An American football hero racing on the freeway in a white Ford Bronco, finally stopping in front of his luxurious home. Six years or more ago this scenario would have sounded like a clever advertisement campaign. Replay the same scenario from 1994 forward and almost all Americans will vividly recall the death of Nicole Simpson and her ex-husband (0.J. Simpson) fleeing the police with a gun to his head. This single event thrust the serious and deadly topic of domestic violence awareness into the spotlight of the world.
There are numerous dynamics that make up the deviant nature of domestic violence. I will summarize five articles that discuss some of the aspects of domestic violence and some of the ways society in the United States combats it.
Although domestic violence touches all walks of life, government and academic studies consistently demonstrate that the majority of victims in heterosexual relationships are female and that batterers in heterosexual relationships are overwhelmingly male. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997) Battering also occurs in lesbian and gay relationships, and the use of gender specific language should not be construed to mean that domestic violence exists only in heterosexual relationships.? Victims may be doctors, business professionals, scientists or judges, among others. Perpetrators may be police officers, sports heroes, CEOs or college professors. Unlike victims, perpetrators do have at least two common traits — the majority of perpetrators (1) witnessed domestic violence in their family and (2) are male. (Hotaling & Sugarman, 1986; Stratus, 1980)?
There are many other staggering statistics pertaining to domestic violence, too many to list them all. a woman is beaten every nine seconds in the United States. Domestic violence is the most under reported crime in the country, with the actual incidence 10 times higher than is reported. By the most conservative estimate, each year 1 million women suffer nonfatal violence by an intimate partner.?Nearly one in three adult women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood.?Forty-seven percent of men who beat their wives do so at least three times per year. Domestic violence also has immediate and long-term detrimental effects on children. Each year, an estimated 3.3 million children are exposed to violence by family members against their mothers or female caretakers. In homes were partner abuse occurs, children are 1,500 times more likely to be abused. Forty to sixty percent of men who abuse women also abuse children. A study in 1997 showed 27 percent of domestic homicide victims were children and when children are killed during a domestic dispute, 90 percent are under age 10; 56 percent are under age 2.
An article found on the American Bar Association Web page addresses the myths and facts about domestic violence. The first myth is that victims of domestic violence have psychological disorders. People who are not abused think the victims of domestic violence must be sick or they would not take the abuse. When, in reality, most victims are not mentally ill, although people with mental disabilities are not immune from being abused. Some victims of domestic violence suffer psychological effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, as a result of being abused. (Dutton, The Dynamics of Domestic Violence, 1994) Another myth is batterers abuse their partners or spouses because of alcohol or drug abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse does not cause a perpetrator to abuse the victim although it is frequently used as an excuse. Substance abuse may increase frequency or severity of the abuse. (Jillson & Scott, 1996) another myth is that law enforcement and the court system, for instance arresting batterers or issuing civil protection orders, are useless. Conclusions drawn from research studies in this area have brought two conflicting results. (See Buzawa & Buzawa, 1996; Sherman & Berk, 1984; Zorza, 1994) Police officers must make arrests, prosecutors must prosecute domestic violence cases, and courts must enforce orders and handout stiff sentences for criminal convictions.
In the mid-1970s battered women’s shelters were just beginning and the main focus was developing services for the victims. Providing services and looking out of the needs of the perpetrator was not a priority. It was thought that focusing on the perpetrator was just another way men took priority over women in our society. In 1977 Dr. Daniel Jay Sonkin started calling the local battered women’s shelters. Six months later he finally got to a return call from a director of one of the shelters. After meeting with a director they realized there was a mutual need each could provide for the other. In order for Dr. Sonkin to get experience with counseling batterers the director allowed to him to attend hotline training. The shelter needed something to do with all the male perpetrators calling their hotline looking for their partners who may have been residents of the shelter. After attending hotline training the shelter would refer all phone calls from the men to him. The phone calls started flooding in to Dr. Sonkin. Most of the calls were crisis intervention counseling in nature. The phone counseling led to one-on-one counseling which, because of popularity led to group counseling and support groups. At the same time other similar groups performing across the country. One innovative therapist was developing a court mandated counseling program in Santa Barbara. Dr. Sonkin acknowledges during this period of time that he and other therapist were flying the seat of their pants. Most of their knowledge came from alcohol and drug treatment and they utilized whatever behavioral and cognitive interventions seemed to fit the situation. He went on to point out that there was an important social perspective to their work that was heavily imposed by the feminist movement. It was believed the violence was not just an individual or family problem, but a social problem rooted in the devaluation of women in general.
