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Child abuse tops list of domestic violence


This is the third in a series about domestic violence.

This is the third in a series about domestic violence.

Q: What additional information is important about domestic violence?

A: Domestic violence dynamics from the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (2012) reveal the most common categories of domestic abuse, in order of prevalence, are child abuse, partner or spouse abuse, and elder abuse. The key practices in domestic abuse are intimidation, humiliation and physical injury. In addition to physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse, there is stalking.

Stalking is defined as harassment in a devious and repetitive manner. Stalking during the abusive relationship consists of intense monitoring of victims and their activities. After the relationship has ended, stalkers might be trying to get the victims back or harm their former victims to punish them for leaving. Stalking can occur everywhere -- near the homes of victims, workplaces, stores and on the Internet. Stalkers might never appear to the victims, or they might show up.

Tactics for stalking include repeated phone calls or hang-up calls, following victims, using GPS or investigators to track victims, watching hidden cameras, showing up without warning at home, work or school, sending emails, using chat rooms or instant messaging, sending cards, letters and packages, monitoring phone calls or computer use, contacting friends, family and neighbors to find out about victims, going through the garbage of victims, threatening victims or their families, friends and pets, and damaging property of victims such as their homes and cars. Stalking is considered dangerous and unpredictable, which should be reported immediately.

Cyberstalking is using technologies such as the Internet or email to stalk someone. It can turn into real stalking and physical violence. Stalking turning violent happens with female stalkers as often as men. Stalking can end in violence, even without threats beforehand or without any previous history of violence.

A strong predictor of physical violence in adults raised with domestic abuse is their fathers' abuse of their mothers. Persons growing up in domestic violent households use violence as adults because they observed past problems solved with violence, they observed the success of exerting power and control using violence and no one had stopped the violence in their homes in the past.

The cycle of violence is how abusers control victims. The abuser lashes out aggressively or violently to show the victim who is boss. Next the batterer feels guilt, not for what he did, but for fear of getting caught or facing consequences. The next phase is excuses during which an abuser rationalizes his behavior. The goal in rationalization is to avoid assuming responsibility for the behavior.

Stable, nonviolent behavior occurs next, in which the abuser stops the abuse and tries to normalize the daily routine. An abuser can become charming and supportive and the victim becomes hopeful of change. Following this phase, an abuser starts thinking about what the victim has done wrong and how to make the victim pay. The final phase in the cycle is one in which the abuser sets a plan in motion to create a situation in which (s)he can justify abusing the victim again.

In an article by Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., in Helpguide.org, the authors present an analysis of the ways abusers plan their behavior. Abusers choose whom they want to abuse. They choose those closest to them, the ones they claim to love. Next, abusers choose where and when to abuse, waiting until no one is around to see their behavior or help their victims. Abusers can stop their abuse when it suits them. They usually are not out of control. Generally, violent abusers direct their blows to areas that won't show. They carefully orchestrate aiming kicks and punches so marks and bruises are not visible.

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author, discusses two emotional dynamics that contribute to domestic violence. The first is a critical inner thought process directed by the abuser toward both the abuser and the victim. Examples would be the abuser thinking (s)he is not a (wo)man if (s)he doesn't control his/her spouse or partner, or thinking the victim is making a fool of him/her. Secondly, the abuser has an unrealistic illusion about the connection between the couple. The illusion can make an abuser believe (s)he needs the victim to make him/her whole and that the victim is necessary for his/her happiness.

This type of self-talk results in thoughts that exacerbate violence in abusers. The thoughts are critical about both the abuser and the victim. Both partners believe they cannot survive on their own without the other person. This merged identity makes separation difficult and intensifies the violence.

A National Institute of Justice information sheet documented a causative factor not generally named. Women bearing children before age 21 were twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence. Men who fathered children by 21 years of age were three times as likely to become domestic abusers.

In a publication from Women's Aid Federation of England, domestic violence by men against women is defined as the misuse of power and control within the context of male privilege. Domestic violence behavior is learned and intentional. English belief systems that support domestic violence are similar to those in the U.S. They include blaming the victim, putting his need for family before the safety of women and children, tolerating violence, prioritizing men's needs above those for women and children, and considering domestic violence a family affair.

In a 2011 article by Susan Heitler, Ph.D., in "Psychology Today," she pointed out similarities in domestic violence, terrorism, dictatorships and bullying. Terrorism is violence against populations. Dictators bully and might aggress violently against their citizens. Batterers are bullies who harass their families. Bullies are peer batterers or early violent offenders. All these groups focus on controlling others, are preoccupied with dominating others, believe they are right and victims are wrong, progress from verbal to physical and violent behaviors, rarely take responsibility for their abuse, and are paranoid and blaming of others.

* Next week's discussion will focus on the effects of domestic violence on families.

Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.