CAUSES OF DOMESTIC ABUSE*
(*information taken over from the ”Study on domestic abuse” conducted in 2016 by the Crime Research and Prevention Institute)
Distinguishing the etiological complex which determines the occurrence of violent behaviour against women within the family/couple is a quite difficult process. Without attempting to establish a rigorous hierarchy of the criminal drives of this phenomenon, distinction should be made between the exogenous and endogenous factors. The first class implies, in its turn, a classification depending on their nature and on the influence they have at general level (cultural, social-economic, legal, political).
- One of the main causes which determines the occurrence of marital violence refers to the attitudes and social stereotypes which legitimate the dominant role of men and the subordinated role or women which perpetuated throughout the history of human kind. Thus, the mentality regarding male superiority is a main factor responsible for the manifestation of the phenomenon of domestic abuse.
It should not be forgotten that in Romania, in particular in the rural environment, the family is regarded as a private sphere, under the control of men, being based on the patriarchal pattern of relationships, in which the man decides and the woman listens to, conforms and follows that.
- Another problems is the perception on the termination of the marriage. A perspective according to which a divorce is the recognition of a failure, mostly of a woman’s failure, who is responsible for the unity of the family, is still passed on by education. In a mental state of fear caused by the partner’s aggressions, the victim firstly turns to her family of origin and to the vicinity, where, unfortunately, she may face a reaction of disapproval of her intention to terminate the marriage. Unfortunately, discouraged, many victims give up at this point and no longer hope that their situation may change or that someone may still help them.
- Society’s acceptance of violence within a couple - Violent family conflicts, in which the woman is a victim, become to a certain extent known within the entourage, within the community where they live and the lack of reaction of the people around shows indifference or even tacit approval.
- Another cultural aspect with a decisive contribution to the occurrence of violent behaviour within a couple is the fact that violence is seen as a form of resolving tensed/conflictual situations. This may be seen not only at the level of the family/couple, but also at community level and in the manner in which other types of conflictual situations are approached. Violence is used in an attempt to impose one’s own vision on divergent aspects.
In this respect, the family of origin, the entourage, the group of friends, the group of colleagues are as many factors determining an individual’s behaviour, which transmit modalities of action and resolution of conflicts.
It may not be said that mass-media creates violence, but it contributes to keeping it alive and, without any doubt, it has a role in the rise of the level of aggressiveness. It is difficult to quantify the extent to which mass-media is responsible for intensifying violent behaviours, but we may notice that the trend is to liberalize broadcasting activities, without doubling them by efficient control or self-control of the quality and responsibility for the impact of information dissemination, by reference to level of understanding by the public.
- Violence is a form of aggressiveness which is learned, and the easiest form of learning is by imitation. In this field, the mass-media has an essential role. Even if no such acts of aggression took place in the family of origin, in the society, in schools, in the news television programs, in cartoons, the violence is abundant.
Social and economic factors
- Poverty is one of the most frequently incriminated factors in the appearance and proliferation of domestic violence. Incapacity to satisfy certain material needs determines frustration of a person, which generates, in its turn, a negative energy which affects the family life.
- Financial dependency of a woman, existing in many of the cases of domestic abuse, favours the victim’s lack of reaction. The woman stays with her partner because she cannot support herself, she has no money to pay for a dwelling, she has no money to provide for her children and, thus, she chooses to endure.
Because the woman does not have the resources to support herself and her children, she cannot assume an independent life. Even if she has a job and has a small or average income, most of the time this will not allow her to provide for the children and, at the same time, to afford the costs of rent and maintenance of a dwelling.
However, we should not conclude that domestic abuse is a characteristic of poor families, without affecting the economic middle or upper classes. This type of behaviour is manifest in all environments.
The cumbersome legal procedures applicable in the case of requesting custody of children, the lack of training of the experts from the public institutions - social workers, prosecutors, psychologists are other factors rendering the activity of prevention and fight against this phenomenon more difficult. At the same time, the crisis of trust in the legal system may be an aggravating factor of this phenomenon.
