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Introduction: Defining Domestic Violence

The term ‘domestic violence’ will be used in the paper despite the fact that one may find other terms that are commonly used in the literature such as family violence (McClennen, 2010, p.1), intimate partner violence (Grovert, 2008, p.4) or interpersonal violence (Gonzalez, 2010, p.2).  This may be explained by the fact that the paper’s focus is mostly on the experience of female victims of abuse inflicted by males, and the term domestic violence is commonly used to define violence that occurs between spouses or intimate partners. Besides, the term ‘family violence’ is believed to be broader and is said to encompass the situations in which children and old people are abused (Grovert, 2008, p.4).  The term ‘domestic violence’ will be used in its application to heterosexual intimate relationships (for example, former or current intimate partners, cohabitants, or spouses), since violence in lesbian or gay couples has its peculiar features and complexities that require further studies (McCue, 2008)  

For the purposes of this essay, domestic violence has been defined as situations of violent confrontation (including stalking, fear of being physically abused, rape, and physical assault) between intimate partners in a family or between spouses (Gonzalez, 2010, p.2). While many studies use a broader definition of the term, focusing on emotional as well as psychological abuse (Milner, 2010, p.2), in this paper the focus will be maintained on physical violence, both in secular and theological interpretations. This is explained by the fact that cases of emotional and psychological abuse are often underreported and under-researched in comparison with those of physical abuse (Grovert, 2008, p.1). At the same, it can be said that virtually all cases of physical abuse incorporate elements of psychological and emotional abuse, which makes it sometimes difficult to separate them out.

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Theoretical Perspective on Nature, Causes and Effects of Domestic Violence

To understand the nature of domestic violence and how domestic violence occurs, the concept of ‘cycle of violence’ has been introduced. Karen Kenney, the author of Domestic Violence EBook, explains that violent and abusive relationships are not continually violent. There happen times of calm, as well as times of excessive abuse, and “times of remorse” (Kenney, 2011, p.40). The cycle is self-feeding and it perpetuates abuse in a relationship where one of the partners is a batterer.

Despite the fact each relationship is unique, the common pattern has been found to exist. According to Walker’s Cycle Theory of Violence (1984), the cycle of violence typically consists of three phases. The first one is generally known as tension-building. During this phase the abuser develops tension until the conflict occurs (during the second phase of acute battering), when the abuser acts violently and batters the wife (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011, p. 1) Eventually, the third phase, also known as honeymoon, takes place when the abuser gives a promise he will not batter the wife again. He seemingly feels ashamed and asks for forgiveness. He may also give presents. When this phase wears off, the woman faces the tension-building phase, which results in her increased emotional and medical problems, which signify the condition of post-traumatic stress (for example, depression, feeling anxious, and even substance abuse) (Davhana-Maselesele, 2011, p. 2)

Recently, a more detailed classification of the cycle of violence has been made that singles out 6 major phases within the violence cycle. According to Kenney, abuse is the first phase of each cycle of violence. It is followed by the so-called guilt stage. The batterer typically apologizes for abusing the partner and promises not to be violent. Essentially, at this stage the batterer does not experience the genuine feeling of guilt for making the spouse suffer, but is rather concerned about likely punishment and consequences. Just as the apology takes place, the batterer gains control over the victim. Simultaneously, he ensures that the abused partner will not share with other people or leave (Kenney, 2011, p. 41).

After that abusers tend to enter the phase of rationalization, which is about looking for excuses of their abusive conduct. Instead of accepting the full responsibility for the abuse, they start to make excuses such as “I was intoxicated” or “it happened because I was abused in my childhood”. To make matters worse, abusers often argue that it is the victimized partner that has caused them to get enraged by acting wrongly or saying something improper (Kenney, 2011, p.41). The next phase is called “back to normal”. During this phase the relationship may even seem very good. The batterer may buy expensive gifts or take the abused partner out to the restaurant since he wants to show that the relationship will improve and he will change. At the point when things start to appear safe again, the batterer comes into the fantasizing phase, which is also a planning phase. During this phase, the abuser looks for what the wife has done wrong and what can be done to punish her. This phase is known as a set-up phase since it sets up the subsequent abuse. This is how the cycle perpetuates (Kenney, 2011, p.42).   

