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Domestic Violence – A Primer

Battered Spouse

Domestic violence is, unfortunately, all too common event in our lives. You’ll never know who has suffered. It is your sister, your daughter, your friend, your neighbor, or it is you. Domestic violence does not discriminate. Race does not matter. Religion is irrelevant. Income only upgrades the scene.

NOTE:  BOTH MEN AND WOMEN ENGAGE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.  Victims can be the wife, the girlfriend, the husband, the boyfriend or in same sex relationships one partner toward another. 

We believe information is power. This article comes from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence web site. If you would like access to more information or links to invaluable resources, please visit their site at www.ncadv.org.

What is Battering?

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.

Definitions: Abuse of family members can take many forms. Battering may include emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, using children, threats, using male privilege, intimidation, isolation, and a variety of other behaviors used to maintain fear, intimidation and power. In all cultures, the perpetrators are most commonly the men of the family. Women are most commonly the victims of violence. Elder and child abuse are also prevalent. Acts of domestic violence generally fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Physical Battering – The abuser’s physical attacks or aggressive behavior can range from bruising to murder. It often begins with what is excused as trivial contacts which escalate into more frequent and serious attacks.
  • Sexual Abuse – Physical attack by the abuser is often accompanied by, or culminates in, sexual violence wherein the woman is forced to have sexual intercourse with her abuser or take part in unwanted sexual activity.
  • Psychological Battering -The abuser’s psychological or mental violence can include constant verbal abuse, harassment, excessive possessiveness, isolating the woman from friends and family, deprivation of physical and economic resources, and destruction of personal property.

Battering escalates. It often begins with behaviors like threats, name calling, violence in her presence (such as punching a fist through a wall), and/or damage to objects or pets. It may escalate to restraining, pushing, slapping, and/or pinching. The battering may include punching, kicking, biting, sexual assault, tripping, throwing. Finally, it may become life-threatening with serious behaviors such as choking, breaking bones, or the use of weapons.

Who Is Battered?

Rural and urban women of all religious, ethnic, economic, educational backgrounds, of varying ages, physical abilities, and lifestyles can be affected by domestic violence. There is NOT a “typical woman who will be battered.” The risk factor is being born female. Over 50% of all women will experience physical violence in an intimate relationship, and for 24-30% of those women the battering will be regular and on-going. EVERY 15 SECONDS THE CRIME OF BATTERING OCCURS.

  • More than 50% of child abductions result from domestic violence. (Geoffery Grief & Rebecca Hagar,”Abduction of Children By Their Parents: A Survey of the Problem,” Social Work, 1991)
  • Approximately 1 out of every 25 elderly persons is victimized annually. (Candace Heisler, Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, 1991) 22 to 35% of women who visit emergency rooms are there for injuries related to on-going abuse. (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1990) Up to 50% of all homeless women and children in this country are fleeing domestic violence. (Elizabeth Schneider, Legal Reform Efforts for Battered Women, 1990) 5 to 25% of pregnant women are battered. (Evan Stark & Anne Flitcraft, 1992)
  • One out of every four gay couples (25%) experiences domestic violence in their relationship. That’s approximately the same rate as heterosexual couples. (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1996) A study of violence among dating couples of high school age found that 12% had experienced abuse in one of their relationships. (Nona O’ Keefe, Karen Brockoff, Esther Chew, “Teen Dating Violence,” Social Work, NovemberDecember 1986)
  • Sexual abuse against disabled girls and women is roughly twice as high as for non-disabled girls and women. Considering that 33 percent of American women experience domestic violence, a conservative estimate says that at least 60% of disabled women have experienced it. (New Mobility Magazine, 1995) In 1994, 28% of the 4,739 women who were murdered were slain by a husband or boyfriend. (FBI)
  • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, over two-thirds of female victims of violence documented in 1993 were related to or knew their attacker.
  • A 1992 study of family and intimate assaults reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that family and intimate assaults involving firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than all non-firearm family and intimate assaults.
  • A 1993 study in the New England Journal of Family Medicine revealed that homes experiencing domestic violence were close to five times more likely to be the scene of a homicide than other homes. It also reported that a handgun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member or an acquaintance than an intruder.
  • The Bureau of Justice reports that although divorced and separated women comprise only 7% of the population in the U.S., they account for 75% of all battered women and report being assaulted 14 times more often than women still living with a partner.

