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Q:  If a couple is having a intimate partner violence (domestic violence)problem, don't they just have a bad relationship? Maybe it's poor marital communication that is the problem?

A:  Bad relationships do not result in or cause intimate partner violence (domestic violence). The idea that relationships with dysfunction cause violence in the home is one of the most common, and dangerous, misconceptions about domestic violence. First, it encourages all parties involved - including and especially the victim- to minimize the seriousness of the problem and focus their energies on "improving the relationship" in the false hope that this will stop the violence. It also allows the abuser to blame the relationship, and thus the violence, on the victim, rather than acknowledging their own responsibility.

More importantly, improving the relationship is not likely by itself to end the violence. Violence is learned behavior, one that frequently rears its ugly head when more functional and acceptable forms of stress and confrontation occur. Violence is a reaction of choice; just like talking, negotiating, or running away might be. Many couples have had "bad" relationships yet never become physically violent. Many batterers are violent in every one of their relationships, whether they consider them bad or good. The violent individual is the sole source and cause of the violence, and neither their partner nor their relationship should be held responsible. Indeed, regardless of the quality or future of a couple's relationship, stopping the violence must be a top priority and an end in itself, and only the batterer can do that by choosing OTHER responses.

Q:  Aren't most intimate partner violence (domestic violence) incidents caused by alcohol or drug abuse?

A:  Many people have alcohol and/or drug problems but are not violent. Similarly, many batterers are not substance abusers. How people behave when they are "under the influence" of alcohol and/or drugs depends on a complex combination of personal and social, physical and emotional factors. And like many other kinds of behavior, alcohol or drug-affected behavior patterns are culturally learned.

In our culture, many leisure and social events involve heavy drinking, which can unfortunately, contribute to conflicts ending in violence. Furthermore, many people in troubled situations - such as intimate partner violence (domestic violence) - use alcohol or drugs as a way to avoid facing their problem. It is often easier to blame an alcohol or drug abuse problem than to admit that you or your partner is openly, soberly violent.  Episodes of problem drinking and incidents of domestic violence often occur separately and must be treated as two distinct issues. Neither alcoholism nor drug abuse can explain or excuse domestic violence. Instead, BOTH domestic violence AND substance abuse can be seen as unhealthy ways of coping with bigger problems, or as ways of avoiding having to confront problems directly.

Q:  Isn't intimate partner violence (domestic violence) often triggered by stress, for example, the loss of a job or some financial or marital problem?

A:  Daily life is full of frustration associated with money, work, politics, health concerns, our families, and other personal relationships. Everyone experiences stress, and everyone responds to it differently. Violence is a specific learned and chosen response to stress, whether real or imagined. Certainly, high general levels of intimate partner violence (domestic violence) are related to social problems such as unemployment, however, other reactions to such situations are equally possible. Some people take out their frustrations on themselves with drug or alcohol, some take it out on others with verbal or physical abuse. Some work out stress by taking up sports or hobbies, while still others fight back in socially positive ways. Learning to handle stress in constructive ways can be an important step in stopping violent behavior.

Q:  Doesn't most intimate partner violence (domestic violence) occur in lower class or minority communities?

A:  Intimate partner violence (domestic violence) occurs at all levels of society, in all classes and communities, regardless of their social, economic or cultural backgrounds. Researchers and service providers have found, however, that economic and social factors can have a significant impact on how people respond to violent incidents and what kind of help they seek. Affluent people can usually afford private help - doctors, lawyers and counselors while people with fewer financial resources (i.e., those belonging to a lower economic class or a minority group) tend to call the police or other public agencies. These agencies are often the most accessible source of statistics on domestic violence, and consequently, lower class and minority communities tend to be overrepresented in those figures, creating a distorted image of the problem.

Q:  What did I do to provoke my partner to violence?

A:  Many victims report that the violence occurs unexpectedly, sometimes without warning. Often, the incident is caused by a trifle or other pretext which the offender later claims as ample provocation. Unfortunately, the victims may blame themselves - as may everyone else. 

However, no one makes another person act violently, it is a choice. When a person is provoked to anger, they can choose how to respond, and many possible responses are available. Even if a violent incident is preceded by a heated verbal argument, nothing - either words or actions justifies violence against a person, except in cases of self-defense (in which the violence used must, by law, be the minimum needed to stop the threat).

Q:  Don't most batterers lose control during violent incidents and not know what they're doing?

A:  If batterers were truly out of control, as many claim to be during violent incidents, there would be many more domestic violence homicides. In fact, many batterers do "control" their violence, abusing their victims in less visible places on their bodies, and they'd do so wherever they happened to be, rather than in the privacy of the home (which is where the majority of incidents occur). Furthermore, researchers have found that domestic violence occurs in cycles, and that episodes are preceded by a predictable, repeated pattern of behavior and decisions made by the batterer. If batters responded to ALL stresses with violence, they'd batter anyone who set them off...people OTHER than their spouses, and the research just doesn't support that this is the case.

Q:  Aren't there just as many cases of "husband battering" as wife battering, even if they aren't reported?

A:  Relatively few cases of husband battering show up in police records, clinics or anonymous random surveys.  Most probably this lack of reporting if due to the perception by male victims that "real" men aren't abused and therefore most are afraid to report female-on-male violence and being perceived as "less-than a man." The overwhelming portion of adult victims of intimate partner violence (domestic violence) are current or former wives, girlfriends or lovers of the batterer. The one exception to these findings is in the area of spousal homicide, the ratio of male to female victims is closer; around 60%/40% - men preferring a "hands on" and "face to face" method of killing, women tending to resort to a firearm. However, studies indicate that at least half of the male victims of domestic violence homicide are killed by their partners after a lengthy history of abuse.

Q:  Isn't intimate partner violence (domestic violence) a less serious problem - less lethal - than "real" violence, like street crimes?

A:  It is a terrible and unrecognized fact that for many people, home is the least safe place. Domestic violence accounts for a significant proportion of all serious crimes - aggravated assault, rape and homicide. Furthermore, when compare with stranger-to-stranger crime, rate of occurrence and levels of severity are still underrated for domestic violence.

Parts excerpted from "Domestic Violence: A Training Curriculum for Law Enforcement."