Part 1: Basic Understandings of Violence in the Home


1.1 Defining Violence in the Home

1.2 The Cycle of Violence

1.3 How Violence in the Home Affects Women

1.4 How Violence in the Home Affects Men

1.5 How Violence in the Home Affects Children

1.6 Special Considerations for Peace Bridges


1.1 Defining Violence in the Home

Violence in the home has many names.(note 1) It may be called battery, assault, child abuse, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), family violence or domestic violence. It can involve parents, children, lovers, ex-spouses, or extended family. It can include physical, emotional, sexual, economic or spiritual abuse. Its affects can range from mild to severe, from temporary trauma to death. But whatever this violence is called and however it is categorized, there is no doubt that its effects are pervasive and destructive.(note 2)

A working understanding of violence in the home begins with a definition. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) define Intimate Partner Violence as "abuse that occurs between two people in a close relationship" that includes four types of behavior over a continuum from unique occurrence to habitual patterns:

Physical abuse is when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking, burning, or other physical force.

Sexual abuse is forcing a partner to take part in a sex act when the partner does not consent.

Threats of physical or sexual abuse include the use of words, gestures, weapons, or other means to communicate the intent to cause harm.

Emotional abuse is threatening a partner or his or her possessions or loved ones, or harming a partner’s sense of self-worth. Examples are stalking, name-calling, intimidation, or not letting a partner see friends and family. Often, IPV starts with emotional abuse. This behavior can progress to physical and/or sexual assault. Several types of IPV may occur together. (CDC 2006)(note 3)

In this review, language referring to the perpetrator will usually be male-oriented (he, him, the man, etc.), reflecting usage in the literature and subjects of available research studies, as well as affirming the significance of domestic violence as part of the tragedy of worldwide gender-based violence.(note 4) However, the literature indicated an ongoing controversy regarding family violence and gender. With this in mind, it is an appropriate to remember that victims of violence in the home are not limited to women and perpetrators of violence are not limited to adult men. (Archer 2002) Though studies highlighting intimate partner violence against men have been more limited than similar studies on women, a Canadian study indicated that "abused men were more likely than abused women to report having had something thrown at them or having been slapped, kicked, bitten or hit." Further, "similar proportions of women and men reported inflicting both minor and severe physical abuse on their partners." (Lupri and Grandin 2004: 4) The United States has shown similar patterns, where approximately 4.8 million women and 2.9 million men were victims of IPV physical assaults and rapes, with a resultant 1,544 deaths in 2004 (25% male, 75% female). (note 5) (CDC 2006)

Further, Young et al (2006) have noted that several other populations that have suffered from family violence have traditionally been overlooked. (note 6) Controversy surrounding this issue brought the development of the "Gender Inclusive Approach" to addressing domestic violence, with ten basic principles for researchers and practitioners to employ to enhance balance and effectiveness in addressing issues of family violence. (Hamel and Nicholls 2006; see also Holtzworth-Munroe 2005)

Typologies of Batterers

Intimate Partner Violence by men against women has been broadly categorized as "patriarchal/intimate terrorism" and "common/situational couple violence." The former group includes men who employ violence in order to dominate or control their family member(s). This violence typically incorporates all four types of behavior (physical assault, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, and threats/verbal violence), as well as using economic (e.g., financial support) and social leverage (e.g., isolation) to dominate others. In contrast, Common Couple Violence is more likely to be in response to the stress and pressures of life within the family. Where control is an issue, it is more likely to be a family member’s attempt to control what they perceive as out-of-control circumstances. While Patriarchal Terrorism indicates rage, Common Couple Violence indicates frustration. (Johnson 1995; Johnson and Leone 2005) A further difference is that Patriarchal Terrorism normally joins physical violence with psychological abuse as a strategy to subordinate their partner and exercise power. (Wexler 1999)

Perpetrators themselves have been sub-typed into three categories: Generally Violent/Antisocial Batterer (Type 1); Family-Only Batterer (Type 2), and Dysphoric/Borderline Batterer (Type 3). Type 1 batterers do not limit their violence to the home, use violence instrumentally (i.e., strategically for perceived gain), and are likely to engage in both criminal activity and substance abuse. Their psychological conditions are also very resistant to treatment. Type 2 batterers are usually violent only at home and are often provoked by jealous feelings for his partner. Their violence tends to erupt after a period of repressed anger, resentment, and bitterness. Type 3 batterers often present feelings of inadequacy, tend to misinterpret the actions of family members, are prone to blame others for their own negative emotions, struggle with effective communication, and are more “socially incompetent” than Type 1 or 2 batterers. (Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart 1994; Wexler 1999)

One special consideration with regard to these typologies is a study relating the perpetrator’s typology to partner forgiveness (Tsang and Stanford 2006). Specifically, victims of intimate partner violence were more forgiving toward Type 1 than Type 2/3 batterers.

