Domestic violence is in the headline news again. Michael Jace, who played a Los Angeles cop in TV's "The Shield," has been arrested in the fatal shooting of his wife. This latest case of a public health problem named by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a world-wide crisis triggers a need for better understanding about the perpetrators of violent crimes.

Batterers are often identified in the criminal justice system after they have already inflicted significant abuse on their victims, or even caused death.

A batterer is someone who inflicts physical violence or severe psychological abuse during an intimate relationship. These acts can occur during a courtship, marriage, separation, or divorce. Surprisingly, 50% of married couples will experience one or more episodes of abuse during their union.

Both men and women are known to be perpetrators of violent crimes against their partners. However, men are more commonly the batterers. The increasing public health initiatives surrounding intimate partner violence tend to focus on the victims of violent crimes. But understanding what makes someone violent can also be valuable and help with early detection and prevention of violent acts.

Chemical imbalances can contribute to a biological predisposition toward aggression. Similarly, here are some neuropsychological characteristics of abusers:

-Witness to violence in childhood household

-Personality type: needy, dependent, nonassertive, low self-esteem

-Pathological jealousy

-Abuse of alcohol or drugs

-Excessive concern with outward appearance

-Degrading attitude toward women

-Inability to resolve conflict with mature mechanisms

There is no easy formula to assess which individuals are going to be violent, but we do know that batterers develop through a series of complex biological and psychological vulnerabilities.

Increased awareness and research is needed to stop violent perpetrators from inflicting significant damage on victims and ending up in the criminal justice system.


Meuer T, Seymour A, Wallace H: National Victim Assistance Academy Textbook. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Domestic Violence, 2002

Walker L: Psychology and domestic violence around the world. Am Psychol 54:21-9, 1999

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About the Author

Helen M. Farrell, M.D.

Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is a psychiatrist with Harvard Medical School. She researches forensic psychiatry and violence.

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