Domestic Violence

Course Objectives:                 

  1. Describe and clarify the different typologies of the abusing spouse.
  2. Identify potential countertransference issues when working with abuser.
  3. Describe psychodynamic intervention techniques used with perpetrators.
  4. Identify available community resources for victims and their families.


 Domestic Violence is defined as violence or mistreatment an individual may experience at the hands of a marital, common-law, former or same-sex partner.  The abuse may happen during a relationship or after it has ended. There are many different forms of abuse, below is a list of the types of abuse.  A victim can experience more than one kind of abuse at a time.

Physical abuse may include the use of physical force that can include injuries, including beating, hitting, pushing, choking, and kicking.  Physical abuse can include threats and/or assault with a weapon. Other forms of physical abuse may include confinement or restraint.

 Sexual abuse and exploitation includes all forms of sexual assault including rape, coercion and sexual exploitation. Forcing someone to participate in unwanted or unsafe or degrading sexual activity, without that persons consent is abusive and against the law. 

 Emotional abuse includes verbal attacks, such, social isolation, intimidation or exploitation to dominate another person. Stalking including threats to a person or their family is abusive behavior.

 Economic or financial abuse includes withholding money that is necessary to buy food or medical treatment or preventing a partner from working while withholding money.  These are also forms of economic abuse. 

 Spiritual abuse includes using a person's religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control them. It may include preventing someone from engaging in spiritual or religious practices, or ridiculing their beliefs.

 Family Violence

Domestic violence is a global issue and is not limited to any one gender, religious, cultural or income group. A wide range of studies agree that the causes of violence are multi-factorial, and that the co-occurrence of factors may increase the likelihood that a person will abuse a family member, such as a parent, partner or ex-partner, child or sibling. Ultimately we need to intervene at multiple levels in order to be effective in reducing family violence. By combining individual-level risk factors with findings of cross-cultural studies, a model has been developed that contributes to understanding why some societies and some individuals are more violent than others.

 At the individual level these include:

• being abused as a child or witnessing violence in the home

• being a very young, under-resourced or ill parent (in the case of child abuse)

• sexist attitudes about the role of men and women (in the case of partner abuse).

 At the level of the family and relationship, there are risk factors present where:

• family members are vulnerable, disempowered or in a dependent position, for example, women with very young children, or children themselves

• families have a lack of practical, social, psychological and financial support

• there is parental incapacity, parental illness, or a basic lack of parenting skills and support (in the case of child abuse)

• there is male control of wealth and decision-making within the family (in the case of partner abuse)

• one or both caregivers abuse substances.

At the community level, risk factors include:

• the lack of safe, inclusive and nurturing communities, which may minimize opportunities for intervention and the transmission of non-violent norms of behavior and contribute to the isolation and lack of social support for both victims and caregivers

• peer groups that condone and legitimize violence towards women and children

• barriers to community participation, such as poverty, cultural alienation, and racism that create and sustain social isolation.

At the societal level, risk factors exist where there is:

• acceptance of violence as a means to settle interpersonal disputes

• reinforcement of violence as glamorous and exciting through film and television

• social tolerance of physical punishment of women and children

• a lack of effective sanctions against intra-familial violence

• rigidly defined and enforced gender roles

• the linkage of the concept of masculinity to toughness and dominance

• the perception that men have ‘ownership’ of women, or parents have ‘ownership’ of children

• barriers to independence, participation, self-fulfillment, dignity and the resulting isolation and low self esteem

• a cultural norm about women’s role as caregivers

• lack of funding for family violence prevention programs.

The Causes of Domestic Violence:

 Most interventions employ a mixture of theories in their curriculums, the most common of which is a psychoeducational model that encourages profeminist attitude change while building interpersonal skills using cognitive-behavioral techniques.  Three categories of theories of domestic violence dominate the field. Each locates the cause of domestic violence differently, and each theory leads practitioners to employ different approaches to batterer intervention:

Society and Culture - Social and cultural theories attribute the problem to social structure and cultural norms and values that endorse or tolerate the use of violence by men against women partners. The feminist model of intervention educates men concerning the impact of these social and cultural norms and attempts to re-socialize them by emphasizing nonviolence and equality in relationships. 

