What Is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive and threatening
behaviors that may include physical, emotional, economic and sexual
violence as well as intimidation, isolation and coercion. The
purpose of domestic violence is to establish and exert power and
control over another; men most often use it against their intimate
partners, which can include current or former spouses, girlfriends,
or dating partners. While other forms of violence within the family
are also serious, this site will address the unique characteristics
of violence against women in their intimate relationships.
Domestic violence is behavior that is learned through observation
and reinforcement in both the family and society. It is not caused
by genetics or illness. Domestic violence is repeated because
it works. The pattern of domestic violence allows the perpetrator
to gain control of the victim through fear and intimidation. Gaining
the victim’s compliance, even temporarily, reinforces the perpetrator’s
use of these tactics of control. More importantly, however, the
perpetrator is able to reinforce his abusive behavior because
of the socially sanctioned belief that men have the right to control
women in relationships and the right to use force to ensure that
control. From Anne L. Ganley & Susan Schechter, Domestic
Violence: A National Curriculum for Family Preservation Practitioners
offer overviews of domestic violence issues, anti-violence strategies
for advocates, professionals and communities, and gateways to
articles and other documents on domestic violence.
of Violence: Why Men Batter
To be effective, intervention strategies for domestic violence
must be based on a clearly articulated theory of violence. To
the extent possible, all parts of the community must share this
view of violence to effectively coordinate
their responses to the problem.
Information regarding the evolution of theories
of violence in the United States is useful because various
forms of these theories are being discussed in many countries
in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CEE/CIS). The first theory developed in the United States
was that men who battered women were mentally ill and that women
who remained in violent relationships were also mentally ill.
This theory proved to be wrong. The number of relationships that
involved violence was much greater than original theorists guessed
and psychological tests did not support the theory that violence
was caused by mental illness. In fact, many batterers and their
victims tested “normal” under psychological tests.
Another theory developed that men battered because they
learned this behavior in their families. Although there is a statistical
relationship between boys who witness their fathers battering
their mothers (they are seven times more likely to batter their
own wives), there is no significant statistical relationship between
girls who witness battering and those who later become victims.
Further, many men who witnessed violence as children do not abuse
their partners as adults.
A third theory was that women suffered from a “learned
helplessness” as a result of repeated battering, which prevented
them from resisting the violence or leaving the relationship.
This theory does not address the economic, social, and familial
reasons that force women to stay in the relationship; it is also
inconsistent with the experiences of many women who actively attempt
to secure their safety. Research indicates that battered women
resist the abuse in many ways and engage in a variety of survival
or coping strategies.
Yet a fourth theory was that batterers follow a “cycle
of violence” with intermittent violent and repentant episodes.
The “cycle of violence” theory did not conform to many battered
women’s experiences. Many women reported that their partners never
repented in their violent relationships, and that violence was
not cyclical but rather a constant presence in their lives.
These theories evolved into the current understanding of
why violence against women happens. This understanding of how
and why men batter was developed though many years of interviews
with victims and batterers. According to this model, batterers
use abusive and threatening behaviors to exert and maintain control
and power over their victims.
Although there are no simple explanations, research indicates
that domestic violence has its roots in the subordinate role women
have traditionally held in private and public life in many societies.
The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence
Against Women describes violence against women as “a manifestation
of historically unequal power relationships between men and women.”
At the same time, violence is used to perpetuate and enforce women’s
subordinate role. In the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence
Against Women, the United Nations and its member countries denounce
domestic violence as one of the “crucial social mechanisms by
which women are forced into subordinate [positions] compared with
For a more in-depth discussion of theories of domestic
violence, click here.
Forms of Domestic
Batterers use a wide range of coercive and abusive behaviors
against their victims. Some of the abusive behaviors used by batterers
result in physical injuries that harm the victim both physically
and emotionally. Other techniques employed by batterers involve
emotionally abusive behaviors. While these behaviors may not result
in physical injuries, they are still psychologically damaging
to the victim. Batterers employ different abusive behaviors at
different times. Even a single incident of physical violence may
be sufficient to establish power and control over a partner; this
power and control is then reinforced and strengthened by non-physical
abusive and coercive behaviors.
of domestic violence can include physical violence, sexual violence,
economic control, and psychological assault (including threats
of violence and physical harm, attacks against property or pets
and other acts of intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, use
of the children as a means of control). Because they occur in
intimate relationships, many kinds of abuse are often not recognized
as violence. In many places throughout the world, marital rape
is still not understood to be sexual assault because a husband
is deemed to have a right of sexual access to his wife. Stalking,
as well, has only recently been recognized as a form of violence
and a severe threat to the victim.
A diagram called the “Power
and Control Wheel,” developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention
Project in Duluth, identifies the various behaviors
that are used by batterers to gain power and control over their
victims. The wheel demonstrates the relationship between physical
and sexual violence and the intimidation, coercion, and manipulation
of the wife and children that are often used by batterers.