Chapter 13

Domestic Violence

Abstract: This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of domestic violence, details numerous research studies, and findings from state and local domestic violence intervention programs, and review case experiences of working with victims and batterers, as well as protocols and policies for criminal justice system and legal interventions. All aspects of the physical, psychological and financial impacts of domestic violence on its victims, as well as on children who witness violence, are addressed, along with in-depth offender typologies.

Learning Objectives: Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:

1. The dynamics and forms of domestic violence.

2. Characteristics of batterers and domestic violence victims.

3. Theories relevant to the cycle of violence and learned helplessness.

4. The criminal justice continuum for domestic violence cases.

5. Strategies for advocacy for victims of domestic violence.

Statistical Overview

Defining Domestic Violence

There are various definitions of domestic violence utilized nationwide, reflecting both legal definitions under law, as well as descriptions relevant to specific disciplines of caregivers, including victim advocates, medical professionals, and criminal justice practitioners. It is essential that victim service providers determine the legal definition of domestic violence in both civil and criminal law in their respective states.

A general definition of domestic violence is as follows:

Domestic violence is any assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, or any criminal offense resulting in personal injury or death of one family or household member by another, who is or was residing in the same single dwelling unit. "Family or household member" means spouse, former spouse, persons related by blood or by marriage, persons who are presently residing together, as if a family, or who have resided together in the past, as if a family, and persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they have been married or have resided together at any time (Office of the Attorney General, Florida, 1993).

Forms of Abuse

Domestic violence is an ongoing, debilitating experience of physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse in the home, associated with increased isolation from the outside world and limited personal freedom and accessibility to resources. Whenever a woman is placed in physical danger or controlled by the threat or use of physical force, she has been abused. The risk for abuse is greatest when a woman is separated from supportive networks.

Physical abuse is usually recurrent and escalates both in frequency and severity. It may include the following:

Emotional or psychological abuse may precede or accompany physical violence as a means of controlling through fear and degradation. It may include the following:

Sexual abuse in violent relationships is often the most difficult aspect of abuse for women to discuss. It may include any form of forced sex or sexual degradation, such as:

In addition, children are often incorporated into patterns of abuse. Batterers may:

The "Power and Control Wheel" developed by the Domestic Violence Intervention Project of Duluth, Minnesota further elaborates on forms that domestic violence takes, while the "Equality Wheel" depicts male/female interactions in a healthy relationship:

Characteristics of Men Who Batter

Men who batter share many characteristics. However, it is important to note that not all batterers possess all the following characteristics:

In Spousal/Partner Assault: A Protocol for the Sentencing and Supervision of Offenders, Quincy, Massachusetts Chief Probation Office Andrew Klein (1994) identifies a number of characteristics of batterers based upon extensive research of convicted batters:

Batterers present a very different posture in public than they do in the privacy of their own homes.

The fact is, they often share the same characteristics of the most dangerous offenders currently on probation and parole across the country. Many, if not most, of these men have been in criminal courts before, repeatedly, for offenses that span the entire criminal spectrum.

Extensive Criminal History

Studies of prior records of batterers:

Prevalent Substance Abuse

In 23 studies conducted between 1980 and 1988, the proportion of batterers who had prior histories of drug and/or alcohol abuse ranged from 24 percent to 86 percent. Most were in the mid-60s (Tolman & Bennett, 1990).

Quincy, MA defendants:

Generalized Pattern of Violence

Quincy, MA defendants:

Relatively Youthful

A number of studies reveal that the average abuser brought to court for restraining orders or to police attention for domestic disturbance calls is 32-years-old, with two-thirds being between their mid-20s and early 40s.

Separated or Unmarried, With Children

Other Risk Characteristics

There is a large correlation between unemployment and underemployment and spousal/partner abuse. (Gelles & Cornell, 1990; Hotaling & Sugarman, 1986; Martin & Walker, 1985).

Only two characteristics consistently and significantly correlated with spousal/partner abuse:

  1. Substance abuse.
  2. Having experienced violence in their family of origin, either having witnessed fathers beating up mothers or have been abused themselves.

