Domestic violence and abuse is a pattern of coercive behavior that is used by a person against family or household members or dating partners to gain power or control over the other party in a relationship. This behavior may include any of the following: physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological intimidation, verbal abuse and threats, stalking, isolation from friends and family, economic control, destruction of personal property and animal cruelty. Domestic violence occurs between people of all racial, economic, educational and religious backgrounds. It occurs in heterosexual and same-sex relationships, between married and unmarried partners, between current and former partners and between other family and household members.
Domestic Violence affects every community across the country, regardless of ethnicity, culture, or background. People of all ages, income levels, faiths, sexual orientations, genders, and education levels experience domestic violence.
Domestic violence isolates the person being abused and can rob them of inner strength, feelings of self-worth and the ability to make personal choices. Often people experiencing abuse begin to feel responsible for the abuse.
Domestic Violence is not a private matter, a family problem, a domestic “squabble” or a “fight.” It is not a momentary loss of temper or the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Abusers choose to use tactics of violence repeatedly to gain power and control.
Exposure to domestic violence traumatizes children and can destroy their ability to feel safe in the world as well as cause them to feel responsible for the abuse.
Physical and sexual violence against a family member or intimate partner is a crime and perpetrators can be arrested and prosecuted.
Ending domestic violence requires a social, political, and economic environment that ensures all people affected by domestic abuse and violence are supported and batterers are held accountable. Everyone must be part of the solution.
Myths: Why Does Battering Happen?
Out of control - The abuser is actually in control. The abuser decides who to abuse, when and where, the parts of the body to batter, and the length and severity of the episode. The abuser may remove rings or a belt as a signal, or threaten that s/he is “going to do something” and when.
Poor anger control – This feeds into the belief that battering is a crime of passion. In fact, many batterers admit to calmly planning violent incidents. Additionally, most batterers are able to control their emotions when on the job, with friends, in court, or when dealing with police.
Stress – Batterers do not experience more stress than non-batterers do. They choose to deal with stress violently. Batterers believe they have the right to control and get their way.
Low self-esteem – Batterers do not differ from non-batterers in their level of self-esteem. The difference lies in the batterer’s belief system regarding women and children. The problem is not how batterers feel about themselves; it is the permission they give themselves to control and hurt other people.
Substance abuse causes the abuse – Getting sober and into a program does not stop the abuse or the violence. In addition, being a “recovering addict or alcoholic” may be used to sidestep responsibility for abusive behavior. Substance abuse is another way for an abuser not to be held accountable. Getting sober is just the first step in dealing with the underlying issues of power and control.
History of abuse from childhood - Many batterers were abused as children. Many others were abused growing up and chose not to abuse. Statistics show that men who have witnessed their father abusing their mother are more likely to batter than those who have been physically abused themselves. Both are big risk factors.
Poor communication skills – This myth is grounded in the belief that the abuser wouldn’t abuse if their needs were met. It is a form of victim blaming. Abusers demand that their needs be met before the needs of all others. For their safety, victims learn to read subtle, non-verbal communications well. Even when victims meet the needs of abusers, that abuser continues to abuse.
Battering is provoked or enjoyed by the victim - Battering and other abuses are degrading and humiliating. No behavior on the part of the victim ever justifies battering. No behavior on the part of the victim can change the abuser’s decision to batter.
Batterers need to learn non-violence – Batterers know non-violence. The problem is not their inability to resolve conflict non-violently, but their unwillingness to do so.
Adapted from Maine Child Welfare Training Institute/ University of Southern Maine