Partner Violence (I)
Below I have added some observations and quotes from the book. When I started out writing the post my intention was to cover the book in one post, however I realized quite late in the process that this was not feasible, so you can expect me to cover the rest of the book later on (I decided not to cover the rest because there’s some stuff in the last chapters which I thought was really quite interesting, and I did not want these things to get lost in a very long post, and/or covered in too little detail). After I’ve now written this blog post, I’m actually strongly considering changing my goodreads rating to a two star evaluation; this is a very selective account of the material covered in the book, but it did actually include quite a lot of interesting observations. Given the length of the post I decided to bold a few key observations from the book’s coverage (the bolded sections below are not bolded in the book).
“let us focus on the empirical evidence regarding the differences in aggressive tendencies within the couple. The research in this area is led by two groups with opposing outlooks. One is dubbed “feminist scholars,” who view the problem as asymmetric in terms of gender: they maintain that intimate violence is perpetrated by the man against his female partner […] In this case, using the term “asymmetry” reflects the notion that a significant difference exists between men’s tendency toward violence against their female partners and women’s tendency toward violence against their male partners. The second group is referred to as “family violence scholars,” who view the problem of partner violence as gender symmetric: the violence is perpetrated by both men and women […]. They use the term “symmetry” to convey the idea that a significant (not necessarily equal) proportion of both genders use violence in their intimate relationships. […] for feminist scholars, gender is a primary significant factor in predicting partner violence, whereas for family violence scholars, gender is secondary and marginal. […] The only fact on which both approaches agree is that the rates of injury caused by male violence are higher than those caused by female violence […] there is broad agreement that the results of partner violence are more severe for women than for men […]. Most family violence scholars do not view this information as a relevant factor in challenging their approach to the role of gender in partner violence because they focus their attention on aggression. They do not consider victimization to be a straightforward derivative of aggression but rather an issue that warrants independent empirical testing.”
“The cumulative empirical evidence, mostly presented by family violence scholars, supports gender symmetry of violence in intimate relationships. […] An examination of research findings on the gender aspects of partner violence leads many scholars, specifically of family violence, to the conclusion that gender plays a minor, secondary role in the problem: both men and women use violence in their intimate relationships and for the same reasons. Despite the empirical evidence, it is widely accepted that in intimate relationships, the violence is perpetrated by men against their female partners.”
“It is my opinion, based on conversations with social workers treating partner violence, that in Israel, much like in other parts of the Western world, feminist thinking is predominant in intervention. Men’s violence against women is the major, if not the only, problem focused on and addressed by practitioners. Even if the practitioners acknowledge female partner violence, they regard it as marginal and inherently different from male partner violence. Practice, guided by feminist thinking, leads many professionals to assume the following: (1) in partner violence, the woman is the victim and (2) the main goal of intervention in partner violence is to stop the man from perpetrating any kind of mild or severe violence against the woman. These assumptions dictate several widely accepted intervention principles: (1) the treatment must serve primarily what is perceived to be the woman’s needs and wishes; (2) the treatment must change the man’s behavior. The response to the man’s perceived needs is secondary and marginal in the process; and (3) the woman’s treatment is best provided by a woman and not a man.”
“A considerable group of family violence scholars believes that violence against women is a particular case (unique or not) of partner violence. […] They have difficulty understanding why feminist scholars can make theoretical arguments on the one hand and then object to them being empirically tested on the other.” One of the reasons may be this one: “a significant group of feminist scholars view the link between politics and research as unbreakable, and in this reality, feel free to emphasize their association with the feminist agenda. They even regard the seemingly apolitical position of family violence scholars as double standard and a sham, because they do not believe that research can be devoid of politics.”
“[An] association between threats and battering among intimate partners has been extensively documented” (…so if your partner threatens you, it seems like a good idea to take the threat seriously).
