The New Mexico Domestic Violence bench book has defined domestic violence in contrast to the CA judicial bench book in detail, (https://women.unm.edu/resources/New-Mexico-Domestic-Violence-Benchbook.pdf). The bench-book addresses some of the factors of domestic abuse and the impact on children. Abuse escalates and is present when the court fails to act. Some of the women who have experienced domestic abuse live with the failure of the court to act and the impact on their children and are very aware of the long term consequences of this impact. This abuse escalates if there is a refusal to accept a divorce. Some of the excerpts of the bench guide are listed below:
In whatever context it occurs, domestic violence presents the court with unique
concerns, the foremost of which is the safety of the litigants and court personnel. These
heightened safety concerns arise from the intimate relationship between the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence. This relationship increases the potential for danger in the following ways:
• A domestic violence perpetrator typically has unlimited access to the victim. The
perpetrator and victim may live together, or have regular contact for purposes of
exercising parental rights. If the perpetrator and victim are not living together, the
perpetrator typically knows the victim’s daily routine, or has ready access to
information about the victim’s whereabouts.
• Domestic violence perpetrators exercise a pattern of physical, social, psychological,
and/or economic control over their intimate partners. Many abusers who perceive a
loss of control over their partners will resort to physical violence to regain it.
Accordingly, a court’s intervention in abusive behavior may increase the risk of
violence for everyone concerned with the case.
• Domestic violence typically occurs in the privacy of the home, where its only
witnesses are under the control of the abuser. These circumstances often impede the
court’s fact finding process, as well as a victim’s ability to participate in it. They may
also cause a victim to behave in ways that appear “crazy” to outside observers who do
not have the information to discern the “craziness” as a normal response to abuse.
To respond to these concerns, this chapter briefly summarizes some of the research findings on the dynamics of domestic violence, in the assumption that an understanding of this subject will help the court to promote the safety of the parties and court personnel.
1.3 Patterns of Violence
Some studies indicate that domestic violence tends to escalate in frequency and seriousness over time, particularly where there is no effective intervention from the criminal justice system or other social institutions. Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, p. 26 (Springer, 1984); Civil Protection Orders: The Benefits and Limitations for Victims of Domestic Violence, p. 32 (Nat’l Center for State Courts, 1997). This dynamic makes it important to treat domestic violence incidents as a serious threat to the victim from their earliest manifestations — many domestic violence homicides maybe prevented with early intervention against abusive behavior.
Researchers have also reported that in some relationships, domestic abuse follows a
predictable course, of which the victim may be aware. Although all violent relationships do not exhibit predictable patterns, some victims may have experienced the abusive pattern so often that they can anticipate when a violent incident is about to occur. Where the parties’ relationship exhibits a pattern of violence, the court’s understanding of the pattern can provide insight into the parties’ behavior and inform efforts to promote safety.
The “cycle of violence” is one common abusive pattern noted in the research. It consists of three stages:
• During the first stage of the cycle, tension builds gradually between the parties. The
abuser expresses dissatisfaction and hostility, but not in an extreme or explosive form.
The victim tries to placate the abuser. The victim may succeed for a time, which
reinforces an unrealistic belief that it is possible to control the abuser.
• When the tension becomes unbearable, the abuser proceeds to the second stage — the
acute battering incident. This incident becomes inevitable without intervention.
• After the release of tension in the abusive incident, a third loving contrition stage
follows. In this stage, the abuser may express remorse, behave affectionately toward
the victim, and promise that the abuse will end. The abuser may sincerely believe that
violence will never occur again. Both parties may deny or minimize the abuse, or the
victim may accept the abuser’s blame for provoking the abuse.
Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, p. 95-97 (Springer, 1984).
Researchers studying abuse in same-sex relationships have noted cyclical patterns of
violence similar to the “cycle of violence” described above. One study of domestic abuse in lesbian relationships has also reported that like heterosexual violence, lesbian violence tends to escalate over time. Coleman, Lesbian Battering, in Domestic Partner Abuse, p. 79-80 (Hamberger & Renzetti ed., Springer, 1996).
Another dynamic noted by researchers working with victims in abusive relationships is the “Stockholm Syndrome.” This dynamic was first noticed in 1973 after hostages in a bank holdup in Stockholm, Sweden, bonded with the captors who had held them for six days. Based on studies of this group and other hostage groups (including battered women), researchers have posited that bonding to an abuser or captor may be an instinctive survival function for individuals who:
• Perceive a threat to survival and believe that their captor is willing to carry out the
• Perceive a small kindness from the captor within the context of the terrifying
• Are isolated from the perspectives of persons other than their captors; and,
• Believe they cannot escape.
