What is Domestic Violence?
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence includes a wide range of behaviors where one person is exerting power and control over a spouse, partner, girl/boyfriend, teen, and/or an adult family member. Domestic violence, also referred to as domestic abuse or battering, is a pattern of controlling behavior and not just a single act. The violence may cause injury, but domestic violence is not always physical. The tactics of perpetrators who abuse their partners can include, but are not limited to: isolation, economic manipulation, coercion, intimidation and threats, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, stalking, physical violence, sexual assault and rape, and even murder. The Power and Control Wheel is often used as a graphic representation of the dynamics and types of behaviors common in domestic violence.
There’s many terms used to describe domestic violence. It's important to keep in mind that there's a difference between domestic violence and disagreements, discord, or disputes in a relationship. Most people do not resort to violence against their partners, regardless of the intensity of the conflict. Disagreements are a normal part of healthy relationships based on respect and equality. Violence and abuse including threats of harm in a relationship is something else entirely, impacting every aspect of a victim’s life, and creating a significant imbalance of power in the relationship. When people use terms like “dispute” to describe domestic violence, we shift responsibility away from the perpetrator and allow people to have an inaccurate idea about the seriousness of domestic violence. The bottom line is that it’s wrong when one person tries to control the thoughts, beliefs or actions of a partner, friend or any other person close to them.
Domestic violence is learned behavior (through observation, experience, reinforcement, culture, family, and community) and is not caused by substance abuse, genetics, stress, anger, illness, or problems in the relationship. We find, however, that these factors are often used as excuses and can exacerbate the violent behavior of a perpetrator. Cultural acceptance of domestic violence is reinforced when abusers are not arrested, prosecuted or otherwise held responsible for their acts. Without intervention, the violence can become more destructive and sometimes lethal over time. To monitor this lethality, JDI chronicles domestic violence-related fatalities that occur in the Commonwealth.
While there is no typical profile of a domestic violence situation, there are common dynamics that may be present either individually or in combination with each other:
- Isolation from family or friends
- Name-calling, put downs, ridicule, and emotional abuse
- Manipulation of children or other family members
- Hurt or abuse of pets
- Withholding medication or assistance devices for people with disabilities or elders
- Physical violence
- Painful or forced sex
- Monitoring activity via technology
- Financial exploitation by stealing money, hurting property or interfering with work or school
- Threats of or acts of homicide
- Jealousy and possessiveness
These behaviors and experiences are reffered to as warning signs or red flags that someone is in a relationship with an abusive person.
- Anyone. Domestic violence affects teens and adults every age, racial or ethnic background, religious group, neighborhood, and income level.
- Primarily women. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 90% of all domestic violence victims are female and that most abusers are male. Whether the victim is male or female, violence of any kind in relationships is unacceptable.
- GLBT. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals are abused at approximately the same levels as heterosexual couples, but the abuse may be exacerbated by social isolation caused by societal oppression and discrimination.
- Elders. 11% of individuals 60 and older reported experiencing abuse within the last year. Perpetrators include spouses or partners as well as adult children and caregivers.
- Children. Children may themselves also be victims of domestic violence or be hurt by being exposed to the violence and the battering parent. They also are sometimes used by perpetrators as threats or means to coerce their victims.
- Teens. 18% of high school females and 7% of high school boys report being physically hurt by someone they are dating.
- Immigrants. Domestic violence within immigrant and refugee communities can cause victims to be isolated socially and legally with complications due to documentation status and access issues due to language and culture. Abuse may be exacerbated by social isolation, language barriers, and lack of familiarity with local laws and services.
- Men. Men and boys are victims of domestic violence, with estimates as high as 17% of men in relationships reporting violence committed against them by their partner.
- Disabilities. People with disabilities are reporting higher rates of domestic violence than the general public. People with caregiver or power relationships are often identified as the perpetrators.
People who commit domestic violence come from all backgrounds, races, religions, economic status, educational levels, and occupations. Different terms are used to name the person who commits domestic violence: perpetrators, offenders, batterers, abusers. While the term used may vary, the behaviors remain the same. A perpetrator uses abusive tactics such as manipulation, fear, violence, blame, shame, lying, isolation, and male privilege to reinforce their rules and maintain control over their victims.
What abusers have in common is the belief that they have the right to control the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions of their partners. This sense of entitlement is reinforced by community and societal beliefs. Abusers also go undetected because they often appear charming, composed, and attentive to outsiders—even to their partners, at first. They manipulate not only their victims but also how others view them. They are masters of control—they control their behavior in public as a way of disguising their abusive behavior so that they appear socially acceptable and the victims appear to be the ones with problems. Often abusers see themselves as the victims. These inaccurate pictures can put victims in jeopardy and undermine law enforcement response and community prevention efforts.
Unemployment, alcohol and substance abuse, mental or physical illness, and stress do not cause or offer an excuse for domestic violence. For instance, many people have alcohol and/or drug problems but are not violent; conversely, many batterers are not substance abusers. The bottom line is that perpetrators make a choice to be abusive.
At the same time, there are individual as well as global risk factors for committing abusive behavior. For instance, research has shown that childhood physical or sexual victimization is a risk factor for future intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration, otherwise known as domestic violence. On the societal level, rigid gender roles, power imbalances, and the glorification of violence foster an environment where domestic violence can be minimized or unseen.
JDI has prepared this document outlining the domestic violence and stalking as well as rape and sexual assault related laws in Massachusetts. It's best to talk to an advocate or attorney if you have specific questions about how these laws apply to your situation.
Mass Law Reform Institute created this valuable legal information resource for survivors and advocates. The Domestic Violence section of MassLegalHelp has important information for victims and survivors of domestic violence about their rights concerning Abuse Prevention (“Restraining”) Orders, child support, housing, employment, immigration, schools, court interpreters, and a Legal Self Help Guide for Survivors.
Because sexual and domestic violence is a complex problem, with roots at the societal and individual levels, prevention of sexual domestic violence required an interconnected and complex approach. At JDI we believe that everyone, regardless of their life circumstances can make a difference.
As an individual, you can learn as much as you can about the issue and commit yourself to speaking up when you hear people express attitudes that might promote or minimize sexual and domestic violence.
You can also join efforts with other member or your family, your neighborhood, or local organizations to help raise awareness and educate others.
You can consider bringing these issues to the forefront at your workplace, at your kids’ school, through your local media outlets and social media.
You can also collaborate with local, statewide, and national organizations to help change laws and push for system and societal change.
If you would like to check out ways that you can be involved, get in touch with JDI or with your local sexual and domestic violence program.
The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women (VawNET)
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV)
The Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community (IDVAAC)
Defining Domestic Violence, Violence Against Women, and Battering (National Training Project/Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project)