Module 1: Forms and dynamics of domestic violence

Victims of domestic violence

Definition

The term victim/survivor refers to people who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence to reflect both the terminology used in the legal process and the agency of these victims in seeking services.


IMPRODOVA: Who is affected by domestic violence?

The video explains who is affected by domestic violence.


Domestic violence is often seen as something “happening to others”. People who are not affected often do not understand why the victim is not leaving the abuser and why he/she does not tell anybody.

Who are the victims of domestic violence?

Victims of domestic violence (and their children) come from all social, cultural, economic, and religious backgrounds.

Not all the victims of domestic violence are victims of intimate personal relationships, but they have a present or past tie with the aggressor based on a domestic relationship, including dating relationships or simple current cohabitation (of vulnerable victims with the perpetrator).

However, the risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence is increased in (sub-)cultures that promote gender inequality. It also increases with the strain that persons experience in their individual lives.

When does domestic violence start?

People normally don’t enter relationships expecting that the relationship will become violent. Several studies regarding intimate partner violence indicate that a progression from psychological violence into physical violence takes place, and finally sexual violence occurs. This “pattern” is not present in every case of domestic violence; in some situations, the physical and sexual violence can be observed since the beginning of the relationship.

In terms of intimate partner violence, it is common to describe the course of the violence as a power and control wheel of violence.

The power and control wheel of domestic violence is often predictable and can consist of three phases, even though domestic violence does not always follow a linear process: tension building; abuse or explosion; and honeymoon or remorse forgiveness. In the first phase, tension builds up within the couple, the abuser starts getting frustrated and takes it out on his/her partner in the form of domestic violence. Violence can occur in a variety of forms, including physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse that may last from seconds to days. The abuser then feels satisfied, may start resenting his/her violent attitude towards his/her partner, and may start apologising. The couple then enjoys a honeymoon period in which the victim thinks the abuser will change and violence will stop. In some cases, the intensity of violence is decreased or the violence even stops for some time until that cycle is repeated.

Why don’t victims “just” leave an abuser?
  • They might be afraid of the abuser, and that the abuse escalates and continues after separation.
  • They could be financially dependent on the abuser, namely to support the daily-life costs, mortgage services, health or educational costs, etc.
  • They believe it is their fault that they are treated respectively.
  • They could be emotionally dependent on the abuser e.g., afraid to be alone, have lost their self-esteem and confidence to leave, still love or feel a ‘trauma bond’ with their abuser (often referred to as ‘hostage syndrome’).
  • They may want their children’s mother/father to be around when they are growing up and/or to remain within or near their family, social networks, and community.
  • They may be suffering long-term post-traumatic stress and be unable to make critical decisions.
  • For young victims, fear and financial constraints can make it impossible to leave an abusive partner, especially when they have the same social circles, like being in the same education establishment or local gang. For many, living with their parents with no financial independence is untenable.
  • They are afraid of losing their children or their home.

Keep in mind that many times the ambivalence of the victim regarding the relationship (staying/leaving), emotional dependence and other psychological factors are the key factors of maintenance of the situation (it can happen that financial and housing issues aren’t the main obstacles).

Why don’t they “just” tell someone?
  • Love for the perpetrator and will to protect him/her
  • They may not disclose because they are afraid of the abuser and they worry that nobody will believe them, particularly if there are no physical injuries. Some are already isolated.
  • Some victims don’t tell because they are not asked, sometimes because they are not left alone with anyone they could tell.
  • Some may not recognise their experience as abuse; others feel ashamed, like, for instance, the elders, who could experience social embarrassment, or may be completely dependent on the abuser from a financial point of view.
  • When the victim is the perpetrator’s mother/father (or other ascendant), the sense of protection regarding the perpetrator is generally very strong what makes the unveiling of the situation even more difficult. The situation can be felt as a personal failure in the process of education of the son/daughter.
  • There might be cultural or religious barriers (e.g., one would destroy the family honour or commit a sin if one gets divorced). They might be worried about their immigration status. Many victims are worried about losing their children if Children’s Social Care gets involved.
  • They do not disclose because of low self-confidence and self-esteem, experience of bereavement, physical frailty, and a perception that the mistreatment is not serious enough to merit taking action. They also fear alienating family and friends and becoming isolated; they don’t want to be ‘making a fuss’.
  • They fear of being blamed, embarrassment and shame; they have concerns for what the consequences could be for their family and significant others.
  • They have disabilities which create a barrier to look for help.
  • Some may not recognize their experience as violence because it’s part of their ingroup’s culture. Violence is tolerated in their community and part of their living environment.
  • In some religious groups, leaving may mean social isolation e.g., from their relatives. Domestic violence is often internally dealt with by group’s religious authorities, such as a “group of elders”, an imam or a similar figure.