The effect of these conditions on the captive individual has been described as follows:
“As a result of being traumatized, the victim needs nurturance and protection. Being
isolated from others, the victim must turn to her abuser for the needed nurturance and
protection if she turns to anyone. If the abuser shows the victim some small kindness,
this creates hope in the victim, who then denies her rage at the terror-creating side of
the abuser — because this rage would be experienced as overwhelming — and bonds
to the positive side of the abuser. With the hope that the abuser will let her live, the
victim works to keep the abuser happy, becoming hypersensitive to his moods and
needs. To determine what will keep the abuser happy, the victim tries to think and
feel as the abuser thinks and feels. The victim therefore (unconsciously) takes on the
world view of the abuser. Because so much is at stake, namely her survival, the
victim is hypervigilant to the abuser’s needs, feelings and perspectives. Her own
needs (other than survival), feelings and perspectives must take second place to the
abuser’s. Also, the victim’s needs, feelings and perspectives can only get in the way
of the victim doing what she must do to survive: they are, after all, feelings of terror.
Therefore, the victim denies her own needs, feelings and perspectives. She sees the
captors as the ‘good guys’ and those trying to win her release (for example parents,
police or therapists) as the ‘bad guys,’ as this is the way her captor sees things. The
victim projects the anger of the abuser onto the police, whom she sees as more likely
to kill her (or get her killed) than the captors….If the victim is given the opportunity to
leave the abuser, she will have an extremely difficult time doing so. Having denied
the violent, terrifying side of the abuser as well as her own anger, the victim sees no
reason to leave him.”
Graham & Rawlings, Bonding with Abusive Dating Partners: Dynamics of Stockholm
Syndrome, in Dating Violence: Young Women in Danger, p. 121-122 (Levy, ed., Seal Press,
1.4 Causes of Abuse
Because domestic violence is a relatively new field of study, its causes are still not fully
understood. Many researchers have posited that domestic violence is caused by a
combination of social and individual factors. Most characterize it as a pattern of behavior that is learned and chosen by the abuser, and encouraged or discouraged by the abuser’s social environment. This section explores the role that various social factors play in the abuser’s choice to use violence.
1.4.1 The Environment of Abuse
Researchers have noted three circumstances that are generally present in an environment where abuse is occurring:
• The perpetrator has learned to abuse.
Domestic violence perpetrators have learned that violence is an effective, legitimate
means of controlling their partners. They have learned this lesson by observing
violent behavior in others or by engaging in it themselves on a trial-and-error basis,
and discovering that it is tolerated, or even rewarded. In New Mexico in 1999, over
half of offenders (59%) and victims (57%) served by domestic violence service
providers reported experiencing abuse as a child. Caponera, Incidence and Nature of
Domestic Violence in New Mexico: An Analysis of 1999 Data from the New Mexico
Domestic Violence Data Central Repository, p. iv (June 2000). Violent behavior can
be fostered in various private and public social settings. Violent families and societal
attitudes that devalue women can contribute to an environment that teaches abuse.
The criminal justice system also teaches that abuse is acceptable when it fails to
impose appropriate sanctions on violent behavior.
• The perpetrator has found the opportunity to abuse.
Although violent behavior can be learned in violent families, not all children of
violent homes become abusive as adults. Likewise, the vast majority of men who are
exposed to social attitudes that devalue women do not commit acts of violence
against their domestic partners.
For violence to occur, the perpetrator must also find the opportunity to “get away with it,” and choose to act on this opportunity. Opportunities for domestic violence occur in environments where it is tolerated.
Abusers who believe that they will “get away with” violence against their domestic
partners will have no motivation to change their behavior, particularly if they have
learned that violence is an effective tool for asserting control in their intimate
relationships. Indeed, social tolerance for domestic violence reinforces the lessons of
violence by allowing abusers to succeed in asserting control over their victims
without suffering negative consequences. The criminal justice system plays a critical
role in ending opportunities for abuse by treating violence against an intimate partner
at least as seriously as it treats violence against a stranger.
• The perpetrator has chosen to abuse.
Learning and opportunity alone do not produce domestic violence. The third
prerequisite to violent behavior is the perpetrator’s choice to engage in it. Domestic
violence is not “out-of-control” behavior. Common abusive behavior patterns
illustrate how abusers calculate their actions to avoid risk to themselves, while
maximizing control over their victims. Some abusers injure only those parts of the
victim’s body that are not readily seen by others. Others batter the victim as a
surrogate for someone over whom they have no control, such as an employer. Many
abusers will destroy only the victim’s possessions, while leaving their own intact.
