Q) Is domestic violence caused by substance abuse?
Alcohol and other drugs such as marijuana, depressants, anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety drugs do not cause non-violent persons to become violent. Many people use or abuse those drugs without ever battering their partners. Research indicates that the pattern of coercive behaviours that comprise domestic violence is not caused by those particular chemicals, although alcohol and other drugs may be used as an excuse for the battering.
On the other hand, there seems to be contradictory evidence whether certain drugs (PCP, speed, cocaine or “crack”) chemically react within the brain to cause violent behavior or whether they induce paranoia or psychosis, which is then accompanied by violent behavior. Further research is needed to explore the cause-and-effect relationship between those drugs and violence.
It is not sufficient to treat the chemically affected perpetrator solely for either substance abuse or domestic violence. Intervention must be directed at both problems either through
(a) concurrent interventions;
(b) inpatient substance-abuse treatment with a mandatory follow-up program for domestic violence; or
(c) an involuntary mental health commitment with rehabilitation directed at both the addiction and the violence.
While the presence of alcohol or drugs should not be considered an excuse for violence, it is relevant to the assessment of lethality and safety planning. The use of, or addiction to, substances may increase the lethality of certain episodes of domestic violence.
Q) Is domestic violence caused by stress?
There are many different sources of stress in our lives and people respond to stress in a wide variety of ways. Stress does not “cause” people to act in certain ways. They react to the stresses of their lives in ways they have observed as working in the past, or anticipate will work in the present. Furthermore, a stress-reduction theory of violence does not explain why individuals stressed by employment, racism, or illness direct their violence at their intimate partners rather than the sources of their stress. Moreover, many episodes of domestic violence occur when the perpetrator is not emotionally charged or stressed.
It is important to hold people responsible for the choices they make regarding stress reduction, especially when those choices involve violence or other illegal behaviors. Just as we would not excuse a robbery or a mugging by a stranger simply because the perpetrator was stressed, we can no longer excuse the perpetrator of domestic violence because of stress.
Q) Is domestic violence caused by anger?
When evaluating the role of anger in domestic violence, one must consider its role as part of a pattern and not just in isolated, individual events. There is a great deal of variability within one perpetrator’s pattern as well as between perpetrators. Some battering episodes occur when the perpetrator is not emotionally charged or angry, and some occur when the perpetrator is very emotionally aroused. In some episodes, the tactics of control are used calmly, while in others displays of anger are often tactics to intimidate the victim. Perpetrators choose to use violence or other tactics of control such as displays of anger to get what they want or that to which they feel entitled.
Current research indicates that there is a wide variety of arousal or anger patterns among identified perpetrators as well as among those who are identified as not abusive. These studies suggest that there may be different types of batterers. Abusers in one cluster actually reduced their heart rates during observed marital conflicts, suggesting a calm preparation for fighting rather than an out-of-control or angry response. Such research challenges the notion that domestic violence is merely an anger problem and questions the efficacy of anger-management programs for batterers.
Q) How does one become an abuser?
Domestic violence is behavior learned through observation and reinforcement. Violent behaviors, as well as the rules of when, where, against whom, and by whom they are to be used, are learned through observation (e.g. a child witnessing abuse of his mother by his father or seeing images of violence against women in the media) or through experiences (e.g. perpetrators not held responsible, arrested, prosecuted, or sentenced appropriately for abusiveness due to a culturally sanctioned belief that men are supposed to control their partners).
Domestic violence is observed and reinforced not only in the family, but in society. It gets reinforced by society’s major institutions: familial, social, legal, religious, educational, mental health, medical, entertainment, media. In these institutions, there are customs that facilitate the use of violence as legitimate means of controlling family members (e.g. religious institutions stating that a woman should submit to the will of her husband, laws that do not consider violence against intimates a crime, health systems that collude with the perpetrator by blaming victims for “provoking” the violence). These practices reinforce the use of violence to control intimates by failing to hold the perpetrator responsible and by failing to protect the victim(s).
