Domestic violence, as its name suggests, involves intimate partner and family violence. The law has historically treated domestic violence as only a secondary issue. The treatment reflects the longstanding notion that family and domestic matters are private and should not be subject to law enforcement interference. Compounding this blasé attitude towards domestic violence was the fact that traditionally, women were considered to belong to their husbands. Until very recently, a husband could not be prosecuted for the rape of his wife. What is important to note is that domestic violence affects all types of persons. There is no one, stereotypical prototype of a domestic violence victim or abuser. As such, one must understand the different types of domestic violence and the types of aggressors who perpetrate the violence. Depending on the type of domestic violence that occurs within the home, it may make it impossible for the victim to exit the abusive relationship.
Most people think of the home as a sanctuary and safe refuge, free from crime and violence on the streets. But what happens behind closed doors is not always as it seems. While traditionally, violence within the home has been viewed by law enforcement and society as a domestic problem, facts and figures reveal a troubling picture. Domestic violence and violence within a home is much more common than one would think. It is not exclusively limited to any particular victimology and can affect all types of persons. Domestic violence advocate groups have worked raise awareness of domestic violence and to change the laws in ways that reflect how serious a problem it is. While there have been great strides in properly punishing persons who commit violence against love ones, there are still gaps in the law that often allow perpetrators to go undeterred.
Typology of the Batterer
When asked to conjure up an image of a person who beats his wife and children, most people usually think of a violent and tumble, burly man who is from a lower economic class or socio status. A batterer, a person who commits violence against family members and loved ones, by its own name denotes a rough and rugged individual. While there are certainly batterers who fit this stereotype, it may come as a surprise that perpetrators of domestic violence come in all shapes and sizes. The kind of violence that the batterer carries out can also differ depending on what trigger incident provokes the violent episodes or outbursts.
There are two different kinds of domestic violence based on the batterer’s pattern of aggression. The first type of violence is intimate terrorism (Van Steegh, 2005, p. 1387). In a situation of intimate terrorism, the batterer manifests a clear pattern of control over his victims (Van Steegh, 2005, p. 1387). In many instances, intimate terrorism will result in the most severe violence and lead to the more serious injuries to the victim (Van Steegh, 2005, p. 1387-1388). Although both men and women are affected by domestic violence, both as victims and as perpetrators, men are almost always the perpetrators of intimate terrorism (Van Steegh, 2005, p. 1388).
The second type of violence that often occurs in intimate relationships is situational violence (Van Steegh, 2005, p. 1394). In contrast with intimate terrorism, which reflects a clear pattern of abuse and control, situational violence arises from once specific incident or disagreement (Van Steegh, 2005, p. 1394). And unlike intimate terrorism, the number of situational violence incidents is split relatively even between male and female perpetrators (Van Steegh, 2005, p. 1394). It is the most common type of couple violence.
While it is easy to view all batterers in a similar fashion, there are important variances among different types of batterers. One study performed by Grana, Redondo, Munoz-Rivas, and Cantos (2014) concluded that there are three batterer typologies (p. 4). The study examined 266 men between ages 18-69 who were convicted of violent offenses (Grana et al, 2014, p. 2). The results of the study categorized the batterers into three groups based on level of aggression, high-level violence, moderate-level violence, and low-level violence (p. 4). These typologies are significant because contrary to popular belief, not all batterers are alike. For treatment purposes, looking at the type of batterer can help improve the program and increase the chance of success.
Difficult of Exiting the Relationship
One question that people always ask in the context of domestic violence and an abusive relationship is “why didn’t she just leave?” The truth is that the dynamics of domestic violence make it quite difficult, and oftentimes dangerous, for a victim to leave her abusive partner. Since domestic violence evidences a pattern of control, there are many reasons why a victim might choose to stay. The Power and Control Wheel, published by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, lists a number of ways in which an abuser maintains dominance and control over a victim (Power and Control wheel). Signs of abuse can take both physical, mental, and economic forms. For instance, one method of control is economic abuse, where the abuser prevents the victim from getting a job or where he takes or controls all the couple’s money. Without any financial means or resources of her own, it makes it very hard for a victim to leave her abuser.
Another controlling strategy that many abusers employ is to isolate the victim from friends and family (Power and Control wheel). In many abusive relationships, the abuser will forbid the victim from contact with the outside world. This is done to completely isolate the victim and make her feel alone. The isolation makes the victim entirely dependent on her abuser, another reason why it is difficult to exit. If the victim has lost contact with friends and family, the victim has lost an important system that would be crucial if the victim did decide to leave.