These behaviors evidence choice, refuting the notion that domestic violence involves
the abuser’s loss of control.
These circumstances are noted in: Ganley, Domestic Violence: The What, Why and Who, as Relevant to Civil Court Cases, Appendix C, p. 9-14 in Lemon, Domestic Violence and
Children (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1995); Merrill, Ruling the Exceptions: SameSex Battering and Domestic Violence Theory, p. 14-17, in Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships (Renzetti & Miley, ed., Harrington Park Press, 1996); and, Farley, A Survey of Factors Contributing to Gay and Lesbian Domestic Violence, p. 36-41 in Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships, above.
Courts can play a critical role in discouraging domestic abuse by treating violence between domestic partners at least as seriously as violence between strangers. Indeed, domestic violence may be a more serious threat to the victim and society than stranger violence, for it entails an increased risk of repeat assault on the victim and the potential for long-term damage to children who are present in a violent home. When courts consistently and fairly enforce the laws against domestic violence they help to remove opportunities for violence, and contribute to an environment in which domestic violence is just as unacceptable as any other type of violence. Many abusers will be motivated to stop their violent behavior upon discovering that it will cause them significant legal and social consequences. Fagan, The Criminalization of Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits, p. 14, 39 (Nat’l Inst of Justice, 1996). See §1.8 on the effects of domestic violence on children.
1.4.2 Factors that Commonly Accompany Domestic Violence Without
Although abusive behavior occurs because the abuser chooses it, many people (including
abusers) erroneously characterize domestic violence as out-of-control behavior caused by circumstances commonly present in violent households, such as alcohol and drug use, stress, unresolved anger, or problems inherent in the relationship. While these factors often accompany domestic abuse and may intensify its severity, they do not cause it. The following discussion explores the relationship between these factors and domestic abuse.
• Alcohol and drug use
Researchers generally agree that alcohol and drug use do not cause domestic
violence. Ganley, above, p. 11-12; Civil Protection Orders: The Benefits and
Limitations for Victims of Domestic Violence, p. 33, 45-46 (Nat’l Center for State
Courts, 1997). Although studies show a high correlation between these two behaviors,
researchers have rejected a causal connection between them, noting that most abusive
men who successfully complete alcohol or drug treatment continue to abuse their
partners if the violence is not also addressed separately. In New Mexico in 1999, one
third (34%) of domestic violence cases reported by law enforcement identified
alcohol/drug use. Of these, 95% (6,079) involved use of alcohol/drugs by suspects,
and 14% involved used of alcohol/drugs by victims. Caponera, Incidence and Nature
of Domestic Violence in New Mexico: An Analysis of 1999 Data from the New Mexico
Domestic Violence Data Central Repository, p. iv (June 2000). The connection
between these behaviors appears to arise from the intensifying role that alcohol and
drug use may play in violent relationships. Researchers have reported that abusers
with a history of heavy drug or alcohol use tend to engage in intensified violence
toward their domestic partners. Alcohol and drug use can lower the abuser’s
inhibitions and provide an excuse for “losing control.” Indeed, some abusers admit to
using alcohol in certain situations in order to batter.
Because alcohol or drug use do not cause domestic violence, effective intervention in
cases where the abuser is drug or alcohol dependent must be directed at both the
violence and the substance abuse. Because it may intensify the severity of violence,
drug and alcohol use is one of the factors to consider in assessing whether the abuser
is likely to kill or seriously injure the victim.
• Stress and anger
Stress and anger are not primary causes of domestic violence. Studies show that many
battering episodes are calculated to gain the victim’s compliance, and occur when the
abuser is not emotionally charged. Indeed, an abuser’s display of anger may merely
be a tactic to intimidate the victim. Moreover, when domestic violence is regarded as
a pattern of behavior that unfolds over time, specific irritants or stressors become less
meaningful in explaining the entire pattern. Ganley, above, p. 12-13.
Many researchers believe that effective intervention in abusive behavior must focus
on the fact that abuse is the sole choice and responsibility of the abuser. Although
abusers may benefit from learning stress or anger management skills, they will not
cease to abuse unless these skills are taught in the context of a program that regards
violence as a choice for which abusers must be held accountable. See Stordeur &
Stille, Ending Men’s Violence Against Their Partners, p. 29, 50, 57 (Sage
• Problems inherent in the relationship
Abusers frequently escape responsibility for their violent choices by blaming the
abuse on their victims. Blaming the relationship is a variation on this theme, because
it gives the victim at least partial responsibility for the abuse. A troubled intimate
relationship does not inevitably lead to violence, however; most people who
experience relational difficulties respond to them without violence. Ganley, above, p.