Batterer intervention programs were started in the 1970s when feminists and others brought public attention to the problem of domestic violence and grassroots services began to be established in response. The feminist perspective has influenced most batterer intervention programs.

Central to the perspective is a gender analysis of power, which holds that domestic violence mirrors the patriarchal organization of society. In this view, violence is one means of maintaining male power in the family. Feminist programs, which attempt to raise consciousness about society’s sex-role conditioning and how it constrains men’s behavior, present a model of egalitarian relationships based on trust instead of fear.

Support for the feminist analysis comes from the observation that most batterers, when “provoked” by someone more powerful than they, are able to control their anger and avoid resorting to violence. Further support comes from research showing that batterers are less secure in their masculinity than non-batterers.

Critics claim the feminist perspective overemphasizes sociocultural factors to the exclusion of traits in the individual, such as growing up abused.  In their view, feminist theory predicts that all men will be abusive. Other criticisms hold that feminist educational interventions are too confrontational and as a result self-defeating because they alienate batterers, increase their hostility, and make them less likely to enter treatment. Another concern, revealed in some evaluations, is that the education central to the feminist program may transmit information but not deter violent behavior.

It is important for criminal justice professionals to understand the assumptions and goals of service providers whose interventions have divergent theoretical bases, because not all intervention approaches employ techniques that are equally compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system—protecting the victim as well as rehabilitating the offender.

Both feminist educational and cognitive-behavioral interventions can be compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system—protecting the victim as well as rehabilitating the offender. However, feminist educational programs offer some advantages. By contrast, family systems interventions conflict with criminal justice goals by failing to identify a victim and a perpetrator.

Origins of Domestic Violence and Eclectic Approaches

The origins of domestic violence are the subject of active debate among victim advocates, social workers, researchers, and psychologists concerned with batterer intervention. More than in most fields, the theoretical debate affects practice. Over the last two decades, a number of practitioners representing divergent theoretical camps have begun to move toward a more integrated “multidimensional” model of batterer intervention in order to better address the complexity of a problem that has psychological, interpersonal, social, cultural, and legal aspects.

In practice, few batterer programs represent a “pure” expression of one theory of domestic violence; the majority of programs combine elements of different theoretical models. As a result, when discussing program theory with batterer intervention providers, criminal justice professionals need to understand not only the primary theory the program espouses but also the program's content, because programs may identify with one theory but draw on or two more theories in their work.

Experts caution criminal justice agencies against accepting an eclectic curriculum uncritically: program components borrowed from different theoretical perspectives should be thoughtfully chosen to create a coherent approach, not a scattershot attempt hoping to hit some technique that works.

The primary intervention strategy for spousal and partner abuse is to insure the safety of the victim and children.  The confidentiality of the victim is to be maintained unless it conflicts with the safety of the children.

The Cycle of Violence

Many people who work with violent families have noted a pattern or cycle of violence. While there is no uniformity on how long a phase lasts, there seems to be a pattern, however: the tension building phase, the explosion or acute battering incident, and the calm, loving respite. There are also other models of domestic violence dynamics.

In phase one, the tension builds. In this phase the abuser becomes increasingly edgy. The victim, noticing this behavior, may try to calm or appease the abuser in ways that have worked in the past. There may be minor outbursts of violence for which the abuser may quickly apologize using such words as "I'm really sorry that I hit you, but if you only had (or hadn't) done . . ." Usually the victim forgives and assumes the guilt for these incidents. The victim will rarely become angry because she fears that her anger would serve to escalate the violence. The abuser is aware of his inappropriate behavior even if he doesn't acknowledge it. This serves to make him even more fearful that she will leave him. He attempts to keep her captive by being more abusive, possessive and controlling. His ability to defend these assaults or to placate his victim becomes less effective. The tension builds to a point where an assaultive explosion is inevitable.

