Domestic Violence 101

The term “domestic violence” is a catch-all phrase that covers a multitude of abusive behaviors that occur within a significant relationship setting, usually within family. In this article, we will begin with definitions, including acronyms, specifically those used within the state of Georgia, and close with state policy regarding domestic violence. This article will not be comprehensive; instead it aims to briefly touch major points. To conserve length, original sources can be found in the thesis cited by this author.  Various terms used in domestic violence literature include family violence (or familial violence), spousal abuse, child abuse, physical violence, psychological, emotional, and/or mental abuse, battering,  intimate partner violence, and intimate partner abuse, among others.  Domestic abuse is defined as a type of abuse, usually involving injury, by a family member (Echols, 2008). Other definitions include descriptions of patterns of dominance, either physically or psychologically; abusive patterns covering a wide range of physical, sexual, and psychological maltreatment;  control over a partner, whether that control is attempted physically, economically, psychologically, sexually, or verbally; and battering (Echols, 2008). Other constructs differ from what researchers qualify as abusive and include common couple violence and mutual violence (Echols, 2008). These constructs differ in that control, dominance, and power are not the intent of the relationship violence. Physical violence occurs in a spectrum of family conflict that escalates to observable harm, while psychological and other forms of abuse are more subtle, but whose effects can be just as devastating, if not more so.

It is important to note that there are inherent differences in the constructs of intimate partner abuse, common couple violence or mutual violence, and aggression. These are not the same constructs. Aggression is a construct of behavior encompassing multiple human interactions, including strangers or acquaintances, while family violence inherently requires a strong relational connection. ‘Common couple violence’, or ‘mutual violence’, as a construct, is considered a mutually escalating pattern of conflict where partners in a relationship consider themselves equally engaged in an argument that includes what therapists consider aggressive behaviors: slapping, pushing, shoving, and yelling (probably insults) BUT is characterized by a lack of fear and a lack of the pattern of dominance, control, and power observed in intimate partner violence or family violence. In short, mutual violence may be seen as ineffective or counter-productive by the therapeutic community, but partners in these couples are not fearful of each other, nor do they consider themselves the target of harmful behavior. This can be a difficult construct to tease out or conceptualize from a treatment perspective and it becomes even more difficult for the police officer called to a loud Saturday night argument (statistically a night that serious harm occurs in family violence settings) to determine as the authority figure, whether someone is in danger, as well as the questions: Did the law get broken and how; Does someone get arrested or not; and If so, who? The law seeks the primary aggressor, often called the offender. When arrested, the offender, whether male or female, is often ordered to Family Violence Intervention Providers for domestic violence group treatment following certain protocols. These agencies are approved as treatment providers by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence (GCFV), who oversees the enforcement of policy in Georgia and ensures compliance by the providers, called FVIPs.  Facilitators of these groups are employed by the providers and certified in this form of treatment.  Sometimes, those arrested for family violence plead their cases down to “anger management”; another mandated form of treatment, but this is not a desirable outcome for perpetrators of intimate/family abuse. The most common form of treatment for ‘DV offenders’ in Georgia is 24 sessions, weekly, usually following the Duluth model, which examines issues of power and control. Mandated anger management treatment is more often 12 weeks and carries a different focus.

In Georgia, many organizations have been founded to address, treat, and prevent domestic violence. The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence (GCADV) is one such organization and works in tandem with GCFV. Men Stopping Violence has a presence here in Georgia with effective strategies and training. We have our own share of great researchers who promote a nonviolent world. Solicitor offices may have a victim advocate and or victim counselors, while shelters have victim liaisons and counselors, as well as victim support groups. It is a common misconception by those suffering intimate partner abuse that shelters only serve residents when in fact, many victims are served who do not reside in the shelter. Shelters can be found in many counties across our state and offer a number of ‘outpatient’ type services.  Most importantly, therapists must remember that seeing a couple in marital therapy when a pattern of dominant control, especially psychological abuse, is present are doing harm, not helping. State policy for FVIPs strongly prohibits the practice of marital therapy in domestic violence. Physical abuse is less common than psychological abuse (Echols, 2008) so recognizing this pattern can prove difficult. Treating an individual who has learned to meet their needs through a pattern of controlling dominance and abuse is a specialty and has no place in marital therapy, according to most specialists in family violence (Echols, 2008) and according to the policies of our state.

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