13-14. Safe, effective domestic violence interventions recognize that only the abuser
has the power to stop the abuse.
Victims are endangered by interventions that require them to share responsibility for
the abuse by working cooperatively with the abuser to resolve the parties’ relational
difficulties. Accordingly, couples counseling and family therapy are inappropriate as
primary interventions for abuse. These interventions endanger victims by putting
them into a situation where they must disclose information that their abusers may
subsequently use against them. Moreover, couples or family counseling may put the
parties into physical proximity with one another, creating opportunities for abuse.
Finally, where the victim shares responsibility for resolving the parties’ difficulties,
the abuser may feel justified in using abuse as “punishment” when the couple’s
difficulties continue; indeed, many victims report assaults following couples therapy
sessions. Stordeur & Stille, above, p. 25-26; Walker, The Battered Woman
Syndrome, p. 118 (Springer, 1984).
For similar reasons, mediation, community dispute resolution, and arbitration are also
inappropriate interventions for violent relationships. Because these interventions
require equal bargaining power between the parties, thy cannot operate fairly in
situations involving domestic violence, where the abuser wields all the power.
Furthermore, domestic violence cannot be a subject for negotiation or settlement
between the victim and abuser because the victim has no responsibility for changing
the abuser’s behavior. This is particularly true where the abuse rises to a criminal
level; mediation between a crime victim and perpetrator is just as inappropriate in
cases involving domestic violence as it is in cases involving stranger violence.
1.4.3 Illness-Based Violence
Most researchers regard domestic abuse as a learned, chosen pattern of behavior
characterized by calculated actions versus a lack of control by the abuser. In some cases,
however, domestic violence may be a product of a mental illness, such as psychosis or
Alzheimer’s Disease. Unlike cases where the violence is learned, chosen behavior, these
cases truly involve a loss of control by the abuser. Illness-based violence can be
distinguished from learning-based violence in several ways:
• The perpetrator of illness-based violence does not usually select a particular,
consistent victim; instead, abuse is directed at any person present when the violent
• Illness-based violence is often accompanied by other symptoms of disease, such as
changes in speech or gait, or delusional thinking.
• Poor recall of the abuse does not necessarily indicate illness-based violence. Abusers
who are not mentally ill often deny or minimize their behavior.
Stordeur & Stille, above, p. 24-26; Ganley, above, p. 11.
1.5 Understanding the Abuser — Assessing Lethality
This section will explore some common characteristics of domestic abusers, as well as
factors indicating that an abuser is likely to kill or inflict serious physical harm.
1.5.1 Characteristics of the Abuser
Domestic violence occurs in all social groups, without regard to the parties’ racial, ethnic,
economic, religious, educational, professional, or social backgrounds, or their sexual
orientation. It is not restricted to the ranks of the impoverished, unemployed, or substancedependent.
Because it often occurs within the privacy of the home, domestic violence may be
well-hidden from outside observers, including family members who are not living in the
household where the abuse occurs. Indeed, many abusers appear to be devoted to their
families, and have positive characteristics that mask the injuries they inflict. Rygwelski,
Beyond He Said/She Said, p. 11, 20- 24 (Michigan Coalition Against Domestic Violence,
Although there is no “typical” abuser, domestic violence perpetrators commonly exhibit
certain characteristics. Some of these characteristics include:
• Dependency and jealousy
Many victims report that their abusers are extremely jealous and possessive.
Possessive abusers are emotionally dependent on their partners, which makes them
susceptible to a number of conflicting emotions, including fear of abandonment, and
anger at their dependence. In the context of these feelings, an abuser’s behavior may
be seen as an effort to prevent abandonment, or as a means of denying the need for
the victim’s companionship. Extremely jealous abusers may be so possessive that
they are willing to kill their victims rather than face losing control over them.
Stordeur & Stille, Ending Men’s Violence Against Their Partners, p. 44-46 (Sage
• Belief in men’s entitlement to dominate women
Male abusers may subscribe to a rigid ideal of men’s dominant role, with the
accompanying belief in men’s entitlement to control over persons and events in the
household. Id., p. 51-52. Although this characteristic (male domination of women) is
unlikely to describe abusers in same-sex relationships, domination and control are
common, if not central, features of both heterosexual and gay and lesbian battering.
See generally Lemon, Domestic Violence Law 190-231 (2001) (discussing domestic
violence in same-sex relationships).
