Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Preventing Domestic Violence: What About The Potential Abusers?

On the Thursday April 15th Oprah Show, Gavin De Becker, the author of the book The Gift of Fear along with a woman, identified as Teri, who survived an attempted murder attack by her ex-husband were the featured guests with the topic being how to help women recognize danger signs that a man she has or had a relationship with could escalate to intimate partner murder.

The more involved I get in primary prevention the more I notice the gaps in discussions about domestic violence.

The most important thing De Becker said is, "there is no role for fear in marriage." He was addressing this comment to women who experience fear early in a relationship with a man, but this is an even more critical message for men who use women's fear, especially of violence, as a relationship tool. Being alone must be seen as being better than being a domestic bully or a domestic terrorist. This is true of all who are tempted to use fear of violence as a tool.

What I absolutely disagree with De Becker on is his statement about domestic violence that the first time you are a victim, the second time you are volunteer. This is inaccurate and in no way helps women be safer. It not only victim blames, it feeds into rationalizations of abusers and callousness of bystanders.

There are ways to state that victims of domestic violence have choices, including ones they may not be aware of, without denying the reality that people can be victims of ongoing domestic violence.

Making choices based on fear is often dismissed as irrational, but those who are extremely afraid may have a more realistic view of the situation or person they fear than those who think of themselves as completely rational. Women who have reached out for the best help available in their effort to safely get away from an abuser have been murdered.

Deflection by potential victims of domestic violence is an imperfect process. One woman may escape a man willing to abuse or even murder, but that does nothing to reduce the potential violence from that man toward other women who don't evade or toward others who interfere in some way which can include the police. That successful deflection does nothing to reduce the rate at which other men are willing to abuse.

By the time a man has taken actions which cause him to be assessed as high risk for escalating violence through the 46 question Mosaic screening test for domestic violence too many opportunities have been missed for him to make choices where he wouldn't be a danger. When we talk about volunteers in domestic abuse we need to be talking about abusers not those they abuse.

An important aspect of this episode was De Becker's emphasis not just on getting out of an abusive relationship but on the critical importance of getting expert help to deal with danger which goes up when the relationship ends. For some women the men they are leaving are so dangerous and so determined to punish those who dare to leave them that those women need the same protection as if they were going into a witness protection program.

The mindset of some men toward women who leave them reminds me of historical accounts about the inhumane way some prison wardens viewed escaped prisoners. This mindset explains why these men can escalate to murder and continue to blame their victim and can continue to view themselves as upstanding citizens.

Because primary prevention is so important at reducing the latent danger and yet is so often overlooked, I need to highlight that people can assess their own level of danger to others. Many of those who abuse choose not to do this assessment accurately because they don't want to take responsibility, but this is a choice not an inability.

To look at this advice from the perspective of those who can prevent their own abusive behaviors I've taken some of the attributes of danger De Becker discussed and switched the audience from potential abuse victims to potential abusers.

So here are my adapted warning signs that you are committing or could commit acts of domestic violence. If you recognize any of these warning signs you are not currently a safe person when you are in a relationship. Look for these signs early in a relationship or potential relationship and take preventative actions quickly since you will be less invested in controlling that other person at the early stages than after months or years. Do not blame the other person if you detect any of these warning signs.

The first 4, which I've adapted and reordered, are primary warning signs. Because of the vastly different rate of intimate partner murder based on gender, the same warning signs detected by a man within himself must be treated as a risk of more severe violence.

1) Your pace at the beginning of a relationship is accelerated and you push or manipulate the other person to let you move the relationship faster than the other person is ready for or to a place they don't want to go.

2) You are persistent at getting what you want from another person after getting a "no" or other non-willing response from that person.

These are warning signs because they both disregard the other person at a very basic human level. If a relationship is built on one person's disregard for the other person nothing the disregarded person does can fix this dangerously flawed foundation.

Once those who disregard the other person in a relationship feel that they have rights over the other person that provides the foundation for all types of abuse without the abuser feeling any guilt.

The next 2 warning signs are about more directly abusive behaviors which are warning signs for the escalation of violence.

3) You are considering or have committed symbolic violence such as destroying wedding pictures or objects which are important to the other person to intimidate or control that person.

4) You use or are tempted to use physical violence, including pushing, for any reason other than genuine self-defense against a physical attack.

Getting a woman to buckle means you have failed since you are not the equivalent of a prison warden breaking a prisoner to comply or else. Depending on the context of that buckling, you could be committing a felony and have nobody but yourself to blame for that crime and any negative consequences you experience.

Here are other warning signs:

5) Your gifts to partners or potential partners have primarily been things which you continue to have control over or are things you can use to control or monitor the other person.

6) You have failed to take responsibility for your own actions and instead looked to blame others.

7) You have responded to conflict by using threats or intimidation.

8) You have harassed other people.

9) You have failed to comply with court orders.

10) You abuse drugs or alcohol.

11) You lure another person into a relationship with you rather than developing a relationship with the other person.

12) You give orders in a relationship.

13) You believe having someone do everything you want is a sign of being loved.

14) You want children with the other person at least in part because that will give you a bond the other person cannot break.

15) You place less value on the other person's opinion or welfare than on your own opinion or welfare.

16) You believe being married makes the other person your property.

Hitting or choking someone you are in a relationship isn't a clue that you are an abuser, it ends the mystery about whether you are an abuser or not. If you cannot or will not stop yourself from violence, you need to get out and stay out until you can and will refrain from abuse.

Don't try to talk someone else out of their fear response to something you did. Learn from their fear so that you change your behavior so that those closest to you never have reason to fear you.

Remember if you abuse you are a volunteer to the abuse and you have other non-abusive choices. People may ask her why she stays, but they should be asking abusers, "Why do you continue to harm?"


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:21 PM   1 comments links to this post


At April 21, 2010 9:18 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

I have nothing else to say at this time except THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!! for taking on this topic. Marcella, you are just so incredibly awesome. :)


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