Phase two is the shortest and most violent part of the cycle. It may begin with the abuser attempting to teach the victim a lesson, not with the intent of doing her physical injury, although this is the result of his unrestrained rage. At the end of the episode the abuser cannot fully understand or remember what has occurred.* Although the victim will often let her anger out during this phase, she does not usually fight back because she believes that to do so will only bring her more abuse and injury. Although most victims are seriously beaten at the end of this phase, they consider themselves "lucky" for surviving and will often placate the abuser by denying the extent of their injuries.

Phase three is a period of calm.** Some victims, sensing that phase two is in-evitable, will "encourage" its appearance and completion because they know that once the violence of phase two is over, phase three brings the "reward" of a kind, caring, if not contrite, partner. The abuser is usually sorry for his behavior even if he does not acknowledge this. He promises never to do it again and the victim wants to believe him. He may even become especially helpful and compromising in his behavior. Just prior to this phase a victim may have sought outside help, perhaps in connection with treatment for injuries. The appearance of her idealized, loving husband during this phase provides her with a glimpse of what she hopes for -- that people who truly love one another can overcome all odds. The apparent calm and bliss of phase three often undercuts a victim's interest in seeking and utilizing help. The cycle of violence inevitably continues as phase one behavior unfortunately reappears.

Not all violent situations follow this pattern. Some abusers have been known to wake their victims up with physical assaults. In some cases, violence occurs only sporadically while other abusers engage in violent behavior of some form on a consistent or daily basis.

Some suggest there is never "calm", merely periods of respite.

 An Overview of a Batterer

 Not all batterers are alike, but they often share some common characteristics. Batterers appear to:

  • have intense, dependent relationships with their victims

  • have low self-esteem;

  • believe all the myths about domestic violence;

  • be traditionalists, believe in male supremacy and stereotyped masculine sex roles;

  • have poor impulse control or explosive tempers;

  • have limited tolerance for frustration and severe reactions to stress;

  • often present a dual-personality -- loving or violent;

  • have difficulty acknowledging or describing feelings;

  • deny and minimize their violent behavior;

  • not believe their violent behavior should have negative consequences;

  • be extremely jealous, possessive, controlling and fear they will be abandoned;

  • be depressed and vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse.

Why Do Abusers Continue to Abuse?

Why do men batter and continue to batter? Most of the men in batterers' programs have been violent throughout their relationship with their victims. Most often, these men have learned to use violence as a way of managing everyday stress and frustration. They may not use violence at work, because they know that they would be fired. They have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. At the same time, they have low self-esteem. Thus, they are extremely dependent on their partners for their sense of self-worth and for a sense of control over their lives. Because of this dependency they are often extremely jealous and possessive of their partners. In some cases, the fearful rage that can result has impelled an abuser to murder his partner rather than let her leave him.  Abusers may not like their violence, but they know of no other options. Because most of them cannot accept what they are doing, they will minimize, deny and even lie about their abuse.

Profile of a Battered Woman

While battered women are different from one another in circumstances and characteristics and vary as much as non-battered women from one another, there are some characteristics that appear to be common to victims of domestic violence. And these characteristics often correspond to the needs of their violent abusers. Victims appear to:

  • believe all the myths about domestic violence;

  • be traditionalists about home, family unity and female sex roles;

  • accept responsibility for the batterer's behavior;

  • have low self-esteem;

  • feel guilt, self-blame and self-hatred and deny legitimacy of their own feelings and needs;

  • show martyr-like endurance and passive acceptance;

  • hold unrealistic hopes that change is imminent;

  • become increasingly socially isolated;

  • act compliant, helpless and powerless in order to appease the offender;

  • define themselves in terms of other people's needs;

  • have a high risk for drug and alcohol addictions;

  • exhibit stress disorders, depression and psychosomatic complaints.