Also during the ’70s the battered women’s movement began to focus attention on the criminal justice system as being one solution to the problem. Until this time, mediation, counseling and non-criminalization was the typical way these cases were handled. Law enforcement viewed domestic violence as a family problem not a criminal problem. Advocates turned her attention to reforming the police and the courts. California as well as other states passed pretrial diversion laws to begin addressing domestic violence as a criminal problem. The courts mandated batterers into counseling or education programs and if they successfully completed the programs their record would be expunged. Dr. Sonkin felt diversion was good for its time, primarily because battered women had almost no protection from the criminal justice system prior to this. The diversion was good in that defendants were only offered it once every seven years and was only offered in misdemeanor cases. The downside to diversion was that it was only offered to misdemeanor defendants, and many felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors to give the batterer the option of diversion rather than jail.
In the 1980s more funding was becoming available for counseling programs aimed at the male batterers. The number of research studies focusing on the male batterer dramatically increased during this decade. During this highest point of popularity to date, providers started to fight amongst themselves on which was the “right” way to treat the male batterer. During the ’80s there was more pressure on the criminal justice system to punish the male batterer rather than offer diversion. With guilty verdicts hanging over the defendants head it was thought that they would take counseling more seriously. Towards the end of the 1980s the gap began to widen between the feminist groups and the mental health professionals and the feminists went to work at what was successful in the past — changing laws.
During the 1990s politics became more apparent than in the past. Victims rights groups put pressure on politicians to pass laws that counteracted the trend of defendants rights of the previous two decades. Many of these laws were reactionary to sensationalized crimes, which were highly publicized. The three strikes legislation in California was a good example of this. Dozens of laws were drafted as a result of the kidnapping and murder of a teenage girl and one was enacted. Domestic violence laws have also been reactionary in the past. Several years ago a law was passed saying that all mental health professionals must report a client who is being treated for domestic violence. The intention of this law was good however many women did not seek help of counselors for fear of their batterer being turned in. This law was amended within one year to only include positions treating physical injuries. Dr. Sonkin says he wouldn’t be surprised if a group of battered women advocates get a law passed to expand the special circumstances that qualify a defendant to be executed to include spousal murder. In 1995 the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 168. This new law requires the defendant to plead guilty immediately so his conviction comes before participation a treatment program. This way if the defendant fails to complete the treatment program the judge enters a guilty verdict and the defendant is remanded to custody. If the treatment program is completed the guilty plea is not entered into the court record. In addition to this probation departments are also given the responsibility to certify local treatment providers for batterers. Dr. Sonkin does not like this aspect of the law because the wording of the law does not specifically define providers as licensed counselors or therapists. Although many of the providers are licensed mental health professionals, many other people such as former probation officers, retired police officers and others offer their version of the treatment program. He believes this opens the door for commercialization and believes people developing batterer intervention programs may be doing it for a lucrative venture rather than the goal of helping people. His opinion goes on to say that this law is based on the feminist analysis of the problem of domestic violence and, in particular, the Duluth Model of treating male batterers. This perspective sees the causes of domestic violence being social rather than psychological. His view is the Duluth Model is narrow minded and the person who drafted this law presumed that the model is the most effective method of treating male batterers even though there’s no empirical research to date that supports his viewpoint. He does not believe that this viewpoint will bring about a reduction in domestic violence.
