In the news yesterday was a story about an English aristocrat who has admitted four counts of assaulting his wife, over a period of 22 years. He is due to be sentenced in February and has been warned by the judge that the offences are so serious that he could face a custodial sentence.
The story reminds us of what all family lawyers already know: that domestic violence occurs in all social classes.
However, it got me thinking: what exactly makes a person violent towards their partner? Thankfully, most people live their lives without resorting to violence – why is it that some people can’t manage this?
After giving the question a little consideration, I have come up with various possible reasons why people become violent. Before I begin, however, please note the following.
Firstly, none of what follows is intended to excuse the perpetrators of domestic violence. There is no excuse for such behaviour.
Secondly, violence by one party can obviously be in response to violence by the other party. I will not be discussing such cases here – instead I will just be looking into why one party may be the instigator of domestic violence.
Thirdly, this is not intended to be a learned psychological discussion. Whilst I have, over the years, read or been aware of such discussions, what follows is just my personal view, based in particular upon my own experiences as a family lawyer and commentator over the last thirty years. I’m sure a psychologist expert in the field would come up with a quite different list, and that they would also take exception to some of my views.
Finally, what follows is not intended to be comprehensive. I’m sure there are many other reasons why people are violent. These are just the ones that I feel may be the most important.
So, having expressed those qualifications, here are a few possible reasons why people may use violence against their partners:
Childhood experiences – in particular, witnessing regular incidents of domestic violence in the household. It is generally recognised that anyone who has had such experiences is more likely to be an abuser themselves, perhaps seeing such behaviour as ‘the norm’.
Maltreatment – anyone who has suffered maltreatment at the hands of others, particularly their parents, is surely more likely to treat others in a similar fashion.
Peers – most people are likely to follow the example of their peers. If their peers are violent, then they may become violent themselves, perhaps initially as a way to ‘fit in’ with the group.
Witnessing violence on a regular basis – perhaps elsewhere in their lives, on television or (dare I say it) in video games. Once again, if violent behaviour is seen to be ‘the norm’, them it may be adopted by the person witnessing it.
Drink/drugs – obviously, anyone who abuses drink or drugs may become violent. This was a particularly common scenario while I was practising as a family lawyer.
Absence of positive factors – lastly, and this is one factor that I have taken from an article by a psychologist, a person may suffer from an absence of positive factors in their life to ‘neutralise’ the negative factors.
Obviously, in any given case it is unlikely that there will just be one of the above factors present.
As I said above, there is no excuse for domestic violence, but hopefully an investigation into its causes will aid understanding and may help us find ways to reduce it in future.
Photo by Gene Han via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence
John Bolch is a family law commentator