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Domestic Violence Changes Everything

What is domestic violence?

In general, domestic violence is the improper use of force by one household or family member against another; a coercive threat to use improper force; or the withholding of some necessary item, such as food, money, shelter, transportation, or affection, for the purpose of obtaining sex or some other benefit. Long-term use of such behaviors by men is often called “battering behavior” and is used to control many or all aspects of a relationship. It often includes assaults, sexual assaults, and financial control. The “technology” of this coercive regime, according to one author, includes isolation, denigration, control, and physical abuse of the victim by the perpetrator. Violence may also be initiated by women.

What causes domestic violence?

Intimate partner violence (IPV) by men in relationships usually occurs because the abusive person has been raised in a family or cultural surrounding in which men are presumed to have control over their intimate partners and other family members. They believe they are entitled to use physical force and threats to maintain that control. In a smaller percentage, abuse can be caused by some mental disorders. Not all such relationships have the same internal rules, and it is the abuser who makes those rules; in some homes, the abuser controls everything, including finances, sex life, activities, etc., and in others, the abuser may permit his intimate partner to make the financial decisions or decide which school-related activities the children may have. Partner violence initiated by women tends to result from mental illness such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders, or addiction.

Is the abusive behavior my fault?

A family violence victim is not at fault for the abuse, but the abuser will typically engage in what one writer has called “crazy-making” behavior. The abuser always makes “the rules” in his relationships—but unfortunately, the rules never stay the same. They change from one time to the next as he acts to keep his partner off-balance emotionally. When it comes to making decisions in their relationship, the abuser makes the rules, changing them when it pleases him (or displeases or confuses his partner), and he decides who will make the decisions.

Should I stay with him/her?

This is the perennial question: are there more good things about the relationship than bad things? Is the added income, or the status, or the “honeymoon phase” after an abusive episode, worth the fear and pain that will be involved in staying with an abusive partner? In many cases, the victim will also believe that the children will be adversely affected by their parents’ separation and/or divorce. That common belief has some foundation, but it is now also known that children are harmed by being exposed to violence in their families, that those children are at a higher risk of being abused themselves, and that they may have more mental or physical health problems as a result.

What is a safety plan?

A domestic violence victim who plans to separate from the abuser, or who has already left the abuser, is at a much higher risk of more abuse, or even lethal abuse, in the first two years following separation. Hence, it is important that the victim take steps to deal with the risk of subsequent actions of an abusive partner, which may include more physical assaults and stalking behaviors. A victim must have a safe place to live and work, so she or he should take steps to secure such locations from intruders, be observant of cars that appear to be following her or him, know how to seek police or other help, and know the location of the local domestic violence shelter facilities. Disable “family plan” cellular phones.

How can I keep the abuser away from me?

If the victim does not want to involve police, or if calling for police involvement in the past has not been successful, she should leave the abuser as soon as possible and disable all of the GPS features of electronic devices. If he seems to know where she is most of the time and she can’t get the police to arrest him for stalking, it may be necessary to have her car examined for the presence of a GPS transmitter that is attached to the car by a magnet. It may be necessary to leave her car in a safe place and have someone the abuser does not know pick her up and take her to a shelter or to the acquaintance’s residence. She may have to obtain a “burner” phone that is pre-paid in order to avoid being traced electronically by the abuser. The local domestic violence shelter is likely to have expertise in concealing her location from the abuser, and it may also be an acceptable temporary place for adult and child victims to stay.

How do I get a protective order?

Domestic violence protective orders can be obtained from courts in every state. If the court is open, the victim can seek her or his protective order without notifying the abuser first, on the basis of sworn statements about the abuse, and that temporary order will be scheduled for a further hearing to be held after the abuser receives notice of the temporary order. At that hearing, obtaining a long-term protective order will be the goal; it will be based on sworn testimony and other evidence (such as photographs of injuries or other damage or any written threats the victim may have received).

What if the violence occurs when the courts are not open?