For example, [a victim's] benevolence was related negatively and avoidance and revenge positively to [a perpetrator's] depression, paranoia, and schizophrenia. Additionally, avoidance and revenge were positively related to anxiety, drug problems, suicidal ideation and stress. In contrast, dominance in offenders was associated positively with benevolence and negatively with avoidance and revenge in victims. (Tsang and Stanford 2006: 11-12)

Empathy on the part of the victims was correlated with forgiveness. The authors hypothesized that victims of Type 1 batterers are more vulnerable to emotional manipulation and warned that “these data illustrate a vicious cycle between dominant batterers who continually elicit empathy from forgiving women, raising the possibility of tolerance for sustained abuse” (Tsang and Stanford 2006: 14). Similarly, victims of Type 2/3 batterers are perhaps less able to empathize with them due to their psychological and emotional volatility, even though these batterers respond better to treatment than Type 1 batterers. (note 7)

Finally, the utility of batterer typologies has also come under increased scrutiny, especially due to the ease by which these typologies can become reified. Typologies remain a source of controversy in the literature, both in the sense of proposals for competing models and in questioning the concept's validity and helpfulness. (Capaldi and Kim 2007) A more dyadic, less typological model proposed by Capaldi and Kim (2005) balances three areas of emphases: characteristics of all (not just one) partners in the violent cycle; risk context and contextual factors; and the interaction patterns within the relationships.

1.2 The Cycle of Violence

The existence of a system or cycle is a key part of what makes violence in the home destructive. The cycle begins anew in each generation as boys and girls are socialized, some in ways that tend to perpetuate violence. Some of the significant conditions for males include: learning a cultural acceptance of violence, especially against women in the society or the specific home; experiencing violence in the home as a child (as victim or witness); experiencing shame or rejection as a parenting technique; forming insecure attachments, especially to the mother. As an adult, these factors are expanded to include substance abuse; poor communication skills and a resultant inability to meet emotional needs; and chronic anger. (DeBeixedon and Zur)

Once in a violent relationship, a system develops within the family. The Walker Cycle Theory of Violence posits that intimate partner violence operates along three phases of a recurring battering cycle: 1) tension building, 2) the acute battering incident, and 3) loving-contrition. The first phase is characterized by growing indications that a violent incident is inevitable, accompanied by the woman's attempts to placate and calm the man. The last phase often includes the man employing actions similar to those used in courtship, though it may also be characterized by just a decrease in tension, without expressions of tenderness. Both of these patterns (placation by the woman and acts of tenderness by the man) might serve to reinforce the woman's belief that she has some measure of control in the relationship and can 'bring out the best' in the man. However, the second phase often means that the stakes involved in the cycle of violence are growing and that the cycle cannot sustain itself. Typically, as the relationship progresses through a repetition of this cycle, the first phase becomes more extreme as the last phase declines. Significantly, Walker demonstrated that women usually left the battering relationship only after they perceived this sharp divergence between the tension-building and loving-contrition phases. Women who remained in battering relationships were more likely to have received more positive reinforcement and also were less likely to be depressed. These trends indicate a continued cost and benefits scenario existing within the battering relationship. (Walker 2000)

Walker’s theory has been both influential and helpful in understanding domestic violence. However, it should be noted that not all couples experience violence in these terms. The theory exists as an aid to understanding those involved in the destructive patterns of violence in the home, and care must be made not to force people’s experiences into the cycle. Instead, sensitivity must be shown to those involved that communicates a sincere desire to listen and understand their story. For example, Wexler (1999) reported an alternative model of the cycle of domestic violence, the “Cycle of Feeling Avoidance,” proposed by Harway and Evans. This cycle focuses on the powerlessness that men commonly experience in difficult interpersonal relationships and is typical of men with low tolerance for aversive feelings. Circumstances where the man perceives personal injury, frustration, helplessness, shame, and other personal discomforts can set the cycle in motion.

In this model, violence, passivity (e.g., excessive apology), substance abuse, and other destructive behaviors are attempts to minimize the dysphoric states the man experiences in those relationships.

His wife's behavior, feelings, and "independent center of initiative" are peripheral to the fundamental drive for self-cohesion: he will do anything it takes to avoid the dysphoria and regain some measure of well-being. Often, this means gaining control over someone else. And, often, this means emotional, verbal, or physical abuse. (Wexler 1999)

Associating the need to relieve feelings of shame, helplessness, or loneliness with engaging in abusive, violent behavior is significant, especially in cultural contexts where parenting techniques employ shame and powerlessness as a discipline technique (see Section 1.5 How Violence in the Home Affects Children).

