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Patterns and Reasons of Domestic Abuse

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3575 words Published: 18th Oct 2021

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This essay introduces and examines the patterns and reasons for domestic violence, including the contribution of substance misuse and socio-economic factors such as; income, social class and the impact witnessing abuse as a child has. The aim is to research the patterns which include the three known phases; The Tension Building Phase, Acute Explosion Phase and the Honeymoon Phase all of which tend to happen in a repetitive cycle. Domestic violence is prevalent with “2.0 million adults aged 16 to 59 years [experiencing] domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018” (ONS, 2018) with ONS (2018) discovering that the prevalence rate is approximately 6 in 100 adults. A total “estimated 1.3 million female victims and 695,000 males” are victims of domestic abuse across England and Wales each year. This essay focuses on general domestic abuse using references from a variety of sources to give a well-rounded view of the patterns and reasons for domestic violence.

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Domestic violence can be defined by Watsons & Parsons (2005) as a “pattern of physical, emotional or sexual behaviour between partners in an intimate relationship that causes, or risks causing, significant negative consequences for the person affected”. The key part of this definition is the idea of reoccurring patterns of behaviour usually over large periods of time. However, in March 2013, the definition was changed to “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality” (Home Office, 2012). The difference between these definitions is that in 2012 it was changed to include controlling and coercive behaviour as well as the inclusion of disregarding gender, sexuality and age. This controlling and coercive behaviour is a large part of the first phase of domestic violence- the tension building phase. Socio economic factors is an important concept for this essay as it will be discussing how “socio-economic factors such as education, occupation, and family income in detail and have found strong links to domestic violence” (Pandey, Dutt et al. 2009).

The Tension Building Phase

The Tension Building Phase is one of the first patterns which indicates the first signs of domestic abuse. The pattern begins with the “abuser acting moody and in ways that are threatening and upsetting to the victim” (Krieger, 2001) with Faigman (1986) describing how this stage usually builds for days. Krieger (2001) explains that key indicators are when the abuser withdraws affection, shouts at the victim and makes them feel worthless. During this phase White (2003) has the same opinion in which “the abuser acts angry, isolates the victim, and engages in emotional abuse while the victim continually tries to appease and calm the abuser”. This phase consists of “passive-aggressive behaviour” (Pandora Project, 2019) where the abuser is controlling and manipulative of the victim’s feelings, these are the feelings that the victim tries to ignore in the honeymoon phase. A key part of this process, White (2003) explains to be when “the abuser controls the victim’s finances so that she cannot make a start on her own”. White (2003) also describes how the victim is financially controlled whereby they are prevented from having a job and they are not given any money to be able to support and provide for themselves without the abuser, effectively making them feel trapped. Lachkar (1992) suggests that “borderline and narcissistic personality disorders are thought to emerge” in this first phase as well as the abusers show their “empathic failures” meaning they lack compassion and sympathy, partially explaining the controlling and repetitive abusive behaviour. “Excessive drinking, illness, jealousy, and other factors may lead to name-calling, hostility, and friction” (Marvin, 1997) that are key characteristics of this first phase. Again, Marvin (1993) explains that “the second phase of the cycle-acute battering becomes all but inevitable” without intervention in the first tension building phase.

Krieger (2001) suggests that the abuser may begin to “abuse drugs or alcohol and act in an erratic and depressed manner” throughout the domestic violence cycle. These can be characteristics of the first phase with David (2006), stating that “the abuser may use drugs or alcohol, which contributes to [the] kind of debasing behaviour” seen throughout the tension building phase. Pernanen’s 1991 study (cited in Bennet, 1995) found that the perpetrator or victim had consumed alcohol in about half of all incidents of domestic violence. While in 2013, it was reported that “21% of those who had experienced partner abuse in the last year thought the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol while eight per cent thought they were under the influence of illicit drugs” (Making the connection, 2013). Zilberman & Blume (2005) state that “alcohol frequently acts as a disinhibitor” by this they mean that alcohol acts as a relaxant, allowing the perpetrator to say what they feel, without concern for the consequences. Zilberman & Blume (2005) also describe how “stimulants such as cocaine, crack cocaine and amphetamines are also frequently involved in episodes of domestic violence by reducing impulse control and increasing paranoid feelings”. These ideas fit in to both the tension building stage and the acute explosion phase. With that being said, some abusers that were interviewed believed that “substance use was an excuse, not a cause of violence. Most women with experience of domestic violence reported that they had also been abused when their partner/ex-partner was sober” (Making the connection, 2013). With this being said, it could be argued that substance abuse exacerbates the effects of the stages, especially during the tension building phase.

Acute Explosion Phase

The second phase of domestic violence is the acute explosion phase. According to Krieger (2001) this stage can consist of “extreme verbal abuse to severe assaults and even rape” where according to Marvin (1997) the abuser “loses control both physically and emotionally”. Zosky (1999) also implies they feel “intense emotions” during this phase as well as acting “highly agitated or hysterical” (Marvin, 1997). According to Krieger’s definition, White (2003) suggests the ideas of damaging their belongings, calling them names and “[threatening] to kill her or himself if she leaves” as part of this stage alongside “inflicting tremendous physical and emotional abuse while the victim tries to protect herself”. This phase often is a result of pent up anger, whereby in this phase anger is released as a physical attack. The environment of this phase tends to happen in the home, with the attacker aiming for unnoticeable body parts when inflicting pain. Micha Projects Inc (2015) introduces the idea that this stage may become addictive for the perpetrator due to the rush of adrenaline, also suggesting that “they may be unable to deal with anger any other way”. However, Marvin (1997) explains that in this phase they don’t want “hurt their partners, only to teach them a lesson and control them” and describes how the victims “deny the seriousness of the pain” caused by the abuser and how they “refuse to seek medical attention”. This is often because they want to avoid the questions asked by the medical professionals.

