The dynamics of domestic violence

Family Law|October 13th 2015

Domestic violence is one of the most emotive topics in family law, and unsurprisingly so. Our homes and closest relationships are refuges from the world, places of rest and safety. If these are escapes are shattered by intimidation or violence, whether verbal or physical, the damage can be deep.

Over recent years, our understanding of domestic violence has broadened. Bruises and broken bones have always been obvious, verbal violence less so, although the latter always been the biggest weapon in the armoury of every domestic abuser. Back in 2012, the government broadened the definition of domestic violence to include coercion and intimidation, and three years on, it is now on the verge of making such behaviour illegal.

It is a controversial move. It is clear that proponents of section 76 for the most part have good intentions: they are motivated by a noble desire to protect the vulnerable from bullying and abuse. Meanwhile, critics – myself amongst them – point to the difficulties inherent in enforcing such a measure and establishing the truth amongst a morass of ‘he said, she said’ counterclaims. I set out my views in detail here and the redoubtable John Bolch also expressed doubts in his column yesterday. For John, promising to eliminate domestic violence is more about scoring political points than setting achievable goals.

John’s article provoked a long and interesting response from a commentator called ‘Min’. I urge you to read it for yourself but essentially he or she argued that ‘preconceptions must be set aside and each case regarded dispassionately in order to protect both victims and any children involved. No argument from me there!

Min also took issue with my claim in a recent BBC interview that much depends on who you believe in each particular case, and that victims always have the option of leaving. Attempting to leave an abusive relationship places victims at special risk of harm, Min insists, because abusers are threatened by their imminent loss of control.

He or she emphasises the difficulties faced by many victims in such circumstances : “What if the victim is terrified, has no money, nowhere to go, feels worthless? To leave a domestically violent relationship, a safety plan needs to be put into effect.”

For Min, saying it is better to leave implies that I am blaming the victims of abusive relationship. He or she goes on to debate my suggestion that claims of coercive could be used by vengeful wives as social weapons against their husbands. Min describes the typical escalating patterns of coercive control and the dynamics of domestic abuse over the course of a relationship. It is vivid and powerful passage.

Nevertheless, as I explained in my response to Min, I still believe that the potential for miscarriages of justice in the application of Section 76 cannot and should not be overlooked in an understandable desire to protect the victim, a figure we almost always envision as the woman. As a society we are much comfortable seeing women as vulnerable victims than aggressors. Precisely the opposite applies to men – but the fact remains that some women are aggressive and some men are victims. They may be in the minority but these people should not be ignored and brushed aside as an inconvenient exceptions.

Min is of course quite right to point out how difficult it can be to leave an abusive relationship. But whatever the practical obstacles in your way, you can leave. You don’t have to stay and suffer or snap and lose control. As I wrote in my response:

“There is help available and I think it would be wrong to simply say women are trapped in relationships and leave it at that. They need to hear it can end.”

So much of the discourse and debate about domestic violence is focused on the needs of women and I think it is important to balance that by pointing to the other side of the coin and saying that the protections available can be misused and that apparent victims may not be as innocent as they appear. To make such points is not to blame either gender and it certainly does not mean that genuine bullying and abuse should be tolerated. Domestic violence is not and never has been a ‘zero sum’ game, in which for one gender to ‘win’, the other has to lose. Let’s recognise and help everyone in need, regardless of gender or background.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. The Devi's Advocate says:

    We must be very careful about the emotions admitted on this particular blog.

    Having experienced psychological abuse, personally, (but no physical violence, apart from once, over a two year period) and being a trained Samaritan it beholds me to comment. The ramifications of domestic violence (DV) are huge because it was only the beginning of dissociation in a partnership lies the crux is what exhibits any form of DV which is brought to the surface of a relationship which may have begun with love (doubtful) over many years of relative normality in many cases or in others, in only a few weeks (possible due to ulterior motives, extra relationship affairs)?

