I recently spotted this short Upworthy article titled The 4 Terrifying Dating Secrets Abusers Are Counting On You Not Knowing. The article highlights a GIF set from Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED Talk, “Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave.” In the four GIFs, Steiner is shown saying the following:
- “I did not know that the first step in any domestic violence relationship is to seduce and charm the victim.”
- “I also did not know that the second step is to isolate the victim.”
- “The next step in the domestic violence pattern is to introduce the threat of violence and see how (the victim) reacts.”
- “We victims know something you (non-victims) usually don’t. It’s incredibly dangerous to leave an abuser, because the final stage in the domestic violence pattern is “kill (them)”. Over 70% of domestic violence murders happens after the victim has ended the relationship.”
The original post on Tumblr has over 75,000 notes, and the Upworthy article has been shared all over social media. The message is so powerful because it introduces, perhaps for the first time, the issue of Domestic Violence from an entirely new lens- inside the mind of an abuser. Domestic/dating violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors that one partner uses to get power over the other. Including: physical violence or threat of physical violence to get control, emotional or mental abuse and sexual abuse. It is important to note that Domestic Violence can occur between same-sex partners, and that women too can be perpetrators, and men can be victims. The reason we focus mostly on violence against women is because 85% of domestic violence victims are women. So what do we really know about Domestic Violence? October is National Domestic Violence awareness month. On November 25th, we have White Ribbon Day, a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We’ve heard the countless alarming statistics about DV. There are critical studies released almost yearly. From them, we know thatonly 25% of all physical assaults perpetrated by intimate partners are reported to the police. We know that Domestic violence is most likely to occur between 6 pm and 6 am. We know that Domestic violence costs more than $37 billion a year in law enforcement involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment, and lost productivity at companies. All of this information is readily available to us, and is continually shared by organizations valiantly fighting to raise awareness about DV. But the one key piece of information we are overlooking are the abusers themselves. When speaking of Domestic Violence, we are quick to question and challenge the victim. Why did they not leave? How could they not have known that the person would turn abusive? What did they do to encourage/discourage it? All these problematic questions we ask as a matter of regular DV discourse, both publicly and privately, are more dangerous than we realize. Not only does it blame and therefore re-victimize the survivor, but it takes the responsibility entirely away from the abuser. And this is exactly what abusers count on. In researching this article, I came across a book by Lundy Bancroft, entitled Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Bancroft, a noted consultant on domestic abuse and child maltreatment, treated abusers for years; gaining an insight into the abuser mentality that is critical to understanding and preventing DV. The entire book is a must read for both victims and perpetrators of partner violence. Below, I’ve quoted a few key passages Bancroft made that debunk two of the most common myths of Domestic Violence perpetrated by abusers. The first myth, and one of the most common statements made about abusers is that they have an “anger problem” and are simply unable to control themselves. Bancroft believes this misdirection to be one of the greatest tools used by an abuser to reinforce their domination. He writes:
“Your abusive partner doesn’t have a problem with his anger; he has a problem with your anger. One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you—as will happen to any abused woman from time to time—he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.”
The myth of anger ties into this idea that abusers just “lose control” and are unable to contain themselves. Bancroft references this myth in a case study of a woman in a relationship with one his clients. She described her partners “rages” saying he would go berserk, throwing things, completely going off with no warning. When he was in one of these “rages” he would damage property and leave a complete mess, but later he appeared ashamed of himself and remorseful. Bancroft responds;
“I asked (the partner) two questions. The first was, when things got broken, were they (the abuser’s), or hers, or things that belonged to both of them She left a considerable silence while she thought. Then she said. “You know what? I’m amazed that “I’ve never thought of this, but he only breaks my stuff. I can’t think of one thing that he’s smashed that belonged to him.” Next I asked her who cleans up the mess. She answered that she does. I commented, “See, Michaels behaviour isn’t nearly as berserk as it looks. And if he really felt so remorseful, he’d help clean up.” “…When a man starts my program, he often says, “I am here because I lose control of myself sometimes. I need to get a better grip.” I always correct him: “Your problem is not that you lose control of yourself, it’s that you take control of your partner. In order to change, you don’t need to gain control over yourself, you need to let go of control of her.”
The second myth that needs to be debunked is the narrative that violent tendencies stem from an abusers own unique set of problems. Abusers view themselves as victims; of mental illness, of a traumatic childhood, of addiction and substance abuse, of their own failures, etc. Bancroft challenges this misconception in the below passages.
“Abusive men come in every personality type, arise from good childhoods and bad ones, are macho men or gentle, “liberated” men. No psychological test can distinguish an abusive man from a respectful one. Abusiveness is not a product of a man’s emotional injuries or of deficits in his skills. In reality, abuse springs from a man’s early cultural training, his key male role models, and his peer influences. In other words, abuse is a problem of values, not of psychology. When someone challenges an abuser’s attitudes and beliefs, he tends to reveal the contemptuous and insulting personality that normally stays hidden, reserved for private attacks on his partner. An abuser tries to keep everybody—his partner, his therapist, his friends and relatives—focused on how he feels, so that they won’t focus on how he thinks, perhaps because on some level he is aware that if you grasp the true nature of his problem, you will begin to escape his domination.” “Have you ever heard a woman claim that the reason why she is chronically mistreating her male partner is because a previous man abused her? I have never run into this excuse in the fifteen years I have worked in the field of abuse. Certainly I have encountered cases where women had trouble trusting another man after leaving an abuser, but there is a critical distinction to be made: Her past experiences may explain how she feels, but they are not an excuse for how she behaves. And the same is true for a man.” “Have you ever suffered a sharp disappointment or a painful loss and found yourself looking for someone to blame? …Certain days you may know that you just have to keep an eye on yourself so as not to bite someone’s head off. The abusive man doesn’t bother to keep an eye on himself, however. In fact, he considers himself entitled to use his partner as a kind of human garbage dump where he can litter the ordinary pains and frustrations that life brings us. She is always an available target, she is easy to blame — since no partner is perfect—and she can’t prevent him from dumping because he will get even worse if she tries. His excuse when he jettisons his distresses on to her is that his life is unusually painful—an unacceptable rationalization even if it were true, which it generally isn’t.”
The insights that Bancroft offers are not only vital to helping victims understand and heal from abuse, but in helping end this abuser friendly society we are actively fostering. “As long as we see abusers as victims, or as out-of-control monsters, they will continue getting away with ruining lives. If we want abusers to change, we will have to require them to give up the luxury of exploitation.” If you are in an abusive relationship, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website to speak with a crisis counselor or call 1-800-799-7233. To get a free PDF copy of Bancroft’s book, click here.