Abusers are often psychologically and socially isolated. They tend to be distrustful of
others, afraid of intimate relationships, and unable to share or recognize emotions
other than anger. While they may have numerous contacts and acquaintances within
the community, these tend to be superficial. Isolation increases an abuser’s
dependence on the victim, along with the attendant jealous, possessive behavior. Id.,
• “Jekyll and Hyde” personality
Most abusers are not violent all the time — victims and others often describe them as
charming and lovable. The loving, caring facet of an abuser’s behavior can be one
means of convincing the victim to stay involved in the relationship after a violent
As children, abusers may have had little opportunity to learn interpersonal skills in
their families. Their lack of skills gives them few alternatives other than anger and
violence to manage conflict or express feelings. Abusers may lack the ability to
recognize or acknowledge the emotions they feel, and may perceive most negative
feelings as anger. They often have problems with verbally expressing their thoughts,
feelings, and needs. Some researchers have noted that assaultive men are poor
listeners who cannot communicate directly, especially about their feelings. An abuser
may confuse assertiveness with aggression. Abusers frequently misperceive neutral
communications or interactions as being threatening or insulting to them; for
example, a partner’s brief delay in meeting him may cause an abuser to assume that
she is having an affair. Id., p. 38-41.
• Refusal to accept responsibility for the violence
When confronted with their violent behavior, abusers commonly avoid responsibility
by denying that it occurred, lying about it, minimizing its nature or significance, or
blaming it on outside factors such as stress, drunkenness, or provocation from the
victim. Ganley, Domestic Violence: The What, Why and Who, as Relevant to Civil
Court Cases, Appendix C, p. 14 -16 in Lemon, Domestic Violence and Children
(Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1995). The court may hear such statements as:
o “It was an accident.”
o “I didn’t hurt anyone.”
o “I didn’t even use my fist.”
o “The kids didn’t see it.”
o “The cop didn’t like me.”
o “I couldn’t take the nagging anymore.”
o “I was drunk.”
o “I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately, and I lost control.”
o “She’s having an affair. I just want to save my family.”
1.5.2 Lethality Factors
Domestic violence kills its victims with alarming frequency. F.B.I. statistics indicate that
30% of all reported female homicide victims in the United States each year are killed by a
current or former husband or boyfriend. Special Report, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S.
Dept. of Justice (May 2000). This deadly potential requires vigilance in all cases involving
Assessing the lethality of a situation is difficult, because abusive relationships can be
unpredictable. Lethal violence may occur unexpectedly, without any advance warning from the abuser’s behavior, or it may be preceded by one or more circumstances that serve as danger signals. In the latter case, researchers have found that certain factors can often reveal an abuser’s potential for serious violence.
One such “lethality factor” is the recent separation of the couple. The U.S. Department of
Justice has reported that 75% of the domestic assaults reported to law enforcement agencies occur after the victim is divorced or separated from the assailant. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Report to the Nation on Crime and Justice, p. 33 (U.S. Dept. of Justice, 1988). This statistic reflects the dynamic of power and control that is present in abusive relationships. Abusers who perceive that they have lost control over their victims will often intensify their efforts to regain it, resorting in extreme cases to homicide as the ultimate act of dominance over the victim.
Other lethality factors are noted in the following list. While it is impossible to predict with certainty what a given abuser will do, the presence of the following factors can signal the need for extra safety precautions — the more of these factors that are present in a situation, the greater its danger.
• The victim (who is familiar with the abuser’s patterns of behavior) believes the
abuser’s threats may be lethal.
• The abuser threatens to kill the victim or other persons.
• The abuser threatens or attempts suicide.
• The abuser fantasizes about homicide or suicide.
• Weapons are present, and/or the abuser has a history of using weapons.
• The abuse involves strangling, choking, or biting the victim.
• The abuser has easy access to the victim or the victim’s family.
• The couple has a history of prior calls to the police for help.
• The abuser exhibits stalking behavior.
• The abuser is jealous and possessive, or imagines the victim is having affairs with
• The abuser is preoccupied or obsessed with the victim.
• The abuser is isolated from others, and the victim is central to the abuser’s life.
• The abuser is assaultive during sex.
• The abuser makes threats to the victim’s children.
• The abuser threatens to take the victim hostage, or has a history of hostage-taking.
• The severity or frequency of violence has escalated.
• The abuser is depressed or paranoid.
• The abuser or victim has a psychiatric impairment.
• The abuser has experienced recent deaths or losses.
• The abuser was beaten as a child, or witnessed domestic violence as a child.
• The abuser has killed or mutilated a pet, or threatened to do so.