Dr. Sonkin does not claim to have a solution to the problem of domestic violence. He does believe that passing legislation such as Assembly Bill 168 that inhibits people from developing new approaches is not the answer. He believes that flexibility needs to return so providers and criminal justice personnel can develop plans that make sense in each individual case. The criminal justice system seems to like the way that the law is functioning currently because things run smoother. Dr. Sonkin says that just because the system run smoother it does not address the complex issues of this social problem and both the criminal justice system and health providers will need to develop complex solutions.
An article in Time magazine credits the death of Nicole Simpson for exposing the brutality of domestic violence, a subject that was traditionally kept silent. As a result of the Simpson drama, Americans are confronting the violence that may occur when love goes bad. The week after the Nicole Simpson’s death, phone calls to domestic violence hotlines surged to record numbers. Women who did not have the strength to leave their batterers in the past, suddenly found the strength to leave their homes and seek safety in shelters. Debbie Tucker, chairman of the National Domestic Violence Coalition of Public Policy was surprised that everybody was so shocked with Nicole Simpson’s death. She said “this happens all the time.” In Los Angeles, where calls to abuse hotlines were up 80 percent after Nicole’s death, experts sense a sort of awakening as women relate personally to the tragedy.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala has warned domestic violence is an unacknowledged epidemic in our society. After the Simpson tragedy the New York State legislature unanimously passed a bill the mandates arrest for any person who commits a domestic assault. California Legislature now has a computerize registry of restraining orders and, confiscates guns from men arrested for domestic violence.
The article criticizes law enforcement for under enforcing domestic violence laws, though many states require arrest when a reported domestic dispute turns violent. The article says police often walk away if the victim refuses to press charges, convinced that such battles are more private and less serious.
Batterers commit violence to maintain power in relationships. Men who batter believe they have the right to do whatever it takes to regain control. When a woman finally decides to leave or have the male batterer leave, he sometimes panics about losing his woman and will do anything to prevent from happening. The man may even stalk the woman or harass her by telephone.
Women are most in danger when they attempt to end a relationship. The two most dangerous actions, which are likely to produce a deadly result, are when a woman moves out of her residence and when she starts to date another man. The article hints that restraining orders, divorce papers, etc. are often seen by the man as a licensed to kill. Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist and a leading expert on homicide says, “a restraining order is a way of getting killed faster. Someone who is truly dangerous will see this as an extreme denial of what he’s entitled to, his God given right.” He goes on to say that the paper is a threat to his own life and he may engage in behavior that destroys the source of the threat. Victims can include children, a woman’s lawyer, the judge that issues the restraining order, or the cop who comes between.
Abuse experts do not believe that a man’s obsession of love can drive beyond all control. Some researchers believe that there is a physiological factor in domestic abuse. One study conducted by the University of Massachusetts medical center’s domestic violence research and treatment center found that 61 percent of men involved in marital violence have signs of severe head trauma.
One of the most frequent questions asked when a woman’s killed by her partner is “why didn’t she leave?” This question reflects a societal assumption that women have the primary responsibility for stopping abuse in a relationship. It is common for women who have been abused to have self-esteem problems and feel they deserve to be battered. Such perceptions are slowly beginning to change, again as a result of Simpson’s slaying. Peggy Kerns, a Colorado State legislator said, Simpson has almost legitimized the concerns and fears around domestic violence.
There are many reasons why battered women remain with their partners. One woman, Pam Butler, wrote an article attempting to answer this question. The male batterer usually sweeps his woman off her feet while they’re dating, never showing the evil side of themselves. Women fall in love with these men not knowing who they really are. The violence usually begins after the two get married. The battered victim does not want to believe the person that she married is doing this to her. The batterer tells the woman he does not know what came over him and makes excuses for what he has done. The battered victim wants desperately to believe anything other than they meant to batter her. As long as a victim believes anything but the truth, they will stay.
The batterer changes back and forth from the man they fell in love with to the man, who beats them, keeping the victim confused. When things are good the victims do not want to leave, and when they are being battered they are too weak to fight, and they give up. The batterer wears them down to the point that they only live to make him happy so they won’t be hurt.