Why Do Abused Women Stay?

For some women, physical punishment in their childhood was rare or mild, but their homes were controlled, traditional and authoritarian. Other women experienced violence in their childhood homes and appear to expect it in their homes and relationships. Both groups of women cling to the hope that it will never happen again and that the batterer's promise to stop is true.

Battered women often hold fiercely to conventional views of marriage and sex-stereotypical roles. They believe they are responsible for their husband's well being. They make excuses for his behavior. They believe it is a woman's responsibility to insure the peace and success of the family. These women think they can change their partner's behavior by acting more loving or being better wives themselves. They believe they can save their partners. Violence for many has been interpreted as "their cross to bear."

Women also stay because they are socially and economically dependent on their abusing partner. Some women with children often stay because they cannot imagine how the children will be fed and clothed without the income from their spouse. Others believe that a violent father is better than no father at all. Some women have been told that the family must stay together at all costs.  These reasons combine into what been has called "learned helplessness." The victim becomes passive and submissive because she believes that she has no control over the relationship's violence or her own children's safety.

The Psychological Impact of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can also have psychological effects including depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide. Victims may also feel anxious, helpless, afraid, demoralized, ashamed and angry and may experience panic attacks. Battered Women Syndrome (BWS) is a psychological condition that is characterized by psychological, emotional and behavioral deficits arising from chronic and persistent violence. The central features of BWS include ‘learned helplessness’, passivity and paralysis. In relation to domestic violence, common features associated with PTSD include anxiety, fear, and experiencing flashbacks or persistently re-experiencing the event, nightmares, sleeplessness, exaggerated startle responses, difficulty in concentrating, and feelings of shame, despair and hopelessness. There is little doubt that psychiatric illness, particularly PTSD, depression and anxiety is greater among people who have experienced domestic violence compared to those who have not.”

Prerequisites for identifying and responding to family violence:

Due to the high prevalence of family violence in the population and the negative health effects of this abuse, health professionals need to become competent in abuse intervention. This includes knowing how to ask questions to identify the presence of abuse, and having the procedures in place to support brief intervention and appropriate referral of identified victims.

 Health care providers should have received appropriate training on issues of:

• cultural competency

• principles of increasing safety and respecting autonomy of abused women.

• care and protection issues related to abused children.

These are considered to be core competencies that should have been achieved as part of any clinical training. In the event that an individual provider does not have these skills, assistance should be sought from a more experienced colleague and the provider should take active steps to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. Good practice will be best achieved and maintained in settings where there is sufficient organizational and institutional support for addressing abuse as a critical health care issue, and where health care providers work in partnership with community-based service providers who can provide other support to abuse victims. Health care providers should have established working relationships and referral pathways with local family violence agencies in their community prior to undertaking intervention for family violence. 

The Goal of Domestic Violence Treatment:

The goal of treatment is to make the victim and perpetrator recognize that Domestic violence is unacceptable behavior.  Every human has the right is to live free from intimidation, abuse and violence. The abuser is 100% responsible for his abusive behavior. Domestic violence is not the fault of the victim.  No one ever deserves to be abused no matter what is said or done. Violence towards a partner is intentional behavior.  Abusers can change their behavior.  It is within their control and they can choose to stop. Making changes is not easy.  Sufficient motivation is required for change to occur. When a victim first comes to see you she almost always needs information. It is important to discuss with the victims what their options are and help them to find a way to be safe.

In beginning domestic violence sessions the counselor should put safety of the victim first. Developing a safety plan with a client can mean the difference between her getting out of a dangerous situation and her being abused again. Additionally, beginning domestic violence sessions should focus on educating the client on the dynamics of abuse. Teaching clients the dynamics of abuse helps minimize the client's feelings of isolation and helps them to start to look at the abuse in the relationship as something that is not their fault.