However, not all children from such families or males suffering alcoholism and drug addition are destined to become spousal/partner abusers. (Finkelhor, Hotaling & Yilo, 1988; Hotaling & Sugarman, 1986; Tolman & Bennett; 1990; Stordeur & Stille, 1989).

Summary of Offender Risk Characteristics

Batterers brought to court typically share the risk characteristics of the most hard core, dangerous offenders.

Characteristics of Domestic Violence Victims

Domestic violence cuts across all lines related to the victim's socio-economic status, race, culture, age, marital status, and geographical location. Victims of battering share a number of traits, many of which contribute to their inability to leave the violent environment:

The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

It is significant that seven out of ten persons who enter into domestic violence shelters are children. The effects on children who witness family violence or who, in some cases, are themselves victims, were summarized in Family Violence: An Overview published by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (n.d.):

The ramifications of family violence have almost no boundaries. In addition to the obvious physical injuries and deaths that result, family violence is often cited in research and clinical case studies as contributing to numerous other individual, family and societal problems. For example:

The Cycle of Violence

In 1978, Dr. Lenore Walker -- in the landmark book The Battered Woman -- identified three distinct phases that comprise the theory of the "cycle of violence." Dr. Walker determined that the phases vary in duration and intensity; as such, it is difficult to predict how long a batterer and victim will remain in any one phase or in the length of individual cycles.

Phase One: The Tension Building Phase

The batterer becomes more and more prone to react negatively to frustration. Little episodes of violence escalate to the level of minor assault, but are minimized and rationalized by both partners. The victim may become nurturing and compliant or stay out of the abuser's way -- whatever she thinks will prevent the violence from escalating. In order for her to maintain this role, she must not show anger. The abuser, spurred by this passive acceptance, does not try to control himself.

Women who have been battered over a period of time know that these lesser battering incidents will get worse. However, to help themselves cope, they reason that perhaps they did deserve the abuse and resolve to "try harder" in hopes that their behavior has some effect on the batterer's behavior. They do have some control in the initial stages of phase one; however, as the tension builds, they rapidly lose this control. When the abuser explodes, the victim often assumes the guilt by blaming herself for loss of control of the situation. Her anger steadily increases even though she may not recognize or express it.

In this phase, the abuser becomes fearful that the victim may leave him, which is reinforced as she avoids him in the hope of not triggering the impending explosion. He becomes more oppressive, jealous, threatening and possessive. As the abuser and the battered woman sense the escalating tension during the first phase, it becomes more difficult for their coping techniques to work. Each becomes more frantic.

Minor battering incidents become more frequent. The abuser increases his possessive smothering and brutality. The battered woman is now unable to restore equilibrium as she could earlier in this phase. Exhausted from the constant stress, she may begin to withdraw even further. The abuser looks for signs of anger, sensing it even though she may continue to try to deny it. Every move she makes is subject to misinterpretation. He hovers around her, barely giving her room to breathe. The tension between them becomes unbearable. Somewhere at the end of phase one, the process ceases to respond to any controls. As the point of inevitability is reached, the couple moves rapidly into phase two, the acute battering incident.

Phase Two: The Acute Battering Incident

Phase two is the uncontrolled discharge of tensions built up in phase one. The lack of control and the major destructiveness of the incident distinguish it from the lesser physical assaults of the first phase. Phase two is the shortest phase, usually lasting from minutes to a few hours. During this phase, both the abuser and victim accept that the abuser's rage is out of control. While the batterer may start out intending to "teach her a lesson" and stops when he feels she has been appropriately "disciplined," he often finds that he has severely injured the victim. He ends up not understanding what has happened. The trigger for a phase two attack is rarely the victim's behavior; rather, it is usually an external event or the internal state of the abuser.

When the acute attack is over, it is usually followed by initial shock, denial and disbelief that it really happened. Both the batterer and the victim find ways of rationalizing the seriousness of such attacks. Many victims report reactions similar to those of disaster victims. Victims of catastrophe usually suffer emotional collapse 24-48 hours after the disaster. Symptoms include listlessness, depression, and feelings of helplessness. Similarly, battered women do not seek help until 24-48 hours after the acute attack has occurred.

