By: Mark Sandel
Summer 2003, Vol. 10, No. 3
10 Things Every Social Worker Needs to Know About Domestic Violence
by Mark Sandel, LMSW
Twenty years ago, little empirical knowledge about intimate partner violence existed, conceptual explanations for relationship violence were not well thought out, and social workers were ill trained for dealing with the problem. Domestic violence, at that time, was private and seen as a family problem and personal issue. Today, students and social workers can benefit from research findings and years of practice experience that were not available two decades ago.
The implications of domestic violence for social workers are significant; many of the individuals we work with will be or have been affected as primary and secondary victims. Many of our male clients have battered their partners. Many of us have felt the impact of violence in our own families.
Social workers must have insight into the problem of domestic violence to effectively work toward ending relationship violence. Interventions that might alleviate domestic violence should be applied at all levels: micro, mezzo, and macro.
Social workers should be aware of the following:
1. Domestic violence is a common crime.
Like all crimes, the exact number of domestic violence assaults is hard to determine. Research indicates that an assault, at a criminal level, occurs at least once in as many as 25-50% of all marriages. Violence occurs in families from every socioeconomic level, race, education level, and community. As many as 40% of the male population may at some point become violent with an intimate partner.
2. Domestic violence is usually gender based.
Domestic violence is a crime against women. As many as 95% of domestic violence offenses involve male perpetrators and female victims. As Steve Storie, a former family violence investigator says, “If you think men are the victims of domestic violence, sit outside the hospital emergency room and watch who gets unloaded from the ambulances.” Yes, women may behave badly in relationships, but they are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
Violence also occurs in gay and lesbian relationships, although these incidents may be underreported.
3. It' about power and control, not just conflict or anger.
One of the earliest conceptual-izations of domestic violence was based on a cyclical conflict model known as the “Cycle of Violence.” In her 1979 book, The Battered Woman, Lenore Walker suggested that couples that had experienced violence moved through a predictable sequence of stages or phases.
First, following a violent episode, the batterer, filled with remorse or perhaps fear of losing his partner, would treat the victim very nicely, as if he were courting her. He might send flowers, buy her gifts, or take her to dinner. It was thought that this “Honeymoon Phase” would soon yield to the next phase, “Tension Building.”
During the Tension Building Phase, the couple' differences begin escalating and stressors mount. Disagreements become common. The batterer is easy to anger, and the victim begins to feel fear. Aggression begins to surface in the form of verbal abuse, threats, and other forms of non-violent abuse.
Finally, as a predictable culmination to the tension building phase, there is a brief episode of anger driven violence. As soon as the violent attack concludes, the cycle begins again with the Honeymoon Phase.
Walker' book, while helpful to battered women by bringing attention to the problem, did not fully explain family abuse to those who worked in the field. It assumed that the violence occurred repeatedly, as a result of the actions of both the man and the woman-that it was the conflict between the two that served as a catalyst for the violence. In social work terms, it was a micro-focused interactional model.
In 1986, Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar published Power and Control: Tactics of Men Who Batter (Duluth: Minnesota Program Development), a curriculum for working with batterers. Their approach to battering intervention was developed after listening closely to the stories of battered women, many of whom shared that their stories did not mirror the cycle of violence described by Lenore Walker. Rather than describing a “honeymoon phase,” battered women may see the nice gestures on the part of the abuser as an attempt to control her through manipulation. Instead of a “tension building phase,” there is an escalation in controlling behaviors, from manipulation to intimidation. The violence itself may then be seen as an attempt to control the victim with the use of force.