Q) Are batterers “out of control?”
Perpetrators follow their own internal rules and regulations about their abusive behaviors. Some will batter only in particular ways, hitting certain parts of the body, while others will use violence toward the victim even though they may be in conflict with their boss, other family members, or the welfare worker. Some will hit only in private while others will strike the victim in public; some will break only the victim’s possessions and not their own; others will not engage in any property destruction. The patterns vary from abuser to abuser. Perpetrators are making choices about what they will or will not do to the victim, even when t
hey are claiming that they “lost it” or were “out of control.” Such decision-making indicates they are actually in control of their abusive behaviors.
Q) Are abusers mentally ill?
A small percentage of violence against adult intimates is illness-based behavior rather than domestic violence. Individuals with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s chorea, or psychosis may strike out at an intimate partner. It is relatively easy to distinguish illness-based violence from learning-based violence; the violence is not part of a pattern of coercive control. With illness-based violence, there is usually no selection of a particular victim (whoever is present when the short circuit occurs will get attacked: e.g., health care provider, family member, friend, stranger). With learning-based violence, perpetrators use targeted violence with the intent to maintain control over a specific victim. With illness-based violence, there is a constellation of symptoms that indicate a disease process. With learning-based violence there is no indication of a disease process.
Q) Is domestic violence caused by the victims behavior or by relationship problems?
Looking at the relationship or the victim’s behavior as an explanation for domestic violence takes the focus off the perpetrator’s responsibility, and unintentionally supports minimization, denials, blaming, and rationalizations of violent behavior. This reinforces the perpetrator’s abuse and thus contributes to the escalation of the pattern of domestic violence. People can be in distressed relationships and experience negative feelings about the other’s behavior without responding with violence or other criminal activities. While some victims may have problems (e.g., substance abuse, poor communication skills, parenting difficulties), violence is not a reasonable or legal response. Many perpetrators repeat their pattern of control in all their intimate relationships, regardless of significant differences in the personalities of their intimate partners or in the characteristics of those relationships. This further supports the position that while domestic violence takes place within a relationship, it is not caused by the relationship.
Q) Who most commonly experiences domestic violence?
Research shows that domestic violence is most commonly experienced by women and perpetrated by men.
Q) Does domestic violence only happen in certain cultures or classes?
Any woman can experience domestic violence regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, class, disability or lifestyle.
Domestic violence also takes place in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender relationships, and can involve other family members, including children.
Q) Why does it happen?
All forms of domestic violence – psychological, economic, emotional, sexual and physical – come from the abuser’s desire for power and control over other family members or intimate partners. Although every situation is unique, there are common factors involved.
Q) What are the signs of domestic violence?
- Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting/mocking/accusing/name calling/verbally threatening.
- Pressure tactics: sulking, threatening to withhold money, disconnect the telephone, take the car away, threatening to commit suicide, threatening to take your children away, threatening to report you to welfare agencies unless you comply with his demands, lying to your friends and family about you, telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
- Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people, not listening or responding when you talk, interrupting your telephone calls, taking money from your purse without asking, refusing to help with childcare or housework.
- Breaking trust: lying to you, withholding information from you, being jealous, having other relationships, breaking promises and shared agreements.
- Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls, telling you where you can and cannot go, preventing you from seeing friends and relatives.
- Harassment: following you, checking up on you, opening your mail, repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you, embarrassing you in public.
- Threats: making angry gestures, using physical size to intimidate, shouting you down, destroying your possessions, breaking things, punching walls, wielding a knife or a gun, threatening to kill or harm you and the children.
- Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts, having sex with you when you don’t want to have sex, any degrading treatment based on your sexual orientation.
- Physical violence: punching, slapping, hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, pulling hair out, pushing, shoving, burning, strangling.
- Denial: saying the abuse doesn’t happen, saying you caused the abusive behavior, being publicly gentle and patient, crying and begging for forgiveness, saying it will never happen again.