An insight into abusive behaviour

Unlike other offending, family violence incidents are perpetrated by people who are known and loved by the victim. Victims often experience a myriad of conflicting feelings associated with the offence and may have problems with prosecuting someone they love or have had a relationship with. This is especially true when victims and perpetrators have children together. This is made worse when children want to see their father, or the perpetrator is the only source of financial support for the family. In family violence situations, even if the victim decides to separate from the person who has acted abusively, there is still access to the victim when visiting or collecting children which provides multiple opportunities for intimidation, threats or emotional abuse.

Often men who use abuse can present themselves as very reasonable, persuasive and misunderstood. Many of them are convinced they are victims of abuse by their partners and are particularly insistent about their victimization. Men who use abuse are often good at finding divisions between people and exploiting them and they may tell different versions of the same story to different people.

This serves to convince others of their innocence and can lead to collusion with the perpetrator against the victim. Collusion often happens when family ties are very strong and the family will lie, threaten and blame or stay tight-lipped about an incident. This does not hold the abuser responsible or make them accountable for their actions or behaviour, it allows the abuser to continue to use violent tactics and gives him more power to control his partner. The result is additional pressure on the victim and elimination of support resources from friends or extended family that are supporting the perpetrator. Sometimes it is the victim’s own family who feel sorry for the abuser, which puts additional pressure on her and serves to confuse and victimise her further.

Unfortunately, men who use abuse are a group of people with high levels of recidivism. Although change is possible it takes time to alter deep-rooted beliefs and we should not anticipate quick-fix solutions or overnight changes in behaviour. Most people who act abusively take many months to admit responsibility for their behaviour and may continue to try and enlist others as allies including Stopping Violence Programme providers, programme facilitators, Probation Officers and Police.

The tactics used by men who use abuse to shift blame to the victims, are highly manipulative and can take many forms, from alleging that their partner is crazy, often giving multiple examples of her behaviour which backs up these accusations, to being extremely placating and giving the impression that he wants to do everything to ‘clear up the misunderstanding and get help for her or for them as a couple.’ This puts the victim in the position of having to prove she has been abused, which victimises her further and gives the offender greater control over the situation.

Even though we are often aware of all of these issues with abusive men, we can still have blind spots when it comes to certain behaviour. The perpetrators of violence who are least likely to be held accountable for their behaviour are:

Men who are highly educated and well-spoken
Some men who use abuse who are highly educated, intellectual or well-spoken use rational arguments to avoid responsibility. These arguments can be persuasive which may lead to people being lenient with them regarding their violent behaviour.

Men who are recovering from addictions
When successful recovery from addictions becomes the focus of intervention with abusive men, it can be tempting for those working with them to minimize the issues of violence towards their partners and children so as not to put additional pressure on the recovering addict to change other parts of their behaviour.

Men who are mentally ill
Men who use abuse who have had mental health issues, break downs, or who take medication for mental illness, may not be held to account for their violent or controlling behaviour towards their partners. Although we know that mental illness is a factor which contributes to family violence, there are many people who go through mental health issues that are not physically violent towards their partners or children.

Men who are highly religious
Some men claim religious conversion or beliefs as a reason for their abusive behaviour. They may quote scripture out of context or reframe church doctrine to back up these claims, and may abuse their victims spiritually by setting themselves up as the spiritual leader in the home or community.

Men who are culturally different
Some men who use abuse will use their culture as a way to avoid responsibility for their violence. They may claim that in their culture women have a subordinate role and accuse legal systems of destroying their culture or of not allowing them to practice their cultural beliefs.

Men who appear helpless or physically weak
Some perpetrators of violence can seem physically weak or helpless. This does not however mean that they are not controlling or emotionally violent towards their partners and children.

Published on Monday, October 4th, 2010, under Learning & development

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