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Domestic Violence

Info: 3472 words (14 pages) Law Essay
Published: 12th Aug 2019

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Jurisdiction(s): US Law

Domestic violence is defined by the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV) as “a pattern of assaultive and coercive behaviors that adults or adolescents use against their current or former intimate partners” (MCADSV, 2006, p. 1). It occurs in relationships where the individuals are currently or previously dating, married or divorced, living together or have a child together. Domestic violence is not an isolated event, but a pattern of repeated abusive and coercive behavior (MCADSV, 2006). It distorts what is suppose to be a mutual relationship between two people and turns it in to a power struggle, leaving one person with more power. The relationship is no longer considered mutual and shared (MCADSV, 2006).

People use domestic violence because it works. It is a “socially supported behavior learned through observation, experience and reinforcement” (MCADSV, 2006, p. 12). Domestic violence is not impulsive; it is very purposeful and instrumental in the relationship to allow the abuser to control the victim at all times. There are some shocking statistics proving the wide use of domestic violence; approximately 4.8 million accounts of physical and/or sexual violence is reported annually (Arias, 2002). Approximately 834,700 men are physically assaulted and/or raped by intimate partners annually. A person is more likely to be hit or killed at home by a family member than at any other place or by any other person (Lawson, 2001).

It is often asked why a victim does not leave, by doing this it is implied that it is the victim’s responsibility to stop the violence, which blames them for the abuse (MCADSV, 2006). Not all victims necessarily want to leave the relationship, but want to stop the abuse in the relationship. The victim who stays may be doing so to protect the children or for financial reasons, since some abusers do not allow the victim to work. The victim may also stay due to fear of what will happen for leaving. The abuser may use threats and unpredictable behavior to make the victim believe he/she cannot leave.

Some theories that may explain domestic violence include: psychological, psychodynamic/attachment theory, alcohol and drug abuse, social learning theory, frustration-aggression theory, feminist theory and family systems theory (Lawson, 2001). Social learning theory and feminist theory are the most commonly used, while psychodynamic is used less frequently.

Psychodynamic theory provides an interpersonal perspective on battering. Psychodynamic explanations for domestic violence emphasize the quality of early parent-child relationships. Attachment theory views humans as goal directed; they have a basic need for security, protection and intimacy with an attachment figure (Babcock, 2003). However, children develop “maladaptive internal working models of relationships when caregivers are consistently unreliable, absent, or unresponsive; Disruptions in the attachment process precipitate intense anger, anxiety, fear and grief which impede a child’s ability to develop a trusting and secure attachment” (Babcock, 2003, p. 154). This insecure attachment leads the person to take these feelings of anger, anxiety and fear into all their intimate relationships. When these emotions are present the person is more likely to have a need to use violence to control their relationships.

The feminist perspective argues that domestic violence is ONLY committed by men against women and if a woman does hit it is in self-defense or retaliation. The feminist sees society as a power struggle where men are “socially, politically and economically dominant over females” (Hines, 2007, p. 63). This power struggle gives men the false understanding that they can control not only society but their interpersonal relationships as well (Hines, 2007). Research has found a significantly higher rate of wife battering “among men who hold patriarchal ideologies and approve of violent attitudes toward a female partner” (Lawson, 2001). However, a feminist perspective does not adequately address partner violence in gay and lesbian relationships.

The social exchange theory works with the assumption that “human interaction is guided by the pursuit of rewards and the avoidance of costs and punishments” (Danis, 2003, p. 239). In other words, people will use violence against each other when the cost of being violent does not outweigh the rewards. The costs would be considered someone hitting back, being arrested and imprisoned or a loss of status (Danis, 2003). To solve the domestic violence crisis someone working under the social exchange theory would say that increasing the cost of violent behavior will eliminate it.

Social learning theory views violence as intergenerational or as a learned behavior (Hasselt, 1999). Children learn from their caregivers through observation that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict and maintaining control in relationships. Research supporting social learning theory has indicated that between 60% and 80% of abusive men come from violent homes (Babcock, 2003), showing that violence can be transferred from one relationship to another.