Phase Three: Calm, Loving Respite

Just as phase two is characterized by brutality, phase three is characterized by the extremely kind, loving and contrite behavior of the abuser. He knows he has gone too far, and tries to make it up to his victim. It is a phase welcomed by both parties, but ironically it is the phase during which the woman's victimization becomes complete.

In this phase, the batterer constantly behaves in a charming and loving manner. He is usually sorry for his actions in the previous phase. He conveys his remorse to the victim, promises that he will never do it again, and begs her forgiveness. He is like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The batterer truly believes that he will never again hurt the woman he loves, and that he will be able to control himself from now on. He also believes that he has taught his partner such a lesson that she will never again behave in a way that tempts him to physically assault her. He is quite sincere, and can easily convince anyone involved that his behavior will change.

The batterer frequently begins an intense campaign to win forgiveness and to prevent his victim from separating herself from him permanently. It is common for an abuser in phase three to shower his victim with elaborate gifts, and to attempt to "romance" her into forgiveness. He may enlist the aid of significant others -- family, friends, clergy, even counselors -- to persuade her that breaking up the relationship is a bad decision. Often everyone involved believes the rationalizations -- that he is sorry and will change, that his workload or his drinking is to blame, that the children need a father, that the abuser needs the help of the victim -- and somehow the victim begins to assume responsibility for any punishment the batterer may receive. She sees herself as the one who must stand by her man while he gets the help he needs so desperately. In reality, it is very unlikely that the abuser will ever seriously seek professional help to change his violent behavior as long as the victim stays with him. Most often, the abuser will seek help only after his victim has left him, and if he thinks seeking counseling will convince her to return.

The battered woman wants to believe that she will no longer have to suffer abuse. The abuser's contrite, reasonable behavior in phase three supports her belief that he really can change. It is during this phase that the victim gets a glimpse of her original dream of how wonderful love is. The battered woman chooses to believe that the behavior she sees during phase three is what her spouse/partner is really like. She chooses to believe that the contrite behavior is more indicative of the real person than the battering behavior. She may also see at this time how frail and vulnerable he really is. If he can only get help, he'll be warm and loving all the time. She perceives herself as the bridge to his emotional well-being.

Since almost all the rewards of being married or coupled occur in phase three, it is extremely difficult for the victim to make a decision to protect herself legally or to separate during this phase. Yet, this is the time during which counselors and other helpers usually see her. When she resists leaving, she bases her reference on the phase three loving behavior, rather than on the phase one and phase two abusive behavior. However, if she has been through several cycles already, she often unconsciously knows that she is trading her emotional and physical well-being for a brief period of phase three loving behavior. That knowledge further lowers her self-esteem and adds to her shame and self hatred.

The length of time that phase three lasts is difficult to determine. Many women report that before they know it, small phase-one incidents being to occur. In some cases, phase three may last only brief moments. Recent research indicates that in some long-standing battering relationships, phase three disappears completely.

The Psychosocial Theory of Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness, as applied by Walker (1979), has three basic components:

As detailed in Domestic Violence: A Guide for Health Care Providers, published by the Colorado Domestic Violence Coalition and Department of Health in 1992, learned helplessness is a psychological theory that describes what happens when a person loses the ability to predict what actions will produce a particular outcome. In psychology, this is called non-contingency between response and outcome. Because the battered woman tries to protect herself and her family as best she can, those with learned helplessness choose only those actions that have a high probability of being successful.