Having clarified the dynamics and nature of domestic violence, the paper will focus on major causes of domestic violence. Psychological research has found that the main reason for battering is a desire to gain control and maintain power in interpersonal relationship. Some researchers refer to this as the control theory (Hyde-Nolan & Juliao, 2010, p.9) Margi McCue (2008) observes that many abused women report that their spouses or partners display abusive behavior because of jealousy, desire to be in control of the relationships, and excessive possessiveness.   Such women often curtail their everyday activities, e.g. meeting relatives or friends in order to avoid accusations of disloyalty, being sneaky or being lazy. Some abusers, according to McCue, are obsessed with possessiveness. They often monitor the activities of their wives, conduct surveillance, monitor phones calls, eavesdrop, take away the money, and even stalk (McCue, 2008, p.11). 

One of the most frequent reasons for battering is jealousy and men rejection. While the victim is obviously innocent, the abuser typically does not pay attention to this. He is preoccupied with his own belief that the wife has affairs and uses violence “to restore order and balance” (McCue, 2008, p.11). To make matters worse, he blames the abused spouse for inducing this behavior of his by her behavior with other males. Causal relationships have been found between the theoretical perspectives on why males batter and cases of battering. Recent studies have found that five general theories may explain why males abuse their partners. These theories are the psychopathology theory, social learning theory, biological theory, family systems theory, and feminist theory. 

The psychopathology theory says that men who batter their spouses are mentally sick and thus should be treated with help of medication and methods of psychiatry. Although this theory was especially popular in the early 1970s and then fell into oblivion, its popularity has been restored these days. A range of recent studies in the field have found that men who battered their spouses were highly likely to have various psychopathology and personality disorders, very often antisocial personality disorder or borderline personality organization (or post-traumatic stress disorder) (Dunton, 2008). As Dr Dunton expalains, violent actions committed “by Antisocial personalities are typically for “profit, power, or some other material gratification” (…),  while those of Borderlines are “geared towards gaining the concern of caretakers” (Dunton, 2008, p. 134)  

Social learning theory emerged after the initial rejection of the psychopathology theory. It assumes that violent behavior is learnt. Sociologists argue that males battering behavior occurs because they have learned violence in their own families (Abbassi & Aslinia, 2010, p.16). This theory also became known as “the learned behavior” theory of violence. While this theory is still used today, it does have some inconsistencies, since research confirms that only 30 per cent of boys who witness domestic violence become batterers themselves, while 70 do not (McCue, 2008, p. 14).

The biological theory of abuse was initially preoccupied with exploring the impact of hereditary factors on violence. Today, it primarily focuses on the relation between violent behavior and brain injury (McCue, 2008, p.14). Specifically, studies have revealed that abusers have a greater percentage of brain injuries to compare with non-abusers. Other studies have found that brains of males who were subject to abuse in childhood differ from the brains of those who were not. Because human brain undergoes certain physiological changes that resulted from physiological trauma, it has become clear that abuse, abandonment and neglect in childhood condition violent behavior towards their spouses in adults (McCue, 2008, p. 14).

The family systems theory assumes that family is a dynamic organization which consists of interdependent components. One family member’s behavior is affected by other family members’ behavior, so the likelihood of that behavior reoccurrence is greatly affected by other family members’ feedback. Scholars who develop this theory examine communication, problem-solving skills, and nature of relationship between the spouses in couples where abusive behavior takes place (Hyde-Nolan & Juliao, 2012, p.14). The theory suggests that both partners should be included in some intervention since each of them plays his or her particular role in violence confrontation. Researchers consider this theory to be partially blaming the victim for being battered.     

Other prominent theories that seek to explain the domestic violence are the radical feminist sociocultural theory, postmodern feminist theory, intersectional feminism, and object relations theory (McClennen, 2010, p. 125).

The radical feminist sociocultural theory is often used for theoretical explanation of domestic violence. This theory relates the occurrence of domestic violence to the existing social structure in society, which is patriarchy (it means that females and children have fewer rights and less power than males) (Damant et al, 2008). According to this theory, being deprived of equal power exposes women and children to acts of violence. While this theory is successfully applied when striving to shift the structure of the social power or to handle domestic violence as criminal offense, it has been criticized for being gender asymmetrical (Hamel, 2009) since it considers females as victims and males as abusers.

