The Dynamics of Domestic Abuse

While on their honeymoon, 23-year-old Mike becomes verbally abusive to his wife, Mary, after she suggests that he has had enough to drink. Mary is surprised by Mike’s behavior and his hostile reaction to her. Soon after, however, he apologizes, and because he has always been so kind and gentle, Mary believes him when he tells her that this will never happen again. Several months later, a similar episode occurs. This time, Mary takes the blame, telling herself that these types of incidents are normal in a new marital relationship. She resolves to do things that will make Mike happy and avert confrontations.

Three weeks later, Mike hits Mary during an argument. After several violent episodes during a 2-month period, Mary finally calls the police because she fears for her safety. Responding officers arrest Mike and charge him with assault under the state’s domestic violence laws. Recognizing the trouble that awaits him, and in an effort to get her back on his side, Mike sends Mary flowers while he is in jail. With the flowers, he includes a long note, in which he expresses his deep sorrow for the pain he has caused her and promises that the behavior will never be repeated. Because his note is so compelling, Mary believes that he has learned his lesson and that their relationship will improve.

The following day, she informs the city attorney’s office that she does not wish to cooperate with the prosecution. When the prosecutor concludes that the state’s case is too weak without Mary as a witness, the state drops its charges against Mike, and he is released from jail. Scenarios such as this have long constituted a staple of American policing. In many communities, reports related to domestic abuse make up the largest category of calls to which police officers respond. Yet, until fairly recently, police officers rarely ventured into the private domain of the marital relationship. At most, officers responding to calls for help attempted to calm things down and arrange for one party to leave the home for the evening. While such an approach provided a short-term solution, it rarely helped bring about an end to the violence. During the 1980s, this response began to change as communities implemented more aggressive strategies to address domestic abuse. Many law enforcement agencies began to explore new ways for officers to respond to domestic violence calls. Gradually, the focus shifted from merely “maintaining the peace” to arresting offenders, protecting victims, and referring battered women to shelters and other community resources available to help victims of domestic violence. This move toward fostering a better understanding of domestic violence represents a clear departure from the approach law enforcement agencies once took toward the issue.

However, despite the progressive changes that have taken place during the past two decades, law enforcement still does not address domestic violence in the same way it addresses other violent crimes. While investigators attempt to understand the motivations and characteristics of such offenders as rapists or serial murderers, little attention has been given to profiling batterers. Law enforcement officers who must confront batterers on an almost-daily basis would be well served to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse. A CLOSER LOOK AT DOMESTIC ABUSE Officers called upon to re-spond to and investigate domestic abuse calls need to have a full understanding of the complex social, economic, and psychological issues that surround acts of domestic violence. To assist in the investigation of these cases and to educate police officers about this type of abuse, New Jersey’s domestic violence laws require that all police officers receive biannual training in this area. This training brings several pieces of the puzzle together to provide officers with a greater understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence. Not a Fair Fight During training, officers learn that domestic violence is not mu-tual combat. Domestic abuse is about one person dominating and controlling another by force, threats, or physical violence. The long-term affects of domestic violence on victims and children can be profound. A son who witnesses his father abuse his mother is more likely to become a delinquent or batterer himself.1 A daughter sees abuse as an integral part of a close relationship.2 Thus, an abusive relationship between father and mother can perpetuate future abusive relationships. Battering in a relationship will not improve on its own. Intervention is essential to stop the reign of terror. When intervention is lacking, the results can be dire: An average of 1,500 American women are killed each year by husbands, ex-husbands, or boyfriends.

3 Types of Abuse Officers investigating domestic violence should have an understanding of the types of abuse they may encounter. Because domestic violence is a pattern of coercive control founded on and supported by violence or the threat of violence, this abuse may take the forms of physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, and/or psychological abuse. Physical violence includes punching, choking, biting, hitting, hair-pulling, stabbing, shooting, or threats of this type of violence. Sexual violence is characterized by physical attacks of the breast and/or genital area, unwanted touching, rape with objects, and forced sexual relations, including marital rape. Emotional abuse takes the form of a systematic degrading of the victim’s self-worth. This may be accomplished by calling the victim names, making derogatory or demeaning comments, forcing the victim to perform degrading or humiliating acts, threatening to kill the victim or the victim’s family, controlling access to money, and acting in other ways that imply that the victim is crazy. Psychological battering involves all of these features of emotional abuse, but also consists of at least one violent episode or attack on the victim to maintain the impending threat of additional assaults. Destruction of property is violence directed at the victim even though no physical contact is made between the batterer and the victim. This includes destroying personal belongings, family heirlooms, or even the family pet. This destruction is purposeful and the psychological impact on the victim may be as devastating as a physical attack. Characteristics of Batterers Most batterers are masters of deception. Few exhibit violent behavior to anyone other than their victims. Often, batterers possess winning personalities and are well liked in the community. However, they frequently exhibit vastly different public and personal behavior. In the wake of a violent domestic abuse incident, batterers often attempt to convince responding police officers that their victims are mentally off balance. Many times they fool officers into leaving without conducting a proper, thorough investigation.4 Developing a deeper understanding of the characteristics of batterers will help police officers realize when batterers are attempting to manipulate them.

