Families and Domestic Violence

Module Sections:

What Does Domestic Abuse Look Like?

Domestic abuse is used to gain and maintain control over a victim. Abusers usually use dominance, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial and blame to exert power over their victims.

Dominance- In a home setting, you will recognize that the abuser is in charge of the relationship. He/she treats the victim(s) as his/her possession, telling them what to and what not to do. The abuser may make decisions and give specific instructions to the victim and the family as whole. The victim(s) is/are expected to obey every instruction without questioning.

Example: Rob expected his wife Ann to be obedient and passive all the time. When torturing Ann’s cat, Rob would demand her to swallow a large amount of sleeping pills if she wanted him to stop. This resulted in Ann spending many hours during the day and night sleeping because of the pills (Sev’er, 2002).

Humiliation- The abuser usually humiliates the victim and makes her feel defective and bad about herself in every way. If a victim believes she is worthless and that no one else will want her, she is less likely to leave. Usually insults, name calling, and shaming are some of the weapons that an abuser employs to make the victim feel powerless and erode her self esteem.

Example: Emanuel constantly insulted Lorie. He made brutally hurtful remarks about the lack of youthfulness in her hair, skin, breasts, belly, and practically every other part of her body. Lorie said that he often made her feel “like the dirt under his shoes.” Eventually Lorie felt that Emanuel was doing her a favor by being her husband because she felt that she was not worthy of anyone’s love. (Sev’er, 2002).

Isolation- You will notice in a home setting that the victim usually does not have contacts with her friends and the rest of her family because the abuser cuts the victim off from her family, friends and the outside world just to increase dependence on him. The victim may have to seek permission to do anything, to go anywhere, or to see anyone. (Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence [MCEDV], 2005; Pence & Paymar, 1993).

Example: Rob wanted to isolate Ann from her family so he had them move many times (always farther away from her family). He treated Ann’s family rudely and insulted them when they visited. Rob also monitored Ann’s telephone calls, by not allowing Ann to speak to her family when they called. He eventually convinced her that her family was intruding on their privacy, and Ann began to believe him and started pushing her family members away (Sev’er, 2002).

Threats- Abusers commonly use threats to keep their victims from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. For example, an abuser may threaten to hurt or kill the victim, her children, other family members, or even pets. He may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against the victim, or report her to child services.

Example: Amber’s husband Guy would threaten her by saying “If you are not with me, I’ll mark an X on your face.” Amber knew that he would carve her face up or even shoot her in the head. Guy’s threats terrified her enough to stay with him; until she found the courage to run away (Sev’er, 2002).

Intimidation- An abuser may employ different intimidation tactics to scare a victim into submission. Examples of the tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of the victim, destroying victim’s property, hurting victims’ pets, or putting weapons on display. In fact, the clear message the abuser is communicating is that if the victim does not obey, there will be violent consequences.

Example: After many years of being told she was stupid by her husband, Laurette decided to take some classes at a local college. Her husband Sam was infuriated when he found out. He burned her books and all of her notes (Sev’er, 2002).

Denial and Blame- Abusers are often very good at making excuses. For instance, they may blame their violent behaviors on a bad childhood, a bad day and even on the victims. The abuser will usually shift the responsibility onto the victim saying that his violence and abuse is the victim’s fault. In certain circumstances the abuser may minimize the abuse or even deny that it ever occurred.

Example: Larry’s wife, Sue, would easily get angry with him for things like not cleaning his plate, not putting the toilet seat down, or simply watching T.V. When Sue got angry she would hit Larry with a wooden chair leg and verbally put him down. After Sue would react this way to Larry, she would apologize and explain to him that she only hurt him because she loved him. Sue would also tell Larry that she was just having a bad day and she could not help the way she acted.

Audio Companion: Families and Domestic Violence