Next, the postmodern feminist theory is based on the approach which stresses the fact of differences among males and females, rather than focusing on contrasts between two sexes (Damant et al, 2008). It acknowledges the significance of motherhood in lives of women and considers a variety of ties between mothering, domestic violence, and child abuse. The drawback of this theory is that “it tends towards relativism and rarely provides the basis for collective political actions” (Damant et al, 2008, p.126).

Within the theoretical domain, other theories have appeared based on recognition of the fact that there is not a single paradigm capable of giving a viable explanation for domestic violence between partners. Intersectional feminism considers domestic violence just one form of social oppression and control. It promotes the idea that life happens on an intersection of power systems (these include gender, race, and class, etc ) and oppression (these include gender inequality, class inequality, and prejudice, etc)  (McClennen, 2010; Naples, 2008).

 As for the object relations theory, it deals with certain intrapsychic processes that impact behavior in a relationship (Rosenberg, 2012). Close to attachment theory, which stresses the importance of reciprocity in a relationship, it assumes that people are motivated to establish important relationships with surrounding objects, from early time in their lives. It also assumes that individuals should be capable of developing security and trust in the outer world in inner selves. It also posits that kids look to their fathers and mothers to perform the roles of love and security provision. If the aforementioned sense of security is destroyed, children lose their sense of self-esteem and ability to handle their emotions (Brodie, 2007). 

The microsystem factor theories of violence have been developed of late. For example, the intrafamilial stress theory is based on the concept of intrafamilial stress. The latter refers to raising more kids than the couple can afford, living in overcrowded setting, and having to raise children with special needs. According to this theory, such situations are likely to place a burden on the overall family system, which will then contribute to abusive behavior (Hyde-Nolan & Juliao, 2012, p. 15). Dependency relations theory is grounded on recognizing that victims of violence are often dependent on batterers. In abusive marriages, the economic factor greatly contributes to wives’ choosing not to leave. 

Finally, the resource theory is based on assuming that relationship exists between wealth and violent behavior. It has been found that males who are better-off and belong to a higher class in a society less often resort to abusive behavior than males with limited resources, since they have opportunity to use other forms of their wives’ control (additionally to violence) (Hyde-Nolan & Juliao, 2012, p. 10).  

 The effects of domestic violence have also been the subject of scholarly research for the last three decades. When Walker’s cycle of violence has been introduced along with her concept of “the battered woman syndrome” back in 1983, it was the first time that female trauma symptoms got recognized and described (Gonzalez, 2010, p. 38). These attributes of symptoms that were found in women who had been subject to violence caused the advancement of stress response theories that may explain the effects of violence. The first theory is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder theory of domestic violence (PTSD theory), whereas the second characterizes some other form of psychological adjustment to events that traumatized the victim.    Rosenthal et al (2010) found that the effects of domestic violence on victims are their increased anxiety, as well as depression and other symptoms frequently related to PTSD.

 Similarly, violence as trauma is the theory that suggests that abused partners experience the very process of violent confrontation as a traumatic event. Specifically, the way people process information during this process affects the way in which data are processed in the future. Excessive levels of stress may lead victims to losing their ability to cope with stressors and experience psychological numbing, a survival technique (Hyde-Nolan & Juliao, 2012, p. 8).

 These theories may well explain why females choose to stay in abusive relationships. In particular, violence leads to changes in the cognitive schema of an abused woman. She becomes vulnerable, helpless, and even meaningless (Gonzalez, 2010, p. 38). These changes affect the way the abused woman sees herself and the outside world. All her previous meanings get lost, since the individual she trusted has become the source of physical harm and emotional distress. The effect of the vicious cycle of violence on a woman may be that she gradually gets confused by the repetitive nature of the cycle and totally submits to her abuser’s violent conduct (Gonzalez, 2010, p. 39). That may eventually lead to her death as result of violent confrontation (Gonzalez, 2010, p.24).

Another theory that helps to understand the effect of domestic violence on a victim is that of learned helplessness. Based on the premises of the social learning theory, this theory assumes that when a person repeatedly feels helpless as she faces abuse, she develops the perception of reality that is distorted. Such women develop a variety of defense mechanisms such as denial, splitting the mind from the physical body during assaults, and dissociation. They are unable to see how to escape from their plight (McCue, 2008, p.19).

