Domestic Violence Q & A
People in domestic violence relationships want answers.
Posted September 9, 2019
Since 2011 I have written extensively on issues related to crime, sexual assault, workplace violence, school violence, and domestic violence. As such, people who read my work often contact me for advice about their particular situations or those involving their family members. About once a week, I get a long email from someone seeking answers. Most of their emails are heartbreaking. Nearly all are complex, with fact patterns that go back years, if not decades. The people who contact me are in pain, fearful, legitimately worried for their safety, or are angry that “The System” (cops, courts) has let them down.
I’m grateful these people read my work. When I worked for the San Diego Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit (we used a response model for our cases that was copied around the country), I handled 1,500 cases in my six years there. Early on, I came to the obvious conclusions that: most domestic violence (dv) victims work and are fearful their batterer will confront them at their jobs; most just want to live their lives in peace and cannot fully understand why someone who has been intimate with them would want to threaten or injure them, or their mutual or stepchildren, or pets; most are deeply unsatisfied with the response or treatment they received from the criminal justice system; and most have better experiences with dv victim advocacy groups, hotlines, shelters, and other entities more suited to help.
But while I’d like to help with individual replies, I’ve decided to stop. I don’t feel comfortable providing advice to these people and the complexity and sadness of their stories weigh on my mind. I’m not a lawyer or a licensed therapist, nor am I a cop anymore. Instead of providing specific answers or generic advice, I’m going to say it here once, and then not answer any more of these emails: “Get qualified help and advice, from a police patrol officer, a police detective, a family law attorney, a social worker, a mental health clinician, your family doctor, or a local or national domestic violence advocate. Call the national DV hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE).”
What follows are some typical questions I have received over the past decade:
What is the “domestic violence cycle”?
This concept was suggested by Dr. Lenore Walker in 1979 to illustrate how so many perpetrators in dv relationships follow the same patterns. Her research pointed to four behaviors that make up a cycle that, left uninterrupted, will repeat itself, and often with fatal consequences. The phases include: Tension Building, where the batterer starts to build resentment toward his/her partner; Acute Violence, where the batterer lashes out physically against his/her partner; Reconciliation/Regret/Apology, where the perpetrator is sorry for his/her actions and attempts to “win” the victim back with better treatment, gifts, promises that “this will never happen again”; and Calm/Honeymoon, where the batterer actually treats the victim pretty well, until the Tension Building process starts all over again. This pattern can last for decades in volatile relationships. Only getting out, or a police/prosecutor intervention with consequences, or therapy and treatment for the batterer, will stop this repetition.
My ex-husband is bothering me at work. I’m afraid I might get fired if my company finds out. Should I tell them?
Yes. Bosses and company safety security stakeholders can’t fix what they don’t know about. I’ve worked on lots of cases where the first notice that an employee had a restraining order against her boyfriend ”Crazy Larry” (and there are many good reasons why she calls him that), is when he walks into the company lobby looking for her with blood in his eyes. You must have the courage to tell your boss, or your bosses’ boss, and HR and Security (if you have that department in your organization) what is going on in your personal life that might crossover to work. Those people should want to help you by: keeping the issue as confidential as possible; by not stigmatizing you (“Don’t bring your personal problems to work” is the wrong answer); by working with the local police to provide a reasonable response and protection plan for you; and by giving you the time to access an Employee Assistance Providers (EAP) if it exists. It should be illegal to fire an employee-victim of domestic violence, but that’s only true in a handful of states in this country thus far.
Is there any value to getting a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against my violent ex?
TROs are paradoxical; they work really well for good rule followers. Clearly, this means that a lot of men who use violence, threats, and stalking behaviors also don’t care much about the rules of life, even if they are enforced at the point of a court order. That said, the primary benefit of a TRO is that it helps the police enforce consequences on the DV batterer who violates the order. It gives them a legal reason to take this person to jail, just for trying to see, call, text, or contact you in any way. The downfall about TROs is that some police agencies are not very diligent about enforcing them (until it’s too late). Worse yet, some dv victims who have a TRO against their former spouse or partner don’t help the police much because they only call them sporadically or weaken the power of the order by meeting alone with the suspect to try to work things out. If you have one, call the police to enforce it every time the person you have it against violates it.
Is domestic violence possible in an opposite-sex relationship, where the woman is the batterer? Are same-sex dv relationships just as volatile or dangerous as opposite-sex dv relationships?
Yes and yes. The primary pronoun I’ve used in this discussion is male batterers and female victims, because that’s how the statistical breakdown works. About 85% of dv batterers are men, meaning 15% are women, who batter the men in their lives. (Women who are dv perpetrators is a highly-complex issue; a lot of men don’t even report these crimes because they embarrassed about being assaulted by their female partners.)
According to a 2018 report by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the numbers for LGBTQ domestic violence cases suggest: “In a study of male same-sex relationships, only 26% of men called the police for assistance after experiencing near-lethal violence.” And “43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime, as opposed to 35% of heterosexual women.” All people in dv relationships need to have the courage to get help to get out safely.
My boyfriend choked me during a really bad argument. Does that mean he’s dangerous?
Yes! Choking during a dv situation is a huge warning sign for future violence and the real possibility of death as a result, even if that wasn’t the subject’s intention while choking the victim. Go back into the PsychologyToday.com archives and read my post from March 29, 2017 on “The Truth About Domestic Violence Murders” and how being choked is so dangerous to the victim.
My ex-husband is threatening to harm our dog as a way to get back at me. What should I do?
This is not uncommon behavior for dv perpetrators, as a way to cause terror for the victim and to harm something the victim loves. State legislators and local prosecutors in many states have seen these cases and added statutory language that makes harming the dv victim’s property, including pets, a chargeable offense. Besides just contacting the police for help in the dv situation overall, you may want to call your local ASPCA office, your local Humane Society, or county Animal Shelter, to get advice as to how to protect or shelter your pets from harm.
I have two teenage kids and their father is a batterer. My son wants to live with him and my daughter wants to live with me. How can I convince my son that it’s safer to live with me?
This complex situation may require the help of your family law attorney, a licensed therapist, and the police. Among the biggest risk factors for this split-family situation is how domestic violence can become a learned behavior in some families. Just as the child abuse victim can grow up to be a child abuser, the children of dv batterers can see this as “acceptable” and replicate these dangerous behaviors in their own intimate relationships later on.
My daughter is 16 and she told me her 17-year-old boyfriend has hit her before. What should I do?
DV can happen in relationships with partners at any age. Just because both are not adults doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to be volatile or even life-threatening. Your daughter might say she doesn’t want you to get involved, but like with child abuse victims who self-report what is happening to them, what they are really saying is “Help me!” Use your police resources, including contacting the School Resource Officer at her high school, a juvenile crimes detective in your local PD, or a DV advocacy provider. Get her to a licensed therapist skilled with working with teenagers, to help her realize being abused is not her fault, not part of what real love relationships should be, and not something she needs to tolerate.
I hope anyone involved in a dv relationship the courage and strength to get out safely. Look all around you for help and take the advice from the dv response professionals. Don’t just use your intuition; use their experience to keep you safe.
For legal reasons, Albrecht cannot respond to any requests or provide any advice on domestic violence situations. Please contact your local police or domestic violence advocates.