Aggravating Factors

No relationship exists in a vacuum, and often it is the daily stresses of life that provoke the cycle of violence. Common aggravating factors include: the increased frequency or duration of marital conflict due to "daily hassles;" lower socioeconomic status with the resultant pressures of lack of resources; an "unemployed perpetrator," especially when correlated with gender stereotypes, self-esteem issues, increased substance abuse (note 8), and financial stress; the establishment of a power or status gap between perpetrator and family members; and the isolation of the family from outside resources. (DeBeixedon and Zur)

Walker especially emphasized the latter, noting that women in battering relationships experienced the highest measures for social isolation. Escalating violence and serious injuries can motivate the woman to seek help beyond the privacy of the family, but usually only if they believe true help is available to them. Moreover, in cultures that value aggressive behavior, men experience a smaller cost in loss of status for violence in the home until the violence risks the disintegration of his family. Finally, complicating this situation is "the sex role socialization that teaches women to believe that they are responsible for the health, well-being, and psychological stability of their husbands." (Walker 2000: 136)

Relational Patterns

Once the cycle is established, couples often become habituated to and may not even recognize the cycle and the destructive violence it brings to the family system. Common patterns emerge from the cycle. Perpetrators may blame their victims for their violent actions (e.g., "I wouldn't have to hit you if you hadn't embarrassed me!"). The relationships are often characterized by more and more control of family members by the perpetrator as he assumes power over them. Relationships may also take on more rigid gender roles. Isolation, as mentioned above, also becomes more intense as the cycle continues. (DeBeixedon and Zur)

Even when the cycle seems to be broken (e.g., a spouse divorces an abusive partner or a child moves away), these relational patterns can too easily carry over to other relationships. Children who experience violence in the home are more at risk to enter abusive relationships as adults. Both batterers and those battered are often involved in multiple abusive relationships during their lives. Unfortunately, these patterns indicate

that the batterers and battered do not choose their partners randomly. This leads us to the painful conclusion that once the boundaries between love, care and violence have been blurred in sexual and physical childhood abuse, both victims and victimizers may re-enact this blurring of boundaries by repeatedly engaging in violent intimate relationships. (DeBeixedon and Zur)

The Systemic View of Violence

Another area of controversey in the literature, especially in family therapy, is the application of systems theory. Wright (2002) summarized the system's view of domestic violence as assuming:

(1) sexual or physical abuse serves a functional role in maintenance of the family system.

(2) with equal influence, each family member actively participates in perpetuating the dysfunctional system.

(3) violence against women occurs in family systems characterised by certain relationships structures.

(4) incest or battering is the product of an interactional contest characterised by repetitive sequences of transactional behaviour. (4)

Dell (1989) examined systems theory as a way of understanding domestic violence and its cycles. His major contribution was differentiating between two domains of power, explanation and experience. Even if a therapist prefers a systems approach to working with victims of domestic violence (explanation, amoral), effort must be made to connect with the feelings and experiences of the clients. Specifically, therapists must remember: 1) the suffering of victims in domestic violence is real, 2) systems theory is limited in addressing the responsibility of members of the system, and 3) members of the family may, therefore, view systemic analysis of the cycle of violence as "unfair, unacceptable, and even inhuman." (12) This criticism was furthered by McConaghy and Cottone (1998) in describing these two domains as exogenic (the "world of nature" that is "intrinsically amoral" and has circular causality) and endogenic (a "personal construction of reality" that interprets the world in moral terms and judges violence as morally wrong).(note 9)

1.3 How Violence in the Home Affects Women

Statistically, men are more likely to suffer violence from strangers and women from family members. A basic consideration, then, is that “women are often emotionally involved with and financially dependent upon those who abuse them,” a fact that shapes the experience of violence and influences how to best help end the cycle. The perpetrator often has power over the woman economically, physically, emotionally, and/or sexually.(note 10) (Heise 1999: 3) Whereas violence perpetrated by a stranger is often an isolated case, violence in the home tends to occur in cyclical patterns (see 1.2 The Cycle of Violence) with devastating affects on both physical and mental health.