The perpetrator also feels helpless. He does not understand why he can't control the victim/survivor. One time she obeys him and the next she seems to do things to throw him into a rage. He is often shocked by his level of anger and violence and does not know how to control it or stop it. As he becomes increasingly concerned with his behavior, he focuses more and more on the victim/survivor as the source of his uncontrollable violence. For the victim/survivor learned helplessness, therefore, is a "survival-focuses" (as opposed to an "escape-focuses") adaptation to repeated, intermittent abuse such as domestic violence. This theory proposes that when a battered woman believes that sometimes her behavior can have an effect on the batterer and other times the same behavior does not have that effect, she learns that

. . . she is unable to predict the effect her behavior will have
. . . People suffering from learned helplessness are more likely to choose behavioral responses that will have the highest predictability of an effect within the known, or familiar, situation; they avoid responses -- like escape, for instance -- that launch them into the unknown
. . . she believes the demons she knows well are probably preferable to the demons she does not know at all (Walker, 1989).

As the battering and isolation increase, a shift in the survivor's comprehension of the situation occurs. She increasingly perceives escape as impossible. While she may continue to work at her paid job, eat, clean house, take care of the children, laugh with co-workers and appear self-confident and independent, surviving the battering relationship becomes the focus of her life at home.

In the survivor's eyes, the batterer becomes more and more powerful. She sees police and other agencies as less and less able too help (Browne, 1987; Kelly, 1989; Selligman, 1975; Walker, 1979, 1989). She feels trapped and alone. She will likely develop a variety of coping mechanisms may include withdrawal, asking permission to do even trivial thing, compulsiveness, manipulation, substance abuse and asking that criminal charges be dropped.

Group Discussion

Why Don't Women Leave?

Audio/visual Aids: Overhead Projector, Transparency and Marker

See Worksheet # 1

There are many reasons why women don't leave violent relationships. Think for a moment about the power and control issues surrounding domestic violence relationships. Then, let's list reasons why women stay in battering environments.

Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System

In general, there are eight junctures throughout the criminal justice system about which service providers should possess knowledge that can be easily shared with victims:

  1. Initial contact.
  2. Police response/arrest.
  3. Pretrial release.
  4. Prosecution and the courts.
  5. Availability and enforcement of protection orders.
  6. Docketing.
  7. Dispositions.
  8. Monitoring of offenders.

Initial Contact

Domestic violence calls should receive priority from law enforcement agencies. Dispatchers should be specially trained in how to handle such calls, including victim sensitivity and having non-judgmental attitudes in cases of repeat calls. Information dispatchers should obtain that is essential to police response includes, but is not limited to:

Often, police dispatchers remain on the line to maintain contact with a victim in crisis, as well as to be able to relay important information to the responding law enforcement officer(s).

Police Response/Arrest

Many law enforcement agencies have developed and implemented protocols and policies for responding to domestic violence. As crisis responders, both victim sensitivity and extreme caution are vital to the safety and security of all involved. In addition, responding officers can provide a valuable service to victims of domestic violence by providing them with information and referrals to direct assistance and support available from victim service providers.

A law enforcement protocol for responding to domestic violence can include, but not be limited to, the following objectives:

Pre-trial Release

The safety of the victim and any children must be paramount in any decisions made concerning pre-trial release. Victim service providers should advocate to the court for measures that can help ensure victim security, including:

In some jurisdictions, post-charge diversion programs are used to suspend case processing while the abuser undergoes treatment. Victim service providers must be aware of these programs and able to explain them to victims, including: program guidelines; treatment modalities; and whether or not the defendant will be prosecuted upon "successful" completion of the program.

Prosecution and the Courts

Prosecutors play a key role in holding domestic violence offenders accountable and assisting victims and witnesses in such cases. In 1992, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges published two recommendations for prosecutors relevant to domestic violence:

These recommendations serve to place responsibility for prosecuting batterers on the criminal justice system, rather than on the victim; to provide specialized services for victims and witnesses; and to expedite criminal justice processes in domestic violence cases.

Many prosecutors' offices today offer specialized units for domestic violence cases and victims, with personnel trained in the dynamics of domestic violence, legal issues specific to such cases, and victim sensitivity. Furthermore, vertical prosecution units include prosecutors whose caseloads contain solely domestic violence cases. Some prosecutors have adopted "no drop" policies, in which cases proceed whether or not the victim chooses to cooperate.

