What is the cause of domestic violence? 01.08.06
Abusers choose to behave violently to get what they want and gain control. Their behaviour often originates from a sense of entitlement which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes.
Domestic violence against women by men is 'caused' by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. Perpetrators of domestic violence choose to behave abusively to get what they want and gain control. Their behaviour often originates from a sense of entitlement which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes. In this way, domestic violence by men against women can be seen as a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.
Should all domestic violence be seen in the context of power relations?
No, not all domestic violence occurs within a context of traditional power relations. Ultimately, responsibility for the violence must lie with the perpetrator of that violence, despite any societal influences that we may draw on in order to understand the context of the behaviour.
Is domestic violence a consequence of things such as stress?
Domestic violence is learned intentional behaviour rather than the consequence of stress, individual pathology, substance use or a 'dysfunctional' relationship. Perpetrators of domestic violence frequently avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour, by blaming their violence on someone or something else, denying it took place at all or minimising their behaviour.
Whilst responsibility for the actual violence is the perpetrator's alone, there are belief systems in our society that perpetuate abusive attitudes and make it difficult for women and children to get help. These include:
- Blaming the victim for the violence
- Putting the 'family' before the safety of women and children
- Tolerating the use of violence
- Privileging men over women and children's needs
- Treating domestic violence as a private matter
Research shows that violent men are most likely to perpetrate violence in response to their own sexual jealousy and possessiveness; their demands for domestic services; and in order to demonstrate male authority. Some men also believe that sex is another type of domestic service that they can demand. Violent men will also typically justify or ignore their behaviour by:
- Minimising the violence e.g., saying it was "just a slap" or "isn't that bad".
- Justifying the behaviour to themselves and blaming the victim.
- Denying the violence happened or refusing to talk about it and expecting the victim to just "move on". (Dobash & Dobash, 2000).
Can alcohol or drugs cause domestic violence?
The use (or misuse) of substance is not the underlying cause of domestic violence. Many people who drink too much or take drugs don't abuse their partners or family members. Likewise, abusers may be violent without the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Abusers who use alcohol or drugs may use this as an excuse for their behaviour saying "I was drunk" or "I don't remember". Even if they genuinely don't remember what they did, it doesn't remove responsibility for their behaviour. The causes of domestic violence are far more deep rooted than simply being an effect of intoxication or alcohol/drug dependency.
If an abuser is alcohol/drug dependent, it is important that this is treated in tandem with addressing the violent behaviour. Addressing only one without the other is unlikely to prove successful.
Women experiencing domestic violence may also turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of escape from the violence. Sometimes abusers will use their partner's addiction as an excuse for violent behaviour, saying they have been provoked into using violence. Excuses such as these are used by the perpetrator to deflect responsibility from themselves and put the blame for the violence onto the victim. In these situations it is vitally important not only for women to receive the support they need, but also for perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions. They should never be excused on account of the woman's alleged behaviour.
A study of 336 convicted offenders of domestic violence, found that alcohol was a feature in 62% of offences and 48% of offenders were alcohol dependent (Gilchrist et al, 2003).
One study of 60 women using crack cocaine in London found that 40% reported regular physical assaults from current partner – rising to 70% if past partners were included. (Bury et al, 1999).
Is domestic violence caused by a lack of control?
Domestic violence is about gaining control, not a lack of control. If an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive, then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate they are not 'out of control'. Abusers use violence and tactics of coercion as a way of exercising control and getting what they want.
Can domestic violence be caused by mental illness?
The vast majority of people with mental health problems do not abuse other people. However, there are a small number of people who are in mental distress who may behave abusively, though this may not be caused by the mental health problem itself.
If an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate they are making choices about their behaviour.
If an abuser is random and unpredictable, being abusive to strangers as well as people they know (eg in public and in the workplace), then mental illness may be a possibility. Even if this is the case, it still doesn't mean anyone must put up with abusive behaviour. In these situations, it is important that the safety of survivors is prioritised and that the person experiencing mental distress obtains the professional care they need.
Mental health issues are more likely to result from domestic violence than to cause it. Women who have experienced domestic violence have higher rates of mental illness: 64% experience post-traumatic stress disorder, 48% have depression, and 18% attempt or commit suicide .