Title: Domestic Violence: Love & Control
Author: Colleen Pixley
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: March 2002
Catalog Number: 179

..All in the Family

Violence. You
see it almost everywhere you look these days: on the street,
in our schools, in movies, on TV.

The last thing
you want to do is come home to it. But millions of people —
men and women — do that every day.

Call it whatever
you want — domestic violence, family violence, partner abuse
— it’s all the same sad thing: someone being hurt by someone
they trust.

And the hurt
and broken trust has gotten completely out of hand. Consider:

The FBI reports that two million
women are beaten in the U.S. each year.

Abuse by husbands and partners
is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44.

At least 1,400 women are killed
each year by husbands, ex-husbands, and boyfriends.

And it’s not
just the participants who are affected. One study showed that
79 percent of institutionalized violent children had witnessed
extreme violence between parents, compared with only 20 percent
of nonviolent kids.

That’s why
we’ve put together this pamphlet: to examine what domestic violence
is and how it starts, and discuss ways to stop it in your life
— if it’s happening to you — and if it’s not, to help ensure
that it never does.

Because violence
is bad enough when it comes out of the blue, a collision
between total strangers. But when it happens in a relationship,
it’s worse.

..What is domestic violence?

In the simplest
possible terms, it’s violence that occurs at home.

The people
involved can be married, single, black, white, young, old, or

They don’t
even have to be heterosexual. In fact, the National Coalition
on Domestic Violence estimates that a third of same-sex relationships
are violent.

The only thing
that abusers necessarily have in common is an interest in controlling
another person through violent, abusive acts.

That used to
mean acts of physical aggression only. But in recent years, the
definition has expanded to include not only physical violence,
but various forms of verbal, emotional, sexual, and financial
abuse, and other violations of personal rights.

..How many kinds of abuse are there?

Too many.

It’s almost
like the old Paul Simon song, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,”
except when it comes to abuse, there are at least 50 ways to
hurt your lover.

Some examples
of the main types of abuse include:

  • Physical: Pushing, hitting, slapping, battering,
    rape or sexual violence, kidnap, or neglect.
  • Emotional/Verbal: Shouting, taunting, verbal insults,
    obscenities or demeaning language, sarcasm, belligerence, contempt,
    and other psychological ploys.
  • Financial: Misuse of money or other financial
    resources by a person in a relationship.
  • Personal Rights: Denial of needed medical care to an
    incapacitated person, or refusal to provide adequate nutrition
    or shelter.

Even though
all forms of abuse are serious, we’ll focus on the dynamics of
physical and emotional violence in an intimate love-partner relationship.

The factors
that lead to violence are more alike than different in intimate
relationships, and ways of preventing them are similar, too.

..How do abusive relationships start?

The way all
relationships start — with two people falling in love. Abusiveness
— on the part of either partner or both — may be there from
the start. But, more often, it only emerges later, after the
romance has worn off and the stresses of everyday life begin
to mount.

A first episode
can erupt over a trivial matter, and cool down as quickly as
it heated up. For this reason, the person on the receiving end
of the violence may rationalize it, thinking that he or she somehow
provoked it or assume that their partner was just having a “bad

An abuser often
helps such rationalizations along by being apologetic, charming,
minimizing the incident, or swearing it will never happen again.
The problem is that once a pattern of abuse begins, it can recur
and escalate in intensity, and even follow a predictable cycle.

..What sort of cycle?

The pattern
that domestic violence typically follows is like a wave: It starts
with a gradual buildup of tension that crests in a violent outburst,
followed by a period of relative calm.

The ebb and
flow of individual waves is different for every couple. The buildup
of anger and animosity can extend over days or weeks. And months
or even years can go by between incidents of abuse.

Still, even
though neither partner may be fully aware of their pattern —
or know, exactly, when the next wave will come — they can learn
to recognize the signs that lead up to it. But they seldom do
it on their own.

..Why does an abused partner stay?

For all the
reasons you can imagine: dependency, fear, money, compassion.
They might stay for the kids and they might stay because they
can’t think of anywhere else to go. Or they might stay for the
most complex reason of all: love.

Because in
acts of domestic violence, a relationship exists between the
partners — often a powerful one. It might be manipulative or
coercive, but there’s usually an upside to even the most upside-down-and-dirty
destructive relationship.

In fact, researchers
say that violent relationships are often characterized by high
levels of romance and excitement. Many times both partners feel
they’ve found real acceptance and that they share a special relationship.

when things start to go wrong, it isn’t that special, at all.

