THE MYTH OF THE "CYCLE OF ABUSE"
This past week I came across a newly published article by a DV lecturer. I heaved a huge sigh of disappointment. It was all about "the cycle of abuse". I decided to post about the cycle on Facebook and hundreds of people responded. Most did not have correct information about current DV theory. I am always concerned when those who train others in this vital topic are not themselves well trained, so I want to share a bit about that here.
The "Cycle of Violence" is a psychological theory of how DV abuse occurs in a relationship. It was developed in the 1970's by Dr. Lenore Walker, who wrote the book "The Battered Woman" and coined that term. Although the theory is not scientific, is outdated and is no longer used by experts in this field, it is still widely taught and referenced. (NOTE: The cycle in question is not what is known as "the intergenerational cycle of abuse", which refers to how a batterer models violence in the home and passes his distorted beliefs about and mistreatment of women down to his children.)
The Cycle of Violence theory holds that DV is cyclical, moving through three distinct phases over and over. The three original phases were Tension Building, Explosion and Honeymoon; they have been adapted by various persons and programs over time, as in the example below.
The term "cycle of violence" has become ingrained in our culture and is now used to mean different things to different people. Often I hear it used in a victim-blaming way when someone says, "She really needs to break the cycle!" (Ridiculous. Even if there were a "cycle of violence", the victim is not the one who could break it. It's not HER behavior!) Also, if someone has been in more than one abusive relationship, she may be said to be in a cycle of "being attracted to abusers". Victims are not attracted to abusers. Abusers, however, are very attracted to survivors. They have been traumatized and may shut down emotionally and not assert themselves when threatened or harassed. If they were abused as a child, they may see the abuse as "normal" and expected.
Most of the time, though, I believe the term is used by well-meaning folks who just don't know better. The term has crept so deeply into the lexicon and is tossed around so carelessly that no one usually questions it. As advocates, we need to proactively educate those who use this term, sharing that the cycle theory has long been abandoned by serious scholars.
There IS NO "cycle of abuse" in relationships with DV. Forty years of research and work have informed us and vastly increased our understanding of DV since the 1970's. Decades of listening to and learning from victims, and a great deal of excellent validated research, have changed our understanding dramatically.
When the "Power and Control Wheel" graphic was created by Ellen Pence, Michael Paymar and others at the Duluth DAIP organization, it was based on the input of many victims and survivors. (See Ellen explain the wheel development here.) This wheel essentially replaced the cycle. Why? Because we learned that there are no predictable, repeating phases in relationships where domestic violence is occurring. If only it were that simple.
Here's the reality. Abuse is constant; it does not happen in stages; it NEVER stops. It just occurs in many, many different forms. Most of it is not physical or even illegal. It is a systematic ongoing siege. The tactics may vary from moment to moment - abuse may be verbal one minute, physical the next, always financial, always emotional, sometimes sexual. However, there is ALWAYS VIOLENCE (power and control) being wielded by the abuser, there is ALWAYS TENSION although the levels may vary, and a HONEYMOON - a time of sweet, intimate, mutual caring and sharing based on trust and love - NEVER follows violence.
What used to be called the honeymoon phase of the cycle is actually just more abuse - a very purposeful, deceitful, manipulation by the abuser to prevent the victim from leaving him, reporting him to the police, or doing anything else that might make things hard result in consequences for him. It is not about his partner at all, and it is not about love. (Note: I use the terms him & her for simplicity, although that's not always the case.) The so-called Honeymoon phase is much more appropriately referred to as a period of "manipulative kindness". (A term learned in my own 1988 DV support group from facilitator and friend, Luana Trende Nery). The abuser may give gifts, make promises (at least in the early stages of the relationship) or "let" his victim do something or go somewhere for a change, but these are just subtle tactics of abuse, not random acts of kindness. He has no intention of giving up control or ending his domination & subjugation of his partner. Research tells us that until a victim begins to see through this charade, she is not likely to leave the abuser. This means it is VERY important that we educate victims to understand these behaviors.
If you want to understand more about the vast complexities of domestic violence, I highly recommend reading the brilliant book Coercive Control by Evan Stark, a forensic researcher and professor at Rutgers University. He analyzes and examines the dynamics of DV in tremendous depth. You will come away with a much more sophisticated, richer understanding. In the Resources section below, you will find a video lecture by Professor Stark.
Here's to always learning and growing in knowledge,
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL OBSERVANCES IN MAY
- National Mental Health Month — Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. Many are survivors of abuse. Individuals with mental illness are more vulnerable to abuse. During May, the U.S. raises awareness of mental health. Click here for information about national mental health month, the national mental health crisis line, and more resources.