The lack of political interest for women’s problems, in general, and for domestic abuse, in particular, the excessive valorisation of the family as private space, by limiting the intervention of the State in the life of a couple, lack of involvement of the women in the political life favour the perpetuation of domestic abuse in the society.
Endogenous factors - personality traits
This explanation of domestic abuse shifts the accent on the personality traits of the abuser, being considered an important risk factor. Abusers are often described as having low self-esteem, excessive jealousy, aggressive and hostile personality, low communication skills, low social skills, intense need of power or feelings of incapacity, anxiety or strong fear of abandonment, narcissistic personalities, egoism, etc.
Most of the times, persons who are violent at home seem not to be aware or responsible for their actions or have unbalanced personalities, they cannot manage their anger or nervous breakdowns. However, except for pathological cases, aggressors are normal people from a mental standpoint, who are to be found in all social categories, without essential distinctions in terms of education or social status.
Their idea of life and family is based on the traditional mentality of superiority of the man over the woman, according to which the right of controlling the family members belongs to them.
Interviews conducted with the aggressors within our research outlined, in almost all the cases, a dysfunctional attitude towards the partner and the situation, characterized by:
- Minimizing responsibility for their own behaviour. We refer, first of all, to alcohol consumption, declared as being normal, these individuals being incapable to see the connection between regular consumption of alcohol and their behavioural disorders;
- Transfer of responsibility for the act of violence to the partner. Aggressiveness was justified as a normal consequence of the tension caused by the partner.
- Transfer of responsibility to other persons or situations which negatively influenced the cohabitation with the partner: her parents, her siblings or other relatives, her friends, the poverty, unemployment, etc.
At the same time, an important role in the appearance and proliferation of violent behaviour within a couple consists also in the personality traits of the victim. The social learning theory explains why women find it difficult to get out of a violent relationship because, as aggressive behaviour is learned, so is the attitude and behaviour of incapacity, the passive behaviour, the lack of reaction to violence.
Women learn that violence is outside their control or that it is normal and, thus, they become depressed, depressive and incapable to help themselves. They consider violence as a fact of life, of their destiny, they accept it as a consequence of a wrong decision and they no longer try anything else than reduce its intensity, because they can no longer imagine a different life.
Which is specific to a victim of domestic violence is the material or emotional dependency on the aggressor, internalizing traditional mentalities regarding the women’s role within a couple, as well as the presence of personality traits predisposing her to such victimization (mental fragility, self-blaming tendency, docility, obedience, anxiety, conformism, irascibility, they may be persons without initiative or they may lack objective perception of the reality).
Besides these causes, there are several circumstances which determine or favour the occurrence of domestic abuse, such as:
- excessive alcohol consumption - in general, numerous incidents between the spouses appear when one or both partners drank alcohol;
- partners’ jealousy;
- partners’ infidelity;
- sexual problems of the couple;
- arguments regarding children, existence of unwanted children or divergences regarding the manner of upbringing and educating children;
- the woman’s desire to become financially independent - consolidation of woman’s status in the family, uncooperating negotiation of her position in the family;
- existence of difficulties which make the couple vulnerable:
- poverty/depreciation of living standard associated with feelings of failure and frustration;
- absence of jobs/unemployment associated with feelings of insecurity;
- stress associated with various unpleasant events (loss of job, accident etc.);
- health condition of one or both partners.
Description of abusing process
Except for non-typical cases, in the case of domestic violence, there is a certain pattern of the abusing process. First manifestations of violence may occur quite quickly, the relationship starts with quarrels which may very easily turn into physical violence in most of the cases, in the absence of valid arguments from the partners.
The abuse against the victim may start with the occurrence of tensed situations, requests for explanations, the gradual desire of control by the abuser, verbal, emotional, physical abuse, restrictions/limitations imposed on the victim and may go beyond human limits of security and preservation.
In a first stage, the victim is not aware or does not consider that the various types of aggressions against her own person are important. This process may lead to personal debasement of the victim, accompanied by gradual reduction of the self-esteem. Gradually, the sentimental life of the victim degrades, several dysfunctions occur, even with respect to her social life, her relationships with her friends, acquaintances, relatives may be affected (she may isolate herself at the work place - especially when jealousy is the reasons of the conflicts), the victim may have depressions and even suicide attempts.