..How do things go wrong?

In lots of
ways. Because lots of factors — biological, psychological, and
cultural — shape violent relationships.

But in general,
abusive partners share common traits: They tend to misread other
people’s actions, act impulsively, and focus on negative emotions.
In addition, many abusers attribute hostile intent where none

Also, partners
in an abusive relationship typically don’t know how to back down
from conflict — and conflict is inevitable in all relationships,
violent or not.

One of the
most striking characteristics of domestic violence is that it
often springs out of feelings of powerlessness on both fronts.
Because even though marital violence often reflects the receding
patriarchy (or male domination) of our culture, both men and
women, victim and aggressor, see the use of force as a loss of

And, abusers
don’t like to be out of control — of their feelings, their actions,
or their homes.

..Are men more violent than women?

Not necessarily.

In fact, according
to several researchers, women initiate violence at least as often
as men: slapping, poking, or otherwise physically provoking their
man to violence.

One problem
seems to revolve around perception of threat: Men generally don’t
fear a woman’s violent acts, and women do fear violence from
a man.

As a result,
men are less likely to label a woman’s aggression as “violent”
or report it to police.

That doesn’t
mean that all acts of violence are equal — or equally dangerous.

According to
the U.S. Justice Department, a woman is 11 times more likely
to be injured through domestic violence than is a man.

..Are certain problems more likely than
others to trigger violence?

but not always. Because different couples have different issues
that drive them crazy differently.

Some (sexual
incompatibility, for example, or jealousy) might seem as though
they’d be more likely to trigger problems, but specific issues
can arise in the context of one relationship that have an overwhelming
power that might not have much emotional charge at all for another

The simple
fact is that the problem that may seem to trigger abuse isn’t
the problem. When a relationship turns violent, the problem is
violence. Period.

..What do you do if you’re in an abusive

Begin by stopping
the violence. Because even though violence can be a symptom of
a lot of other problems — both internal and external — once
it gets started it is the problem.

And the only
way to deal with it is to deal with it — not with any of the
other issues that your partner may believe is contributing to

That means
that if violence is happening to you, you have two real choices:
get help or get out.

Don’t think
you can change an abuser by an act of will alone. It will take
time, and some form of outside help, to save your relationship
if you want it saved.

If you need
to contact a woman’s shelter for temporary housing, do that.
If you need to call the police, call them. If you’re not sure
what to do, call someone you can trust — a minister, a therapist,
even your parents — and at least let somebody know what’s happening.

Because the
fact is that domestic violence can be caused by a lot of different

But it can’t
be cured if it isn’t identified for what it is — violence, pure
and simple.

And the healing
can’t start if the violence isn’t stopped — once and for
all, forever.

..Sidebar | 10
Risk Factors

Although domestic
violence can happen in any family, it’s a lot more common in
some families than others. Main risk factors include:

  1. Male or more assertive partner
    is unemployed
  2. Male uses illegal drugs at least
    once a year
  3. Partners have different religious
  4. Family income is below the poverty
  5. Partners are unmarried
  6. Either partner is violent toward
    children at home
  7. Male did not graduate from high
  8. Male has a blue-collar job,
    if employed
  9. Male is between 18 and 30
  10. Male saw his father hit his

Homes in which
two of the above risk factors apply are twice as likely to be
violent than homes with none. In homes with seven or more factors,
the risk is 40 times higher.

..Sidebar | What
About the Kids?

If you think
the scars that domestic violence leaves behind are bad enough
for adults, think about its effects on kids.

Research shows
that children who are raised in an abusive home have more problems
in school and are more likely to have drug and alcohol problems
later in life than other kids.

They often
feel alone, depressed, different. They may have problems expressing
their own anger and rebel, or they may withdraw from relationships
altogether, on the grounds that something so potentially painful
can’t be worth much.

They’re also
more likely to be victims — or abusers — themselves, as the
cycle of abuse perpetuates itself, and as the relationship “scripts”
they learned as children are cued in their own adult lives.

Still, that
doesn’t have to happen. Kids are naturally resilient — up to
a point, at least — and have the ability to bounce back from
bad experiences if they have the love and support of someone
who helps them bounce back.

Still, before they can overcome
the negative effects of growing up in a violent home, the abuse
first has to stop. Otherwise, they may never learn that violence
doesn’t work and love doesn’t have to hurt.

This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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