Domestic Violence

I just presented a webinar on the impact of the Covid- 19 pandemic on domestic violence (DV).   I became alarmed when I read a variety of media reports that indicated the rate of DV has increased throughout the country.   In addition, most experts in the DV community feel that the increase in complaints and calls to hotlines is not capturing the true frequency of abuse because during the shutdown many women are unable to call for assistance because the abusive partner is at home monitoring her activity.

The focus of the webinar was to try to gain some understanding of why a man who had no previous history of DV would become a batterer.  Before I began I made clear that understanding does not mean excusing.  DV is abhorrent and reflects badly on masculinity.  My journey started with a review of the literature about the impact of natural disasters on DV.  I found that after every recent natural disaster (hurricane, tsunami, earthquake) the rate of DV rose dramatically.   Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the pandemic would produce similar and potentially even more dramatic results than a natural disaster.   The loss of jobs, the length of the shutdowns and the uncertainty of when life will return to normal exacerbates the stress level beyond that caused by a natural disaster.  The next question for consideration was, “What is it about a disaster that would trigger a man to become violent to his domestic partner?”

 My thoughts turned to a book I had read some time ago.  The book “Stiffed,” by a prominent feminist Susan Faludi, was an attempt by the author to explain which societal changes have led men to become  DV offenders and the increase in the generalized feeling of despair among men.    The section of the book that most resonated with me were her extensive interviews of men who had lost their jobs, both blue and white collar, as a result of the collapse of the defense industry in southern California.  Many of these men became DV offenders and were court ordered to attend Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP).  In her interviews of these men Faludi found a common theme. The loss of their jobs created a sense of  loss of identity and emasculation which ultimately led to violence against their partners.   The loss of control over one’s environment engendered by the loss of a job and the inability to have any influence on the outcome of a disaster results in a diminishing of personal power which often leads to anger.  As we know, when men get angry they can easily become violent while women tend to respond to anger verbally rather than physically.  The loss of perceived control just might be the precipitating factor that has lead to the increase in DV.

In the next phase of the presentation I introduced the archetypes of masculinity illustrating them both in the light and shadow.  It was an attempt to demonstrate how a man can behave in the light of an archetype rather than the shadow and still embrace his masculinity.  This is especially true for the warrior archetype.  Finding ways to empower a man’s warrior that does not lead to physical violence and bullying would help a man who has assaulted his partner or who has come close to a physical response to change his behavior and still feel he is harnessing his warrior energy.

I continued with a brief discussion of communication principles that would foster feeling empowered instead of feeling angry.   Validation and understanding before being understood go a long way to avoid conflict.  I closed the webinar with some recommendations of how BIP and anger management programs could increase their success rates.  Not viewing all offenders as “one size fits all” and seeking new therapeutic approaches like Action and Commitment Therapy (ACT) could help reduce recidivism among offenders and pre-offenders.

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