Written by Jenifer Chrisman on July 21, 2021.
“Any call can turn violent. But with a domestic call, which is usually an emotional event, and often heightened due to drugs and/or alcohol, there is even more of a need to be fully alert and situationally aware. Love, fear, confusion, rage, protective instinct, anger can turn deadly in an instant.”
– Anonymous Police Officer
Of all the disturbances common to requiring a police response, domestic violence is considered by the majority of law enforcement as one of the most dangerous. Per minute, in the United States, approximately 20 people (women and men) are physically abused by an intimate partner, which averages out to more than 10 million per year. Of those:
· 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Male victim data is unavailable.
· 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (beating, burning, strangling, etc.) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
· 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point of fearing/believing they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
· The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
· 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.
· 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.
· More than 30% of these children become victims of the same abuser.
Since the 1970s and based off the book “The Battered Woman” by Lenore Walker, the model “cycle of abuse*,” sometimes known as the “cycle of violence,” helps to break down the general, four-part pattern often shared by those in domestic violence situations:
1. Building Tension
External stressors, such as trouble at work, family issues and illness often cause the abusive partner to become tense and stressed. Intensifying over time, this dissatisfaction and frustration prompts feelings of injustice, anger, powerlessness and paranoia.
The victimized partner, aware of the simmering tension, will generally try to placate the abusive partner in an attempt to prevent the abuse. She/he becomes hyperalert, anxious and on her/his guard, generally alternating between providing extra emotional and physical support and tiptoeing around.
2. Incident of Abuse or Violence
In an attempt to reestablish control and regain power, the abusive partner eventually lashes out at the victimized partner, which can include:
· insults and/or name-calling
· accusations that the victimized partner is to blame for the “relationship problems” or is making the abusive partner angry
· emotional manipulation
· threats of harm or property destruction
· attempts to control the victimized partner’s behavior
· sexual or physical violence
The abusive partner uses gifts, loving gestures and kindness to attempt moving past the abuse, which often induces the sense a “honeymoon” stage in the victimized partner, leading to a belief the relationship is back on track.
To maintain this new harmony, both partners strive to justify or explain the abuse, which offers a reprieve from the emotional and physical pain.
The abusive partner may:
· point to outside factors to justify the behavior
· apologize while blaming others
· minimize or deny the abuse happened
· accuse the victimized partner of being provoking
· swear it won’t happen again
· seem attuned to the victimized partner’s needs
· show remorse
The victimized partner may:
· begin to accept the excuses (outside factors, others at fault, etc.)
· begin to doubt her/his own memory of the abuse
· believe it was a one-time incident, convincing her/himself the abusive partner will never do anything like that again
While the length of time between cycles varies, over time the cycle’s reconciliation and calm will grow shorter and shorter while the abuse escalates. Eventually, they may disappear altogether.
While most experts agree abuse often happens in a cycle or within a larger pattern, over the years, critics have come forward expressing their concerns about the “cycle’s” limitations. Walker’s research was based solely on interviews with heterosexual women, which could lead to disbelief of domestic violence for intimate partner relationships that don’t fit that mold.
And like any living system, domestic violence does not occur the same way every time, even within the same relationship. Anything encountered outside the cycle can easily lead to doubt or dismissal that such violence is occurring, which, in turn, could lead to victim shaming.
The definition of abuse, since Walker’ book, has evolved to more substantially encompass verbal and emotional harm, as well as expanding who may be a victim. According to the law it now includes:
· Physical abuse
· Sexual abuse
· Emotional abuse
· Economic abuse
· Psychological abuse
Victims (anyone, regardless of socioeconomic background, education level, race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender) include:
· Sexual/Dating/Intimate partners
· Family members
There are several models available to assist in determining domestic violence, whether for yourself or trying to understand the situation of someone you care for. Each has its own flaws, but many experts still use this model, as it offers useful insights and can help to illustrate common patterns in abusive relationships. However, it is necessary to keep an open mind when dealing with anyone possibly involved in a domestic violence situation. There are numerous factors, actions and influences outside the norm that may make it appear no violence is taking place.
Domestic violence is an insidious disease, often beginning with a subtle slowness. So much so abuse victims rarely realize what is happening until it is too late. It is complicated, difficult to recognize and, for many, difficult to escape. In the words of Sandra Pupatello, “The Effects of abuse are devastating and far-reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities.”
If you feel you might be experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE), or visit their website at www.thehotline.org for free, confidential support.
*Note: For the purpose of this article, in the “cycle of abuse,” the abusive and victimized partners are all inclusive in regards to gender and sexual orientation.