Domestic violence

Phases and dynamics of domestic violence

Women often remain in relationships where they experience violence. There are reasons for this.

Again and again the question is raised: why do women affected by domestic violence fail to leave the perpetrator of the violence? The psychologist Leonore E. Walker developed the cycle theory of violence, according to which women try to trivialise situations of tension, and take pains to appease their partners (care, compliance, withdrawal). During the open violence that follows, they feel helpless; they cannot predict when an outbreak of violence will occur or what it will involve, nor can they prevent or reduce the violence through their own behaviour. According to Walker, the victims then try to “cover up” the injuries so as not to challenge the man to commit further assaults, and make them invisible to others.

After the violence has happened, the perpetrators often display caring, tender and contrite behaviour. They ask their partners for forgiveness and promise never to use violence again. According to Walker, these efforts result in the women affected neglecting short-term realistic appraisals of the situation and danger; feelings of rage and fear fade into the background.

Women who go through this cycle for the first time hope that the violence will end. According to this theory, women who have gone through this cycle several times are aware that they forego their safety and well-being for this idealised state. This is conducive towards their self-deprecation and humiliation.

Moreover, social influencing factors and socialisation conditions are important: girls and women are systematically told that their personal value is not first and foremost based on their capacities, but on their appeal to men and their relationship with men. Girls and women are brought up to become passive and acquiescent and not active. What is more, violence is still trivialised by society. Violence by a partner is seen with many prejudices (e.g. “Cads' fighting when ended is soon mended“).

Social-psychological theories suggest universally valid explanations for the stabilisation of violence dynamics, irrespective of the fact that domestic violence describes complex and diversified experiences and types of behaviour whose dynamics can vary greatly. The motivations of women affected (e.g. not wanting to split up with their partners) can also be very different. They are certainly not merely based on psychological factors, such as helplessness, ambivalence or dependence.

On the contrary, there is a whole string of possible external obstacles, such as economic aspects for instance, to breaking up with someone. They need to be taken into account on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, the decision not to break up with the violent perpetrator can be a rational and reasonable decision, e.g. if the danger to the woman herself or any children involved were to increase greatly due to the separation. This is often the case. If a watertight protection and intervention system existed there would possibly be more breakups.

To sum up, the following factors may lead to the stabilisation of a violent relationship:

  • (paralysing) fear of the violent criminal’s reaction to each of her attempts to clearing a space or breaking up. (The period of separation is the most dangerous time. Most abuses and  killings occur during this period of time.);
  • realistic threat analysis and inadequate means of protection;
  • emotional ambivalence and insecurity of the woman towards the violent criminal, whose behaviour often alternates between seemingly affectionate and violent phases (partial identification of the victim with the perpetrator; this is called the Stockholm syndrome);
  • fear of losing one’s children, fear of the “shame” of not being capable of ensuring a harmonious family life as a wife and mother;
  • rejecting reactions in the women’s environment; suspicion or experience that often it is not the male perpetrator but the female victim that is held responsible by society (“She provoked him.“);
  • economic factors, which constitute an economic dependence of the women (statistically speaking, women have 44% less per-capita income than men (7%) after a divorce;
  • legal factors