Prosecutors are often faced with victims who do not wish to testify due to a variety of factors, among them fear of retaliation. Offices with "no drop" policies rely on a number of measures to continue with cases, including:

Many prosecutors have victim support programs within their agencies, or rely upon services available from community-based victim service organizations. Services for victims of domestic violence may include, but are not limited to:

One of the most promising innovations in the legal system is the unified family court. Judge Robert W. Page describes the unified family court as "a court for families." A genuine unified family court has authority over child abuse and neglect; divorce, child custody and visitation; partner abuse; elder abuse; juvenile delinquency; termination of parental rights; and other family law matters. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges recommends that the family court should have "criminal jurisdiction over adults for crimes committed against family and household members."

In a paper delivered at the National Conference on Family Violence: Health and Justice in 1994, Judge Page's description of the advantages of a unified family court was offered:

"The primary advantage claimed for a family court system is the unification of all complaints, petitions, and case types within one case processing and management system in order to provide a more efficient, less costly and damaging, consistent and longer lasting resolution of the problems presented. By directing that all complaints or petitions must be resolved in one unified court, the opportunities for inconsistency and errors based upon inaccurate or incomplete information are greatly reduced."

Unified family courts are operational in nine states, and are being considered in several others (Myers, 1994, p. 3).

Orders of Protection

Orders of protection -- also called "restraining orders" -- are court orders that forbid the abuser from doing certain things to victims, having contact with victims, and/or compelling abusers to comply with certain requirements.

While orders of protection can be issued at any time, it is helpful for victims to seek restraining orders as soon as possible after a domestic violence crime has occurred.

Each jurisdiction has different policies and procedures for issuing and monitoring orders of protection. In order to best assist victims, service providers should be aware of the following considerations:


More and more courts today are giving priority to domestic violence cases. In some jurisdictions, all domestic violence cases are heard on the same day, with the same judge, prosecutor and victim advocate present throughout all proceedings. The use of vertical prosecution units noted above also contributes to the expediting of domestic violence cases. To reduce the potential for further violence, domestic violence cases should be given priority on court dockets.


Victims of domestic violence should have specific rights relevant to disposition, which include but are not limited to:

Monitoring Offenders

In Spousal/Partner Assault: A Protocol for the Sentencing and Supervision of Offenders, Chief Probation Officer Andrew Klein of Quincy, Massachusetts, offers four key components of strict supervision conditions (1994):

  1. Punishment.
  2. Rehabilitation.
  3. Retribution/restoration.
  4. Protection.

Advocacy for Victims of Domestic Violence

There are thousands of staff and volunteers in communities across America who assist, support and serve victims of domestic violence. Often, these professionals provide a lifeline to women and children who desperately need assistance and direction, but are confused by the dynamics of their victimization, as well as by the very thought of leaving a violent environment and, in some cases, entering into the criminal justice system.

The goals of advocacy for victims of domestic violence are generally to:

There are myriad responsibilities associated with assisting victims of domestic violence, including but not limited to:

Victim Validation

One of the most crucial skills a victim advocate must possess is the ability to validate the victim's feelings, experiences, and fears. Many domestic violence victims don't view themselves as victims, and fail to realize that domestic violence is a crime perpetuated against many other women, in addition to themselves.

Some guidelines for domestic violence victim validation include the following:

Developing a Safety Plan

If and when a victim is able to leave her battering environment, it is essential that she has a "safety plan" to increase her opportunity for a successful departure. Advanced planning is crucial. Concerns and actions to be addressed include the following:

Developing a Coordinated Response

to Domestic Violence

Neither victim advocates, criminal justice professionals, social service providers, nor allied professionals operates in a vacuum when it comes to providing quality services to victims of domestic violence.

There are many professionals who have responsibilities to domestic violence victims. Worksheet # 2 will be used to brainstorm and list professionals who can contribute to a coordinated community response to domestic violence.

In a lecture to the American Probation and Parole Association's Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona in 1994, Prosecuting Attorney Sarah Buel identified 17 key components of a model domestic violence response:

Worksheet Number One Chapter 13

Why Don't Women Leave?


























