Purchase photos

Domestic violence can follow stereotypes, or not


This is the fifth in a series about domestic violence.

This is the fifth in a series about domestic violence.

Q: What are some of the most recent research studies regarding domestic violence?

A: In Psychology Today, 2009, an article by Linda G. Mills, J.D., M.S.W, Ph.D, summarized recent research results. As many as 50 percent of women return to their abusers. Men and women abuse one other at much the same rate. But men have less serious injuries, and they are reluctant to report them. Women who are violent are not just defending themselves. In 24 percent of violent marriages in the U.S., the woman is the sole abuser.

Dating violence studies reveal when only one partner is violent, it most likely is the female partner. The stereotypical concept of violence in marriages in which women victims live in terror of the abusers actually is a small percentage of domestic violence in the U.S. today. Violent adult couples learn violent patterns from childhood from their mothers, fathers and siblings.

Two marriage researchers, Neil S. Jacobson and John M. Gottman, observed violent couples in conflict. They decided to see for themselves because abusers and victims are not reliable reporters about themselves. The researchers spent eight years doing the research and published the results in 1998.

They concluded batterers are unpredictable, impervious to any influence from their wives, and impossible to stop from abuse once arguments began. They found battered women neither passive nor submissive, and sometimes angry. But contrary to the research summary of Linda G. Mills in Psychology Today, Jacobson and Gottman found women rarely batter men.

Batterers have two basic patterns of abuse. There are those who simmer slowly through time before becoming violent and those who strike quickly. Emotional abuse undermines women's self-confidence. Domestic violence can decrease without intervention or treatment, but rarely stops. Battered women do leave in spite of their increased danger in leaving. Women are the ones more likely to be injured and the ones more likely to be killed rather than men. Fear is the force that sustains battering.

The majority of battered women responded assertively and calmly, despite the fact battering always escalated once started. Batterers in the research never were heard to credit women with good ideas or good points in disagreements. Men became more aggressive when women were assertive.

Nonviolent couples have rituals to de-escalate conflicts. Examples are taking breaks, reaching compromises and using stress-reducing tactics. Violent couples have no such practices. Women get angry, and it gets expressed toward batterers, but these responses were not considered provocation for violence.

The majority of batterers metabolized anger slowly. These types had contempt for women but were dependent on them. They punished women for their own neediness and resented their dependency. These batterers wanted to gain control of women's minds by making them doubt their own sanity. They misinterpreted and misrepresented what happened and convinced women they were wrong.

A second type of batterer is the one who lashes out quickly. These men calmed down internally while being verbally abusive and striking out quickly at the same time. Approximately 90 percent of these abusers met the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder and had adult criminal records and childhood behavior that included lying, stealing, firesetting and cruelty to animals.

All the batterers abused alcohol at a high rate, but the type who verbally attacked quickly were more likely to use illegal drugs. This batterer group also was much less emotionally involved with their wives, a fact that correlates with antisocial personality disorders. These men were incapable of empathy for others. They struck quickly in order to subdue their wives or partners with minimum effort.

According to Jacobson and Gottman, 54 percent of batterers showed less violence during the latter of two follow-up years. Seven percent stopped their violence by the second follow-up.

Three years past the last follow-up survey, researchers found few women had left the antisocial abusers. Women were frightened of them and attached to them. The other group of women married to more predictable and less dangerous batterers left the relationships at twice the rate of the other group.

Men who were easier to leave initially were harder to leave over time. They were persistent and could turn into stalkers. The antisocial abusers would not pursue women who left them unless it was easy and did not cause hassles.

Jacobsen and Gottman referred to men who build up abuse slowly as pit bulls, and men who strike out quickly as cobras. But researchers also made discoveries about women. They found battered women to be courageous and resourceful. They persevered and struggled for many years.

Neil Jacobsen describes the cobras as frightening because there is a disconnect between their feelings and their behavior. As these men became more embroiled in aggression, their heart-rate slowed, showing their central nervous system was not aroused. What most of these men had in common were childhoods with high levels of violence among their parents.

Regarding physical abuse, men who physically were abusive were six times as likely to have had head injuries as children. Although women themselves can be violent, the violence occurred in response to attacks from male partners. Fear of male batterers still was the main effect on women.

* Next week's discussion will continue with results of domestic violence research studies.

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.