Often, at the beginning, the victim finds/invents numerous excuses for the violent manifestations of her partner (tiredness/stress, alcohol consumption, being instigated by her, this happened, etc.). After the “first slap”, she thinks that “she may change him” or is guided by the conviction that “every woman was slapped now and then”, trying to mentally consider this situation as normal.
The victim does not have an adequate reaction, she is silent or avoids the partner, may be full of understanding, calm, etc. A denial mechanism, the refusal to admit the existence of a problem, is activated. Thus, the feedback that she sends to the partner is of acceptance of the abuse, a message which is transmitted without the victim realizing that she actually consents to such behaviours.
In this stage, abused women still hold some control, but not on the partner, but on the situation itself. Reoccurrence of such incidents shall generate, however, worry, anger, then fear of the abused woman, which shall continuously feed the tension in the couple and shall determine progressive reduction of the victim’s control over the situation.
Passive acceptance of the aggressive behaviour of the partner, as well as stereotypes related to the man’s rights within the family, may encourage the aggressor to no longer control himself and to become more and more violent. He may become more and more possessive, more brutal, shall resort to humiliation, insults, and the woman will become incapable to restore the balance of the relationship and to defend herself. Apparent permission by the victim of the aggression, her defensive reaction, her tendency to retreat from the partner’s face may be factors which may trigger an even more aggressive behaviour of the aggressor.
However, this is not a generally absolute rule. Similarly, an offensive attitude of the victim may trigger an even more aggressive behaviour of the abuser.
There is a vicious circle of violence. Although it all starts with the acceptance of a first act of aggression (“first slap”), unfortunately, in time, the violent episodes may become more and more frequent and more intense, more severe. Often, after such situations, the aggressor begs for forgiveness or tries to justify his own behaviour. The situations in which he accuses the victim and convinces her that she had her share of guilt are not scarce. The victim may be overwhelmed, more or less, with various attentions/gifts in order to forgive his behaviour. This phase, of the partner’s repentance, is characterized by the abuser’s affectionate behaviour. It is a period in which the aggressor may show availability to the partner and her needs, inducing the impression that their relationship is functional, which may deepen the dependency between the victim and the aggressor. This is the phase called “honey moon”, in which the episode which occurred is ignored and forgiven. Tensions were released by the violent behaviours and the period of regret and begging for forgiveness may determine the victim to see her partner as fragile and unsecure, may consider that he needs her.
Thus, a double dependency is structured, since it is difficult for the victim to leave the abusive relationship. The psychologist experts draw the attention on the fact that, if this period of “love” is quickly followed by another period of “intense conflictual tension”, the victim may lose her control, may defend herself and severely injure or kill her partner.
The abusive process may start even before the creation of the respective couple. There is a predisposition, a role learned from childhood, the role of passive victim. Such persons have an unconscious tendency to seek in their life partner a model seen in their family of origin, which may be abusive, thus creating the false impression that she knows her partner very well. Other persons project an ideal partner in a person they have just met, refusing to see his true personality, living in their own fantasy, interpreting some of his traits in an idealized manner.
Often, the abusing persons are forgiven but, in time, as the frustration rises, the level of tension rises, and the acts of violence become more and more frequent and severe. The victim’s emotional and financial dependency on the aggressor determines, however, the victim to repress her preservation instincts and to find excuses for the aggressor and to remain in this abusive relationship. There are even situations in which the woman may change/adapt her personality, behaviour in order to no longer incite her life partner to aggressive behaviours.
These are the cases found in the area of long-term domestic abuse. Victims in this category hesitate for a long time before they decide to ask for support or before they effectively want to exit the dysfunctional relationship. If this happen, it happens quite late, after a few years from the appearance of the problem at the level of that couple, there is a tendency to postpone this moment as much as possible.
According to the aspects presented by the experts, there are also extreme situations, which are less frequent, of high risk abusers, who are not characterized by a gradual/phased process of violent behaviour within the couple, these cases are very severe from the beginning and often end with hospitalization or even death of the victim.
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