“It is incorrect to assume that emotions drive people to behave irrationally, and that if one wants to make a rational decision, emotions must be set aside. Not only are rational choices not devoid of emotions but they also play a vital role in the process of choosing an action to attain a certain goal — from focusing attention on details most relevant in a situation, to choosing the most suitable behavior to achieve the goals called for in that situation […] Emotions are a central component of decision making […]. They help to focus attention on details, such as what the opponent is saying, his/her tone of voice, what his/her facial expression and body gestures convey, what means of defense and offence are available and the possible escape routes. Anger might focus attention on the details most relevant in the case of a fight, whereas fear might focus attention on the details more relevant to flight […] Emotions speed up the information collection process, because they switch it on to automatic, or semi-automatic, pilot mode. […] [Anger and fear are] emotions that [have] received special attention in the study of violence [, as they have been] found to be highly relevant to the development of conflict […]. Fear is future oriented and emerges when a negative event is perceived as possible or imminent. On the other hand, anger is past oriented and emerges when a negative event has already occurred […] Anger is associated with the tendency to fight, whereas fear is associated with the tendency to flight […]. Studies have shown that anger boosts the frequency and severity of aggression […], whereas fear inhibits them […] As in many other fields, men and women differ in the case of emotional experience […]. Women tend to experience emotions more intensely than men […] and this includes negative emotions […]. Campbell (1999) suggested that fear is the mechanism that considers costs. When men and women face the same risks, women would experience fear with greater intensity than men. […] gender differences in the experience of anger are less evident than in experiences of fear (Winstok, 2007). […] interviews [with violent offenders] taught me that we are not dealing with loss of control, but rather with a temporary, voluntary forfeit of control. […] The ability to control the loss of control seriously contradicts the suggestion of irrationality.”
“The study of deterrence in partner violence is mainly focused on men using violence against their female partners. It is maintained that men would avoid violent behavior if they perceive its cost as severe and certain […]. In this context, the first line of deterrence is based on women’s willingness and readiness to act against their violent partners and includes seeking the support of informal and formal agents, and/or leaving the violent partner. […] I conducted a study of a sample of 218 men […]. It examined the association between men’s evaluation of their partner’s willingness to breach the dyadic boundaries in response to aggression, and their evaluation of their own tendency to use aggression against their partner. Findings indicated that the men tended to restrain aggression if they evaluated that in response, their partners would involve informal and formal agents, or would even leave them. Based on these findings, it can be hypothesized that such actions by women threaten, deter, and restrain men’s aggressive tendencies.”
“In most cases, the combination of causes that bring about partner violence is not completely known or clear. Therefore, evaluations of the probability of the occurrence of future violence are based, at least in part, on behavioral history. Predictions based solely on behavioral history are prone to false-negative and false-positive errors, at least in cases in which the unknown causes of past violent behavior have changed. One critical example is that this approach will always fail to predict the first time that violence is used. […] interviews with men and women who were perpetrators or victims of partner violence demonstrate that violence is often part of a behavioral move rather than a single action. The move is based on a series of behaviors resulting from several cycles of information processing […] Studying one incident of violent behavior rather than a series of incidents resembles an attempt to understand a branch (interaction between partners), a tree (an incident), and a forest (a series of incidents) by looking merely at the leaves. […] The term “escalation” is at the core of the discussion on conflict dynamics. Most often, in the context of partner conflicts, escalation describes a trend of increasing aggression severity. The term can describe escalation of aggressive acts within a specific conflict, or escalation of aggression across relationship periods (from one incident to the next) […] It is commonly argued that once partner violence erupts, it continues until the end of the relationship (by separation or death) and increases over time (in frequency, intensity, and form), especially when the violence is against women […] Although these arguments sound plausible, they are not supported by research findings […] [Only] in a small portion of cases [does violence] increase over time. […] in a given conflict, violence is the outcome of escalation. This has led many to believe that from one conflict to the next, escalation itself escalates. Despite evidence showing that most cases of partner violence subside over time […] such statements as “once a batterer, always a batterer” and “violence increases over time” are still frequent and widespread.”
“Those who use violence, as compared to those who do not, invest less time and effort in collecting situational cues, and assign higher value to internal rather than external cues while interpreting a situation. Their attention is more focused on aggressive than on nonaggressive cues. They rely more than others on cues that appear at the end of a social interaction and less on those at its beginning […] Studies of children provide a strong support for a link between the types of responses they generate to particular situations and the behavior that they exhibit in those situations. Aggressive children access a fewer number of responses to social situations than do their peers […] They also access responses that are more aggressive than those accessed by peers for provocation, group entry, object acquisition, and friendship initiation situations”.
