Power & control assignment family violence

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Physical and sexual attacks or the threats to carry them out against potential victims constitute the most obvious forms of violence within a domestic setting. These types of assault are typically indicative of violence as a serious problem. However, repetitive engagement in other abusive tendencies by the perpetrator, when bolstered by a single or more physical violence acts form a larger scheme of violence. According to the NCDSV (2016), even though physical episodes of violence may take place once or a few times, they instill fear of future assaults in the victim thus allowing the abuser to control of the former’s life and situations. In such cases, the Power and Control Wheel comes in handy in comprehending the general pattern of violent and abusive actions applied by abusers to initiate and sustain control over their partners or other familial victims. In many cases one or more acute violence incidences occur along with a variety of the abuse types delineated by the Power and Control Wheel. As a result, the diagram aids in identification of the less obvious, yet generally recognized constituents of the pattern that characterizes an abusive relationship.

One of the said components of the Power and Control Wheel is coercion and threats. In this case, the abuser makes or carries out threats to do something harmful to the victim. Some of these threats include desertion, being forced to engage in illegal activities, the threat to commit suicide, or even daunting the victim with the notion of reporting them to welfare services (NCDSV, 2016). Another component of the assessment tool is intimidation, whereby the abuser makes the victim afraid by using scary looks, gestures and actions. Examples of such frightening tactics include smashing objects, destroying the victim’s possessions, using weapons to terrorize her, and even abusing pets. The other element is emotional abuse, which involves putting down the victim by making her develop negative feelings about herself. This type of abuse also occurs in form of verbal abuse and humiliation, as well as, highlighting the victim’s flaws; to the extent of making them doubt their sanity (NCDSV, 2016).

Isolation is yet another component of the Power and Control Wheel, and it most often occurs when the abuser controls what the victim does, the people with whom she interacts, the activities in which she engages and generally restricting involvement with the external world. In some cases, the abuser may use jealousy to rationalize their actions (NCDSV, 2016). Minimizing, denying, and transference of blame make up an additional component of the wheel. This entails trivializing the abuse, refusing its occurrence or trying to shift responsibility for the abuse to the victim. In other incidents, the violence instigator may resort to using children to make the victim feel guilty. This can take place when he threatens to take full custody of the children, when he uses children to convey messages, or even when he uses visitation sessions to harass the victim. The final two components of the Power and Control Wheel are economic abuse and male privilege. In regard to economic abuse, the perpetrator may prevent the victim from getting a job or find ways to limit her access to finances. In exerting male privilege, the abuser is likely to treat his wife as a servant, while taking control of significant life decisions concerning them and their family. This relegates the wife to a demeaning role within the family, where she has little to no say over what happens in their lives and those of the children (NCDSV, 2016).

More often than not survivors of domestic violence are asked why they chose to stay in their abusive relationships. This question, usually asked without malice, tends to imply that the survivors are partially to blame for having stayed instead of leaving the moment they discovered their spouses’ volatile tendencies. However, as pointed out by Dutton & Goodman (2005), leaving an abusive relationship is not usually as simple as it may seem from an observer’s perspective. The intricacy of the situation is accentuated by several barriers key among them, the victim’s commitment to family values and responsibilities, perceived danger, and lack of resources. With respect to the hurdle posed by family values and responsibilities, it is important to note that survivors like other societal members, wield the desire to keep their family units together for a wide array of reasons. For instance, one may have been socialized to uphold the belief that a child must have a family made of two parents. The desire to maintain purported familial integrity for the children’s sake may therefore prevent the victim from leaving. In addition, the need to be a perfect spouse, the concern about possibly disappointing family members, and other related obligations like taking care of elderly or disabled members of the family could also tie an individual to an abusive relationship (Barner & Carney, 2011).

In many other cases, victims of domestic violence justifiably uphold the belief that leaving could be more dangerous than staying. This is especially the case is their violent partners have previously threatened to cause grievous harm to their children or close family members. Victims end up staying in these dysfunctional relationships when they are afraid that the abusers are likely to kill them or their loved ones if they leave, when there is a threat of violence escalation, particularly based on previous attempts to leave, as well as, the fear of abusers committing suicide if left alone. As emphasized by Yamawaki et al. (2012), this fear is realistic in many cases, since survivors of domestic violence are at a higher risk of elevated violence when they opt to leave. The subsequent violence may take the form of constant stalking or harassment, kidnapping of children or even being held hostage, and in the most extreme of circumstances, the violence may culminate in homicide (Barner & Carney, 2011).

