Wineskins Archive

January 27, 2014

The Dilemma of Anger, Aggression and Intimate Partner Violence (Jan-Feb 2008)

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by Ron Clark
January – February, 2008

Intimate Partner Violence (hereafter referred to as IPV) continues to be a growing problem in the United States as well as other parts of the world.

• In America two to four million women say their spouses or live-in partners physically abused them during the year.1
• Twenty to twenty-five percent of all women reported that their partners abused them at least once.
• One out of four American women report having been raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, live-in partner, or date at some time in their life.
• Twenty-five to forty percent of dating couples experience physical violence.
• Hospital emergency rooms indicate that twenty to thirty percent of women seeking treatment are victims of battering.
• Every day in America at least three women are murdered by their husband or intimate partner.
• Throughout the world, one in three women have confessed to having been beaten, coerced into sex, or experienced other forms of abuse.
• Domestic violence is estimated to be much higher within the United States military than within civilian families.

Domestic violence is an ongoing problem in the United States and throughout the world. This problem not only affects the spouse who is targeted by the abuser, but it also affects the children in the home.

• One-third of abused women indicate that they were abused the first time during pregnancy.
• Research suggests that abuse during pregnancy may contribute to low birth weight of infants and other negative effects for infants.
• In a study done by Boston Medical Center more than one-third of children reported seeing violence by fathers against mothers when a parent reported that no violence occurred.
• Children brought up in abusive homes have a higher risk of being abused.
• It is estimated that three to five million children each year witness an assault on their mothers.
• Approximately forty percent of abusive men extend their behavior pattern to other family members.

The dynamics of abuse and IPV involve power and control rather than anger. IPV involves coercion, control, fear, terrorism, and intimidation. Unfortunately anger is commonly associated with abuse and therefore treatment for the abuser involves anger management or drug and alcohol counseling. This method of therapy suggests that the abuser should focus on controlling or managing his anger and supposes that this is the major cause of his abusive behavior.

The Power and Control Wheel, developed by the Duluth Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota (figure 1) illustrates how batterers use various tactics of power and control to subordinate others.

Violence Chart

Figure 1: Abuse Power and Control Wheel
Copied with Permission, Domestic Abuse Intervention Project
202 East Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802

Batterers use various methods to control their partners and close friends/relatives. Anger is only one of many methods that an abuser uses to engender fear and coerce their partners into submission. They use intimidation, male privilege, coercion, emotional and psychological abuse, children, or minimize their abuse so that their partner may continue in an emotional bond or relationship with them. This causes the victims to develop traumatic bonding. Traumatic bonding is an emotional dependence that a victim has on their captor, or one who terrorizes them, which causes them to seek validation, support, love, and emotional strength from the abuser.

Those victimized by the abuser find themselves caught in a relationship that becomes cyclical. The abuser seems to control the cycle and victims become powerless in this swirl of emotion and violence (figure 2). The abuser expresses anxiety that causes the family to become tense and afraid. The abuser begins to act out in order to control the family and terrorize them. This is considered the violent storm phase of the cycle. After this the abuser expresses remorse and guilt for his actions. This calm after the storm phase may be short lived or extend over a period of months but continues when the abuser blames the victim or victims for the tension and storm. The cycle then begins again and many times escalates unless intervention occurs.

It seems absurd, says David J. Livingston, author of Healing Violent Men, that a relationship “based on love” can become violent and demeaning. “The incredulity is stretched even further when the relationship does not dissolve but instead continues in a cycle of apparent forgiveness and sentimental love followed by increased violence.” 2

Storm Cycle

Figure 2: Cycle of Abuse

We tend to view abusive men as angry people who are out of control. Yet, the goal of abuse is control. Abusive men react to anxiety in a dysfunctional manner. They may use anger or other emotions to gain control of a situation or another person. They can also use apologies, self-pity, and sympathy to control a situation. Victims find themselves caught in a cycle that is reinforced by guilt, fear, intimidation, and unfortunately love.

