Domestic violence is a serious issue in society, but perhaps more so for mental health workers. Williamson (2000) reports that two-thirds of couples seeking couple therapy did not report domestic violence until asked, and that 40% to 75% of the children of abusers, in addition to witnessing parental abuse, suffer child abuse themselves.

Types of Domestic Violence

Not all domestic violence is the same. Differences in frequency, severity, purpose, and outcome are all significant. Johnson and Ferraro (2000) argue there are five types of domestically violent relationships:

  • Common Couple Violence - within the context of a single issue, there is one or at most two incidents of violence, and it is not used as part of a pattern of behavior to control the partner. This is similar to what Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) proposed as a "family-only" batterer, or someone who is not violent outside the home, and is the least likely to be sexually and emotionally abusive. Johnson and Ferraro report this kind of batterer is about evenly split between males and females, with 56% being male and 44% being female.
  • Intimate Terrorism - as one tactic in a general pattern of control and manipulation, violence may be used. Worth noting here is that the violence still may have occurred only once or twice, and may be relatively "low severity." Nonetheless, it still involves emotional abuse and men who show this pattern of abuse are more likely to kill their partners. This is similar to what Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) proposed as a "generally-violent-antisocial" batterer, and what Jacobson and Gottman (1998) called the "cobra" type of batterer. This kind is more likely to use violence as a way to control; while they may appear extremely distressed during violent episodes, their physiology reveals no arousal. The appearance of almost uncontrollable rage is an act, one tool of many to intimidate and control others. Such batterers are more likely to engage in carefully planned and more violent revenge if the relationship ends, and are thus much more dangerous to their victims.
  • Violent Resistance - where one partner becomes controlling or frightening, the other partner may respond with violence in self-defense. Johnson and Ferraro do not call this pattern of violence self-defense, however, noting that, in general, courts view this term to mean whatever is defined by State law. This kind of violence occurs in response to a perceived threat, may be a one-time event, and is not part of a pattern of control and manipulation.
  • Mutual Violent Control - this kind of violence may be what is thought of as mutual combat. It can be two parties using violence to control each other in a specific setting, or be more like two people attempting a kind of intimate terrorism with each other. Johnson and Ferraro note that even in these cases, however, some gender differences remain. They explain that in 31% of these couples, the male initiated more violence, as opposed to 8% in which the female initiated more violence. They also note numerous studies showing even where violence was initiated "50-50" by males and females, women are more likely to suffer more serious harm.
  • Dysphoric-Borderline Violence - this kind of batterer was proposed by Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994), and entails a needy, dependent, and emotionally overwhelmed person who resorts to violence in frustration. Jacobson and Gottman (1998) called this the "pitbull" type of batterer, and were able to show extreme emotional and physical arousal and distress, as compared to the "cobra" type. Renzetti (1992) also classified 68% of the abuse in her samples as due to dependency needs, and so would seem to have supported this kind of violence as well. This kind of abuser is more likely to show obvious emotional adjustment problems and distress, such as depression, fears of abandonment, and great emotional dependence on the victim.