Currently, because of the predominance of individual and socio-cultural factors in understanding the etiology of domestic violence, most treatment programs for domestic violence offenders are based on a cognitive behavioral approach.  The focus of understanding has been on individual and/or socio-cultural pathologies.  Group approaches are also based on the assumption that domestic violence offenders have deficits in knowledge or skills that are necessary for avoiding battering. Building on such assumptions is a treatment orientation which holds that the behaviors of domestic violence offenders can and need to be changed through a re-educational process.

Consequently, the core components of these treatment programs generally include communication training, direct education about violence, anger management, conflict containment, and stress management and raising awareness of patriarchal power and control. The resulting psycho-educational programs usually focus on confronting participants so they will recognize and admit their violent behaviors, take full responsibility for their problems, learn new ways to manage their anger, and communicate effectively with their spouse.

Questioning the Victim

Indirect Questions

Particularly if the abuse has been happening over a long period of time, the victim is likely to feel depressed, insecure and lacking in confidence and self-esteem. She may be extremely afraid of the situation, and that fear may include a fear of talking to anyone about what has been taking place. Women who experience domestic violence often try to explain it to themselves, and others, by seeing it as their responsibility or fault, and the response of others to their situation may have reinforced this view. Before asking direct questions, it may help to begin with some indirect ones to help in establishing a relationship with the patient and developing empathy, for example:

• Is everything alright at home?

• Are you being looked after properly/is your partner taking care of you?

• Do you get along well with your partner?

Direct Questions

Women may not disclose violence unless asked directly.  The following questions are intended as prompts; it will not always be necessary or appropriate to ask all of these. In particular, the questions tend to focus on evidence of physical assault and injury, but many women who routinely access health care services and who are experiencing domestic violence, will not have physical evidence of injuries at the time.

Explain why you are asking the questions. For example:

“I am sorry if someone has already asked you about this, and I don’t wish to cause you any harm, but we know that throughout the country 1 in 4 women experiences violence at home at some time during their life. I noticed that you have a number of bruises/cuts/burns (as appropriate)”

1 Could you tell me how you got those injuries?

2 Do you ever feel frightened of your partner, or other people at home?

3 Have you ever been slapped, kicked or punched by your partner?

4 Have you ever been in a relationship where you have been hit or hurt in some way?

5 Are you currently in a relationship where this is happening to you?

6 Does your partner often lose their temper with you? If he/she does, what happens?

7 Has your partner ever:

a)     destroyed or broken things you care about?

b)     threatened or hurt your children?

c)      forced sex on you, or made you have sex in a way you did not want?

d) withheld sex or rejected you in a punishing way?

8 Does your partner get jealous of you seeing friends, talking to other people or going out? If so, what happens?

9 Your partner seems very concerned and anxious about you. Sometimes people react like that when they feel guilty, was he responsible for your injuries?

10 Does your partner use drugs or alcohol excessively? If so, how does he behave at this time?

Motivation and the Domestic Violence Offender

A major therapeutic hurdle when working with offenders is the issue of motivation. Most domestic violence offenders are involuntary, court-mandated clients who are not self motivated to receive treatment. Many practitioners who work with court mandated domestic violence offenders are only too familiar with defensiveness, commonly manifested in constant evasiveness, silence, phony agreement, and vociferous counterarguments when participants are confronted with their problems of violence. Many participants stop attending the program altogether.

According to one survey, nearly half of the treatment programs faced dropout rates of over 50% of the men accepted at intake.

In addition, some professionals have begun to raise doubts about how a focus on deficits, blame, and confrontation can be conducive to stopping violence or initiating positive changes in offenders. Because blaming is one of the main strategies used by offenders to intimidate victims and to justify their own abusive acts, using confrontation and assigning blame in treatment may re-create a similar and non-helpful dynamic in abusive relationships. The effectiveness of a deficit perspective or a blaming stance in treatment is dubious if one looks at the characteristics of domestic violence offenders.

