Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford
Domestic violence/family violence is an ongoing problem plaguing families of all types, i.e., race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status (although families that live below the poverty line are more like to experience domestic violence than families meeting or exceeding the poverty line), etc. For the purposes of explaining and understanding domestic violence we will define it as a pattern of behavior which involves violence, abuse, intimidation, negative coercive acts, and control by one person against another in a domestic setting, i.e., marriage or cohabitation. Domestic and or family violence can occur in both heterosexual and same-sex family relationships. Violence in these relationship or family types can include the parties in the relationship as well as extend out to the children. Like most other cycles in life family and domestic violence typically starts off gradually, can look differently in the context of those in the midst of the violence, can feel differently, and end differently. Just as with positive cycles in the lives of the individuals or family negative cycles can become fueled and reinforced over time, as habits form, and the relationship becomes viewed as a “typical” component of the relationship or family type.
Violence in domestic settings typically involve the following stage building up to and exceeding explosion:
Anxiety and or tension Building:
This particular stage in violence usually involves the perpetrator and or abuser experiencing a build-up of anxiety & tension, feelings as if he or she may no longer be in control of their own actions. Initially the behavior may not be viewed by the perpetrator as negative, but a reactive response to stress, hence, “anyone in my situation would be experiencing and doing the same things if facing the same stress”. The abuser begins to deflect and does not take responsibility for his or her negative and or abusive actions. Once violence has entered the relationship and has become a fused fixture, jealousy is more likely to follow. Jealousy enters in part due to fear of those being abusing exiting the relationship, realizing the relationship is not healthy but rather it is toxic. Many people involved in domestic violence situations start to accept the relationship for what it is rather than contemplate the likely escalation of aggressive behaviors. Victims quickly “learn” what they think upsets or angers their partner, hence by learning the “triggers” they feel they can avoid the violence, the explosion. However, there is a significant degree of unpredictability in domestic violence plagued relationships, i.e., batters are not violent 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Physical Battering Incident:
Physical battering incidents just as the term suggests occurs when the abuser and or perpetrator of violence engages in behaviors or acts that cause physical harm to the victim. Often there is a “trigger” that sets off the violence, leading to a loss of control, a physical explosion, followed by justification by the abuser of his or her behavior which includes blaming the victim, i.e., if you wouldn’t have done ABC then XYZ would not have happened. In response to the violence many victims develop increasing fear of their abuser, begin to doubt themselves or blame themselves for the violence.
Like all storms, there is a respite, there appears to be a light peaking behind the clouds, there is hope that the storm has ended. There is an unrealistic hope that the problems in the relationship, although not acknowledged or treated is behind the couple or family. There is often an unspoken agreement to “forget” what has happened in “the past”, not to allow the bitterness and darkness of secrets to ever be exposed to the light. This relationship and or family “change” as entered the honeymoon period. The honeymoon period occurs when the abuser "sees the error of his/her ways” or “changes their ways", insists the “bad times” are now “behind” the family and insists the violence will never occur again. The abuser with “enhanced” understanding of how he or she is hurting the relationship, hurting the family, has been “transformed”. He or she is now more attentive and more loving then they have ever been, the waters are calm. This calm, unfortunately, without exposing and addressing the underlying issues, is just temporary as the violence is likely to resume.
Children of families where domestic violence occurs are not spare the negative consequences of the abuse even if they were not physically abused themselves. In response to domestic violence in the home many children develop unhealthy fears of others, have an increased rate of anxiety, sleep/eat disturbances, are more likely to be insecure, develop self-esteem issues, have marked difficulty trusting others, may not know how to socially engage with others, experience intense episodes of crying, nervousness, or colicky.
Domestic violence/family violence continues to be an on going major public health concern for victims of violence as well as the children of the relationship. Family violence as well as the latent effects of the abuse can have a negative impact and or repercussions on the quality of life for the adult survivor and children witnessing the violence. It is for this reason, identification, education, and training is so important for people involved in the lives of the family and law enforcement officers called to respond to the violence. The recent case in the news involving a Sanford FL, man that stalked and violently killed his wife and 2 children re-enforces the need for both education and proper training. This incident represents one of the most saddening, maddening, and preventable crimes in the history of domestic violence. There were many signs and flags that were ignored and or not taken seriously involving this crime. Henry Brown, the perpetrator and husband accused of killing his wife Chericia Brown, two children, and himself had attempted to ram his wife’s car several weeks earlier, had never been charged in the incident. What is appalling and shocking to me is the ramming incident not only did not result in an arrest but the incident had not been reported or documented by the responding officer. Had this incident received the proper attention and intervention the lives of both Mrs. Brown and her two children could have been saved. It is no secret domestic violence crimes are often not viewed in the same context as other crimes. There are often viewed as “milder” crimes, crimes of “a personal issue”, or a “family issue”.
Mrs. Brown appears to have made attempts to exit the cycle of her dysfunctional relationship with her husband, but payed the ultimate price by losing her life and the lives of her children. Enforcement assistance was sought multiple times to ensure Mrs. Brown’s safety, however, law enforcement did not support or intervene in an appropriate manner to allow her to safely free herself from the violent relationship. In essence by not reporting, documenting, or intervening this may have contributed to her husband gaining control of and ending the life of a woman that simply wanted her life back and lives of her children.
Identification, recognition, intervention, and treatment is an ongoing concern and need for families and individuals struggling with abuse. This case although to some may seem extreme, is not an isolated case. Mrs. Brown represents anyone that struggles to get away from an abusive relationship and does not receive both the necessary and most appropriate services required to ensure safety, she is you, she is me, she is all of us at the same time.