Health Risks for Battered Women

Physical risks include homicide, serious injuries (requiring medical treatment), injuries complicating pregnancy, injuries to children, unplanned pregnancy, contraction of STDs (if the husband has been unfaithful), suicide, increased health costs, and decreased work productivity. (WHO 1997) In fact, a 1993 Canadian survey indicated that 33% of battered women had experienced violence at levels high enough that they feared for their lives. The terror inspired by high levels of physical violence and threats has a high cost, and many women have reported “that the psychological abuse and degradation are even more difficult to bear than the physical abuse.” (Heise 1999: 6) Campbell et al offered a further evaluation of health impacts by distinguishing between short term, presenting injuries (e.g., bodily injuries resulting from physical or sexual violence) and long term, less obvious injuries (e.g., central nervous system symptoms, functional gastrointestinal disorders, viral infections, cardiac problems, gynecological symptoms, etc.). (Campbell et al 2002) Risks associated with domestic violence have also been helpfully summarized in table form. (Heise 1999: 18)

Unfortunately, understanding the affects of violence in the home on women has been complicated by historical limitations and misconceptions in the psychological literature. Two of these misconceptions are crucial to note. First, psychological disturbances were viewed as a cause, rather than a syndrome resulting from, the abuse; second, battered women were too often misdiagnosed with a personality disorder or mental illness (rather than with a complex form of PTSD). These are of crucial importance; since battered women presented symptoms similar to women with serious mental illness, these symptoms could easily be misdiagnosed. In opposition to personality disorders, which tend to be resistant to treatment, women who have been traumatized by IPV often respond very well when removed to a safe environment and/or receive therapy. (Walker, 2000)

Psychological responses

Walker reported on a survey called the “Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS), which included a standardized test (Levenson’s 1972 locus of control scale). This test measured the degree the subject viewed control of their lives as “internal” (they have ability and competence to control circumstances in their lives) and “external” (people and situations have more control over the events of their lives). Contrary to expectation, battered women scored high on the internal scale. Walker hypothesized that this was due to a high percentage of battered women’s attempts to “avoid getting the batterer angry” by manipulating domestic routines, an attempt reinforced by a common belief (40%) of these women that they sometimes could control the batterer’s behavior. The corresponding low score on the external scale was explained by the hypothesis that acknowledging the power of the batterer in her life would also mean acknowledging an ultimate inability to change the batterer and/or her environment. (note 11) Further, battered women generally have a strong self-esteem, perhaps coming from coping with difficult circumstances, but are also at high-risk for depression. This risk for depression continues beyond the violent relationship and is most likely related to trauma recovery. (Walker 2000)

Finally, culture and psychology intersect in cases of violence in the home. For example, the AWS also studied perceptions of “the rights and roles of women” by women, parents, batterers and non-batterers. Factors that were considered in the survey population included gender, age, and education. Of significance was the finding that, while batterers and the fathers of battered women held traditional views on gender roles, battered women actually held more liberal views on gender roles. (Walker 2000)

Battered Women as Mothers

Parenting is not a simple task in the most ideal of circumstances, and it is inevitable that the stresses of living in violent circumstances affect how a mother cares for her children. On the one hand, battered women appear to be at a higher risk of becoming aggressive with their children. Compared with the general population, battered women are twice as likely to abuse their children. Significantly, this violence is correlated to the added stress that comes from living within the cycle of violence, since this abuse was eight times more likely to happen in threatening than in safe circumstances. Mothers reported that circumstances were aggravated by actions by the perpetrators to intentionally undermine their parenting practices and that these mothers most often altered their behaviors in the presence of the perpetrator. (Edleson et al 2003:14) This is especially important since, as Bancroft and Silverman (2002) reported,

“The emotional recovery of children who have been exposed to domestic violence appears to depend on the quality of their relationship with the non-battering parent more than on any other single factor..., and thus batterers who create tensions between mothers and children can sabotage the healing process.” (2-3)

On the other hand, battered women also respond to violence with nurture. One study showed

that 24 (25 percent) of the 95 mothers in their survey study stated that the violence toward them negatively affected their parenting, but 23 (24 percent) reported no negative effects on their parenting and 19 (20 percent) stated that the violence toward them increased their own empathy and caring for their children. Mothers in this last group commented that they curtailed negative parenting behaviors they might have used in order to compensate for the violence in the home. (Edleson et al 2003:15)

Even staying in the violent relationship can be a strategy to protect the children. Mothers cited economic, safety, and custody concerns when deciding whether to stay or leave. (Edleson et al 2003: 15)

1.4 How Violence in the Home Affects Men

The 'Abusive Personality'

Dutton et al (in press) analyzed the current literature on correlations between substance/alcohol abuse and domestic violence. This analysis led to a hypothesis that domestic assault and substance abuse are not causally related; rather, both are symptomatic of another, underlying variable. A research project that measured personality traits in men who were engaged in domestic violence and substance abuse was then conducted that employed a variety of measurements and scales on violence, substance abuse, and personality traits on 154 men who engaged in domestic violence in three subgroups (self-referred, court-referred, and incarcerated men). The results of this research generally supported the existence of "the abusive personality" characterized by a borderline style, trauma symptoms, and attachment anger. (Dutton et al, in press)

Dutton et al's summary of the findings is worth quoting in full:

