Domestic violence is a systematic pattern of behaviors that include physical battering, coercive control, economic abuse, emotional abuse, and/or sexual violence. It is intended to gain or maintain power and control over a romantic or intimate partner to intimidate, frighten, terrorize, humiliate, blame, or injure. It can happen to anyone of any age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, religion, education level, or socioeconomic background; regardless of whether couples are married, living together or dating.
Domestic violence is more than a series of violent incidents on an identifiable cycle. It is about living in a climate of fear and disempowering restrictions that threaten and affect one’s selfhood, psychological well-being, health, economic independence, and emotional availability for parenting.
Coercive control is defined by Evan Stark as “a strategic course of conduct designed to retain privilege and establish domination in personal life based on fear, dependence, and the deprivation of basic rights and liberties.” The coercive control model “defines abuse as a malevolent course of conduct; identifies the hallmarks of abusive assaults [by] their frequency and ‘routine’ nature rather than their severity; anticipates the use of a range of coercive and controlling tactics in addition to or instead of physical violence; and assesses risk, including the risk of fatality, on the basis of a woman’s subjective level of fear and her objective entrapment rather than the level of violence or injury.”
Stress is not an explanation for violence. It is an explanation that privileges men’s experiences over women’s. It is a compounding factor, like substance abuse or economic pressure, but not a cause of abusive power or coercive control. Women have the same life experiences and stresses: they come from violent homes, they have childhood histories of abuse, neglect or abandonment, they get cut off on the freeway, they get high or drunk, they get fired from their jobs, they juggle economic hardships, etc. Women are socialized in cultures with legacies of colonialism, live in war zones, endure racism, deal with new cultures as immigrants and face societal and linguistic barriers. And yet, women by and large do not resort to physical abuse. Non-abusive men are also subject to the same stressors. Women and non-abusive men do of course have personal and inter-personal difficulties, psychological problems, feel depressed, lack parenting insights, have inadequate job skills, are constrained by poverty, but cope without resorting to violence. Finally, men who do not have any of these difficulties or deficits, batter. It is important therefore, to de-link external factors as the root causes of domestic violence.
Patriarchal beliefs of male heterosexual dominance lie at the root of domestic violence. While domestic violence in same-gender relationships appears to challenge explanations of patriarchy, the tactics of power and control are unchanged because the structures of patriarchy still obtain. Patterns of violence in intimate relationships occur because (a) perpetrators chose to use domination, coercion, and battering, (b) cultural conditions make abuse socially acceptable, a ‘private matter’ without community sanctions or intervention, and (c) violent behavior is learned and reinforced over time through the family, culture, community, media, and peer groups.
Couple conflict is distinct from domestic violence - all relationships experience conflicts, disagreements, fights, angry arguments, harsh words, unwilling compromises, resentments, selfish decisions, pain and anguish. In healthy relationships, couples use a variety of behaviors and strategies to cope with or resolve their conflicts without resorting to domestic violence.
Relationships are complex, and love, affection, and commitment can still be part of relationships despite the violence. Sometimes, these positive elements are the foundation for change. Women and other survivors seek help to reclaim their power, by breaking their isolation to seek support, escape the abuse, find ways to keep themselves and their children safe. Abusers struggle to change, couples try to restore balance and equality, friends and family step in: these and other struggles strengthen our collective hopes for violence-free lives.
25% of women report physical and/or sexual assault by an intimate partner during their lifetime.National Violence Against Women Survey, 2000
48% of adult women in Alaska experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.Alaska Victimization Survey, 2010
Persons depicted are models and are used for illustrative purposes only.
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