    But does the type of DV depend on your gender? Women as always are tended to be the threatened physically more (often with children associated with observing the like). Such empirical evidence provided shows that women are more affected by the description of physical domestic violence (5, no sorry now to be 6 out of the 12 forms of abuse) but by a slim margin, see below, and here is the point. Is it real evidence or part of the ” he said – she said” mud slinging nonsense? The irrationality of such actions is corrupting and must be taken a lot more seriously now and in the future for it leads to malicious fabrications often relating to criminal acts sponsored and, to knowingly falsifying evidence to HM Constabulary which could ensue dire consequences on such perpetrator including a lengthy period of incarceration!

    DV illustrates a similarity of, “according to your ability, according to your need ” syndrome. It seems from evidence that if someone in the relationship is physically more powerful then it is assumed that such a person could inflict this upon the other if the circumstances arise. This is the overall syndrome in society and even the Police in many instances. Yet this is a vague and a “Judge Jeffrey” type assumption. Anyone can be physically violent such as the woman who killed her husband with a frozen joint, and then cooked the evidence, an old chestnut. As was documented, by a previous blogger Marilyn declared men are castigated in this light, and being so called stronger than women therefore ssuming this form of DV occurs, hence the reasoning behind the facts that of those who perpetrate physical DV, 56% are men, and 44% women. If this were directed only and purely to those affected by physical DV then this reality seems an interesting response from the Office of National Statistics. Out of 100 persons violated 56 are women and 44 men. But is this a reality across the whole abuse spectrum? Which part of this assumption is really, emotional, psychological, (now to include coercion) and there is a difference between the two previous forms; physical, sexual and/or financial? Often all are interconnected and often not. But this is the rump: evidence.

    And this is where society has to take a step back and really understand the word substantive and empirical. That which is independent not from one but a multitude of professional directions. Are we mature enough to realise this? Not currently. That depends. In criminal acts this is axiomatic; in county or family situations – oh dear what went wrong? In the latter it is often good enough just to say “boo” and your are guilty of an injunction of molestation (which has associated with it the 6 forms of abuse now declared within the DV spectrum) but especially if supported by the hormone induced outburst of oestrogens (in as many as 90% of such situations) from either Local Authority public servants or CAFCASS, employees in the event ruining family lives and abusing millions of children and their future. However returning to the tracks.

    Extolling the definition of abuse is a real question. Yes there are many women and men effecting domestically abused annually. This is sad and gives reason to why? Responses to emotions (and such confrontations), for this drives our existence. Many men and women have been physically violated in a squabble but is this abuse? Some would say it is the willingness to do harm whilst others suggest that it was a human response to extreme provocation. The dilemma being both sides of the argument have correct position so where do we place the empirism of the so called evidence? Hence the need for a number of professional interviewers to determine the origin of abuse if it exists. Which is proven due to such investigations so be it!

    What I have discussed in this missive is something which needs to be expanded. The way forward was the blog on this site regarding action mediation which was cited in family dissociation situations, from a modern civilised nation in Finland which it seems to be a pathfinder on these issues and we should follow; perhaps they have a direction on the DV spectrum of abuse too from which we can learn and enact. Let us please grow up and start acting responsibly like the Finns!

  2. Min says:

    Dear Marilyn,

    Thank you for your two lengthy responses to my post. Although I feel that you have somewhat misunderstood what I was trying to say, I am really not going to take issue with that. You took considerable time to reply to my post when, to be honest, I was expecting nothing back and for that I am extremely grateful. Coercive control is a very tricky subject to grasp and, I feel, that many lawyers need a great deal more awareness of what it actually is so that it does not become confused with all the other horrid behaviours seen in divorcing couples. All of the examples you have cited in your responses happen, and happen more than they should. But they are not coercive control. I would be very happy to meet with you to discuss this further as I feel that there needs to be a new way of thinking as far as domestic abuse is concerned. If you are interested in that, I ask only one thing. You buy the coffee!

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