The Dynamics of Domestic Abuse

By Marvin, Douglas R. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1997 | Go to article overview

The Dynamics of Domestic Abuse


Marvin, Douglas R., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


While on their honeymoon, 23-year-old Mike becomes verbally abusive to his wife, Mary, after she suggests that he has had enough to drink. Mary is surprised by Mike's behavior and his hostile reaction to her. Soon after, however, he apologizes, and because he has always been so kind and gentle, Mary believes him when he tells her that this will never happen again.

Several months later, a similar episode occurs. This time, Mary takes the blame, telling herself that these types of incidents are normal in a new marital relationship. She resolves to do things that will make Mike happy and avert confrontations.

Three weeks later, Mike hits Mary during an argument. After several violent episodes during a 2-month period, Mary finally calls the police because she fears for her safety. Responding officers arrest Mike and charge him with assault under the state's domestic violence laws.

Recognizing the trouble that awaits him, and in an effort to get her back on his side, Mike sends Mary flowers while he is in jail. With the flowers, he includes a long note, in which he expresses his deep sorrow for the pain he has caused her and promises that the behavior will never be repeated. Because his note is so compelling, Mary believes that he has learned his lesson and that their relationship will improve. The following day, she informs the city attorney's office that she does not wish to cooperate with the prosecution. When the prosecutor concludes that the state's case is too weak without Mary as a witness, the state drops its charges against Mike, and he is released from jail.

Scenarios such as this have long constituted a staple of American policing. In many communities, reports related to domestic abuse make up the largest category of calls to which police officers respond. Yet, until fairly recently, police officers rarely ventured into the private domain of the marital relationship. At most, officers responding to calls for help attempted to calm things down and arrange for one party to leave the home for the evening. While such an approach provided a short-term solution, it rarely helped bring about an end to the violence.

During the 1980s, this response began to change as communities implemented more aggressive strategies to address domestic abuse. Many law enforcement agencies began to explore new ways for officers to respond to domestic violence calls. Gradually, the focus shifted from merely "maintaining the peace" to arresting offenders, protecting victims, and referring battered women to shelters and other community resources available to help victims of domestic violence.

This move toward fostering a better understanding of domestic violence represents a clear departure from the approach law enforcement agencies once took toward the issue. However, despite the progressive changes that have taken place during the past two decades, law enforcement still does not address domestic violence in the same way it addresses other violent crimes. While investigators attempt to understand the motivations and characteristics of such offenders as rapists or serial murderers, little attention has been given to profiling batterers. Law enforcement officers who must confront batterers on an almost-daily basis would be well served to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of domestic abuse.

A CLOSER LOOK AT DOMESTIC ABUSE

Officers called upon to respond to and investigate domestic abuse calls need to have a full understanding of the complex social, economic, and psychological issues that surround acts of domestic violence. To assist in the investigation of these cases and to educate police officers about this type of abuse, New Jersey's domestic violence laws require that all police officers receive biannual training in this area. This training brings several pieces of the puzzle together to provide officers with a greater understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence. …

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