Perpetrators of domestic violence

While it is important to focus on the victims of abuse and violence, it is equally important to acknowledge the role of the perpetrator. Therefore, there are institutions and authorities (probation services, prison release services, men’s counselling centres, prisons) that specialise in working with male and female perpetrators.

Definition

A perpetrator is a person who commits, or knowingly allows, acts of abuse, neglect, or exploitation to occur.


IMPRODOVA: Who are the perpetrators of domestic violence?

The video explains who the perpetrators of domestic violence are.


‘I cannot understand how any human being can violate another person like this. It is hard to grasp how a victim must feel. How a woman feels when all dignity is taken away from her. When children have to watch. I build protective walls around me to protect myself from the violence. In order not to have the feeling of powerlessness and the fear of having overlooked suffering without knowing about violence occurring and not having helped. What must have happened in the life of a person that he/she needs to humiliate others? And how deep must the pain have been in one’s own childhood, so that he/she is not realising that he/she acts exactly the same way and passes on the violence. When I think about it, I feel sick to my stomach.’

Participant in a training course on domestic violence

Who is the perpetrator?

Perpetrators of domestic violence come from all social, cultural, and religious backgrounds. One of the main problems in acknowledging the extent of abuse and violence is the fact that there is not the one specific characteristic of a perpetrator that defines whether someone will be violent towards his/her partner.

Whilst both, men and women perpetrate violence and abuse, men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence. They are also more likely to perpetrate sustained physical, psychological, or emotional abuse, or violence which results in injury or death.

Why do they become abusive?

Personal, situational, and sociocultural factors all play a part in shaping perpetrators’ behaviours. It is extremely important to keep in mind that some factors (e.g., substance abuse, gendered roles, past “traumas”, experience with abuse in childhood) increase the probability of practicing acts of domestic violence. But nothing can really predict if and when a first episode of violence will take place. When there is a situation of domestic violence, tools for risk assessment are very important to help professionals (and the victim) to understand the level of risk of a new and more severe episode of violence practiced by such a perpetrator.


Risk factors for domestic violence

One framework to understand violence is the ecological model (Lauritsen & Schaum, 2004), which proposes that violence is a result of factors operating at four levels: individual, relationship, community and societal. Researchers have begun to examine evidence at these levels in different settings to better understand the factors associated with variations in prevalence. However, there is still limited research on community and societal influences. Some risk factors are consistently identified across studies from many different countries, while others are context-specific and vary among and within countries (e.g., between rural and urban settings). It is also important to note that, at the individual level, some factors are associated with perpetration, some with victimisation, and some with both. In many spheres, domestic violence is understood as a cause and consequence of gender inequality.

Societal
  • Gender and age inequality: stereotypical ideas about the roles of women and men in society, and the way they should behave, foster an environment for domestic violence to occur
Relationship
  • Controlling behaviours: monitoring everyday activities such as phone calls, social interactions, including social media, and dress
  • Obsessive and/or excessive jealous behaviour
  • Financial difficulties
  • Recent separation
  • Partner’s pregnancy
  • Violations of self-esteem through verbal violence
Community
  • Gender-inequitable social norms (especially those that link notions of manhood to dominance and aggression)
  • Social and geographic isolation
  • Socio-economic inequality
  • Lack of access to support networks and services
Individual
  • Substance abuse
  • Experiencing or witnessing abuse as a child
  • Socio-economic status
  • Illness/disease
Sources