The major finding in the current study is that a new potential third variable exists to link wife assault and alcoholism. This third variable is a personality constellation comprised of an insecure attachment style characterized by anxiousness and intimacy-anger (Dutton et al., 1994), which coupled with parental rejection and lack of warmth, produces dysphoria as an inevitable result of intimate attachment (Dutton, 1998). The abusive personality experiences frequent trauma symptoms, dysphoria, powerlessness and chronic anger connected to attachment or intimacy. Substance abuse in the current sample may represent an attempt to suppress this negative affect. ... The resulting profile is of a sub-group of wife assaulters who experienced parental rejection and who currently experience extreme anger/anxiety in intimacy. The chronic insecure attachment experienced by these men makes them prone to intermittent episodic rage that is accompanied by drinking and expressed through verbal abuse and violence." (in press)

Despite being a correlational study, Dutton et al have pointed researchers and practitioners in a very important direction. Both substance abuse and the episodic violence of batterers could be symptomatic of underlying issues.

Violent Men as Fathers

Parenting practices of violent men have been characterized as “more controlling and authoritarian, less consistent, and more likely to manipulate the children and undermine the mothers’ parenting than nonviolent fathers.” (Edleson et al 2003: 2) Likewise, they tended to be less involved in their children’s lives, more likely to use negative parenting techniques (e.g., spanking, yelling), and displayed anger with their children more often. (8)

From a psychoanalytical perspective, these tendencies can be related to a perpetrator’s own unhealthy childhood development and the resultant inability to set natural limits for their children. (note 12) Thus, the violent father can project “the disquieting parts of the inner self” onto the developmentally flexible and vulnerable child. In the end, a violent parental pedagogy serves the psychological needs of the parent, not the child. It is easy to see how this becomes a generational cycle, as children who have been punished “for qualities the parents hate in themselves” grow into parents who project those qualities on someone else. This projection, as long as it lasts, gives relief to the parent, who can then regard themselves as good. (Miller 2002)

However, children can also provide a motivation for a violent father to change his behavior, and children often want to continue relations with a violent father. Thus, understanding men as fathers is crucial to not just preventing further violence, but developing programs, policies, and resources for helping violent men become good fathers. (Mandel 2002)

1.5 How Violence in the Home Affects Children

While studies on adults are well documented, their children have often been overlooked. However, both researchers and practitioners have begun turning attention to children affected by violence in the home and have begun to uncover key findings of "severe and lasting effects." (UNICEF 2006: 3) In fact, if corporal and emotionally-manipulative punishment of children is included in the consideration, then perhaps only 3% of the world’s parents do not employ violence in some form against their children (Miller 2002). (note 13)

At the most basic level, “Child exposure to domestic violence has an estimated 40 percent rate of co-occurrence with child maltreatment” (Edleson 2003: 1). When we consider that up to 275 million children are exposed to domestic violence (UNICEF 2006: 5), child maltreatment related to violence in the home is one of the most significant issues in the world. This maltreatment may come from father alone (beating mother and child), mother alone (beating the child, often after being beaten by the father), or father and mother. Significantly, children who suffered violence at the hands of a father figure (biological or stepfather) were affected more than children who were abused by men who had a more minimal role in their life. The group at greatest risk is those children who both witness and experience violence in the home, an assessment supported by both clinical studies and child self-ratings. (Edleson 2003: 10-11) They are not only vulnerable in terms of development, but also in terms of risk of occurrence, since "studies show that domestic violence is more prevalent in homes with younger children than those with older children." (UNICEF 2006: 3)

But even children who are not physically assaulted have been affected. At a psychological level, even children who were "not direct victims have some of the same behavioural and psychological problems as children who are themselves physically abused." (UNICEF 2006: 3; Heise 1999:20) We have already noted that children who experience and/or witness violence in the home are at a greater risk to be violent themselves. (note 14) Many factors are involved in this increased risk. Children learn to accept what is accepted by their families and do what is modeled for them, especially if violent solutions are given preference to nonviolent ones. At a deeper level, these children can internalize a persistent state of fear, a state that is difficult to escape from and that results in “impulsive, reactive violence.” While girls tend to dissociate at this level, boys tend to persist in a ‘fight-or-flight’ state. (note 15) When a person becomes stuck like this, they persistently perceive their environment as threatening and react defensively. These responses, useful for immediate survival, become maladaptive as the child grows up. (Perry 1997)

If during development, this stress response apparatus is required to be persistently active, a commesurate [sic] stress response apparatus in the central nervous system will develop in response to constant threat. These stress-response neural systems (and all functions they mediate) will be overactive and hypersensitive. It is highly adaptive for a child growing up in a violent, chaotic environment to be hypersensitive to external stimuli, to be hypervigilant, and to be in a persistent stress-response state. In most cases, however, these "survival tactics" ill-serve the child when the environment changes. (Perry 1997)