“When I started studying partner violence, I expected to be able to identify the aggressor and the victim easily. I was surprised to find that these definitions are often blurred, and this is an understatement. Men and women who used violence against their partners often perceived themselves to be the victims, and not the aggressors.” [I should note that this notion comes across as much less far-fetched/outrageous than you’d think once you read a few of the cases included in the book]. […] Dynamics of partner conflict is a direct result of a series of interactions between the partners. It takes a short step from here to maintain that violence in escalatory conflicts is a result of actions and reactions by both parties. Hence, an examination of these interactions, that is, causal analysis, may lead to the blurring of the distinction between victim and aggressor. For those who associate causality with guilt and accountability, this blur is problematic because they need the clear distinction to allocate guilt and accountability. This, in my view, is why no real attempts are made by scholars to study escalatory dynamics. Their moral stance against violence goes beyond their obligation to examine and propose approaches for effective coping with the problem.”
“Violence […] is age related. […] The use of violence is common in very young children [and] [i]ncreasing evidence indicates that from adolescence onward, the use of interpersonal violence tends to decrease in various life contexts […] A cross study by Straus, Gelles, and Steimetz (1980), examining four age groups (18–30, 31–50, 51–65, 65, and up) in the general population found that with the increase in the age of the partners, the violence between them decreases. Short and mid-range longitudinal studies (3–10 years) […] as well as studies that analyzed life paths […] identified similar trends: over time, there was significant decrease in the incidence of partner violence. These studies contradict the perception that partner violence persists and even escalates over time. […] no single typical pattern of partner violence over time exists. Violence between intimate partners can become more moderate, can subside, can continue at a steady severity level and, at times, can escalate. However, accumulating evidence indicates that in most cases, in the short term, violence can escalate, and in the long term, it can cease. It is clear that changes in violence patterns over time (severity and frequency) are not random. Conflicts that escalate to violence in which the aggressor draws “positive” results that exceed negative ones may encourage the said party to continue using this tactic. Negative outcomes may encourage the aggressor to increase the severity of violence or stop using it and look for alternative tactics […] Conflict opportunities on the one hand and the perception of violence as an effective or noneffective means of dealing with conflict on the other, shape the problem to a large extent.”
“Many of the studies reporting comparable rates of violence perpetration by men and women do not examine contextual factors, such as who initiated the violence, who was injured, whether the violence was in self-defense, and the psychological impact of victimization […] when contextual factors are examined, a complex picture of gender dynamics […] begins to emerge […] [For example, in Allen and Swan (2009)] the scholars found that women’s use of mild violence exceeds that of men.”
“Studies [have] showed that violence can be a result of [both] low self-control and restraint capability […] as well as a means of achieving some desired goals […]. As the need to control the partner increases and the capability for self-control and restraint decreases, violence erupts and becomes increasingly severe. The use of violence at one level of severity (e.g., verbal aggression), increases the probability that another level of violence, of higher severity, will be used as well (e.g., threatening with physical violence). […] escalation to and of violence is a tactic that ensures minimum investment in achieving a goal, whether it is eventually achieved or not. Escalatory dynamics deteriorates the conflict because it increases the severity of violence, but at the same time, it also puts on the breaks, as it ensures that the violence ceases when it becomes of no value. […] By using mild violence that becomes increasingly severe, the aggressor demonstrates the possibility of imminent severe danger to the victim. Thus, the aggressor ensures that the victim complies long before the threat is fully executed.”
“when force is used according to the tit for tat principle, it [may escalate]. [Research] findings […] support the suggestion that people are more sensitive to the force exerted on them by others than to the force they exert upon others. If we replace the term ‘force’ with ‘injury,’ this would read: people are more sensitive to the injury exerted on them by others than to the injury they exert upon others. In light of this sensitivity gap in interpersonal conflicts, the injured party wishing to retaliate with an equally severe injury (balancing) may generate a more serious injury. This sensitivity gap works the same way on the second party and will cause him/her to retaliate with a more serious injury, even when attempting an equally severe (balancing) response. In this fashion, the actions and injuries escalate. […] Hurt that is perceived as unfair will be evaluated as more severe than an identical hurt (in terms of form, intensity, and duration) that is perceived as fair. It can be assumed that those who hurt their partners believe, at least at the moment of perpetration, that their action is justifiable. […] Whereas the offender perceives the offense as justified at the time of offending, the offended will probably not take it as such. Such perception gaps between the partners regarding the actions taken during their conflict may [also] promote escalation.”
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