If you are being abused or battered, you are not alone. There is help available and people who will understand your situation. Nobody deserves abuse. You and your children have a right to safety.

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, lack of spirituality 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;
  • 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:

  • Most women have at least one dependent child. (Know, if there is family violence the court is there to protect you)
  • Many women are not employed outside of the home (it is a sin to let a daughter grow up and not be self reliant, have a plan for employment or career (re)building)
  • Many women have no property that is solely theirs.
  • Some women lack access to cash or bank accounts. (get information about your financial condition)
  • Women who leave fear being charged with desertion and losing children and joint assets (I have never seen this happen)
  • A women 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 crime where one person is physically attacking another person.  (This is not really so much as a problem today as it used to be.  Given so much media attention and instances of the most heinous crimes, police officers are very likely to protect the victim. Somebody is going to jail.)
  • Police may try to dissuade women from filing charges.  (I am not really seeing this.)
  • 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. (In many counties in Texas, the crime of family violence will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – even in cases where the evidence is slim, even in cases where the victim has filed a Affidavit of Non-Prosecution).
  • 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 availablity of housing for women fleeing violent partners, there are not enough shelters to keep women safe.

Traditional Ideology

  • Many women do not believe divorce is a viable alternative.
  • Many women believe that a single parent family is unacceptable, and that even a violent father is better than no father at all.
  • Many women are socialized to believe that they are responsible for making their marriage work. Failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as a woman.
  • Many 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. (I have seen this all too often.  In one case, the women was not allowed to leave the home.  If she provided certain “favors” she would get points and the husband would take, after she collected enough points), shopping at Walmart.)
  • Many women rationalize their abuser’s behavior by blaming stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment and other factors.
  • Many 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.”

Predictors of Domestic Violence

The following signs often occur before actual abuse and may serve as clues to potential abuse:

  1. Did he grow up in a violent family? People who grow up in families where they have been abused as children, or where one parent beats the other, have grown up learning that violence is normal behavior.
  2. Does he tend to use force or violence to “solve” his problems? A young man who has a criminal record for violence, who gets into fights, or who likes to act tough is likely to act the same way with his wife and children. Does he have a quick temper? Does he over-react to little problems and frustration? Is he cruel to animals? Does he punch walls or throw things when he’s upset? Any of these behaviors may be a sign of a person who will work out bad feelings with violence.
  3. Does he abuse alcohol or other drugs? There is a strong link between violence and problems with drugs and alcohol. Be alert to his possible drinking/drug problems, particularly if he refuses to admit that he has a problem, or refuses to get help. Do not think that you can change him.
  4. Does he have strong traditional ideas about what a man should be and what a woman should be? Does he think a woman should stay at home, take care of her husband, and follow his wishes and orders?
  5. Is he jealous of your other relationships—not just with other men that you may know—but also with your women friends and your family? Does he keep tabs on you? Does he want to know where you are at all times? Does he want you with him all of the time?
  6. Does he have access to guns, knives, or other lethal instruments? Does he talk of using them against people, or threaten to use them to get even?
  7. Does he expect you to follow his orders or advice? Does he become angry if you do not fulfill his wishes or if you cannot anticipate what he wants?
  8. Does he go through extreme highs and lows, almost as though he is two different people? Is he extremely kind one time, and extremely cruel at another time?
  9. When he gets angry, do you fear him? Do you find that not making him angry has become a major part of your life? Do you do what he wants you to do, rather than what you want to do?
  10. Does he treat you roughly? Does he physically force you to do what you do not want to do?


Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts or continually puts down the other person, it’s abuse.

Does your partner….

____ Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?

____ Put down your accomplishments or goals?

____ Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?

____ Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?

____ Tell you that you are nothing without them?

____ Treat you roughly – grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?

____ Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?

____ Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?

____ Blame you for how they feel or act?

____ Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?

____ Make you feel like there “is no way out” of the relationship?

____ Prevent you from doing things you want – like spending time with your friends or family?

____ Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to “teach you a lesson”?

Do You…

____ Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?

____ Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior?

____ Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?

____ Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?

____ Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?

____ Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?

____ Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?

If any of these are happening in your relationship, talk to someone. Without some help, the abuse will continue.