Further examples include higher than average rates of both antisocial and inhibited behaviors, lower social competence, and presentations of “anxiety, depression, trauma symptoms, and temperament problems.” (Edleson 2003: 10; UNICEF 3; Heise 1999: 20)

Factors in Assessing Impact on Children

Edleson (2003) has suggested seven factors to aid in understanding the impact of violence on children:

(1) the severity, frequency, and chronicity of violence in each family;

(2) the degree to which each child in the home is exposed to that violence;

(3) other risks to which a child may be exposed, such as domestic violence with new adult partners, caregiver substance abuse, or the presence of weapons in the home;

(4) the emotional and physical harm that exposure to violence produces for each child; (5) the risk of future harm to the children;

(6) the unique individual coping skills that a child brings to the situation; and

(7) varying protective factors present in a child’s life, such as a caring parent or sibling, extended-family member, or other adult (16)

Bancroft and Silverman (2002) further specified the potential sources for children to experience violence:

(1) Risk of exposure to threats or acts of violence towards their mother.

(2) Risk of [batterer] undermining mother-child relationships.

(3) Risk of physical or sexual abuse of the child by the batterer.

(4) Risk to children of the batterer as a role model.

(5) Risk of rigid, authoritarian parenting.

(6) Risk of neglectful or irresponsible parenting [especially by the batterer].

(7) Risk of psychological abuse and manipulation [especially by the batterer].

(8) Risk of abduction.

(9) Risk of exposure to violence in their father's new relationships. (2-4)

The latter risk factors are especially supported by research that studied the relationship between four factors in children: shame, anger, age, and type of abuse. Specifically, shame mediates between anger and maladaptive behavior problems, and children assessed with shame-proneness are at higher risk for behavior problems. In these cases, anger is typically not an adaptive strategy, but "in association with shame it may reflect hostility, a maladaptive, antisocial emotion." (Bennett et al 2005: 319)

Violence, Brain Development & Adult Perpetration

Because humans are social animals with complex brains, the development of the brain is heavily influenced by caretaking relationships experienced in childhood. “Early life experience determines core neurobiology.” Experiencing and/or witnessing violent behavior by a child, especially within the context of those primary caretaking relationships, affects brain development and can predispose a child to further violence. (note 16) Specifically, experiencing violence can affect the development of cortical, sub-cortical, and limbic areas of the child’s brain. This can freeze the child’s reactions to stimuli into the immature (and, as the child grows in size and strength, increasingly violent) behavior normally expected of very young children (e.g., hitting, kicking, biting, pulling hair, etc.).

Essential to understanding the neurobiology of violence is this: The brain's impulse-mediating capacity is related to the ratio between the excitatory activity of the lower, more-primitive portions of the brain and the modulating activity of higher, sub-cortical and cortical areas.... Any factors which increase the activity or reactivity of the brainstem (e.g., chronic traumatic stress) or decrease the moderating capacity of the limbic or cortical areas (e.g., neglect, EtOH(note 17) will increase an individual's aggressivity, impulsivity and capacity to display violence.... The effects of emotional neglect in childhood predispose to violence by decreasing the strength of the sub-cortical and cortical impulse-modulating capacity and by decreasing the value of other humans due to an incapacity [sic] to empathize or sympathize with them. This decreased value of humans means that there is a much lower threshold for the unattached person to act in an antisocial fashion to gratify their impulses. (Perry 1997)

Since the majority of violence in Western society takes place in the home, what should be a safe environment can become the place where a child is neurologically conditioned for accepting and engaging in violent behavior. (note 18)

Nevertheless, most children who experience violence do not become adult perpetrators. (note 19) Lisak, Hopper, and Song have indicated the possibility of two divergent pathways for (male) survivors of childhood violence, especially sexual abuse. In the first path, a male child victim may experience psychological distress, especially with regard to gender identity. This was, in fact, positively correlated to developing empathetic abilities and rejecting violent behavior, especially as gender identity is related to culturally communicated gender stereotypes and gender rigidity. (note 20)

Significantly, Lisak et al (1996) also correlated the violent pathway with an inability to empathize with others. This inability is related to the victim’s attempt to suppress the volatile emotional states stemming from the abuse by adopting stereotypical masculinity.

Heaving sealed himself off from his own pain, the perpetrator may well seal off his capacity to feel the pain of others, and thereby diminish a crucial inhibition against interpersonal violence. Simultaneously, his rigid gender conformity may accentuate his reliance on anger as a culturally acceptable outlet for his emotions, again increasing his propensity for aggressive interpersonal behavior.” (739-740)

As Perry (1997) noted, important variables affecting the impact of violence on brain development include the type and pattern of violence, the presence of supportive adults, and the child’s age. Following Lisak, Hopper, and Song, this list might also specifically include teaching and support directly related to gender stereotypes and empathy.

