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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Cycle of Domestic Violence

Stage I: Tension-Building

During this stage, the victim is often subjected to minor battering incidents, verbal abuse and psychological humiliation. Typically, the victim behaves in a nurturing, compliant way in an effort to stave off the violence to come. The victim will deny her fear and minimize the threat posed by the abuser, and may go out of her way to try and keep the peace during this period, avoiding anything that may set the abuser off on a tirade.

The abuser becomes edgy, critical and irritable, gradually becoming more abusive. The abuser knows that this behavior is wrong, and fears that the victim will leave. The victim, by obedience and submission, legitimizes the batterer's belief that he or she has the right to abuse in the first place. The batterer gets increasingly jealous and verbally abusive.

Both the abuser and victim can sense the impending loss of control and become more desperate, which only fuels the tension. No longer able to tolerate her terror, anxiety and anger, the victim may actually be pushed to the point of provoking the inevitable just to get it over with and relieve the fear. Many battered women feel that the psychological anguish of this phase is the hardest to bear.

Stage II: Acute Battering Episode

The batterer does not begin by wanting to hurt, but to control the victim. Often, the batterer will fly into a rage and become violent for no apparent reason, or a stated reason that seems petty or irrational. Anything can be a catalyst for an explosion. The beating may continue even after the victim is already severely injured. When the beating does stop, the abuser is likely to experience a drop in tension, which is psychologically reinforcing.

The abuser in this stage is extremely irrational and will often turn on anyone who intervenes, while the victim frequently experiences a disassociation from their bodies and a heightened tolerance for pain.

Stage III: The Honeymoon

Activity in this stage explains a great deal about why women stay in an abusive situation. After the brutality comes loving contrition, and a period of profound relief for both partners. The abuser is remorseful and apologetic, or, at the very least, nonviolent, and may beg forgiveness, swearing that it will never happen again. The abuser will go out of his way to be kind, tranquil, and loving, while promising to change, and will bring his wife gifts, shower her with attention and romantic gestures.

The victim sees the person she married and committed to, the person she loves. She desperately wants to believe what the abuser says. Because batterers tend to emphasize their dependence on their victims, the victim ends up feeling responsible for the batterer and for her own victimization. Even though the victim appears free from immediate danger during this time, she is not free from fear and anxiety. She does not have to be facing an immediate assault to experience a completely reasonable fear of the next violence.

As the cycle repeats itself, denial plays an increasingly important role. The victim may also believe that this really will be the last time, that the abuser will change, but unless something changes, such as intervention by someone outside the home, the cycle will start again, and the abuse will almost surely become more severe.

Battering is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Battering happens when one person believes they are entitled to control another. Assault, battering and domestic violence are crimes.

Why do Men Batter Women?

Many theories have been developed to explain why some men use violence against their partners. These theories include: family dysfunction, inadequate communication skills, provocation by women, stress, chemical dependency and economic hardship. These issues may be associated with battering of women, but they are not the causes.

Removing these associated factors will not end men's violence against women. The batterer begins and continues his behavior because violence is an effective method for gaining and keeping control over another person and he usually does not suffer adverse consequences as a result of his behavior. Historically, violence against women has not been treated as a "real" crime. This is evident in the lack of severe consequences, such as incarceration or economic penalties, for men guilty of battering their partners. Rarely are batterers ostracized in their communities, even if they are known to have physically assaulted their partners. Batterers come from all groups and backgrounds, and from all personality profiles. However, some characteristics fit a general profile of a batterer:
  • A batterer objectifies women. He does not see women as people. He does not respect women as a group. Overall, he sees women as property or sexual objects.
  • A batterer has low self-esteem and feels powerless and ineffective in the world. He may appear successful, but inside he feels inadequate.
  • A batterer externalizes the causes of his behavior. He blames his violence on circumstances such as stress, his partner's behavior, a "bad day," alcohol or other factors.
  • A batterer may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence, and is often seen as a "nice guy" to outsiders.
  • Some behavioral warning signs of a potential batterer include extreme jealousy, possessiveness, a bad temper, unpredictability, cruelty to animals and verbal abusiveness.

Why Do Women Stay?

All too often the question "Why do women stay in violent relationships?" is answered with a victim-blaming attitude. Women victims of abuse often hear that they must like or need such treatment, or they would leave. Others may be told that they are one of the many "women who love too much" or who have "low self-esteem." The truth is that no one enjoys being beaten, no matter what their emotional state or self image.

A woman's reasons for staying are more complex than a statement about her strength of character. In many cases, it is dangerous for a woman to leave her abuser. If the abuser has all of the economic and social status, leaving can cause additional problems for the woman. Leaving could mean living in fear and losing child custody, losing financial support, and experiencing harassment at work.

Although there is no profile of the women who will be battered, there is a well-documented syndrome of what happens once the battering starts. Battered women experience shame, embarrassment and isolation. A woman may not leave battering immediately because:

  • She realistically fears that the batterer will become more violent and maybe even fatal if she attempts to leave;
  • Her friends and family may not support her leaving;
  • She knows the difficulties of single parenting in reduced financial circumstances;
  • There is a mix of good times, love and hope along with the manipulation, intimidation and fear; and
  • She may not know about or have access to safety and support.

Barriers to Leaving a Violent Relationship

Reasons why women stay generally fall into three major categories:

Lack of Resources:

  • Some women have at least one dependent child.
  • Some women are not employed outside of the home.
  • Some women have no property that is solely theirs.
  • Some women lack access to cash or bank accounts.
  • Women who leave fear being charged with desertion, and losing children and joint assets.
  • A woman may face a decline in living standards for herself and her children.

Institutional Responses:

  • Clergy and secular counselors are often trained to see only the goal of "saving" the marriage at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
  • Police officers often do not provide support to women. They treat violence as a domestic "dispute," instead of a crim where one person is physically attacking another person.
  • Police may try to dissuade women from filing charges.
  • Prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute cases, and judges rarely levy the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
  • Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating the assault. Despite greater public awareness and the increased availability of housing for women fleeing from violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep women safe.

Traditional Ideology:

  • Some women do not believe divorce is a viable alternative.
  • Some women believe that a single parent family is unaccpetable, and that even a violent father is better than no father at all.
  • Some women are socialized to believe that they are responsible for making their marriage work. Failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as a woman.
  • Some women become isolated from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or to hide signs of the abuse from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
  • Some women rationalize their abuser's behavior by blaming stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment or other factors.
  • Some women are taught that their identity and worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
  • The abuser rarely beats the woman all the time. During the non-violent phases, he may fulfill the woman's dream of romantic love. She believes that he is basically a "good man." If she believes that she should hold onto a "good man," this reinforces her decision to stay. She may also rationalize that her abuser is basically good until something bad happens to him and he has to "let off steam."

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