Another perspective says domestic violence is a human problem; woman can also be batterers (Hines, 2007). They recognize that while male violence is usually more brutal and causes more injuries, woman can still be the aggressor. One study states that women do not cite retaliation as their main reason for abuse, but name anger, jealousy, retaliation for emotional hurt, efforts to gain control and confusion as their main reasons (Hines, 2007). The study also states that half of all violent arguments are initiated by the woman and about 25% of the violence is perpetrated by the female (Hines, 2007).

There are four types of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological or verbal and economic. Physical abuse is the easiest to recognize. It is any physical act aimed at the partner to cause physical harm. It consists of scratching, hitting, biting, kicking, pushing, shaking, choking, locking the partner out of the home or throwing objects. Sexual abuse is considered any sexual act or degradation committed against the partner to gain control or hurt the partner. It consists of withholding sex and affection as punishment, rape, pressuring the partner to have sex by threats or coercion or calling the partner inappropriate sexually degrading names. Psychological abuse is aimed at bringing the partner down by negating their importance and making them feel insecure. It consists of breaking promises, verbal attacks, playing mind games, calling names, stalking or always claiming to be right why the partner is always wrong. Economic abuse is most commonly seen in the elderly, but is very prominent in domestic violence. It consists of withholding money from the partner, ruining the partner’s credit score or not allowing the partner to work.

Along with these types of abuse, the abuser will use anything they can find to control their victim. Most common control tactics are isolating the victim, using the children against the victim, damaging relationships between the victim and others, attacking property and pets or stalking the victim (MCADSV, 2006). The abuser may use these simultaneously or stick to a tactic that works better than others. For example if a victim is receiving a lot of support from their family but not their friends the abuser may isolate them from their family while still allowing them to see their non-supportive friends.

There are some characteristics that are common among most male abusers. They tend to resolve confrontation and conflict with intimidation and anger, are verbally abusive, tend to minimize abuse, strike or break things in anger, have a history of violence and project blame. They may be cruel to animals or children, be extremely jealous and have sudden mood changes (MCADSV, 2006). A lot of abusers experience depression and have low self-esteem or poor self- concept (Van Hasselt, 1999). Hasselt identified two groups of men who were most likely to commit domestic violence. First, men who are low on self esteem and low on the desirability of controlling events in their lives. These abusers use a more expressive anger (Van Hasselt, 1999). The second group of men is high on desirability of control and low on perceived personal control. These men used more instrumental aggression (Van Hasselt, 1999).

There are many different types of abusive men. Some of them are: the demand man, Mr. Right, the water torturer, the drill sergeant and Mr. Sensitive (Bancroft, 2002). These abusers use very different control tactics to keep their victim within their grip. The demand man is over demanding of his partner, he has little sense of give and take, he overvalues his own contributions in the relationship and he only does things when he feels like it not when it is needed. The demand man is very critical and gets enraged when things are not exactly the way he wants them (Bancroft, 2002). The partner of this man usually feels that she can never do anything right.

Mr. Right believes he is the ultimate authority (Bancroft, 2002). He does not give any consideration to anyone else’s thoughts or opinions. He believes he is always right and turns any kind of conversation into a right and wrong topic. He feels he is highly superior and tends to be condescending (Bancroft, 2002). This abuser’s victim usually feels her opinion is not important and winds up accepting responsibility for the argument.

The water torturer is usually calm and even. He does not raise his voice but depends on sarcasm, mimicking, cruel remarks or twisting her words to make his victim feel undermined (Bancroft, 2002). He believes that as long as he stays calm and collected that no one will ever know he is abusing her psychologically. He does not feel that there is anything wrong with his behavior and tends to make his partner feel crazy for feeling the way she does (Bancroft, 2002).