Factors in Children’s Emotional Recovery from Violence

Obvious attention needs to be given to physical and other injuries children receive from violence in the home. However, long-term emotional recovery and its relation to breaking the cycle of violence from spreading to another generation should not be overlooked.

Bancroft and Silverman have outlined 6 factors that contribute to a child's initial recovery from violence:

(1) A sense of physical and emotional safety in their current surroundings.

(2) Structure, limits and predictability.

(3) A strong bond to the non-battering parent.

(4) Not to feel responsible to take care of adults.

(5) A strong bond to their siblings.

(6) Contact with the battering parent [only] with strong protection for children's physical and emotional safety. (Bancroft and Silverman 2002: 4-5)

Similarly, Pinheiro has listed four Key Skills that children need to develop to optimize long-term recovery:

(1) skills to identify, process and regulate emotion;

(2) anxiety management skills;

(3) skills to identify and alter inaccurate perceptions; and

(4) problem-solving skills. (note 21)

Finally, engaging the social practices that allow family violence can provide continuing support for adult victims of childhood violence and help protect them from committing violence against their own children. (note 22)

1.6 Special Considerations for Peace Bridges

Several issues indicate significant opportunities for Peace Bridges. First, the social isolation of battered women implies that programs must be built on a very strong foundation of trust and communication in a community. Second, gender stereotypes are a definite factor in domestic violence. Peace Bridges is well equipped to address these foundational concepts. Third, awareness of the high risk for depression after exiting a violent relationship indicates again the importance of community resources for battered women, especially when combined with the stress of social isolation. Tools for community care groups and trauma healing are examples of potentially appropriate responses from Peace Bridges.

Fourth, the theory of an Abusive Personality suggests that programs that impact trauma healing, attachment disorders, anger issues, etc. are also potentially contributing to the prevention of domestic violence incidents. This could include the preventative measure of addressing the needs of children living in homes where there is domestic violence. A further implication is that communities that provide emotional support for men with a tendency to episodic violence are impacting domestic violence. Both of these scenarios represent more plausible programs for Peace Bridges than a program using interventions in violent circumstances.

Fifth, the importance of the impact of violence on children in perpetuating the cycle of violence is another crucial area for consideration. Partners and peacebuilders who work with children could be educated and equipped to recognize and bring healing to children and, in the long term, the broader society.

Sixth, the literature denotes both the seriousness of the crisis and the possibilities for change. Peace Bridges must be hopeful, but also realistic, about the types of programs and interventions that are appropriate to engage in, especially when considering the potential volatile situations that family violence can bring.

Finally, the literature challenges practitioners to rethink family violence: its causes, its cycles, its effects, and even the relationships between victims and perpetrators. Studies like those included in this review indicate directions to explore, theories to consider, and starting places for creative thinking for helping families cultivate peace. While the bulk of studies (and, therefore, the majority of this review) has focused on violence of men toward women and children, practitioners should always bear in mind the admonition of Young et al:

It is equally important to examine the full context and complexities of family violence: To seriously recognize members of either gender as primary abusers and violent perpetrators; the existence of mutual couples violence; sequential intimate violence where current abusers were past victims of abuse in the same relationship; violence by children toward parents; sibling violence; parental abuse of children and violence in general within the kinship family system. A sincere and concerted effort must be made to avoid simplistic yet appealing dichotomies of victim/perpetrator. (Young et al 2006: 9)

The literature does not speak with a single voice, but with the many cries of victims and witnesses. Perhaps the most important lesson of the literature, then, is for practitioners to see the theories and controversies as tools for understanding people; they are never substitutes for the people themselves.


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1 Indeed, the name is the first controversy one encounters in the literature. "There is still no universally agreed-upon terminology for referring to violence against women. Many of the most commonly used terms have different meanings in different regions, and are derived from diverse theoretical perspectives and disciplines." (Ellsberg & Heise 2005: 10) For example, psychologists have often preferred the term 'family violence,' while many feminist researchers object to its gender-neutral language and prefer a broader term like 'gender-based violence.' (ibid, 11) For our purposes, we have tended to use these names interchangeably except where noted.

2 “The profound impact of domestic violence, community violence, physical and sexual abuse and other forms of predatory or impulsive assault can not be overestimated. Violence impacts the victims, the witnesses -- and, ultimately, us all. Understanding and modifying our violent nature will determine, in large part, the degree to which we will successfully 'adapt' to the challenges of the future --the degree to which future generations of human beings can actually experience humanity.” (Perry 1997: 124)

3 Other types of abuse become prominent in particular cultural/historical contexts (e.g., coercion through destruction of property; or economic coercion, where a violent partner uses financial support as part of a control mechanism to leverage power over the spouse). These will be noted where appropriate.