To help identify potential batterers, officers should be aware of other common traits they generally possess. These include: Low self-esteem. This often results from physical or sexual abuse and/or disapproval or neglect by a parent or authoritarian figure from the batterer’s childhood. Extreme insecurity and an inability to trust others. Batterers have difficulty establishing close friendships. They tend to be critical or jealous of their partners. Denial of responsibility for their behavior. Batterers often deny that abuse has occurred. They also minimize the impact of their assaultive behavior or blame their partners for causing an incident. Need to control. Batterers choose to abuse their partners. Their purpose is to control them. Batterers use violence or attempted or suggested violence to make their partners comply with their wishes. THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE Police generally become involved in a domestic abuse situation once it has reached a flash point. However, in most domestic abuse cases, physical abuse occurs during one of the three phases that make up the cycle of violence. By becoming familiar with the features of each phase in this cycle, responding officers can help victims understand that the cycle of abuse is likely to continue if nothing is done to address the underlying causes. In a battering relationship, the cycle of violence includes three distinct phases.5 Investigating officers who understand these phases can offer objective insight to victims of the violence. For example, if an officer can advise a victim that the batterer’s next step likely will be to apologize and possibly send flowers in order to keep her in the relationship, she may be more inclined to understand that the cycle will repeat itself if no intervention occurs. Tension-Building Phase During the first-and usually the longest-phase of the overall cycle, tension escalates between the couple. Excessive drinking, illness, jealousy, and other factors may lead to name-calling, hostility, and friction. Unless some type of professional intervention occurs at this point, the second phase of the cycle-acute battering-becomes all but inevitable. During the tension-building phase, a woman may sense that her partner is reacting to her more negatively, that he is on edge and reacts heatedly to any trivial frustration. Many women recognize these signs of impending violence and become more nurturing or compliant or just stay out of the way. A woman often will accept her partner’s building anger as legitimately directed at her. She internalizes what she perceives as her responsibility to keep the situation from exploding. In her mind, if she does her job well, he remains calm. If she fails, the resulting violence is her fault. Acute-Battering Phase The second phase of the cycle is the explosion of violence. The batterer loses control both physically and emotionally. Many batterers do not want to hurt their partners, only to teach them a lesson and control them. However, this is the stage where the victim, the batterer, or responding officers may be assaulted or killed. Unless the battering is interrupted, the violence during this phase will take at least as severe a form as is necessary for the abuser to accomplish his goal. Once he has the victim under his control, he may stop. In other cases, where the batterer completely loses emotional and physical control, the consequences can be deadly. The violence may be over in a moment or last for several minutes or hours. Although there may be visible injuries, an experienced batterer generally will not leave marks on the victim that would be readily noticeable to others. After a battering episode, most victims consider themselves lucky that the abuse was not worse, no matter how severe their injuries. They often deny the seriousness of their injuries and refuse to seek medical attention.6 Law enforcement officers who respond immediately after a violent episode may find an abusive perpetrator who appears extremely calm and rational. His calm demeanor is deceptive; he has just released his anger and vented his tensions at his victim. The batterer may point to the victim, who may be highly agitated or hysterical because of the abuse, and attempt to blame her for the violence. The victim may, in fact, respond aggressively against officers who attempt to intervene. Officers should be aware that this reaction may be due to the victim’s fear that more severe retaliation awaits her if officers arrest the batterer. The victim also may feel desperate about the impending loss of financial support or even emotional support she receives from the abuser. Although officers should not make any false promises, they should reassure the victim that the mechanisms are in place for the criminal justice system to help. Officers have a responsibility to provide a complete, professional investigation so that the system will work. A haphazard investigation, or a lack of concern by responding officers, could result in a violent abuser’s being released from jail to retaliate against a vulnerable victim. Honeymoon Phase The third phase of the cycle is a period of calm, loving, contrite behavior on the part of the batterer. The batterer may be genuinely