The most consistent risk markers for violent males have been identified as having experienced and/ or witnessed parental violence, frequent alcohol use, low assertiveness, and low self-esteem. As a result, a high percentage of domestic violence offenders are likely to be insecure individuals at the margins of society who victimize others to boost their own low self-esteem. Studies on personality further indicate that many domestic violence offenders fit the profile of narcissistic or borderline personality disorder.

Cultural Factors

Women and children constitute approximately two-thirds of all legal immigrants in the United States. Increasing evidence indicates that there are large numbers of immigrant women trapped and isolated in violent relationships, afraid to turn to anyone for help. A survey conducted by the Coalition for Immigrant Rights revealed that 34% of Latinas and 25% of Filipinas surveyed had experienced domestic violence either in their country of origin, in the U.S., or both.  Battered immigrant women encounter obstacles that can be attributed to language, culture, citizenship status, or lack of access to services.

Immigrant Women    

In addition to the physical violence, a battered immigrant woman may experience:

ISOLATION:  The abusing partner often keeps his victim isolated from family and friends - and from anyone who speaks her language. He also may not allow her to learn English.

THREATS:  The mate may threaten to report her to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to have them deported. Or he may threaten to withdraw the petition to legalize her immigration status.

INTIMIDATION:  He may hide or destroy important papers (such as her passport, identification card, Green card, health insurance card). He also may destroy the only property she has from her country of origin, including important mementos.

ECONOMIC ABUSE:  He may report her to the INS if she works "under the table" -- or threaten to do so. He may not let her obtain job training or schooling so she can become financially independent.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE:  The abusive spouse may lie about her immigration status. He may write lies about her to her family and friends. He may call her racist names.

CHILDREN USED:  He may threaten to take her children away from the United States, or to report her children to the INS. Or he may threaten to hurt them.

LANGUAGE BARRIERS:  When a battered immigrant woman tries to get assistance from a domestic violence agency, she may not be able to use the help that is offered because it is not in her language and no one is available to translate.

CULTURAL ISSUES:  Services provided by domestic violence programs may not address relevant cultural issues, so the agency may propose ideas that are not culturally appropriate or may not be able to offer her the right kind of assistance.

LACK OF ACCESS TO SERVICES:  Domestic violence agencies may not understand immigration laws and issues, and therefore be unable to help her solve her problems. Immigration agencies or attorneys may not recognize the signs of domestic violence, or know how to help.

Abuse Dynamics and Stats

  • Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate reported that alcohol had been a factor.  Among spousal victims 3 out of 4 incidents were reported to have involved an offender who had been drinking.  By contrast, an estimated 31% of stranger victimizations where the victim could determine the absence or presence of alcohol as perceived to be alcohol-related.

  • Family members were most likely to murder a young child -- About one in five child murders was committed by a family member -- while a friend or acquaintance was most likely to murder an older child age 15 to 17.

  • A child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

Domestic Violence and Its Impact on Children

Domestic violence can affect children in many ways. Young people may witness terrible acts of violence against their parents or caregivers. Some children may never see the violence, but they may feel the tension, hear the fighting, and see the injuries left behind. Young people may be physically injured themselves if they try to intervene to stop the violence. Children may be asked to call the police or to keep a family secret. No matter the details of a family’s situation, children and young people bear the burden of domestic violence, too.

Children react in many different ways to violence in their homes. Individual children may respond differently even within the same family. Some children may become violent themselves, while others may withdraw. Some may "act out" at home or at school, while others constantly try to act like the perfect child.

Although domestic violence impacts children tremendously, it is only recently that domestic violence has been taken into account when determining child custody in families where domestic violence has occurred. The laws regarding child custody in families with domestic violence histories are still different from state to state. Even when a violent relationship has ended, the abuser may continue to have contact with the children. It is important to plan for the safety of the children and adults in the family at all times.

