The missing link

We’ve all encountered the rhythms of the domestic violence cycle somehow, either in our own homes or through other people in our lives who seem trapped in a habit of denying the obvious – that violence is coming to define their relationship with their significant other. But pause right there – why do we only look for violence in horizontal relationships, and not vertical ones? Why are we so quick to condemn denialism in the face of intimate partner abuse, and so lax in our response to child abuse?

I like the example of adult children exposed to both forms of abuse here. Say you know a woman who lives with a partner who is battering her. Her parents want her back, but she keeps saying no. What do you say when she is so forthcoming about the child abuse she left behind, and so quick to deny the battery that’s going on in her new home?

This is why I think the theoretical domestic violence cycle, published on brochures handed to victims in assault cases at the time of arrest, with phone numbers for shelters and crisis lines on the back, is missing an important piece of the puzzle. Let’s look at a sample graphic first to see what it says.


Notice that the “why she stays” nugget in this infographic is a honeymoon phase that “often disappears with time”. Then what happens? Why doesn’t she just leave?

The missing piece of the puzzle I would add to the centerpiece as the explanatory factor in denial is a socioeconomic one, not to be confused with an economic one. I would call it “sex for instrumental support” in intimate partner violence and “staying for lack of a safer place to feel secure” in all other cases. Instrumental support could be as simple as keeping other interested men away, or it could mean being the breadwinner of the household, the difference between sleeping in a bed and sleeping on the street.

But what I think should be emphasized here is the place-based locus of domestic violence: the role of territorial control in marking off spaces where one can expect to get away with domestic violence, the role of front doors in enabling abusers to be two-faced and making denial easier for the abused, the role of privacy conventions in normalizing denial for the abused and making “keeping things on an even keel” normative for householders when they step through that front door – in short, the role of family values politics in structuring intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s