Batterers by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D.

Battering in a relationship involves beating or verbally abusing an intimate partner over a long period of time (Levy, 1984, p. 23). Battering in a relationship may continue for years and is aimed at controlling one's partner or children through the use of terror, confusion, and disabling the target's ability to think and reason for themselves. People Erin Pizzey calls "emotional terrorists" also fall within the category of batterers.

However one defines it, battering is ugly. Whether committed by men or women against their intimate partners, it is of justifiable concern to society.

Battering does not refer to a single argument, nor does it mean the occasional conflicts that many couples have that may grow to yelling at each other with possibly some pushing or shoving. As such the term "battering" is grossly overworked by the domestic violence industry. The only good thing one can say about battering is that it appears to be the least common pattern of intimate partner abuse.

There seems to be little confirmation of the "battered wife syndrome." First, because at least two-thirds of the incidents referred to as domestic violence amount to no more than arguing, pushing, and shoving. The great majority of the remaining cases involve drug or alcohol abuse, and any violence is incidental to those problems, rather than systematic. That isn't to say alcoholics and drug abusers can't be batterers as well but most don't appear to be. And in the great majority of these cases the couples are not legally married. Further, men are clearly battered as frequently as women.

Accusations of domestic violence or abuse are now used to gain advantage in about one-third of the divorces in Colorado and few of those cases involve battering.

About 50% of intimate partner violence follows a pattern of mutual violence. It does not seem reasonable to routinely classify couples who engage in mutual combat as batterers so these cases should be excluded.

It is thus very difficult to get an accurate picture of how common battering, as defined above, really is. Probably it is only a few percent of current domestic violence cases and no more than 5% at the most. Battered men, and women, also appear the least likely to report their problems to authorities or to seek help.

But battering does exist and women are as apt to commit it as men. Battered men and women have responded to the domestic violence against men Web site in about equal numbers.

Men who have contacted us always feel betrayed by the justice system. Wives who batter also appear to commonly commit adultery. About 40% of the now hundreds of married men who contacted the Equal Justice Foundation report they were charged with domestic violence or abuse after they discovered their wives were having an affair. Such flagrant use of the current domestic violence laws to both hide their behavior and gain advantage in the divorce is despicable by any standard.

Virtually always when it is the woman who batters, it is the man who ends up getting arrested. And shelters or support for battered men seeking to flee the relationship are virtually non-existent.

From the reports that reach us, the justice system and shelters often don't work any better for battered women. In one case in New Jersey a battered woman got arrested when she tried to report the abuse and, when last heard from, had still not been able to escape.

Some battering victims, whether men or women, describe a recognizable cycle of violence in which (a) tension with their partner perceptibly builds, (b) their partner then violently explodes both physically and verbally, (c) followed by a period of loving reconciliation in which the abusive partner is extremely attentive, loving, and kind. Such cycles may be repeated many times with a discernible periodicity and apparently exist in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. John describes just such behavior in the following story.

A kindly Dr. Jekyll to a terrifying Mr(s). Hyde personality transformation may also become evident to a partner unfortunate enough to be involved with a batterer.

Other factors in dangerous violence by males and females are physical or mental illness. (Dutton, 1995, p. 140-155, Gelles, 1997, p. 80) find that borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is marked by a proclivity for intense relationships, fear of abandonment, and proneness to rage, to be strongly associated with male battering of women. While we know of no studies making such an association with violent women, 75% of the diagnosed cases of BPD are females, and it is estimated that 2% of the population suffer from BPD. Other mental illnesses associated with violence in relationships and families are bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and conditions involving abnormally low levels of serotonin. Other brain/biochemical disorders are also known to play a significant role in precipitating violent behavior in some individuals.

Those who escape life with a batterer commonly suffer some form of post-traumatic stress such as alcoholism, eating disorders, irresponsible sex as a form of escape, or other erratic behavior.

The face of battering, the methods, and the characteristics are independent of sex. Below is the story of Diane battering John because we deal equally with domestic violence against men. But stories from battered women show the same features of domination and control. Thus, this story differs only in that it is rare for a man to tell his story, and it took great courage for John to do so.