Eventually the victim reaches a point where the fear of being injured or killed is too great, or they see their children being hurt, and they decide to leave. This is the time when something inside the victim changes. They are through being battered and decide to leave the situation. This could happen in seconds or could take years. This is time when most women are killed.
After leaving the batterer continues to harass and beg the victim to stay or come home. When the victim refuses the batterer often threatens to kill her, their children and her family. Miss Butler feels that America tolerates domestic violence and blames the victims for it. She feels the legal system is sometimes worse than the abuse she has suffered.
Why do most victims stay? Because if she leaves, the chances increase that the batterer may kill her. And if she wins in court, all she does is buy some time.
The statistics of domestic violence are shocking. Most Americans will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime, either as a victim, a friend of a victim, the children of a victim and batterer or the batterer himself. All of the articles reviewed in this paper have some similarities. Nobody has a perfect method to stop domestic violence. Domestic violence has shifted from a civil family problem (1970s and prior) to a criminal problem. It seems that the mental health professionals are the ones who truly see the abused person as the victim of this deviant behavior. The court system has traditionally treated the abused person harshly, and has been lenient with the perpetrator. The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, although tragic, shined the spotlight on the topic of domestic violence. Her murder also opened the eyes of many other victims and gave them the courage to leave their abusers.
Politicians and persons in elected positions have created many new programs and laws since Nicole Simpson’s death. In Los Angeles County the Victim Information & Notification Everyday (V.I.N.E.) program was developed to help the victims of domestic violence. When a suspect is arrested law enforcement officers are required to give the victim a pamphlet which provides information about the V.I.N.E. system as well as phone numbers for important programs and associations (shelters, counseling, etc.) V.I.N.E. is a free, anonymous, computer-based telephone program that provides victims of crime two important services: information and notification. Victims can call the than V.I.N.E. database and will quickly be told if the inmate is still in custody and provide custody location. The victim may register for an automated notification call when inmate is released or transferred.
The one thing that everybody agrees with concerning domestic violence, is all entities involved (mental health, law enforcement, court system, and probation) must work together to have a realistic goal of preventing this deviant behavior. Education programs similar to D.A.R.E. should be taught to school age children to stop patterns of abuse from being passed on from generation to generation.
American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family: report of the American psychological association presidential task force on violence in the family (1996), p. 10.
Butler, Pam. Why Does She Stay, Yahoo. CompuServe 2000 9 Aug. 1999 .
Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Sex Differences in Violent Victimization, 1994 (NCJ-146508) September 1997, p.4.
Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report: Violence against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey (NCJ-154348) August 1995,p.3.
Do Arrest and Restraining Orders Work? (Eve S. Buzawa & Carl G. Buzawa, eds., 1996); Lawrence W. Sherman & Richard A. Berk, The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment, Police Foundation Reports 1 (Apr. 1984); Joan Zorza, Must We Stop Arresting Batterers? Analysis and Policy Implications of New Police Domestic Violence Studies, 28 New Eng. L. Rev. 929 (1994).
Florida Governors Task Force on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Florida Mortality Review Project, 1997,p. 51, table 28.
Gerald T. Hotaling & David B. Sugarman, An Analysis of Risk Markers in Husband to Wife Violence: The Current State of Knowledge, 1(2) Violence and Victims 101,106 (1986); Murray A. Straus, Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family (1980).
Irene Anne Jillson & Bettina Scott, Violence, Women and Alcohol: Reducing the Risks, Redressing the Consequences, Dept of Health and Human Services, Draft Report, Jan. 1996.
Mary Ann Dutton, The Dynamics of Domestic Violence: Understanding the Response from Battered Women, 68 (9)Fla. Bar J. 24, 26 (1994).
Myths and Facts about Domestic Violence, The Commission on Domestic Violence. 1998, Yahoo. CompuServe 2000 8 August 1999. .
Smolowe, Jill. When Violence Hits Home. Time Magazine 4 July 1994. 8 Aug. 1999 .
Who Is Most Likely to Be Affected by Domestic Violence, The Commission on Domestic Violence. 1997, Yahoo. CompuServe 2000 8 August 1999. .