Since anger and aggression have been effective for abusers, in controlling others, they develop a worldview that supports intra-relational competition, hostility, control or domination of others, inequality, and negation or neglect. Abusive men lack the desire or ability to encourage equality, partnership, mutuality, intimacy, and validation in their partners.

Abuse, Social Justice, and the Church

While there are times when women are violent toward their partners, statistics suggest that eighty-five to ninety-five percent of IPV begins with men. Men do commit a large number of violent acts on other men but the fear of violent men does not determine where they park, where they walk, or how they dress. Men do not conduct their lives based on the fear of being assaulted by a woman. Women, however, live much of their lives trying to prevent being the victims of male assault.

This is an issue of social justice. In the Gospel of Luke (4:16-19) Jesus preached in the synagogue a message of liberation, freedom, and hope. While this text has been used for many years, and in my opinion justly, to promote a Gospel of social justice I find that intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and gender oppression is rarely mentioned by the church in conjunction with the Social Gospel.

Many of us understand that social justice addresses economic oppression, racism, or poverty and oppression, power, and control are at the heart of these issues. Yet they are also at the heart of domestic violence and sexual assault. Our society still fails to include abuse in the category of social justice. Many still consider it a “women’s issue.” This makes it easier to turn our heads to abuse.

The faith community has also turned its head to abuse. Women have been told to return to their abusive husbands because marriage is “for life.” And “until death do we part,” has a haunting irony to the woman caught in abuse. Women have been encouraged to stay in an abusive relationship because “keeping it together for the kids” is the safe way to parent. Sermons have suggested that marriage is always a two way street and that forgiving an abuser will one day turn them to Jesus. After all this is said and done ministers return to their homes for a safe night’s sleep. Few of us ever wondered if the person next to us would wake us with a fist in the face. Few of us ever wondered if the person next to us would slip into our children’s rooms to do horrible things to them.

Women abused by their lovers suffer from low self-esteem, self-doubt, post-traumatic stress, sickness, depression, and injury. Children who live in violent and dysfunctional homes suffer post-traumatic stress, body disorders, fear, emotional scarring, forms of mental retardation, anger, and distrust. Boys exposed to an abusive male have a warped model of fatherhood, manhood, and love. If this is not bad enough, they see God as an abusive Father and Jesus as an abused child. They see the church as powerless.

It is for this reason that we must speak out. Ministers must preach hope to the suffering and call abusive men to accountability. Shepherds must protect the weak and confront the oppressor. Men must form men’s ministries that stand with violent men to guide them in the narrow way of peace (Matthew 7:13-14). Youth and children’s ministries must listen, protect, and act. Divorce recovery and marriage ministries must talk about healthy marriages and peaceful homes.

1 More complete statistics can be found on the Department of Justice’s website on Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault.

2 David J. Livingston, Healing Violent Men: A Model for Christian Communities (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 7.

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Ron ClarkRon Clark, D. Min., leads a church plant – Agape Church – on the west side of Portland, Oregon. He has served as president of Portland’s Community Against Domestic Violence (CADV) and directs their ongoing Clergy Abuse Workshop training program. He has led training seminars on relationship abuse for ministers, law enforcement organizations, and faith communities. He has recently been appointed to the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task force to represent faith communities. Ron earned his undergraduate degrees from Central Missouri State University and his Masters of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Harding University Graduate School of Religion. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and has published articles on as abuse, theology, ministry, Hebrew textual, and Greek textual studies in a number of theological and counseling journals. His books include Setting the Captives Free: A Christian Theology for Domestic Violence (Wipf and Stock) and Good Shepherds: Elders Tending the Flock as God’s Servants (under review). Ron is also an adjunct Bible lecturer at both Cascade College and George Fox Evangelical Seminary, a co-founder of the Portland Center for Building Caring Families, and a member of the Multnomah County Early Childhood Education’s Grants Committee and the Portland Wrestling Officials Association. He blogs at [ ] and at [the New Wineskins blog] as “KMiV”.


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