• The abuser has started taking more risks, or is “breaking the rules” for using violence
in the relationship (e.g., after years of abuse committed only in the privacy of the
home, the abuser suddenly begins to behave abusively in public settings).
• The abuser has a history of assaultive behavior against others.
• The abuser has a history of defying court orders and the judicial system.
• The victim has begun a new relationship.
• The abuser has problems with drug or alcohol use, or assaults the victim while
intoxicated or high.
1.6 Abusive Tactics
An abuser’s primary motivation is to maintain control over the victim. Abusers are master manipulators who employ physical assault in conjunction with other tactics to achieve their objective. Abusers’ tactics have been compared to the brainwashing tactics used against prisoners of war, which include isolation, threats, occasional indulgences, demonstrations of omnipotence, degradation, and enforcement of trivial demands — abusers may employ similar patterns of physical, sexual, financial, and emotional coercion to control their victims.
Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, p. 27- 28 (Springer, 1984); Graham & Rawlings,
Bonding with Abusive Dating Partners: Dynamics of Stockholm Syndrome, in Dating
Violence: Young Women in Danger, p. 121-122 (Levy, ed., Seal Press, 1991). These tactics
prevent victims from leaving abusive relationships. In addition to physical assaults or threats, abusers’ control tactics may include:
• Emotional abuse of the victim
Emotional abuse may consist of isolating the victim from family and friends, making
degrading remarks to the victim, blaming the victim for the abuse, constantly
monitoring the victim’s activities, stalking, playing “mind games,” threatening
suicide if the victim leaves the relationship, and making and enforcing extensive,
• Using children as vehicles for abuse of the victim
Abusers frequently involve the victim’s children in their efforts to assert control.
Some abusers kidnap, sexually abuse, or physically harm the victim’s children, or
threaten to commit one of these acts. Others initiate or threaten to initiate court
proceedings to remove the children from the victim’s home, or use court-ordered
parenting time as an opportunity to harass the victim. Abusers may also force children
to act as informers against the victim or to deliver threats to the victim.
• Controlling the finances
An abuser may maintain control in a relationship by limiting the victim’s access to
the couple’s money or by preventing the victim from getting or keeping a job. This
interference with the victim’s economic independence makes financial abuse a major
factor in preventing victims from leaving abusive relationships.
• Sexually abusing the victim
This form of abuse includes rape, forced sexual acts, verbal degradation, forced
sexual contact in front of the children, threats to find another partner if the victim
refuses sex, and injury to the sexual areas of the victim’s body. Sexual abuse may
also include the abuser’s refusal to take appropriate precautions against unwanted
pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
Abusers may extend their controlling tactics to situations within the courtroom. Such tactics may be employed before, during, and after court proceedings to demonstrate control to the victim and to manipulate the court’s response to the abuser. The following list gives examples of abusive tactics that court personnel may encounter:
• Physical assaults or threats of violence against the victim, those providing refuge, and
others inside or outside the courtroom.
• Threats of suicide.
• Threats to take the children.
• Harassment intended to coerce the victim to dismiss proceedings or to recant previous
• Following the victim in or out of court.
• Sending the victim notes or “looks” during proceedings.
• Bringing family or friends to the courtroom to intimidate the victim.
• Long speeches about how the victim “made me do it.”
• Statements of profound devotion or remorse to the victim and to the court.
• Repeated requests for delays in proceedings.
• Requests for changes of counsel or failure to follow through with appointments of
• Intervening in the delivery of information from the court to the victim so that the
victim will be unaware of when to appear in court.
• Requests for mutual orders of protection as a way to continue control over the victim
and manipulate the court.
• Continually testing the limits of parenting time or support arrangements, e.g., arriving
late or not appearing at appointed times.
• Threats and/or initiation of custody fights to gain leverage in negotiations over
• Initiating retaliatory litigation against the victim or others who support the victim.
• Making false reports of child abuse or neglect by the victim.
• Enlisting the aid of parent rights groups to verbally harass the victim (and sometimes
courts) into compliance with demands.
• Using any evidence of damage resulting from the abuse as evidence that the victim is
an unfit parent.
1.8.1 Children’s Involvement in Adult Violence
Children are exposed to adult domestic violence in various ways: they witness it;
they are used by the abuser to control the victim; and they suffer physical consequences
incident to the adult violence.
