Causes of Domestic Violence



Stages of Healthy Gay Relationships

Intro To Domestic Violence

Introduction to Gay Male Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

Treatment Of Domestic Violence

DV Links


Intro To Domestic Violence
Cycle of Violence

Assessing for Violence

Safety Plans

Causes of Domestic Violence

There are a number of factors associated with domestic violence in straight relationships that are typically discussed (Riggs et al, 2000). Typically, the following list is offered:
History of Aggressive Behavior
History of Abuse as a Child or Witnessing Parental Abuse
Large Power or Status Differential
Isolation and Lack of Resources
Controlling Relationships
Poorly Defined Masculinity and Identity
Mental Illness such as Alcoholism or Other Drug Abuse

The general model explaining domestic violence has been one of male power and privilege ultimately leading to its logical conclusion, that of abuse of women. Merrill (1996) offers a gender-neutral model as follows. There are three underlying causes to domestic violence, and these would apply in straight, gay, and lesbian cases.
First, there is learning to abuse. Learning to resort to violence comes from three factors:
1) instruction by others to act in violent or threatening ways,
2) modeling of violent or controlling behavior, and
3) reward of controlling and threatening behavior

This model is consistent with the risk factors noted above in that instruction and modeling could both be associated with a history of past abuse or witnessing of abuse. Such abuse could teach that the batterer is entitled to use violence to achieve his desires (Burke and Follingstad, 1999). The reward for violent behavior can be directly given to the abuser, or be observed in the case of others who act in threatening ways and are rewarded (as in Social Learning Theory). The "flip side of the coin" may also come into play where there is no reward, but also no punishment or consequence. For example, if police are called to a domestic disturbance and leave without making any intervention, the batterer may learn that outside intervention in the couple is nothing to be concerned about or feared.

Second, after someone learns to be violent, they must have the opportunity to abuse. This model is consistent with the risk factors noted above in that two factors would provide the opportunity to abuse: power differences and isolation.

Power differences may stem from a number of factors, including:
  • sexism
  • homophobia
  • racism
  • income disparity
  • ageism
  • disability
  • and health and HIV status
Isolation, which is discussed in greater depth later, means that: 1) the abuser is less likely to be caught, 2) conflict is more likely to escalate, and 3) the victim is more likely to become depressed and less likely to see any way out of the relationship.

Third, given learning and opportunity, the abuser must choose to abuse. This model is consistent with the risk factors noted above in that poor communication skills, impulse control that is weakened by substance use, and distorted ideas about gender roles and the permissibility of violence could all lead to the choice to resort to threats, control, and violence as a means to achieve one's wishes.