The drill sergeant takes controlling behavior to the extreme. He criticizes everything his partner does and decides what she can and cannot do (Bancroft, 2002). He wants to control every single aspect of her life, including friends, work and children. The victim has no independence or strength within the relationship. This abuser usually has some psychological problems. He was most likely abused as a child and has trouble getting along with others (Bancroft, 2002).

Mr. Sensitive appears to be the direct opposite of the drill sergeant. He appears sensitive, soft-spoken and supportive at the times he is not being abusive (Bancroft, 2002). He openly talks about his feelings and spends quality time bonding with other men. He knows a lot about psychology and tends to read self help books. All of this makes the victim feel like there is something wrong with her. She realizes her feelings are being hurt but can’t figure out why (Bancroft, 2002). When she tries to talk to others about the abuse they usually respond with accusations toward her cause her partner is “unlike most men”. When his feelings are hurt he expects his partner’s undivided attention, but dismisses her hurt feelings. He also blames his partner for any hurt feelings. He is usually mean to her when no one else is around. He tells her that she should be thankful he is not like other men (Bancroft, 2002).

One way to help the male abuser overcome the issues they face is being court ordered or volunteering for a batterer intervention program. A batterer intervention program is a safety program set up to “hold batterers accountable, educate them about the effects their actions have on the victim and underscore that they must learn and decide to act differently” (MCADSV, 2006, p. 18). The most commonly used treatment program for men who batter is the Duluth Model. The Duluth Model is based on a “strict patriarchal violence model and presumes that all violence in the home and elsewhere has a male perpetrator and female victim. The model explicitly rejects any concept of mutuality or symmetry in abusive relationships” (MCADSV, 2006, p. 18). The Duluth Model originated the Duluth Power and Control Wheel. The Power and Control Wheel looks at how men use coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, male privilege and minimizing as a way to control their partner.

Female abusers seem to have a slightly different typology. Some common characteristics among female abusers as reported by their husbands in Hines’s research are: a history of childhood trauma, threatening suicide or homicide, use of alcohol or drugs and a few had a mental illness (2007). Tutty (2006) gathered information from woman referred to a batterer program; they reported that they had all been abused by either their current partner or a past partner. They also attempted to use sex as a way to gain control. Most women admitted that the abuse they inflicted was more psychological than physical (Tutty, 2006). Hamberger and Potent, who created a treatment program for woman, stated “Most of women who resort to violence against their partners, do so as a direct outgrowth of violence and oppression or encouraged violence to be used as a problem-solving strategy” (Tutty, 2006, p. 343). It is more likely for a woman to be arrested for domestic violence if she has repeatedly called the police before, if she is disrespectful to the officer, if there is a noticeable amount of drugs and alcohol, or if the woman is pressuring the officer to arrest the male (Miller, 2005).

There are several different categories that woman who use violence fall into. Generalized violent behavior is “women who use violence in many circumstances, not just in intimate relationships, but also against neighbors, family members strangers or acquaintances” (Miller, 2005 p. 113). This is usually the smallest group of women. Most of the time, the violence is an expression of anger and does not give the woman any control over the situation (Miller, 2005). Generally violent woman have a more extensive criminal history and are more likely to end up in prison. Developmentally, they may have grown up in a violent home and experienced abuse in childhood, as well as in past romantic relationships (Babcock, 2003). Generally violent women learned that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict. Their motivations for using violence may be instrumental to gain compliance or control (Miller, 2005).

Another category is frustration response behavior. It is when a woman reacts violently when nothing else has worked (Miller, 2005). Another words she is at the end of her rope. This woman usually has a history of domestic violence. The man is usually the primary aggressor (Miller, 2005). An example would be when in a public place and the woman is provoked by a stressful event such as her partner flirting with someone else; if her retaliation is to strike her partner then she is most likely acting from frustration response behavior.