In some, or perhaps most, of the states, police are given the power to obtain from judicial officers on duty on nights and weekends short-term emergency protective orders. Such short-term (e.g., seventy-two-hour) orders can then be superseded by regular protective orders obtained by the victim from the court during regular hours.

What if the abuser is sorry?

Most men who abuse their intimate partners repeatedly, whether by assaultive conduct or other actions defined in domestic violence statutes, then say they are sorry for their actions. Stories told by IPV survivors and research into the dynamic of such violence have shown that the “apology” stage of this dynamic is followed by a building of tension on the part of the abuser and, ultimately, more violent actions, as if he weren’t sorry at all. The self-centered behaviors of men who abuse their partners—men who treat their partners as owned objects—will not permit them to actually accept fault and take the blame for their abusive actions.

How can I identify a real change?

A real change in an abusive partner may not be possible. It depends on whether the abusive characteristics are the result of mental illness such as addiction, a personality disorder, or certain other disorders, or whether those behaviors were rooted in a male abuser’s socialization in a family where the long-lasting, coercive-control dynamic prevailed (namely, where his father abused his mother and treated her and their children as owned items of property). The latter may not be subject to change. Those behaviors originating in the abuser’s family of origin, in which the father subjected his partner and children to coercive control, to arbitrary and often unpredictable physical and emotional abuse, often can change. The problem is that research has shown that only about two percent of them will actually change their behaviors.

What warning signs forecast a risk of violence in a relationship?

Warning signs will often be there. Men who will abuse their partners are often very jealous of other men around their partner; very possessive of their female partners; and increasingly controlling of their partners’ time, attention, and actions, both at home and in job contexts. These people can be deceptive. In describing a man who engages in coercive control, a well-known expert writes that “he decides who decides”; in our context, that means that the abuser will dictate the parameters of control in his household. Any violation of his rules will subject his partner or a child to emotional and/or physical punishment.

I know I have a problem with anger, but I’m trying to deal with it. What else can I do?

If you believe you have a problem with anger, is it because your use of anger gets you in trouble or is it because you cannot control your anger? If you use your anger to control the actions of others in your family, it is a trait that you may have difficulty changing because, in general, it works for you or you wouldn’t do it. Few of the men who participate in domestic violence intervention programs change their abusive behaviors. If a person is unable to control his anger, on the other hand, he may have some success in mental health treatment, learning triggering events and developing ways to avoid uncontrolled episodes. A mental health professional may be needed to help in either case.

I admit I’ve been out of control in the past, but does a judge have to know about that?

Uncontrolled behavior in a personal relationship is not likely to be relevant in a civil court hearing or trial unless child custody is an issue to be decided. In fact, 67–75 percent of child custody cases that go to trial involve allegations of family violence, most of them substantiated. That tells experts that men who abuse their partners are often unwilling to agree to placement schedules for their children that are safe for those children. Research has shown that children are healthier emotionally when they spend the majority of their custodial time with a supportive and nonabusive mother after parents separate following a relationship marked by the father’s abuse. In many cultures, mothers have historically tended to be the primary caregivers of young children in the family. Abusive men tend to seek shared legal and physical custody, despite the fact that their abuse may have had potentially long-lasting adverse effects on their children. Children repeatedly exposed to domestic violence can be left with long-lasting mental or physical health deficits, as the Adverse Childhood Experiences study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found.

When it comes to custody, will the judge give me a chance to explain how I’ve changed?

The American legal system and U.S. Constitution nearly always give parents an opportunity to tell their side in child custody disputes. Since every state bases its child custody orders on the best interests of the child, the judicial process is designed so that both parents, and in some places an attorney or guardian for the child, can produce testimony and other kinds of evidence about each parent’s parenting history, skills, and character, as well as about the child’s needs. If a parent has had some problems and has worked to improve himself in those areas, he will be permitted to inform the court about it.

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Allen M. Bailey

Law Offices of Allen M. Bailey

Anchorage, AK