.

There are special considerations and challenges in attempting to engage fathers who are abusive to their children or spouse, in activities that promote healthy involvement with the family. Some groups, such as some of those in the fatherhood movement, address this issue by helping fathers to increase their responsible involvement in their children's lives. Other groups, either through a prevention effort or an intervention treatment, seek to increase compassion, emotional awareness, and self-regulation skills in the belief that these skills remove the motivation for abusive behavior. Although juvenile court and protective order laws are designed to assign responsibility for child support and parental involvement, CPS caseworkers often face challenges in engaging fathers in the safety and care of their children. The difficulty with engaging some fathers in child protection efforts, however, stems from a cultural and gender bias of placing parenting responsibilities primarily on women. This is evidenced in child welfare systems where cases are tracked through the mother's name and subsequent case planning efforts are focused on her to make significant changes. Unfortunately, involving fathers or male caretakers typically does not occur unless they are willing participants or easily accessible in the CPS process. Thus, fathers can become essentially "invisible" in CPS efforts and unaccountable for the well-being of their children. Unquestionably, balancing the protection of adult and child victims with the rights and responsibilities of perpetrators will require continuous dialogue and a movement towards collaboration. If communities are dedicated to ending domestic violence, they must strive to hear the voices of adults and children who suffer from abuse so that a collective agenda of building healthy, safe, and stable families can be accomplished.

Link to:     State Domestic Violence Coalition

Page 2 Course Reading Material

Author: National Victim Assistance Academy


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