The third barrier to leaving an abusive relationship for many victims is the lack of resources. If the abuser entirely controlled family finances and prevented the victim from working or interacting with the outside world, which is most often the case, then she may not have the resources necessary to sustain herself and her children (McCue, 2008). For instance, victims usually need financial resources for basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter. They also need access to specialized assistance in order to overcome the trauma caused by abuse, as well as, personal resources like skills to get and maintain a job. Abuse victims further need social resources in form a support framework comprising of family members and friends. Owing to the abuser’s control and isolation, a victim may lack access to all of these resources thus limiting their ability to leave the relationship.

The repetitive and damaging behavioral pattern of abuse is best summed up by the cycle of violence. This cycle characterizes the three phases of an abusive relationship namely the tension build-up phase, the acute violence episode, and the honeymoon phase (McCue, 2008). During the tension build-up stage, just as the name suggests, pressure between the spouses develops over conventional domestic issues like household chores, jobs, finances, and children. Verbal abuse commences and the victim attempts to control situations by appeasing the abuser, avoiding the abuse or submitting to the instigator. None of the pleasantries stop the violence and ultimately, the strain reaches optimal levels paving way for physical abuse. In the subsequent acute violence stage, the physical violence escalates. This abuse is often instigated by an external occurrence or emotional volatility of the abuser, but not by the victim’s actions, which implies that the violence is unpredictable and the victim has no control over it. During the honeymoon phase, the abuser exhibits shame over his actions and even becomes remorseful about it. He may try to trivialize his actions and could even shift blame to the victim. The abuser goes on to show love and kindness to the victim through apologies, being generous, and by offering help. He appears genuine in trying to convince the wife that such abuse will not re-occur (McCue, 2008). Such loving behavior is likely to strengthen the bond between the two and perhaps succeed in convincing the victim to stay in the relationship. The cycle repeats itself continuously, and it serves to explain victims’ propensity to stay in these abusive relationships.

Contrary to common misconception, domestic violence is a complex problem that goes beyond the physicality of the abuse to psychological, social and legal issues. For this reason, a social worker should be sufficiently equipped with skills relating to these fields, in order to help victims of family violence in a holistic manner (Danis, 2003). For instance, a social worker should be skilled at interacting with the entire family unit including the violence perpetrator, the victim, and children. The ability to engage these individuals and linking their experiences could enable the family to begin the healing process on their own terms. When dealing with children, the key responsibilities of a social worker should be ensuring their safety, re-building the mother-child link that could have been severed by the abuse, and gradually helping the mother heal in order to become a functional parent to the child. In dealing with the abuser, a social worker can engage him in a safe manner, encouraging him to seek professional help in order to transform their behavior. Owing to the intricacy of domestic violence, social workers should be willing to embrace a holistic approach to helping the entire family in the recovery process. This calls for coordinated interaction with other agencies, including medical, legal, psychiatric, and community, among others. Building strong connections with such agencies would enable social workers to provide their vulnerable clients better access to high quality services. Most importantly, social workers must constantly strive to stay updated on emergent issues regarding domestic violence through training and case reviews.

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  1. Barner, J. R., & Carney, M. M. (2011). Interventions for intimate partner violence: A historical review. Journal of Family Violence, (26), 235-244.
  2. Danis, F. (2003). Social work response to domestic violence: Encouraging news from a new look. Affilia, 28(2), 177-191.
  3. Dutton, M. & Goodman, L. (2005). Coercion in Intimate Partner Violence: Toward a New Conceptualization. Sex Roles, 52(11/12), 743-756.
  4. McCue, M.L. (2008). Domestic Violence: A Reference Handbook, 2nd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
  5. National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV). (2016). Power and Control Wheel.  Retrieved from http://www.ncdsv.org/images/PowerControlwheelNOSHADING.pdf
  6. Yamawaki, N., Ochoa-Shipp, M., Pulsipher, C., Harlos, A., & Swindler, S. (2012). Perceptions of domestic violence: The effects of domestic violence myths, victim’s relationship with her abuser, and the decision to return to her abuser. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(16), 3195-3212.
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