Lauritsen, J. L., & Schaum, R. J. (2004). The social ecology of violence against women. Criminology, 42(2), 323-357. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00522.x

There are groups where other causes for domestic violence are relevant. Find more information about those by following the links:

Refugees and asylum seeker

Domestic violence in LGBTIQ

Elders

Children


Consequences of domestic violence

Domestic violence has a physical impact on adults. Here are just some examples:

  • broken bones
  • gynaecological problems
  • long-term pain
  • burn or stab wounds
  • sexual dysfunction
  • maternal death
  • poor nutrition
  • bruising
  • miscarriage
  • general poor health
  • self-inflicted injuries
  • death
  • tiredness
  • babies with low birthweight/stillbirth/injury/death
  • premature birth
  • recurrent sexually transmitted infections

Domestic violence also has a psychological impact on adults:

  • increasing likelihood of misusing drugs, alcohol or prescribed anti-depressants
  • depression/poor mental health
  • loss of self-esteem and confidence
  • wanting to commit or attempting suicide
  • eating disorders
  • sleep disturbances
  • self-harming
  • PTSD
  • loss of hope
  • feelings of dependency
  • feelings of isolation
  • guilt
  • anger
  • panic or anxiety

Impact of domestic violence on children

Domestic violence also has a massive impact on children.

Children living in households where there is domestic violence as well as witnessing abuse or being abused themselves can significantly be harmed by neglect as a result.

Witnessing domestic violence is harmful for children in all ages and all age-groups, but in some age periods domestic violence has a wider impact on children’s brains and indirectly on their physical and emotional development. There are two periods when children are particularly vulnerable: the first is in the first three years of their life; and the second occurs when the child approaches their early teenage years, being between 13 and 17 years old. Rapid brain developments in these two periods result in heightened vulnerability to trauma. Good experiences can have a positive impact on the child’s development; neglect and traumatic experiences can create lifelong deficits. Nevertheless, the impact of domestic violence on children in all periods is massive. Those two periods are just even more vulnerable.

A child in a household with domestic violence is likely to be affected in one or more of the following ways:

  • experiencing emotional abuse as a result of witnessing the violence/abuse directed at one of their parents
  • experiencing neglect as a result of the violence or abuse, in some cases this is exacerbated by parental drug, alcohol or mental health problems: ‘the toxic trio’.
  • experiencing severe physical violence up to homicide
  • becoming inadvertently involved in the violence/abuse, e.g., being accidentally caught up in an assault or being used as part of emotional blackmail or manipulation by the perpetrator
  • intervening to stop the violence/abuse directed at one of their parents
  • being a direct target for physical, emotional and/or sexual violence or abuse from the perpetrator.

Consequences of domestic violence on the mental wellbeing of children

Living in a household where there is domestic violence and abuse can pose a serious threat to children’s emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing. Particularly so, if the violence is persistent over a long period of time, stressful events happened during their childhood or ‘adverse childhood experiences’ have a continuing impact throughout life.

  • Children witnessing domestic violence show significantly poorer outcomes on a range of developmental and behavioural dimensions than those living without violence. The outcomes are similar to those of children who were directly physically abused.
  • Children in homes where there is domestic abuse, even if they do not witness the abuse directly, are more likely to have behavioural problems and suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and educational problems. Compared to their peers who were not in homes where there was domestic violence when growing up, children from abusive homes are more likely to have problems with mental health, be unemployed and experience or perpetrate domestic abuse.
  • Children may learn that it is acceptable to exert control or relieve stress by using violence, or that violence appears to be linked to expressions of intimacy and affection. These negative lessons can have a powerful adverse effect on children in social situations and relationships throughout childhood and in later life.
  • Children may also have to cope with temporary homelessness, change of physical location and schools, loss of friends, pets, and personal belongings, continued harassment by the perpetrator and the stress of making new relationships.

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Further information can be found here:

https://www.apa.org/topics/bullying

https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/6/10-077123/en/