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The mythology of the batterer — there’s more at work

October 7, 2009

What causes a man to batter? According to Wes Goodenough, director of the Violence Intervention Program at Gateway, there’s some mythology about the causes of domestic violence.

As we try to imagine why someone would batter their partner, we think he must have trouble handling anger or communicating or managing stress in the relationship or within the family. But there is something more at work, a dynamic that runs below the radar, Goodenough says:

Learned behavior and social behavior: People who grow up in violent homes learn how to model their behavior within that context. This may not predetermine their behavior, but it is a strong influence. And when men get violent and, at least initially, get what they want, they get additional reinforcement that leads them to do it again.

Social deficit: Some men may know no better way to do things, no better way to be assertive or solve problems or set boundaries. Again, Goodenough says, this is not a cause, but a factor in why domestic violence happens.

Gender inequality: Even today, most men have grown up thinking that they are more valuable than women, and they are treated that way in so many instances, from negotiating to buy a car to keeping their own names in marriage. Only in the last generation has there been a concerted effort to combat this assumed privilege (which still exists in some cultures). Men grow up expecting that it is normal and natural to be treated in a certain way, an assumed privilege, Goodenough says, and if it doesn’t happen, they feel slighted.

And so we come to the issues of power and control, of who gets to make decisions, of how boundaries are set and how equality is determined in a relationship. What is abuse? It is not the narrow idea of physical violence, but of controlling behaviors that have a destructive impact on partners and children alike.

Goodenough works with batterers in discovering these factors for their own lives and helping them to build a new way to interact with their partners and families. He wishes, as we all do, for community changes that would reinforce those individual changes. Connect with The Women’s Fund and the Voices Against Violence initiative to be part of making those community changes possible.

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