• Witnessing the violence
Although parents often minimize or deny the presence of children during violent
incidents, studies show that up to 90% of children from violent households are aware
of the abuse. In New Mexico in 1999, 3,710 children were present at the scene of
19,822 cases of domestic violence as reported by law enforcement. Almost ¾ (74%)
of the children who witnessed domestic violence were not yet adolescents (12 years
and under). There were 6,687 domestic violence service provider reports that
identified 2,545 (38%) domestic violence incidents where children were present at the
scene. Additionally, 25% (3,313) of the 13,184 clients served by statewide domestic
violence service providers were children. Nationally, more than half of female
domestic violence victims live in households with children under age 12, and 4 in 10
offenders in state prisons for crimes against intimates had an average of 2.2 young
children residing with them. Caponera, Incidence and Nature of Domestic Violence in
New Mexico: An Analysis of 1999 Data from the New Mexico Domestic Violence
Data Central Repository, p. iv (June 2000).
Children perceive the adult violence in their homes in a variety of ways. They may be
eyewitnesses to all or part of a violent incident, or they may catch a fleeting glance of
it. They may hear the sounds of abuse — the screaming or crying, the breaking glass,
the impact of the blows. Children can also see the victim’s tears, along with the
blood, bruises, torn clothing, splintered furniture, and broken glass that evidence
abuse after an incident has occurred. Finally, children notice the tension between the
adults in a violent home — they see their mother jump when her abuser’s car pulls in
the driveway or when the abuser enters the room. Hart, Children of Domestic
Violence: Risks and Remedies, Child Protective Services Quarterly (Pittsburgh Bar
Ass’n, Winter, 1992); Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, p. 59 (Springer,
• Using children to control the adult victim
A common tactic of domestic abusers is to use the children in the household to
control the adult victim. Ganley, Domestic Violence: The What, Why and Who, as
Relevant to Civil Court Cases, Appendix C, p. 27, in Lemon, Domestic Violence and
Children (Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1995). Domestic abusers are likely to:
o Deliberately abuse their adult victims in the presence of the children.
o Interrogate the children about the victim’s activities.
o Force the victim to be in the company of a child always.
o Take the child away after a violent episode to prevent the victim from fleeing.
o Threaten violence against the child or against a pet or object that is important
to the child.
o Encourage the child to participate in the physical or emotional abuse of the
o Isolate the child along with the victim.
Because domestic violence often escalates when the victim attempts to leave the
abusive relationship, the victim’s separation from the abuser will not always be
sufficient by itself to protect the children from the violence. The following abusive
tactics may be employed after a violent couple separates:
o Engaging in lengthy battles over custody or parenting time.
o Detaining or concealing children.
o Abducting the children, or holding them hostage.
o Using parenting time to interrogate the children about the victim or to blame
the victim for the separation.
o Using parenting time to abuse the children.
o Demanding unlimited access to the children.
o Making abusive contacts with the victim’s home or work place under the
pretext of arranging for access to children.
• Physical consequences of violence for children
Children living in violent households are at increased risk for suffering bodily injury.
In New Mexico, 22% (576) of children victim-witnesses as reported by domestic
violence service providers experienced physical abuse from the current offender of
the adult victim, and 7% (147) experienced sexual abuse from the current offender of
the adult victim. A 1990 study found that as violence against women becomes more
severe and more frequent in the home, children experience a 300% increase in
physical violence by the male batterer. Caponera, Incidence and Nature of Domestic
Violence in New Mexico: An Analysis of 1999 Data from the New Mexico Domestic
Violence Data Central Repository, p. iv (June 2000). Such injury may be
unintentional, occurring incident to the adult violence. Some children are harmed
when they intervene to defend or protect a parent victim. Assaults on victims who are
holding young children in their arms often result in injury to the children as well as
the victims. Children can also be struck by furniture or other objects thrown by adults
during a violent incident. Ganley, above, p. 26.
Adult domestic violence can have other devastating physical consequences for
children beyond bodily injury. Domestic violence can deprive children of housing,
schooling, or medical care. Flight from domestic violence often leads to homelessness
among victims and children, and is a primary reason why adolescents run away from
home. Richie, The Impact of Domestic Violence on the Children of Battered Women,
Children’s Aid Society Newsletter, p. 3 (Spring, 1992). Because abusers sometimes
find victims who are in hiding by obtaining addresses from children’s school or
health care records, some victims fail to enroll their children in school or seek
medical care for them out of fear that the abuser will discover their whereabouts.