The next type is defensive behavior. Defensive behavior woman are not likely to have experienced extensive abuse in the family of origin (Miller, 2005). Rather, they may have learned through current and past adult relationships that physical aggression is an acceptable and effective way to handle conflict in intimate relationships and may be more likely to use violence in self-defense against their partner’s abuse (Miller, 2005). This group is sometimes referred to as partner only, because they only exhibit violence in their intimate relationship. This is the largest type of female offenders. This violence is usually precipitated when the woman is trying to get away from a violent partner or trying to leave to avoid violence. An example of this would be if a woman is trying to protect her children from the abuse and acts violently or if she is being choked by her partner and bit him to get him to let her go (Miller, 2005). In a preliminary study examining the motivations of violent women, Swan (2000) found that some women did use violence proactively (for reasons of control or retribution) and that those who did were the most severely violent women. These findings suggest that different types of domestically violent women may use violence for different reasons (Swan, 2000).

According to the Department of Justice in 1998, 84% of the spousal abuse reported in the United States identified females as its victims (Durose, 2005). Though in Tutty’s article Group Treatment for Aggressive Women: An Initial Evaluation (2006), she states that the rates of violence between male and female are about equal. Although, it is equally important to not just look at the number of hits by each person but to what effect those hits had. A man is more likely to do more damage with his hit than the female will (Tutty, 2006).

One batterer program for women is called Responsible Choices for Woman. They focus on decreasing all forms of abusive behavior, accepting responsibility for behavior, increasing self-esteem, increasing assertive behavior, improving family relations, decreasing stress and increasing empathy towards others (Tutty, 2006). This program is for fifteen weeks in two hour weekly sessions. They utilize several types of therapy such as social learning, cognitive behavioral, stress or relaxation techniques, strategies (Tutty, 2006). Most programs do not engage in couples counseling to emphasize the importance of the abuser taking full responsibility for his/her own actions.

Some programs operate from the feminist philosophy. Its main concern is to empower women and encourage self realization (Miller, 2005). It holds each woman accountable for her own actions, attempting to make her realize that she acted in a way to get her arrested. The program does not identify the woman as either the “victim” or “offender” but leaves it up to the participant to make her own decision (Miller, 2005). Each group refers to its participants differently, but most refrain from any negative connotation. Some examples are domestically violent women and groups of women who use violence, instead of batterer or abuser.

In conclusion, men and women who perpetrate have some similar characteristics, but mainly need separate recommendations and considerations when going to group counseling. It is important with women batterers to be able to distinguish whether they have been the victims at some point and address these issues as well.


Arias, I., Dankwort, J., Douglas, U., Dutton, M.A & Stein, K. (2002). Violence against women: The state of batterer prevention programs. The Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, 157-165.

Babcock, J., & Siard, C. (2003). Toward a typology of abusive women: Differences between partner-only and generally violent women in the use of violence. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 27(2), 153-161.

Bancroft, L. (2002). Why does he do that? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. New York: Berkley Books.

Danis, Fran (2003). The criminalization of domestic violence: What social workers need to know. Social Work, 48(2), 237-246.

Durose, M. (2005). Family violence statistics: Including statistics on strangers and acquaintances. Washington. Dc: US Department of Justice.

Hines, D.A. (2007). Characteristics of callers to the domestic abuse helpline for men. Journal of Family Violence 22, 63-72).

Lawson, D., Dawson, T., Kieffer, K., Perez, L., Burke, J., & Kier, F. (2001). An integrated feminist/cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic group treatment model for women who abuse their partners. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 2(2), 86-99.

Miller, S. L. (2005). Victims as offenders: The paradox of women’s violence in relationships. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (2006). A framework for understanding: The nature and dynamics of domestic violence. Jefferson City, MO.

Swan, S., Gambone, L., Caldwell, J., Sullivan, T., & Snow, D. (2008). A review of research on women’s use of violence with male intimate partners. Violence And Victims, 23(3), 301-314. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.

Tutty, L.M. (2006). Group treatment for aggressive women: An initial evaluation. Journal of Family Violence, 21(2), 341-349.

Van Hasselt, V.B & Hersen, M. (Eds.). (1999). Handbook of psychological approaches with violent offenders: Contemporary strategies and issues. New York: Kluwer Academic.

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