Note: An updated version of this piece was published on July 9, 2017 on Blasting News.
Domestic violence might not be an epidemic, but it occurs so frequently that preventative measures should be discussed and written about often. Domestic violence is not limited to men, sometimes women are abusers, and in lesbian relationships the frequency is about the same as heterosexual couples. For the purpose of this article, only the male pronoun will be used in referring to the abuser, so as not to confuse the reader.
Every single victim of domestic violence I have spoken to said the signs were all there when she began dating him. She just discounted or ignored them; or worse, thought she could change him.
Categories of Abuse
When one thinks of domestic violence, the first thing that comes to mind is physical violence, sometimes ending in murder. Physical violence is palpable and frightening, but abuse comes in many forms:
- Sexual – either sex on demand, unwanted forms of sex, or withholding it, depending on the abuser’s mood.
- Religious – fanaticism where the abuser strictly interprets (or comes up with his own version) dogma, and punishes his partner for real or perceived violations.
- Emotional – constantly putting his partner down for real or imagined shortcomings, which can quickly destroy the partner’s self-confidence, leading to humiliation and mental distress.
- Financial – if the woman does not work outside of the home, the abuser uses money as a weapon of control.
- Social – closely monitors and gate keeps his partner’s interaction with friends, family and stangers. This often involves monitoring her phone calls. Worst case: she becomes a prisoner of her own home, kidnapped, trapped, isolated.
The Cycle of Violence
For the physically abusive particularly, there is a repetitive cycle of violence that approximates this: the abuser begins criticizing his partner for little things – appearance, meals, housecleaning, spending money. The criticisms become more intense. Eventually the insults are spewed out for just about anything the woman does, or doesn’t do! The climax is physical assault. In the aftermath, the abuser is remorseful, begs for forgiveness, then kisses and makes up, as it were.
Evolution of an Abuser
Probably the most significant factor contributing to boys who become violent is pathological parenting – chaotic life, physical or other abuse, parental drug use, multiple caregivers and the like. Role modeling is the most powerful determiner of behavior, so if the boy was raised in a violent environment, there is a good chance he too will be violent.
Predicting Potential Violence in Teenage Boys
What are the danger signs that teenage girls should be on the lookout for to avoid violent boys. Here are a few:
- The boy has a history of violence, fighting, harming others.
- He becomes very possessive (of the teenage girl) after only a few encounters or dates.
- He confronts other boys who interact with her, even if it is casual conversation.
- He attempts to monitor her cell phone and social media, frequently making comments.
- He begins insulting her, all the while professing his affection for her.
- He begins to exhibit early signs of the categories of abuse outlined above in this article.
- The girl begins to feel uncomfortable, frightened, and insecure, wondering if she is at fault.
This is the hard part. First, heed the wisdom of Paul Simon’s song, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover:
Just drop of the key Lee.
You don’t need to discuss much.
Just set yourself free.
The breakup must be swift, decisive, and irrevocable. No second chances, no counseling. Closure, closure, closure. If the boy is exceedingly aggressive, or possibly dangerous, then the girl will need confederates: parents, teachers, friends, perhaps the police. If necessary, have the girl go away for a few days. Consider a temporary restraining order. Have the police visit the boy and interview him, asking if he has access to weapons. All this may sound over the top, but death is final. He’ll go to prison, but someone will lose their daughter – worst case scenario of course. No enablers! If the boy comes over to talk to the parents, turn him away. If he tries to talk to the girl’s friends, have them turn him away. It’s over, over, over. Clean break. He will find another target, unfortunately.
Predicting the Teenage Girl’s Propensity for Choosing Violent Boys
Sadly, people have a tendency to repeat mistakes. I have patients, friends and acquaintances who hooked up with the same personality type multiple times. Just ask the battered women’s shelters. A girl who was raised in a loving family, and especially if she has a healthy relationship with her father, will not be likely to connect with potentially violent boys, nor will she be promiscuous. Someone said, if your self-esteem is a “3” on a scale of “1” to “10,” you tend to hang out with “3s.” Go find some “7s” or “8s” instead. Ask the boy’s friends what he is like. If you have the courage, ask girls who previously dated him what he is like. Do your homework, especially if your intuition is not serving you well. And, most importantly, when you see the early warning signs, get out fast. Don’t wait for confirmation of your worst fears. Plus, there are a lot of boys out there, most of them nice.
How to Help
If you see your daughter, sister or friend in a potentially dangerous relationship, intervene early and hard. Do not support them. Don’t double date or group date. Speak to her of the dangers. Tell her parents. These things are obvious to just about everybody, except the girl. Contribute to nonprofit organizations that help abused women. In Sacramento we have a wonderful organization called W.E.A.V.E., Women Escaping A Violent Environment. Get involved.
Incidentally, I worked as a psychologist at the Sacramento, California County Jail for five and one-half years. I led women’s psychotherapy groups on a weekly basis. Guess what? Nearly every one of the women was in jail because of a boy or man.
“How old are you?”
“Why were you involved with him?”
“Because I loved him. I still do.”
“Really? Then why did he have you in the car the night he shot the guy in the liquor store?”
“I didn’t know he was going to do that.”
“What offer has the DA given you?”
“Twenty-five to life.”