Children from violent households can also face dislocation at the hands of the court or
child protection system, which may remove them from the victim’s care — or
terminate the victim’s parental rights — due to a “failure to protect” them. Advocates
for domestic violence victims assert that the removal of children from the home on
this basis is founded on two faulty assumptions, namely: (1) the victim is principally
responsible for the safety of the children; and (2) the victim has the power and
resources to protect the children. These assumptions overlook the abuser’s control of
the choice to behave violently toward the victim, and the abuser’s deliberate use of
physical and psychological tactics to incapacitate the victim. Furthermore, these
assumptions reinforce abusive behavior by placing the blame for it on the victim, thus
allowing the abuser to escape responsibility for the negative consequences of the
violence. Victim advocates suggest that a more effective way to protect children from
adult violence is to protect the abused parent by intervening in the abuser’s patterns of
power and control and insisting that the abuser take responsibility for the violence.
Zorza, Batterer Manipulation and Retaliation in the Courts, 3 Domestic Violence
Report 68, 75 (June/July, 1998); Jackson, Intervention with Children Who Have
Witnessed Abuse, p. 3-4 (House of Ruth, Baltimore, MD, 1996).
1.8.2 Effects of Adult Violence on Children
Whether they witness the abuse or are abused themselves, children suffer from involvement with adult domestic violence. In addition to causing physical injury, domestic violence can have a profound impact on children’s core beliefs about themselves, those in authority, and those with whom they have intimate relationships. The trauma and anxiety it produces can impede children’s development by preventing them from forming healthy emotional attachments with others, and by derailing their efforts to learn basic social skills. This devastating emotional, cognitive, and behavioral damage can be manifested even after a child reaches adulthood. The following discussion explores some specifics of these effects.
Jackson, above, p. 4-5; Ganley, above, p. 28-29.
• Emotional effects
Domestic violence terrorizes children. Once a violent incident has occurred, children
may experience pervasive anxiety that another attack is imminent. They may feel rage
at both the abuser and the victim, or confusion, guilt, shame, and helplessness. If the
family is separated as a result of the abuse, children often experience grief and
depression. See Saunders, Child Custody Decisions in Families Experiencing Woman
Abuse, 39 Social Work 51, 52-53 (1994), and Crites & Coker, What Therapists See
That Judges May Miss, Judges’ Journal, 9, 11-12 (Spring, 1988).
• Cognitive effects
Domestic violence teaches children that violence is normal, effective behavior.
Children in violent homes with a heterosexual male abuser learn that men are
aggressive and domineering, while women are powerless and deserving of abuse.
They learn that they and their mothers are worthless, and that adults cannot be trusted.
Children in violent homes may learn to equate caring with abuse. They frequently
believe that they are to blame for the abuse, particularly if the parental conflict
involves child care issues. This belief is reinforced when the abuser tells the children
that the victim deserves the abuse, or that it is occurring for their own good. If
children are threatened or punished when they disclose the violence in their homes,
they may learn to be deceptive and indirect in their communication with others.
• Behavioral effects
Domestic violence can cause developmental delays in children. Children in violent
households may experience delayed development of speech, motor, and cognitive
skills. Anxiety over their family situation may interfere with their ability to function
in school or cause learning disabilities. They may also develop somatic complaints,
such as insomnia, diarrhea, bedwetting, or frequent illnesses. Some children
experience eating or sleeping disorders, withdrawal, over-compliance, clinginess,
aggression, destructive rages, detachment, regressive behavior, a fantasy family life,
or thoughts of suicide.
A few children turn to violent behavior themselves as a result of observing adult
domestic violence. Sixty-three percent of all males between ages 11 and 20 who are
imprisoned for homicide in this country killed their mother’s batterer. An Oregon
study reported that 68% of the delinquent youth in treatment programs had witnessed
their mother’s abuse and/or had been abused themselves. These youth had committed
such crimes as arson, assault, rape, and murder. Ninety percent of the youth within
the group were abusing alcohol, and 89% were abusing drugs. A 1985 Massachusetts
study found that children who witnessed the abuse of their maternal caretaker were:
o 24 times more likely to commit sexual assault crimes.
o 50% more likely to use drugs and/or alcohol.
o 74% more likely to commit crimes against another person.
o 6 times more likely to commit suicide.
Studies cited in Edwards, Reducing Family Violence: The Role of the Family
Violence Council, 43 Juvenile and Family Court Journal 1 (1992), and Jackson,
above, p. 5.
• Effects on adult behavior
Children carry the effects of domestic violence into their adult lives. The failure to
acquire normal academic or interpersonal skills in childhood may adversely impact an
adult’s abilities to maintain a job or an intimate relationship. Moreover, children —
especially males — who have witnessed domestic violence in their homes are at
increased risk for perpetuating abuse in the families they form as adults. In one study,
men who had seen their parents physically attack each other were three times more
likely to hit their wives than those who had not. The Effects of Women Abuse on
Children, p. 11-12 (2d ed., Nat’l Center on Women & Family Law, 1994).