Understanding the Dynamics Of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in all sectors of society--a syndrome that exhibits no bias in any regard and is not affected by race or economic class. Historically, domestic violence was viewed solely as males battering females, but this is no longer an exclusive distinction. Today, numerous males are victims of domestic violence. They are often reluctant, however, to admit their victimization due to the fact they feel ashamed, embarrassed, and fear ridicule if they reveal it. Though, today, there is greater awareness on the issue of domestic violence and there have been enhanced efforts to combat its scourge on society, there still remains a lot to be done. In current times, a significant degree of ignorance still prevails on the subject.

The two major elements prevalent in all domestic violence relationships are power and control. The abuser retains power over the victim and often controls the victim in numerous ways. For purposes of discussion, the victim will be referred to in the female gender. The abuser will often utilize coercion, threats, and intimidation to control the victim. He may threaten to leave the victim or commit suicide and can influence the victim to attempt to drop any filed criminal charges. The abuser may provoke fear in the victim by certain gestures, actions, and by a certain look he may give her. He may abuse family pets, destroy her property, and display a weapon to invoke additional fear and achieve greater control.

It is also common for the abuser to employ emotional abuse by causing the victim to feel bad about herself through the use of insults, demeaning and derogatory comments, humiliation, playing mind games, and making her feel guilty. As a consequence, the abuser will make light of any abuse he employs, will not heed any concerns expressed by the victim, and will place the blame on her to deflect blame from himself. He may even go so far as to deny any abuse occurred. In addition, he may utilize "male privilege" wherein he will treat the victim like a servant and behave as if he is "master of the castle." He will define the male/female roles in the household and make all the decisions.

In turn, he may employ economic abuse by controlling the finances and preventing the victim from having access to funds, preventing the victim from working outside the home, keeping her isolated from outside sources, and with little or no contact with other individuals.

When the victim is subjected to the power and control of the abuser, she becomes further dependent upon him and begins to lose her self-esteem. She is overwhelmed by the circumstances and often knows no way out. She endures the physical abuse comprised of battering that can include shoving, hitting, slapping, punching, choking, shaking, and kicking, among other violent actions. The cycle of violence becomes repetitive and more severe over time. Frequently, those on the outside have no knowledge of the behavior transpiring behind closed doors.

Thus, the victim becomes entrapped in the cycle of violence that includes three phases--the tension building, the explosive, and the honeymoon phases. In the initial stage, she feels the tension building and will do anything to divert the abuser's displeasure from proceeding into an eruption of violence. When it builds to a point that she can no longer thwart it from occurring, the abuser lashes out and violently attacks the victim by battering her in some fashion. She may be severely beaten and injured, but she may not necessarily report the incident to law enforcement authorities. Following the violence, the honeymoon phase will follow in which the abuser apologizes to the victim for his behavior and will proffer excuses in which he may claim he had a "bad day at work" and promises similar actions will not recur in the future. He may bring her flowers, her favorite perfume, and coddle her to win back her affection only to buy some time until the violence explodes again.

The impact of domestic violence on victims is tremendous. Repeated abuse confuses victims about the meaning of love. They are desperate for affection, but they become vulnerable to dangerous relationships. Frequently, they hope the abuser will change and want to believe that will happen so they will forgive him and provide additional opportunities to rectify the situation only to become re-victimized by the continuing pattern of violence.

Victims are often reluctant to report abuse to law enforcement authorities because they fear reprisal from the abuser who may threaten to harm her further or even kill her if she divulges the violence. They are intimidated and coerced by the abuser not to do so and, commonly, he will threaten to harm or take the children away, which is one of the biggest factors that will preclude victims from not reporting the abuse. They genuinely believe they will lose their children and are willing to endure anything in order for this not to occur.

Victims of domestic violence also feel embarrassed and ashamed to seek help and disclose what they have been going through. They commonly believe they are worthless individuals, and their self-esteem has been highly diminished or destroyed by the power and control that has been exercised in the relationship by the abuser.

When domestic violence comes to the attention of law enforcement personnel, it is vitally important they understand the underlying dynamics so they are able to respond with a better understanding and a greater degree of sensitivity about how to proceed with such incidents. Understandably, police officers can become frustrated with repeat calls for service for the same individuals, but they must not fail to recognize that their manner of interaction and their response strategies may have a profound impact on the victims who are severely traumatized by the impact of domestic violence. They must realize that they can, in fact, make a positive difference.