This week’s SEP put us back on our trek through the lives of Mate and Quaint. (If you have not been introduced, stop by their page to see about whom we are speaking.) One of the issues which came up in our discussion, and was evidenced by the poll in the post, was the basic disagreement as to what should be considered abusive.
Most in the discussion, and indeed most of the poll takers so far, have no issue seeing unwanted, violent, non-sexual, physical contact as abuse. What a mouthful. Physical abuse is considered the no-brainer of the types of abuse.
What is physical abuse?
With all its qualifiers, you would think there would be a small list of actions which fit the criteria. Think again.
- Bludgeoning (hitting victim with an object)
- Blunt force trauma (hitting victim against a foreign surface)
- Burning (flame or acid)
- Dosing with drugs (legal and illegal)
- Removal of piercings/body modifications
Other acts qualify for this list beyond these twenty (20).
Even with all its caveats, it is hard to believe we cannot agree to the definition. In fact, many cultures only consider these behaviors abusive if they occur between strangers or those not in a marital (significant other, cohabitation, dating) relationship. In terms of spouses and those who are dating, they are not crimes.
When these crimes are committed against strangers or even friends, they are battery, aggravated battery (first or second degree battery) or, depending on consequences, attempted murder. In some cases, these behaviors result in death and are murder.
But it is not okay.
Many countries have laws to protect spouses and partners from abuse. If you are not sure if your partner or spouse is committing abuse, put the act to the test:
If it is a crime for a partner or spouse to commit these acts of violence against a stranger, it is physical abuse.
Physical abuse occurs many more times than it is reported or prosecuted. In short, the last portion of the cycle ensures it will happen again.
Physical abuse is a by-product of anger and/or resentment. In the first stage of the cycle, the abuser will use words to expel the anger toward the victim in ridicule, insults, derogatory remarks and/or threats. The victim will often do anything necessary to dispel the anger, but never gets to or eliminates the root cause of it.
In the second stage, the abuser perceives (real or otherwise) an infraction by the victim. Whether it is an overt act or inaction (such as not keeping a promise which calmed the abuser in the first stage), a rage builds in the abuser. The rage breaks the dam of reason, inhibition and decorum and manifests in violence.
The last and third stage of physical abuse is the cooling down period. As the rage dissipates, the abuser will apologize and promise not to repeat the violence.
During the third stage, many victims will abandon charges against the abuser. In certain jurisdictions, prosecutors will continue to press charges without the help or cooperation of the victim, although these cases are by far the minority.
Since the cause of the anger or rage has never been addressed, it remains just beneath the surface of the abuser’s psyche. Everyday life, perceived infractions by the victim and random events will trigger the rage, and the violence repeats.
Most commonly, this behavior is called a cycle. In truth, it is more often a cyclone. It circles loosely in the beginning. Over time, the circles become closer together, more powerful and more frequent.
The first instances of violence will be very opportunistic, they will occur at a tipping point. As the cycle repeats, the first stage will become more hurtful and shorter; the second more violent; and the third more manipulative, often overlapping the beginnings of the next first stage.
Breaking the Cycle
Outside intervention rarely breaks the cycle until either the abuser or the victim participate fully in changing the circumstances.
If the abuser recognizes the behavior as abusive, counseling is often the prescription to treat the underlying anger. Victims will often participate in such therapy and assist abusers in treatment. These instances are rare.
If the victim recognizes the abuse, breaking the cycle is more difficult because there are more steps than merely getting help. The victim must:
- Admit abuse exists.
- Admit being a victim.
- Want the abusive relationship to end.
- Decide to help the abuser get help OR
- Decide to leave the situation.
- Leave and stay gone despite third stage efforts by the abuser to reconcile.
Victims have a very difficult time breaking the cycle, even when they have outside assistance.
In the discussion last night, many expressed the futility of trying to help victims. In more cases than not, it is futile to intervene because the victim will not go though the steps listed above and the abuser will do nothing to change. The cycle will continue.
Do not be deterred.
Just because someone you attempt to help may not want it does not mean someone who desperately needs and wants your help is not out there waiting for (someone, anyone, you) to intervene.
If you choose to intervene, do so carefully. Occasionally, victims will turn on those who intervene. Often, abusers will attempt to dominate those who intervene. Enter a violent situation with caution.
Contact authorities. Even if you believe the abuser and the victim when they say the situation is under control, you have witnessed a crime. Where victims may fear the intervention of a random person or a friend, they may take police intervention.
Be aware of the behavior of those around you and especially of those you love. Abusers do not wear uniforms. They blend in with the crowd. They are often charming and disarming. All are manipulating.
Not all physical abuse leaves bruises. Joints are dislocated. Blows are struck to the scalp. Asphyxiation rarely leaves marks for more than a few moments. Drugging and attempted drownings leave few physical marks. Broken toes stay hidden inside shoes. Victims act differently around their abusers. Be aware of the changes.
Have you seen or known other types of physical abuse than the 20 listed above? Are there domestic violence laws in your country? What do you think the most effective way to break the cycle of violence is? Have you ever considered the cycle to be a cyclone?
M3 will never endorse staying in an abusive relationship. If you are the victim of abuse or know a victim of abuse, contact your local law enforcement. Help is available. If you need assistance finding help, fill out the form.
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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