Another movie that touches on the plights of domestic violence is Sleeping with the Enemy, starring Julia Roberts. Roberts is married to a handsome, wealthy and charming man. But he has a possessive and mean side that only comes up when the couple is alone. Similar to Enough, this film captures the lengths that many abusers will go in order to track a victim down. It shows that many times, a victim risks greater threat of harm and even death by fleeing from her abuser.
While both men and women can be victims of domestic violence or intimate partner violence, women represent an overwhelming proportion of victims. Many view domestic violence as a “women’s issue.” Historically, women were viewed and treated as second-class citizens. Police often turned a blind eye to reports of domestic violence because the home was considered a private space that should be free from outside intrusion. This view largely stems from the idea that wives were under the control and guidance of their husbands. While these antiquated notions have largely eroded, vestiges still remain.
At common law, a husband could not be prosecuted for the rape of his wife (Hasday, 2000, p. 1375). In large part, women were viewed as property. A husband could do as he pleased with his wife because he, in effect, owned her. It was not until the mid 1850s during the Seneca Falls Convention that women began advocating for a women’s right to consent to sex with her husband (Hasday, 2010, p. 1414). Today, many states still have laws in place that exempt a husband for prosecution for raping his wife (Hasday, 2010, p. 1485). While some states recognize martial rape if it is by force or inflicts severe physical injury, the remnants of marital rape law and the general attitude that domestic affairs should be left free from law enforcement poses significant barriers for many female domestic violence victims.
While domestic violence groups and advocates have worked hard to bring issues of domestic violence to the forefront, domestic violence, as a whole, is not taken as seriously as other violent crimes. Police are much more likely to treat a stranger-on-stranger violent incident with greater care than a domestic violence incident. Because most victims of domestic violence are women, and most perpetrators of domestic violence are men, it raises a question of whether police and other law enforcement engage in gender discrimination.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides in relevant part, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (U.S. Const. amend. XIV, sec. 1). The Equal Protection Clause has been interpreted to require that states treat men and women alike under the laws. The failure of many police departments and officers to respond to reports of domestic violence has given rise to constitutional challenge under the Equal Protection Clause.
Although most challenges under the Equal Protection Clause in the domestic violence context are unsuccessful, the plaintiff wife prevailed in the Connecticut case Thurman v. City of Torrington. In Thurman, the plaintiff brought a suit against the City for a violation of equal protection (Thurman v. City of Torrington, 1984, p. 1524). The plaintiff made a number of reports to police about threats from her estranged husband (Thurman v. City of Torrington, 1984, p. 1524). The police repeatedly failed to respond to plaintiff’s domestic violence reports, and as a result, plaintiff was stabbed and seriously injured by the husband. The question for the court was whether the police’s failure to respond to plaintiff’s request for police assistance amounted to a denial of equal protection.
Gender is a protected class and receives heightened scrutiny by the courts. Thus, if a law differentiates on the basis of gender, the state must show that such a classification is substantially related to an important government interest (Thurman v. City of Torrington, 1984, p. 1526). The court found that the City police department has engaged in gender discrimination by failing to adequately respond to plaintiff’s reports of domestic violence. The Thurman case is one of the few cases where a victim of domestic violence has prevailed in an action against the police on equal protection grounds.
Protecting the Victims
Domestic violence groups and women’s rights advocates have been vocal in calling for more protective services and programs available for victims. One means of protection that a victim can seek is a civil restraining order. A restraining order prevents the abuser from coming within a certain distance from the victim. If the abuser violates the order, the victim can call the police and the police can make an arrest. Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, all states must give full effect to restraining orders issued from any other state. Many studies suggest that civil protection orders are an effective means of preventing and ameliorating certain forms of domestic violence (Smith, 2005, p. 95).
The general trend among states has been to broaden the category of persons who can seek protection through a restraining order (Smith, 2005, p. 96). In every state, married couples or couples with children can seek the protection of a restraining order. It varies from state to state depending on the statute of what type of relationship qualifies as domestic violence and can therefore seek a protection order. Some states include all cohabiting couples, regardless of marital status or children present. New York is one of the few states that has interpreted its definition of who is qualified to seek a protection order narrowly. For example, New York only extends domestic violence protection to victims whose abuser “family or household” member and the crime must be among the “family offenses” (Smith, 2005, p. 96).
Domestic violence and intimate violence is an untold problem that affects millions of Americans each year. Because it necessarily involves family matters, it often does not receive the attention or response it deserves. Worldwide, domestic violence amounts to a cost of $8 trillion (Doyle, 2014). Domestic violence is a crime that is not limited to one particular demographic. It impacts persons of all races, religions, national origins, genders, and socio economic statuses. The exact number of domestic violence incidents that occur nationwide is probably a conservative estimate because many instances simply go unreported. While street crime is certainly a problem, domestic violence poses just as big of a threat.
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