Reason- Class/socio economic

One argued reason for domestic abuse is their income grouping and placement on the class spectrum. ONS (2018) reports that “women in the lowest household income bracket were more likely to be victims of domestic abuse in the last 12 months”. This is compared to those in higher income brackets with ONS (2018) also reporting that “the prevalence of domestic abuse in the last 12 months for women declined as income increased” showing an indirect correlation whereby as income increases, domestic abuse decreases. Nagassar et al (2010) also describes how the “the working class and lower middle-income classes showed the greatest prevalence of domestic violence”. The same pattern trended for men as well as women. “Communities characterized by problems such as drug trafficking, high levels of unemployment or widespread social isolation are also more likely to experience violence” (WHO, 2002) this could explain why in areas of high poverty, there is also high domestic violence rates. However, it is understood that “domestic violence crosses class distinctions” (Bent-Goodley, 2005), however according to (Berg, 2014) “middle- and upper-class women more readily seek services”. For this reason, it might be that they leave the relationship sooner because they can access advice as well as being financially stable. On the other hand, middle and upper-class women may not access services because they feel embarrassed and ashamed.

The Honeymoon Phase

This is the phase whereby “the abuser tries to reconcile the relationship by professing love, apologizing, bringing gifts, and promising to never abuse the victim again” (White, 2003). It’s at this stage that causes the victims to stay, they feel valued again and been promised that they have genuinely changed. Marvin (1997) describes how the abuser “may be genuinely sorry for the pain he has caused”.  However, “eventually the honeymoon phase ends, and the cycle begins again” (White, 2003). Schrager (2011) states that “the victim Is charmed by the abuser and decides to stay in the relationship” with Micha Projects Inc (2015) suggesting that the victim “may be in denial” and refuse to believe that they are a violent person, however they also maybe just want to believe that they are “happy to ignore the possibility that the violence could occur again” because they don’t want “the relationship to end” and they feel responsible for his actions and that they deserved the abuse. However, the abuser also fears that their partner “will leave them” (Marvin, 1997) and also doesn’t want the relationship to end, resulting in them changing for a short period of time before the tension building stage begins again.

REASON- witnessing family Abuse

It could be argued that witnessing domestic violence or being exposed personally to domestic violence can be a reason for domestic violence as an older adult. “The frequency with which abuse occurs is also likely to impact whether a previously abused child engages in violent behaviour as an adult” (Wright, et al. 2019). Dutton, Starzomski, and Ryan (1996) conducted a research project that found when violence was experienced in the family, it positively correlated with becoming an abuser later on in life. They also discovered that if they directly suffered from domestic violence, it potentially shaped them to be violent as an adult. Nixon et al. (2013) also corroborate this study by also finding a positive correlation between children that have experienced domestic abuse and those that go on to be perpetrators. This is because they are reproducing learned behaviour in their own family unit with Bevan and Higgins (as cited in Simons et al., 1998) explaining how “children may conclude that physical violence is sometimes a necessary and effective strategy for achieving behavioural change in family and intimate relationships”. However, it a tenuous link, experiencing it as a child can have the opposite effect in adulthood.

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My Opinion on Tackling Domestic Abuse

My personal opinion on how to tackle domestic violence is to tackle much larger contributing factors, such as increasing domestic violence shelters and increasing adult education opportunities, allowing them to gain qualifications so they can support themselves financially and be economically independent allowing them to leave their abusive partners. Also, education for young people, to instil that domestic violence is not an option or an acceptable behaviour. This education could take place across secondary schools and colleges. However, I think these would only be solutions for people within the lowest household income brackets and those in high income household brackets that can financially leave but are ashamed and don’t want to associate themselves with the stigma of domestic abuse, need to talk to others about what they’re going through and seek advice from professionals. For the abusers, there could be free counselling services combined with the addition of the Home Office (2018) introducing an anonymous free phoneline whereby they can talk through their anger and get support, this would hopefully reduce the severity/frequency of the attacks. Berns (2017) suggests the idea of “harsh punishments” for those that abuse. I agree with this as it would act as a deterrent, and possibly increase victims to come forward if they know punishment will take place.


“The time that each abusive relationship takes to go through these three phases can vary from days to weeks to months to even years” (Schrager, 2011) with different reasons for violence during the cycle. Lower incomes and high levels of unemployment often indicate a reason for domestic violence, with the evidence showing that as incomes rise, the general trend is for domestic violence to fall. The WHO (2002) state that “while all social classes experience violence, research consistently suggests that people with the lowest socio-economic status are at greatest risk”.  With the phases of abuse, it’s also important to remember that the cycle of violence doesn’t apply to every domestic violence case. Some abusers won’t feel guilt or remorse and will continue to act in a violent manner, therefore skipping the honeymoon phase while other abusive relationships don’t experience the tension building phase with sudden outbursts of anger. But on the whole the general pattern is to follow these 3 phases. A significant proportion of domestic violence cases can be as a direct or tributary effect of substance misuse, but it is one of the root causes. Substance misuse can be classed as both a pattern and a reason for domestic violence, this is because alcohol and drugs can exacerbate the effects of the pattern, further the severity of the violence and potentially increase the frequency of the cycle. Witnessing family abuse can allow children to pick up violent tendencies and learn controlling and coercive behaviour which they use in their future relationships with those that have been abused earlier in life going on to be abusers. On the whole, there are many are many patterns and reasons for domestic violence, however the ones discussed are fundamental. 


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