Worksheet Number Two Chapter 13

Potential Participants in a Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence




























Self Examination Chapter 13

Domestic Violence

1) What are the three forms of abuse that are prevalent in domestic violence?

2) What are the two characteristics that are consistently and significantly correlated with batterers?

3) What are the three phases in the "cycle of violence?"

4) Cite five reasons why women don't leave battering environments.

5) List five criminal justice interventions for battered women.

6) Briefly describe the components of your proposed, ideal domestic violence crime victim assistance system.

Answers Chapter 13

Why Don't Women Leave?

Worksheet Number One

1) Lack of money.

2) Fear.

3) "Love."

4) No or low self esteem.

5) No job skills.

6) No place to go.

7) Loss of stability and/or security.

8) Pressure from family and/or friends to stay.

9) Religious beliefs or pressures.

10) Cultural beliefs or pressures.

11) Denial of abuse.

12) Saw or experienced abuse as a child and believe it is "normal."

13) Belief that the abuse "is my fault."

14) Belief that "I deserve it" (the abuse).

15) Belief that "he will change."

16) Isolation.

17) Belief that there is no other option.

18) Fear of the unknown -- afraid to change.

19) He has threatened to kill me.

20) He has threatened to kill himself.

21) He has threatened to take my children.

22) He has threatened to harm my children or other loved ones.

23) He has threatened to cut me off financially.

24) Fear that nobody else would have me.

25) Alcohol or other drug dependency (on behalf of the batterer and, when mutual, often coerced).

26) Belief that despite the abuse, he is otherwise a good provider.

27) Shame.

28) Fear of public disclosure of the abuse.

29) Lack of knowledge and/or fear of law enforcement and CJS response.

30) Leaving the relationship equates to "failure."

31) Psychological attachment to abuser (the "Stockholm Syndrome").

32) I tried to leave before and failed.

33) Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Answers Chapter 13

Potential Participants in a Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence

Worksheet Number Two

1) Victim service providers.

2) Emergency assistance dispatchers.

3) Law enforcement.

4) Prosecutors.

5) Prosecutor-based victim/witness professionals.

6) Judges.

7) Court administrators.

8) Probation.

9) Parole.

10) Corrections.

11) Juvenile justice officials.

12) Child protective services.

13) Social services.

14) Mental health practitioners.

15) Medical practitioners.

16) Legal professionals.

17) Clergy.

18) Academia (both higher and lower education).

19) Child protective services.

20) Public assistance.

21) Child support enforcement.

22) State victim compensation.

23) State victim assistance.

24) News media.

25) Civic organizations.

26) Public policy makers (local, state and national).

27) Researchers.


American Medical Association. (1992). AMA diagnostic and treatment guidelines on domestic violence. Archives of Family Medicine, 1, 40-41.

Buel, S. (1994). Suggestions for a model community coordinated response to domestic violence. Presentation at American Probation and Parole Association Annual Institute, Phoenix, AZ.

Colorado Domestic Violence Coalition and Colorado Department of Public Health. (1994). Domestic violence: A guide for health care providers (5th ed). Denver, CO.

Jaffe, P., Wolfe, D. & Wilson, S. K. (1990). Children of battered women.

Klein, A. (1994). Spousal/partner assault: A protocol for the sentencing and supervision of offenders. Quincy, MA: Quincy Court

Myers, J. E. B. (1994). Medicine, mental health, and the legal system: Critical partners in responding to family violence. Paper presented at the National Conference on Family Violence: Health and Justice, Washington, D.C.

National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect. (n.d.). Family violence: An overview. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Office of the Attorney General, State of Florida. (1993). Multi-disciplinary services training: Making a positive impact (curriculum). Tallahassee, FL: Author..

Page, R. (1994, March 12). Advantages of a unified family court. Paper presented at the National Conference on Family Violence: Health and Justice, American Medical Association, Washington, DC.

Walker, Lenore. (1978). The battered woman. New York: Harper & Row.

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