Children often appear:

  • sad, fearful, depressed and/or anxious;

  • aggressively defiant or passively compliant

  • to have limited tolerance for frustration and stress;

  • to become isolated and withdrawn;

  • to be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, sexual acting out, running away;

  • to have poor impulse control;

  • to feel powerless;

  • to have low self-esteem;

  • to take on parental roles.

Domestic violence may be kept from relatives, neighbors, clergy and others, but the children of violent partners know what is happening. In one home there may not be any physical violence against a child whose adult caretakers have an abusive relationship, while in another home there may be physical abuse of the child as well. Either way, a child who lives in a house where domestic violence occurs is a victim all the same.

A home that is characterized by physical, emotional, sexual or property abuse is a frightening, debilitating and unhealthy place. The children in such a home are often unable to be children. They worry about protecting their parents. They are concerned that they not become an additional source of stress or problem, and fear for their own safety and security. They have the burden of carrying around a tremendous family secret.

Children from violent homes often suffer from depression. Some become isolated. Many do not want to bring friends home because of the shame and unpredictability of violence. They may spend much time away from home and get into trouble for truancy, petty crimes or disturbances. Children from violent homes often experience nightmares, sleep disturbances and nighttime bed wetting. A child's ability to handle his or her school work the next day is often adversely affected. Domestic violence incidents often occur during late evening hours, just at the time a child is getting ready for bed, and often wakes them up with shouts and noise.

Children from violent homes often feel responsible for everything bad that happens to themselves or to their parents. If they were neater, quieter, helped more or were smarter in school, maybe the violence would stop.  Children of abused moms have more internalizing, externalizing and behavior problems.

Same Sex Relationships:

What is NCAVP?

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) is a coalition of 25 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victim and documentation programs located throughout the United States. Before officially forming in 1995, NCAVP members collaborated with one another and with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) for over a decade to create a coordinated response to violence against our communities. Since 1984, members have released an annual report every March, promoting public education about bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. As the prevalence of domestic violence in our community has emerged from the shadows, NCAVP member organizations have increasingly adapted their missions and their services to respond to violence within the community as well. The first annual domestic violence report was released in October 1997. This is the second report and is released in conjunction with National Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Research Questions, Methods, and Definitions

The purpose of this report is to investigate the following research questions and to summarize our findings:

  • How prevalent is domestic violence among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?

  • Do state statutes permit victims of same-sex domestic violence to obtain domestic violence protective orders?

The first question was selected because domestic violence in this community is an ignored, even invisible phenomenon that most people have never considered; the second, to determine whether or not equal legal protection was available to sexual minority victims. In answering these questions, we reviewed academic literature on same-sex battering, conducted a survey of state domestic violence statutes and significant, relevant case law, and conducted our own member survey, described below.

Domestic violence encompasses a broad range of relationships including but not limited to romantic partner abuse, abuse of elders, abuse from an HIV caregiver or to other caregiver, abuse occurring in other intimate relationships. For the purposes of this report, however, we limited the definition of domestic partnerships that were romantic in nature.  Similarly, domestic violence typically includes many forms of abuse, often occurring simultaneously and in a pattern that escalates over time. For the purposes of this report, abuse is defined as any non-consensual behavior that causes another fear, causes another emotional, financial, or physical harm, or restricts another's freedom, rights, or privacy. Common forms of abuse, including threats, emotional or psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and stalking.

The Prevalence of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Domestic Violence

The Number of Cases NCAVP documented during 1997 rose by 975 cases or 41% compared to 1996. During calendar year 1996, a total of 2,352 cases were documented by NCAVP compared to 3,327 during 1997, an increase of 975 cases or 41%. Of the twelve locations, nine (75%) reported increases, two (22%) reported decreases, and one (11%) stayed the same.

  • The risk of losing their children is even greater for lesbian and gay couples when domestic violence is involved.