Other effects of violence on victims include the Stockholm syndrome. The latter is believed to be found in women who have suffered from abuse in families. The Stockholm syndrome was first discovered in 1973 when 4 people who had been held captive in one of the banks for 6 days grew emotionally attached to criminals who captivated them. The distinctive feature of this condition is the development of a traumatic bond with the abuser which results from certain psychological experience. The consequences for the victim are 1) loss of the sense of oneself; 2) expression of displaced rage; 3) seeing the abusive partner as either all positive or all negative; 4) feeling the push-pull dynamic towards the abuser (McCue, 2008, p. 20).

Another effect is the so-called ‘crazy’ behavior. Reportedly, women may act in a crazy manner while in an abusive relationship. They display the behavior which is bizarre and looks disturbed. Once these women leave the abuser, they cease to demonstrate such behavior (McCue, 2008, p. 21).

Other effects of domestic violence on women are denial, shock, fear, shame, anger, panic, inability to share with other people about her condition, dissociation, and nightmares.  Victims of domestic violence may start to engage in substance abuse, unsafe sexual affairs, prostitution, or child abuse, as well as experience eating disorders, low self-esteem, problematic relations with other people, and stress related illnesses (e.g. hypertension, chronic fatigue, migraine headaches, and ulcers, etc) (McCue, 2008, p.22). 

 All in all, causes and effects of domestic violence have been well researched. It is however incorrect to speak about one particular cause or effect of domestic violence. It seems a complex approach is required in understanding both causes and consequences of domestic violence.  

Spiritual Perspective on Violence

 In this section, the Christian perspective on domestic violence will be discussed with particular focus on Biblical view of causes and effects of domestic violence. To examine the Christian approach to understanding domestic violence, a variety of perspectives as to the nature of domestic violence will be explored. Where possible, comparisons will be drawn with the secular theory of domestic violence.

 To understand the causes of domestic violence in the Bible, whose New Testament is the foundation of Christianity, one needs to consider the nature of sin. Both Old and New Testaments condemn violence and point out at the fact that God hates violence. For instance, in the very same passage where God says He hates divorce, He says that He hates “a man covering himself with violence as well as with his garment”. Besides, Proverbs 6: 17-19 provide 7 things that God Almighty dislikes. These are “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feel that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family” (Proverbs 6: 17-19). More so, the New Testament calls for husbands to love their wives the same as they love their flesh, since “No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church” (Ephesians 5: 29).

Therefore, violence is a sin, especially if it is violence against the person whom the man, as the head of the family, has to love the same way as Jesus Christ loves the Church. The first human sin was committed by the urge of the evil force named Satan (Genesis 3:1-6). Similarly, all subsequent sins were done because humans were driven by the urge of the evil force Satan, and by the drive of their first sin, which started a history of numerous sins in the history of human race. Satan assisted Adam, Eve, and their off-springs in doing things that were against God’s love (first it was hiding and blame shifting, later it was a murder, and still later the sins so multiplied that God decided to destroy the whole race of human beings) (Genesis 3: 12-13; Genesis 4: 8). Thus, people are sinful because they get born with a seed of the first sin and because they listen to what Satan urges them to do and commit sins. Since violence is inevitably a sin, it means that it, too, originates in the evil force inside a person who abuses.  In other words, the cause of violence is evil or, better, devil inside the person that urges him to use abuse to “educate” the wife, which is clearly against the God’s will in the New and Old Testaments alike.

Yet, to say that the cause of domestic violence is solely the job of Satan and its evil force would not be true. Indeed, in Christianity the concept of the free will is essential, whereby anyone is capable to resist or accept sinful wishes, thoughts, or plans of action that are born in his heart. Thus, it would be more correct to say that the cause of domestic violence is abuser’s willful violation of God’s biggest commandment to love God and obey Him and to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Lack of love to God, lack of obedience to His words in the New Testament, and lack of love to neighbor all make up the major cause of domestic violence. As a matter of fact, any person who has love will not act in a violent way and will not repeat his vicious circles of violence.

Violence is uniquely a great evil and a big sin. At the same time, just as sin is perceived as a disease of the soul and an inevitable road to death (“For the wages of sin is death…”) (Romans 6: 23), this disease may well be thought a serious one and even lethal (for the soul). This position may well be compared to the psychopathology  theory which posits abusive husbands as men who are mentally sick and whose brain is literally damaged if to compare with non-abusers. Hence, the cause of domestic violence is a serious moral disease that the abuser is suffering from. This is how the Christian world view would go.

