In 2017, there were 2,237 victims of intimate partner homicide in the United States of America — that’s six people a day, every day, killed by an intimate partner. And we’re likely to find that number has increased over the past two years considering that number has been on the rise since 2014. In 2014 the total was 1,875, in 2015 the total was 2,096, and in 2016 the total was 2,149. While men do die at the hands of their partners, they only make up 5 percent of the intimate partner homicides in the cases in the U.S.
How is This Phenomenon Treated in the Court System?
While the worst-case scenario is murder, intimate partner violence (IPV) is a common issue in the US. IPV includes physical abuse, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression. The exact numbers are difficult to pin down; however, about one in four woman experience IPV in their lifetimes – which works out to about 41 million victims in the U.S. One of the biggest issues with IPV is that most woman don’t understand the gravity of what they’re experiencing until something very scary happens. As Lundy Bancroft, a counselor who specializes in working with abusive men and the author of Why Does He Do That, puts it:
One of the obstacles to recognizing chronic mistreatment in relationships is that most abusive men simply don’t seem like abusers.
They have many good qualities, including times of kindness, warmth, and humor, especially in the early period of a relationship. An abuser’s friends may think the world of him. He may have a successful work life and have no problems with drugs or alcohol. He may simply not fit anyone’s image of a cruel or intimidating person. So when a woman feels her relationship spinning out of control, it is unlikely to occur to her that her partner is an abuser.
Lundy has completed more than 25 years of counseling work. More than 1000 abusive men have participated in his programs. Another one of his important observations is this: “The vast majority of women who say that they are being abused are telling the truth. I know this to be true because the abusers let their guard down with me, belying their denial.” They learn how to manipulate their partners — and the entire judicial system – because the system usually requires concrete proof of a crime. When that proof is in the form of statements from abused women and their families, many judges don’t deem the proof sufficient. While an order of protection may be granted, the actual abuse is usually not deemed a punishable crime.
What Happens When Children Are Involved?
You guessed it … not much. Here’s Lundy Bancroft again:
“Courts are highly reluctant to curtail fathers’ access to their children. As a number of court employees have said to me over the years, “There are so many fathers out there who abandon their children, and here I have a Dad who wants to be involved, you’re telling me I should discourage him?” As a result, they tend to hold fathers to much lower standards than mothers. Supervised visitation is not often imposed. If used, it usually gets lifted within a few months as long as the father behaves well under supervision, as most abusive men do.”
But if a man abuses his wife, it’s much more likely he’ll abuse his children. Abusive men are not abusive because they dislike women. They’re abusive because they’ve been raised in environments in which they feel entitled, and they become obsessed with power and control. If a child disobeys him or isn’t focused on his needs, the rage and abuse will rear its ugly head. Should children be expected to cater to the abusive man? Even if they behave accordingly, will that even ensure the abuse won’t occur?
Why Don’t Women Just Leave?
Abusive men are not terrible monsters 100 percent of the time. If they were, the world would see their vicious behaviors and hold them accountable. Abusive men are only terrible monsters behind closed doors and only a percentage of the time. The cycle of abuse consists of four phases – Tensions Building, Incident, Reconciliation, and Calm – though they are not predictable or precisely followed in every case. With only half of these phases being negative, women involved in these types of relationships are usually convinced to stay, thinking the abuse won’t happen again – even though it’ll likely worsen over time. Sometimes the Reconciliation and Calm phases can last for a year or more. When that’s the case, it can seem as if the abuse is over; and he has officially changed.
While it’s possible for an abusive man to change, it’s a decades-long or lifelong battle to truly overcome abusive tendencies. If a man claims to change in a short period of time — or still blames his victims and makes excuses — chances are he hasn’t changed. He and those he abuses are simply in the Reconciliation or Calm phase. With years between Incidents, it’s no wonder people remain stuck in such relationships.
There is Help
While the court system is still largely unfazed by most of these facts, many organizations offer free counseling, support, and assistance to sufferers of abuse and IPV. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start by recommending sources of local help. I live in southeastern Connecticut and proudly support our local domestic violence agency, Safe Futures.
Sharing knowledge of and information about abuse and IPV is powerful. The more people know, the more they can be part of judicial reform. Until abuse and IPV are taken seriously by family court judges, I’ll remain skeptical about whether we can really call the courts part of a justice system.