  •  In same sex relationships violence can be physical, sexual, emotional and psychological.

Definition and Types of Marital Rape

Marital rape is the term used to describe nonconsensual sexual acts between a woman/man and her husband/wife, ex-husband/wife, or intimate long-term partner. These sexual acts can include: intercourse, anal or oral sex, forced sexual behavior with other individuals, and other unwanted, painful, and humiliating sexual activities. It is rape if one partner uses force, threats, or intimidation to get the other to submit to sexual acts.

It is important to note that, although battered women are more at risk for marital rape than their non-battered counterparts, some men will rape their wives and never beat them and vice versa. These issues may be inter-linked or seemingly unrelated. Don’t make assumptions about their victimization based on partial facts.

Types of Marital Rape:

Battering Rape

This involves forced sex combined with beatings. This type of sexual assault is primarily motivated by anger towards the victim. The sexual abuse is either part of the entire physical abuse incident or is a result of the husband later asking his wife to prove she forgives him for the beating by having sex with him.

Force-Only Rape

The husband uses only as much force as necessary to coerce his wife into sexual activity. This type of sexual assault is primarily motivated by the need for power over the victim. In his mind, he is merely asserting his right to have sex with "his" wife on demand. This is the most common type of marital rape.

Obsessive Rape

The husband’s sexual interests run toward the strange and perverse, and he is willing (or even has a   preference) to use force to carry these activities out. This is the least common, yet arguably the most physically damaging, type of marital rape.


If and when a victim is able to leave her battering environment, it is essential that she has a "safety plan" to increase her opportunity for a successful departure. Advance planning is crucial. Start by assessing the battered-generated and life-generated risks with her. Based on this information, concerns and actions may need to include the following:

  • Does she have family and friends with whom she can stay?

  • Would she find a protective or restraining order helpful?

  • Can a victim advocate safely contact her at home? What should the advocate do if the batterer answers the phone?

  • Does she know how to contact emergency assistance (i.e., 911)?

  • If she believes the violence might begin or escalate, can she leave for a few days?

  • Does she know how to contact a shelter? (If she doesn't, provide her with information for future use.)

  • Does she have a neighbor she can contact or with whom she can work out a signal for assistance when violence erupts or appears inevitable?

  • If she has a car, can she hide a set of keys?

  • Can she pack an extra set of clothes for herself and the children, and store them--along with an extra set of house and car keys--with a neighbor or friend?

  • Can she leave extra cash, checkbook, or savings account book hidden or with a friend for emergency access?

  • Can she collect and store originals or copies of important records such as birth certificates, social security cards, drivers' license, financial records (such as banking and other financial accounts, mortgage or rent receipts, the title to the car, etc.), and medical records for herself and her children?

  • Does she have a concrete plan for where she should go and how she can get there regardless of when she leaves?

  • Does she have a disability that requires assistance or a specialized safety plan?

  • Does she want access to counseling for her children or herself?

  • Are there any other concerns that need to be addressed?

The following link provides information for practitioners working with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. 

Link to:     State Domestic Violence Coalition



Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence: findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington (DC): Department of Justice (US); 2000.

Trabold N.: Screening for intimate partner violence within a health care setting:a systematic review of the literature. State University of New York at Buffalo, 685 Baldy Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260-1050, USA.

Lyn Shipway: Domestic Violence: A Handbood for Health Care Professionals, Family & Relationships, 2004

Tamara L. Roleff: Domestic Violence: Opposing Viewpoints, Family & Relationships, 2000

Dawn Bradley Berry; The Domestic Violence Source Book, Family and Relationships, 2000

Ellyn Kaschak; Intimate Betrayal: Domestic Violence in Lesbian Relationships, Social Science, 2002

Blasko, Kelly A, Winek, Jon L, Bieschke, Kathleen J, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Apr 2007

U.S. Department of Justice. Stalking, January 2004


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