4 In fact, “The single most powerful risk marker for becoming a victim of violence is to be a woman.” (Walker 1999: 23) See also Kishor and Johnson (2004) for comprehensive statistics of the worldwide situation of women suffering from domestic violence. 5 This last statistic indicated another important trend in IPV, namely that the rate of male violence against a female tends to increase with the assault's seriousness: "For example, women were two to three times more likely than men to report that an intimate partner threw something that could hurt or pushed, grabbed, or shoved them. However, they were 7 to 14 times more likely to report that an intimate partner beat them up, choked or tried to drown them, threatened them with a gun, or actually used a gun on them." (Tjaden and Thoennes 1998:7)

6 In addition to adult men, Young et al (2006) add: homosexuals, the elderly, teens, and victims of severe sibling violence to the list of underserved victims. (11)

7 “Clinicians may help partners of dominant abusers think more critically about forgiveness, which may be influenced more by partners’ charismatic personality rather than by any mitigation of abuse. Clinicians might also use this data to help partners of impulsive abusers, who may be hesitant to forgive given the abuser’s wide range of problems without realizing that impulsive abusers are more likely than dominant abusers to respond to treatment...” (Tsang and Stanford 2006: 14-15)

8 “It is often the intoxicating agents that allow expression of the neurodevelopmentally-determined pre-disposition for violence.” (Perry 1997)

9 For a more general criticism of Systems Theory on a similar theme, see Berman (1996).

10 “Physical violence in intimate relationships almost always is accompanied by psychological abuse and, in one-third to over one-half of cases, by sexual abuse.” (Heise 1999: 5)

11 “The reality is that he does have control-by keeping her in fear of receiving another beating if she doesn't prevent him from getting angry.” (Walker 2000)

12 “Crucial for healthy development [of children] is the respect [from] their care givers, tolerance for their feelings, awareness of their needs and grievances, and authenticity on the part of their parents, whose own freedom--and not pedagogical considerations--sets natural limits for children.” (Miller 2002: 98)

13 Works like Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good and Babette Rothschild’s The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, while beyond the scope of this review, are an important contribution to understanding how experiencing trauma, including culturally acceptable forms of violence, can contribute to psychological disorders and the social conditioning of victims to violence. The former book concentrates on corporal punishment and its effects, while the latter explores the affects of trauma on the brains and bodies of trauma victims. Both concepts deserve attention for those seeking to understand the impacts of domestic violence on children.

14 "Several studies also reveal that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be affected by violence as adults – either as victims or perpetrators." (UNICEF 2006: 3)

15 However, girls exhibit more aggressive behavior as they grow older and preschool children exposed to violence exhibit more problems than any other age group. (Edleson 2003: 11)

16 Violent behavior engaged in by a child will also impact brain development. (Perry 1997)

17 EtOH, ethyl alcohol, is studied to investigate the relationship of alcohol consumption to aggression.

18 “Understanding the roots of community and predatory violence is impossible unless the effects of intrafamilial violence, abuse and neglect on the development of the child are examined. Indeed, the adolescents and adults responsible for community and predatory violence likely developed the emotional, behavioral, cognitive and physiological characteristics which mediate these violent behaviors as a result of intrafamilial violence during childhood.” (Perry 1997)

19 That is, most perpetrators experienced childhood violence, but most childhood victims do NOT become adult perpetrators. For example, in one study, 38% of male child victims reported adult perpetration, while 70% of adult perpetrators reported experiencing childhood violence. (Lisak, Hopper, and Song: 721)

20 “One startling finding was revealed in comparisons of nonperpetrating abused men and nonabused men. Abused men, particularly those who were sexually abused, actually appeared to be better adjusted than nonabused men on measures of gender stress, emotional constriction and homophobia.” (Lisak, Hopper and Song 1996: 739)

21 “Trauma-specific cognitive behavioural interventions appear to be particularly effective in reducing victims’ anxiety, depression, sexual concerns and symptoms of PTSD.” (Pinheiro 2006: 84-85) Further, these four Key Skills are very similar to the four skills developed in Dialectial Behavior Therapy (respectively, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Mindfulness, and Interpersonal Effectiveness). See Dimeff and Koerner (2007).

22 “Efforts to eliminate harmful traditional practices have illustrated the importance of intervening at multiple levels – parents and families will find it hard to change their behaviour if the norms and behaviour in the wider community do not change.” (Pinheiro 2006: 88)

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