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Characteristics of Domestic Violence

Mable Dunbar by Mable C. Dunbar, PhD

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence or abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviors that are purposeful, and directed at achieving compliance from and over a victim without regard for his or her rights. These behaviors can be perpetrated by adults or adolescents against their intimate partner or significant other in current or former dating, married or cohabiting relationships. Domestic violence is a combination of physical force or terror designed to cause physical, psychological, social, religious, economic, mental and emotional harm to victims.

Statistics indicate that more violent victimizations are committed by men against women. "In 1990, the National Crime Survey estimated that, for the years 1979-1987, at least 626,000 violent victimizations of women were committed by husbands or boyfriends each year." (Antonia C. Novello, "From the Surgeon General, U.S. Public Service, A Medical Response to Domestic Violence, "Journal of the American Medical Association, June 17, 1992, p. 3132). Therefore the terms batterer, perpetrator, and assailant are used interchangeably to define an abuser. The terms battered, abused, and survivor are used to define a victim. But please keep in mind that anyone can be an abuser or victim.

There are many forms of domestic violence and/or abuse: Physical, Sexual, Ritualistic, Verbal, Emotional, Religious, Silent, Elder, Economic, Using Children, Threats, Intimidation, Sibling, Cultural, Isolation, Personal, Institutional, and Witness Abuse, etc. But they all have the same common denominator: the perpetrator's desire to gain and maintain POWER and CONTROL in the relationship. In future issues we will describe these forms of abuse, causes and effects of the various forms of abuse, and prevention/ intervention strategies to help individuals and families experiencing abuse.

First of all we will discuss the four characteristics of domestic violence:



Very early in life children observe the relationship between their parents and/or care givers and other adults. If they live in abusive homes the messages they received often result in their development of dysfunctional ways of thinking and behaving as they grow and form intimate relationships. There appears to be a direct correlation between victims and perpetrators witnessing abuse in childhood and their initiation or tolerance of violence in adulthood. Note the following quotations:

"Adolescent boys exposed to domestic violence may use aggression as a predominant form of problem solving, may project blame onto others, and may exhibit a high degree of anxiety. Girls are more likely to display withdrawn, passive, clinging, and dependent behavior ("Fact Sheet on Children of Men Who Batter, " compiled by the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, 1993, p. 2).

"Violent men seem to have a number of common traits. A history of family violence ranks high on the list." (Caroline Knapp. "A Plague of Murders: Open Season to Women." The Boston Phoenix, August 1992).

"Studies of battered women indicate that a high percentage have come from abusive homes. Research on incest victims also points to a strong tendency for these individuals to become involved in battering or other assaultive relationships as adults. Herman has hypothesized that a history of childhood sexual or physical abuse, or witnessing the abuse of others in the home, may have the effect of making a woman less skilled at resisting abusive behavior and more apt to accept victimization as a part of the expected interactions of a family." (Angela Browne, "Assault and Homicide at Home: When Battered Women Kill," Advances in Applied Psychology: Vol. 3, Ed., M.J. Saks and L. Saxe, Hillsdale, J. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., p. 70.)

"Abused children are arrested by the police four times more often than non-abused children. (R. Gelles & M. Strauss, Intimate Violence, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998).

"Women who experience family violence as children are about one-third more likely to experience it in their marriages than women who did not." (Mark A. Schulman, A Survey of Spousal Violence Against Women in Kentucky, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 1987, p. 2).

"Parker and Schumacher reported that 68.4% of the abused wives in their study had mothers who had been similarly abused (Alan Rosenbaum and K. Daniel O'Leary, "Children: The Unintended Victims of Marital Violence," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. 51, No. 4., October 1981, pp. 694-695).

Sad to say we see abusive and violent behaviors in many of the children that come to our churches and schools. If we want our children to experience a fulfilling, productive, and abuse free life we must become positive role models for them, for children will live what they learn.

  • If a child lives with criticism, he/she learns to condemn
  • If a child lives with hostility, he/she learns to fight
  • If a child lives with ridicule, he/she learns to be shy
  • If a child lives with shame, he/she learns to feel guilty
  • If a child lives with tolerance, he/she learns to be patient
  • If a child lives with encouragement, he/she learns to appreciate
  • If a child lives with fairness, he/she learns justice
  • If a child lives with security, he/she learns to have faith
  • If a child lives with approval, he/she learns to like himself/herself
  • If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he/she learns to find love in the world.

    – Author Unknown

Our children are observing our behaviors, how we treat ourselves, how we treat each other at home, at church, and at school. They listen to what we say, how we say it, and whom we are talking about. We need to educate them about the various issues in life that can impact them negatively. We might talk them about rape, HIV, drugs, alcohol & smoking, (sometimes sex and abortion). We definitely talk to them about the ten commandments, keeping a holy day, not divorcing or committing adultery, respecting other people's property, not swearing, and keeping the civil laws. But how often do we talk to them about maintaining their individuality, and their identity so that they will not be in the position where another person has and/or maintains power and control over them? God has made each one of us, including our children with individual rights: the right to be, the right to individuality, the right to think, feel and act. "Every human being created in the image of God is endowed with a power akin to that of the creator-individuality, power to think and to do." Ellen G. White, Education, p. 17.

Even though domestic violence is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned by "the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2 Revised Standard Version

Next Issue: "Domestic Violence is A Selective"

Mable Dunbar, has a Ph.D. in Family Mediation, is a Licenced Professional Counselor, Certified Cognitive/Behavioral Therapist, and Certified Domestic Violence Counselor. She is founder of Women In Renewal, Inc (Michigan) and Polly’s Place Ministries (Spokane, WA).

On a part-time basis she is the Women’s Ministries Director and Family Life Education for the Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She also maintains a private counseling practice in Spokane, WA which assists individuals, families, and churches in crisis.

She is the author of "The Truth About Us: How To Discover The Potential God Have Given You." And a contributing author to: "Understanding Intimate Violence". She has also written numerous articles on abuse issues.





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