Causes of Domestic AbuseAbusers choose to behave violently to get what they want and gain control. Their behaviour often originates from a sense of entitlement which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes.
Domestic abuse against women by men is 'caused' by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. In this way, domestic abuse by men against women can be seen as a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.
Should all domestic abuse be seen in the context of power relations?
No, not all domestic abuse occurs within a context of traditional power relations. Ultimately, responsibility for the abuse must lie with the perpetrator of that abuse, despite any societal influences that we may draw on in order to understand the context of the behaviour.
Is domestic abuse a consequence of things such as stress?
Domestic abuse is learned intentional behaviour rather than the consequence of stress, individual pathology, substance use or a 'dysfunctional' relationship. Perpetrators of domestic abuse frequently avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour, by blaming their abuse on someone or something else, denying it took place at all or minimizing their behaviour.
Whilst responsibility for the actual abuse is the perpetrators alone, there are belief systems in our society that perpetuate abusive attitudes and make it difficult for women and children to get help. These include:
- Blaming the victim for the abuse
- Putting the 'family' before the safety of women and children
- Tolerating the use of abuse
- Privileging men over women and children's needs
- Treating domestic abuse as a private matter
- Minimising the abuse eg, saying it was "just a slap" or "isn't that bad".
- Justifying the behaviour to themselves and blaming the victim.
- Denying the abuse happened or refusing to talk about it and expecting the victim to just "move on".
Many people who drink too much or take drugs don't abuse their partners or family members. Likewise, abuse doesn't exclusively occur when an abuser is drunk or under the influence of drugs. Substance use isn't the underlying cause of domestic abuse.
Abusers who use alcohol or drugs may use this as an excuse for their behaviour saying "I was drunk" or "I don't remember". Even if they genuinely don't remember what they did, it doesn't remove responsibility for their behaviour. The causes of domestic abuse are far more deep rooted than simply being an effect of intoxication or alcohol/drug dependency.
If an abuser is alcohol/drug dependent, it is important that this is treated in tandem with addressing the violent behaviour. Addressing only one without the other is unlikely to prove successful.
Women experiencing domestic abuse may also turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of escape from the abuse. Sometimes abusers will use their partner's addiction as an excuse for abusive behaviour, saying they have been provoked into using abuse. Excuses such as these are used by the perpetrator to deflect responsibility from themselves and put the blame for the abuse onto the victim. In these situations it is vitally important that women receive the support they need, but also, that the perpetrator is held accountable for their actions and that they are not excused because of the woman's behaviour.
Is domestic abuse caused by a lack of control?
Domestic abuse is about gaining control, not a lack of control. If an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive, then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate they are not 'out of control'. Abusers use violence and tactics of coercion as a way of exercising control and getting what they want.
Can domestic abuse be caused by mental illness?
The vast majority of people with mental health problems do not abuse other people. However, there are a small number of people who are in mental distress who may behave abusively, though this may not be caused by the mental health problem itself.
If an abuser is careful about when, where and to whom they are abusive then they are showing sufficient awareness and knowledge about their actions to indicate they are making choices about their behaviour.
If an abuser is random and unpredictable, being abusive to strangers as well as people they know (eg in public and in the workplace), then mental illness may be a possibility. Even if it is, it still doesn't mean anyone must put up with abusive behaviour. In these situations, it is important that the safety of survivors is prioritised and that the person experiencing mental distress obtains the professional care they need.