- MAY 10: National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day — The 2018 theme is “Partnering for Health and Hope Following Trauma”. See this link for trauma-informed care resources.
- MAY 17: International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia —Annual day to draw the attention of decision makers, the media, the public and others to the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and all those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms.
- MAY 18: National Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day — This is the first ever awareness day for this issue. Join a free on-line event to raise awareness about the mental health of older Americans and spur actions to address their needs by promoting evidence-based approaches to mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery supports.
- Asian Pacific American Heritage Month — The history of North America is shaped by the stories of those from Asia, the Pacific and the native people of the Pacific Islands. Having lived in Hawaii for many years and traveled to Asia, Micronesia and Indonesia, Julie has a special affinity for the region and its people, and is committed to advancing awareness and support for victim-survivors there.
ADVOCATE SPOTLIGHT & QUOTE OF THE MONTH
We salute former President Jimmy Carter who has publicly announced that the remainder of his remarkable life will focus on eliminating global gender-based violence.
"The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on earth."
- Former President Jimmy Carter
Understanding Coercive Control
An excellent lecture by Professor Evan Stark, Rutgers University, author of the seminal book Coercive Control (Oxford Press).
WATCH VIDEO HERE →
The DV Wheels Graphics
DV wheels were developed at the Duluth, MN Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP) with the input of victims and survivors. They reflect our best understanding of the various dimensions of domestic violence. Many versions exist for specific populations and concerns. The wheels may be adapted only with permission from DAIP. Study, download, or order poster sized versions to inform and educate your staff, clients and partners.
The Equality Wheel — One of the most important wheels, this graphic depicts a healthy relationship — the opposite of the Power and Control wheel, which depicts one that features DV or Coercive Control.
Federal funding for life-saving domestic violence and sexual violence services is imperative to meet the needs of millions of survivors, but the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) has been unauthorized for the last two years, putting this critical funding at risk. Funding ends in September 2018. Last month a bi-partisan re-authorization bill was introduced. The funds provide essential support to emergency shelters, crisis hotlines, counseling, and programs for underserved communities. Without this funding victims and survivors are at great risk.
Since 2008 Washington State law has included a progressive, generous Domestic Violence Leave Act. No employer is exempt, and it is available for the victim/survivor and their family. It was implemented after an abuser killed his ex-girlfriend and himself in her workplace. The DV leave has has no time limit, and can be used to take extended leave or short-term leave for attending court appearances or counseling. Unlike FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), the employer is required to continue paying its portion of the employee's health insurance.
+ Julie's Survivor Interview -The Pixel Project's 5th annual Survivor Stories Interview Project is available throughout May, in honor of Mother’s Day. The campaign features a new interview each day with a survivor of violence against women (VAW). Read Julie's interview about her abuse, survival and life's work in VAW and trauma.
+ "Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse"
Jimmy Carter TED Talk, delivered at TEDWomen 2015
+ What Doesn't Kill Me - A Film about Domestic Violence and Custody — An abuser who contests custody will win 70-80% of the time. This bold and provocative film explores why victimized mothers and children are not protected.
+ Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence — The national resource center on DV, sexual violence, trafficking, and gender-based violence (GBV) in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. It provides training, technical assistance, and policy analysis; and has a clearinghouse of information on GBV, research, and culturally-specific models of engagement. Newsletter subscription available.
+ 6th Annual Technology Summit- July 30 - August 1, 2018 (Tech Advocates Day, August 2, 2018) San Francisco, CA - This conference by the Safety Net Project of National Network to End DV (NNEDV) explores how technology is used by abusers to find, stalk, monitor and otherwise abuse their current or former victims.
+ 30 For 30 is an annual campaign in June featuring 30 fathers' mini-interviews (one a day) during the month of Father's Day. The focus is the joy of fatherhood and how men can help prevent and stop VAW. Fathers and other men apply here.
+ SAFeR is an approach to decision making in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in family law matters such as custody. It involves screening and assessing for IPV and the effects of IPV; and responding to IPV in all recommendations, decisions, and interventions. Training and technical assistance is provided to courts, legal and dispute resolution professionals, advocates, and others about how to use SAFeR. A program of the Battered Women's Justice Project.
+ Various upcoming Trainings, Webinars, Conferences and Events
MAY 22: FREE WEBINAR
Uncovering the Roots of Violence:
New Perspectives on Domestic Violence, Social Justice, and Faith
Join Dr. Riane Eisler, internationally known for her bestseller The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future, Julie Owens, and author Rev. Ron Clark as they discuss the need for an ethic of human relationships grounded in mutuality and caring, confront beliefs and traditions that justify and normalize violence, and discuss traditions embedded in religious doctrine. Click below to register and please share with friends who might be interested.