Domestic Violence – scope and breadth

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Two problems are immediately apparent in most discussions about domestic violence. The first is the media’s understandable focus on physical and sexual violence. When the media speaks of domestic violence (DV) it almost invariably reads as if DV is solely about a man hitting their partner or a sexually assaulting her. It’s understandable because these kinds of stories are sensational in themselves and sensation sells, like it or not. And when the media notices domestic violence and quotes the statistics, those figures will describe physical violence and sexual violence.

The second problem arises from the first. DV is a cluster of controlling behaviours that includes but is not by any means limited to physical and sexual violence. The Duluth Model was first proposed in 1981: it outlines, by means of the Power and Control Wheel, eight aspects of power and control recognised as being the constitutive elements of domestic violence. 2007, Evan Stark coined the term Coercive Control to describe the complex of behaviours that together or separately result in one partner in a relationship exerting his will over the other. In a paper published in 2012 he contended that

a growing body of research shows that the form of subjugation that drives most abused women to seek outside assistance is not encompassed by the violence model and that, therefore, interventions predicated on this model are ineffective in protecting women and children from this type of abuse. These women have been subjected to a pattern of domination that includes tactics to isolate, degrade, exploit and control them as well as to frighten them or hurt them physically. This pattern, which may include but is not limited to physical violence, has been variously termed ‘psychological or emotional abuse, patriarchal or intimate terrorism (Tolman, 1992; Johnson, 2008), and coercive control (Stark, 2007), the term I prefer. (Stark, 2012, p.3)

The significance of recognising the breadth of domestic violence is that very many victims of this kind of abuse fail to recognise that they are in an unhealthy relationship. Yes, they feel at odds with their partner, they are unhappy, they feel put upon or downtrodden – any number of emotions may present themselves – but until it is brought to their attention, these victims of domination and abuse do not realise that they are experiencing domestic violence.

Why? Because “he’s never laid a hand on me” is the common phrase victims use. Their coercive, controlling partners, if they find themselves in a men’s behaviour change group at some stage, will plaintively deny their controlling behaviours, failing to recognise them as domestic violence, and making the entirely truthful claim, “I have never laid a hand on her.”

Survivors of domestic violence are very clear in distinguishing between physical violence and emotional abuse

Nevertheless, survivors of domestic violence/coercive control are very clear in distinguishing between physical violence and emotional abuse. It is common to hear survivors say that bruises disappear and broken bones mend eventually – but the verbal, emotional and psychological abuse they have experienced lasts, in too many cases, a lifetime, the wounding is deep and healing requires long, hard work, not least of which are the costs of psychological and psychiatric therapy.

The posts in undomesticated violence will begin with an exploration of the various aspects of domestic violence outlined in the Duluth Power and Control wheel. It’s an arbitrary decision in many ways but it offers a place to start. From that vantage point, posts will explore related topics such as narcissism, sociopathic and psychopathic behaviours, coercive control and violence against men.

The last is a sensitive and often-disputed topic but it needs to be covered: men experience domestic violence also, both from female and male partners.

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