Lack of love, lack of obedience, and sinfulness in abusers are all causes of domestic violence from the Christian perspective. Another cause of domestic violence is male’s pride, since he often wants to show his dominance and make women “learn in silence with all subjection” (1 Tim 2: 11), as well as make them “reverence” them (Eph. 5: 33). This prompts one more possible cause of domestic violence – men’s perverted understanding of the Bible, which he interprets to his advantage. 

As for the effects of domestic violence, the Bible clearly outlines that men who inflict violence on their spouses or children and treat them badly will face the situation when God will not hear their prayers and thus deprive them of his protection. To illustrate, “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life. If you don't treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard” (1 Peter 3: 7).  

Another great effect of domestic violence on men is their nearing to death, both death of the soul and of the physical body (since we know from the Bible, the two are interrelated, so that if soul cures, i.e. gets rid of the sins, the body heals, too).   This is evidenced by the aforementioned passage from Romans, where it is clearly stated that the wages for a human sin is death.

 As for the effect of domestic violence on women, everywhere in the Bible one may find understanding that violence brings suffering. Jesus Christ suffered from human violence, as well as his followers, and prophets. For example, John the Baptist was beheaded after he refused to overlook Herodias’ adulterous cohabitation.  Yet, if it happened so that violence was inflicted on a person, and that person could endure it without outrage and curse, he or she thanks to her Godlike patience and excellence in love gets rewarded from God. Martyrs, who endured violence in the name of the Christian faith were granted eternal life and super powers to help people. Thus, the effect of violence may be double: either it leads the abused person to a sin (when she or he does not keep from judging the abuser, but expresses her rage) or to uplift in spiritual growth and subsequent reward in the afterlife. In some cases, if people show too much love and forgiveness, they may even convert the abuser. But this seems to be rather a miracle than a regularity.

It appears that the most important thing is not to spoil one’s soul by hatred to the abuser. While of course this is far from giving him her other cheek, it keeps the soul intact. Nowhere in the Bible is it said that the woman should stay with the husband on the premises of she feels that he will kill her. It seems she must first think of her children that will lose a mother if she chooses to bring up spirituality in her husband by the example of unnecessary self-sacrifice (it has already been mentioned that abusers are ill in their souls and plagued by the urges of devil). Interestingly, it is the New Testament that teaches us to be gentle as doves and wise as serpents, which means women are not supposed to go under the knives of their half-witted husbands and leave their children orphans only because their husbands wish to kill them one day.

Thus, the reading of the Bible allows making a conclusion that the major causes of domestic violence are lack of love to God and to their wives in men, ruinous pride in men, and lack of obedience. Besides, men’s sinfulness and lack of desire to resist sinful thoughts and wishes lead to domestic violence. As for the effects of domestic violence, they are depravity of God’s grace and depravity of eternal life. Women who suffer from domestic violence, if they manage to keep their hearts free from hatred, will be spiritually rewarded by their generosity.

 Finally, it needs to be said that both viewpoints on violence, the secular and the spiritual one, acknowledge the need of interventions to tackle the problem of abusive behavior effects on women psyche. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and representatives of some Protestant churches have been engaged in providing  adequate moral support to victims of domestic violence. They recognize that it is the role of a priest/ pastor to help a person get rid of awful and seemingly hopeless and dead-end situations. Many religious books are being published on how to mend a woman’s psyche after she has been subject to domestic violence.  As for the secular approach, serious programs are being run, with many women now having a chance to get to shelters for battered wives and get consultancy there. Besides, special interventions are needed to restore a woman’s psyche and prepare her to live a full life within a given community.

Conclusion

Secular and spiritual interpretation of causes and effects of violence are essentially different. While secular theory seeks to explain the causes of violence by exploring a variety of aspects: social, psychopathological, and biological, etc, the Christian worldview centers on understanding of violence as a sin and as a result of abuser’s illness of the soul. It posits that violence has been the result of the abuser’s deviation from the God’s commandments and his excessive pride. Yet, the biggest cause is the lack of love. Similarly, the effects of violence are interpreted differently. While the Bible interprets the effects of violence on spiritual terms, the secular theory looks into physical and emotional aspects of violence effects.

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