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Domestic abuse: Help for the batterer

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Stop the abuse where it starts

Amy and Robert have been married for four years and have two small children. Six months ago they got into an argument when he accused her of cheating, and he beat her so badly she was hospitalized. Shocking? Yes. An isolated incident of domestic violence? No.

Husband abusing wife

Battered women are terrified

Peg, a social worker from Adult Protective Services, came to initiate an investigation. Amy agreed that she was in danger, and asked Peg to help her and the children get to a shelter. She was open to any service Peg had to offer. When asked if she wanted Robert to be interviewed regarding the incident, Amy declined, saying that it would only make matters worse. Robert was furious about being in jail, and she feared retaliation. She said she didn't want to see her husband again and was willing to get a restraining order.

Peg checked the court records and discovered that the judge had not ordered him into anger management counseling or a batterer's group. Not unusual in a small town. Together, Peg and the shelter counselor coordinated services to help Amy become independent. She received individual counseling, entered a support group, got a job, housing and a car. The children adjusted well to daycare.

But six months later, after the Adult Protection case was closed, Peg learned that Amy and Robert had reconciled. Despite the physical and emotional damage and even gaining independence, many battered women return to the abuser.

Attention and intervention for the batterer

There are a myriad of services and programs for the victim of domestic violence. And rightly so. They are the recipients of abuse, domination, and manipulation. But all the services in the world are useless to a battered woman who decides to stay with her abusive husband if he doesn't receive attention and intervention as well.

Sometimes, to help the victim, we must help the abuser, because domestic violence is a deadly dance that can't be stopped unless both partners are willing to seek and accept help. Alone, a restraining order and incarceration does little to help the victim. Those are only temporary solutions to a problem that requires so much more.

Note: Women are batterers, too, but because the overwhelming number of domestic violence victims are women, we will focus on the male batterer.

What is battery?

This may sound like a question with an obvious answer, but battery encompasses more than just physical harm; battery also includes mental and emotional forms of domestic abuse.

If you aren't sure if someone is being abused, ask yourself:

  • Does he slap, punch, shove, bite, kick or choke her?
  • Does he brandish guns or knives or threaten to use them against her?
  • Does he throw things at her?
  • Does he burn her with cigarettes?
  • Does he pull her hair?
  • Does he hit her in the stomach when she's pregnant?
  • Does he force her to have sex even when she says no, or force her to engage in humiliating non-consensual sexual acts?
  • Does he threaten suicide if she says she wants to leave?
  • Does he hurt her by harming her pets or destroying cherished belongings?
  • Does he take her car keys and money away so she can't leave?
  • Does he drive her friends and family away and isolate her from social interaction?
  • Does he humiliate her in public or in private?
  • Does he ridicule her dress, appearance or character?
  • Does he tell her in a degrading way how to talk, walk, cook, eat, clean, care for the children, etc.?
  • Does he manipulate and control who she talks to, where she goes, what she does and buys, when she leaves, and when she returns?
  • Does he treat her more like a child or a prisoner than an equal?
  • Does he accuse her of having affairs, monitor her phone calls and mail, act extremely jealous and obsessive when she talks to others?
  • Does he continually criticize her race, religion, views or class?
  • Does he ignore her or withhold attention or affection from her?
  • Does he call her derogatory names?

Profile of the batterer

Domestic violence doesn't discriminate. Batterers are doctors, lawyers, teachers, therapists, convenience store clerks, mechanics and coaches. Their actions are rooted in the psychodynamics of domestic violence patterns observed and learned in childhood. While most batters appear to be aggressive on the outside, it is frequently a mask for the passive, powerless, manipulated, abused victim on the inside. They lack the assertiveness needed to communicate in everyday relationships with significant others, and resort to domination to maintain a sense of control over the immediate environment and the people in it. Batterers express at home what they are unable to express in public.

Characteristics of a batterer

If answering the questions above still have you questioning whether or not someone is a batterer, here are common characteristics of someone who abuses:


  • Low self-esteem: "I love you, I need you. If I can't have you, no one will."
  • Rushes into relationships: "You're the only one I need. I can't live without you. I can't talk to anyone else."
  • Extremely jealous and possessive: "You belong to me. You're my wife. Who have you been talking to on the phone? Where did you go today? Who were you with? You can't talk to him."
  • Controlling behavior: "You do what I say, when I say it. You can't have the car without my permission. I paid for it. You can't go with your sister. You must call me every day at the office."
  • Keeps his partner isolated: "You can't go to your mother's. She doesn't like me. She wants to see us divorce. I'm all you need. You need to spend time with me, not your family. I'm your family now."
  • Holds to stereotypical male roles and male supremacy: "I'm the man of the house. Head of the household. I make the money around here. You need me. You can't do anything without me. I have to tell you how to do everything."
  • Uses force during sex: "You're my wife. You have to satisfy my needs. It's your duty."
  • Blames others for his behavior: "See what you made me do? If you would get a job, keep the house and kids clean, do what I tell you, then I wouldn't have to hit you."
  • Hypersensitive: "How dare you criticize me? I'm not good enough for you? Why can't you just let things go?"
  • Present dual nature: "I love you. I hate you. I'm sorry. You had it coming. I won't do it again. You make me so mad."
  • Uses drinking, substance abuse and domestic violence to cope with stress.
  • Inflicts cruelty on animals and children.

Why do men batter?

Most men who batter have been exposed to domestic violence as children. They are often victims of child abuse. They have watched their fathers abuse their mothers and have observed their mothers accepting and enduring it. They have learned to express powerful emotions in destructive ways. They are driven by a need for dominance. As adults, they repeat the patterns learned in childhood.

Abuse is a learned behavior

Learned behavior can be unlearned. Today, more and more services are geared to both victim and batterer. Education is the key to helping the batterer. Males are reluctant to admit that they need help. They still hold to -- and practice -- the belief of a male-dominant society. They behave as the stereotypical macho male.

We should breathe a sigh of relief that more and more judges are ordering abusers into counseling and batterers' groups. With women and men both working toward safety and a non-violent relationships, we can't go anywhere else but up. Counseling and intervention strategies for the batterer centers around the patterns of domestic violence, and calls for him to accept responsibility for his behavior. He is taught new and different ways of handling powerful emotions.

Help for batterers

The following resources offer information and help:

The sooner and better batterers receive help to change their destructive behavior, the sooner domestic violence rates will drop.

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