One dimensional view of domestic violence perpetrators can harm survivors
David Mandel, MA, LPC
It’s difficult not to demonize domestic violence perpetrators. If you listen to domestic violence survivors describe their abuse, see their injuries, read police reports of violence and abuse, or even read news reports of extreme abuse, it’s very human to be horrified. It’s also very human to feel anger, even hatred, towards the perpetrator.
Often this anger, hatred and horror makes it challenging for us to see that some domestic violence perpetrators have some positive traits. So why should we bother understanding that perpetrators may have positive interactions with their families? Why extend ourselves towards someone who has caused others harm and suffering? The principle reason to cultivate the awareness that many perpetrators can have positive traits is to be the best possible allies to domestic violence survivors and their children.
A one dimensional perspective of perpetrators can rebound against domestic violence survivors in the form of judgment and blame. We frequently hear people say “How can she stay with him when he treats her like that?” “What’s wrong with her?” A one dimensional view of the perpetrator does injustice to the complex mix of feelings that domestic violence survivors and their children have towards a person who is not just a perpetrator of abuse but also a husband and father. When we ignore how he is involved in the children’s soccer practice, how he takes care of the car and the house, or helps the children with homework, then we miss a critical part of the survivor and her children’s experience of him. And in missing this part of their experience, we can miss opportunities to support them sorting out their ambivalence (“I really appreciate the way he’s supports the kids in sports but I can’t tolerate the way he treats me.”). We can also miss opportunities to help children sort out conflicting feelings about their parent. (“I love my father but I don’t like the way he treats Mommy.”) Finally we may end up putting up unnecessary obstacles to partnering with survivors around the safety of their children.
Our ability to see domestic violence perpetrators as multi-dimensional is part of the foundation for positive interactions with domestic violence survivors. When we acknowledge her love for her partner and we can support her in her right to be safe from abuse and violence–when we communicate to her that we will not judge her for still having feelings for her partner—-then we are more likely to create constructive partnerships with domestic violence survivors.