sorry for the pain he has caused his partner. He acts out of his greatest fear-that his partner will leave him. He attempts to make up for his brutal behavior and believes that he can control himself and never again hurt the woman he loves. The victim wants to believe that her partner really can change. She feels responsible, at least in part, for causing the incident, and she feels responsible for her partner’s well-being. It is at this stage that many victims request that complaints against batterers be dropped. If police conducted a thorough investigation, the prosecutor’s office can reacquaint a reluctant victim with photographs of her injuries. When the victim sees the cuts and bruises that she received at the hands of her now-apologetic partner, she may reconsider the wisdom of dropping the charges. Likewise, if officers had the victim provide a statement of events at the time of the incident, this could prove an invaluable tool for prosecutors. Not only does such a statement establish probable cause, but prosecutors can have the reluctant victim review the details of her abuse to refresh her memory. Officers and prosecutors also can explain that the contrite behavior being exhibited by the batterer may, in all likelihood, give way to a new cycle of violence. For police officers, the possibility that a victim will forgive her abuser during the honeymoon phase underscores the importance of conducting a thorough investigation. The goal of officers responding to a domestic abuse call should be to develop a case that can be prosecuted even if the victim becomes reluctant.7 Understanding the Cycle of Violence While most domestic relationships involving violence include some type of cycle, not all violent relationships go through each phase as described above. Some batterers never express any type of remorse for their actions and, in fact, will continue to use threats and intimidation to discourage a victim from filing a complaint or testifying in court. For such abusers, the thought of resorting to flowers or apologies would never cross their minds. However, most domestic abuse cases follow a pattern corresponding, in some way or another, to the cycle of violence. CONCLUSION In recent years, law enforcement has enhanced its ability to resolve various types of cases by studying the motivations and profiling the characteristics of offenders who perpetrate certain types of crimes. The police can apply this same strategy to help address the issues surrounding domestic violence. Investigations of domestic violence cases should evolve with a full understanding of the characteristics of batterers and the cycle of violence. Law enforcement officers also should make clear to victims that the criminal justice system can help protect them and will work for their benefit. But the police must back up such guarantees with thorough, professional investigations. The abusive relationships of the past were allowed to persist, in part, because restrictive statutes and misplaced social mores concerning violence within the domestic setting tied the hands of police and prosecutors. Thanks to new laws and an evolving understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse, these ties have been cut. Law enforcement should make the most of this new freedom to address an old problem. By Douglas R. Marvin – Published in FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1997. At the time of publication Lieutenant Marvin served with the New Providence, New Jersey, Police Department Sidebar New Jersey’s Domestic Violence Laws Domestic violence laws in New Jersey-as in other states-clearly express that the primary duty of a law enforcement officer when responding to a domestic violence call is to enforce the laws allegedly violated and to protect the victim. At the same time, the New Jersey statutes provide protection from liability for law enforcement officers who act to enforce domestic violence laws by: 1. Making an arrest based on probable cause 2. Enforcing a court order in good faith, or 3. Acting (or refraining from any action) in good faith under the domestic violence laws. The statutes clearly define what is expected of law enforcement officers and reflect the legislature’s intent to ensure that officers take the necessary steps to protect the victims of domestic violence. Source: New Jersey Criminal Justice Code 2C:25-18 et. seq Endnotes 1 John Zorza, “The Criminal Law of Misdemeanor Domestic Violence, 1970-1990,” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, (Chicago, Ill: Northwestern University School of Law-Office of Legal Publications, 1992), 83. 2 Elena Salzman, The Quincy District Court Domestic Violence Prevention Program: A Model Framework for Domestic Violence Intervention, 74 B.C.L. REV. 329, (1994). 3 National Woman Abuse Prevention Project, “Understanding Domestic Violence: Fact Sheets,”1989, 21. 4 Ibid. 5 Leonore E. Walker, The Battered Woman (New York: Harper-Row, 1979), 43. 6 Domestic Violence Prosecution Protocol, Office of the Attorney General, San Diego, Calif., April 1990. 7 See George Wattendorf, “Prosecuting Cases Without Victim Cooperation,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 1996, 18-20.

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