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Incidents of domestic violence have been growing exponentially in virtually every part of the world where appropriate records are kept. Cities such as London have close to 100 shelters for battered spouses. In the U.S. according to a recent Congressional report, one in 25 elderly adults is abused. Every other woman will be struck by her partner some time during her life. Approximately 40% of all murdered women are killed by their husbands or partners.
Domestic violence and abuse are found in families from all walks of life - rich and poor as well as every known ethnic and religious group. Sometimes adults batter children and sometimes adults physically abuse their elderly parents.
Although the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, men are sometimes the victims of their wives. In Los Angeles, for example, a wife encouraged her husband to drink excessive amounts of alcohol until he passed out. She then repeatedly struck him with a baseball bat. He spent two weeks in a coma and needed over a year to recover enough to work again. In New York City a woman beat her wheelchair-bound husband to death by using a hammer on him over a period of several months. However, over 95% of the abuse among heterosexual couples involves male batterers and female victims.
Experts describe battery in terms of three phases or cycles: romantic love, tension building, battering. If the couple is still together at the end of the third phase, the relationship usually goes back to the love phase which tempts the victim to forgive the batterer and stay with him. If she stays with him, these cycles increase in frequency, and the abuse typically becomes more and more severe as the cycle repeats itself.
The love stage is perceived as very romantic by both of them. They make up and the batterer becomes charming and manipulative. He expresses the belief that his anger can be controlled and that he will never abuse her again. He expresses strong emotional dependency on her "...can't live without you," and showers her with gifts and attention. The victim begins to feel responsible for the batterer's actions and her own victimization.
The tension building stage is marked by increasing anger in the batterer which the victim denies and believes to be controllable even though she can sense his edginess. Both find themselves unable to openly discuss the underlying problem of his anger. The batterer becomes verbally abusive, reducing her to an object - one that is okay to beat. And she comes to feel that the battering is deserved.
The third, or battering, stage is marked by tension building to the point where the batterer loses control and batters. The battery may begin with a push or shove but eventually escalates to slaps, kicks and punches. Then there can be further escalation onto the use of weapons and more serious injuries. The batterer usually claims that he doesn't want to hurt the victim but merely wants to teach her a lesson. He is usually very good at rationalizing his actions and blames her for them. And both he and the victim tend to minimize the seriousness of the injuries. As the victim accepts the blame, the cycle begins again with the love phase which is the "carrot" which induces both to stay together.
By being aware of these battering cycles a potential victim of domestic violence or her friends/family can recognize the problem and alert the police. Some victims actually have removed themselves from danger by being able to identify the operation of these cycles and then physically leave the abusive relationships.
However, more typically it is the friends and relatives of the victim who are first to admit the existence of a domestic violence problem; and it is these persons who then call the police or encourage the victims to share their perceptions and then help them to leave the dangerous relationship.
© 1997 Bernd Weiss
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