What if he brought flowers? Heart-shaped candy? Compliments and promises of eternal love?
I have been working on the correctional side of the criminal justice field for the last twelve years. In this time, I’ve worked at a maximum security prison and counseled high-risk sex offenders. I currently work with batterers – men convicted of domestic violence. In many ways, I’ve found this population to be the hardest to work with. Understanding them, confronting their beliefs, and working with their survivors is a constant challenge. This is a real threat, not confined to any particular race, ethnicity, age, religion, or socioeconomic background. It is not the sole province of the poor or uneducated or any other stereotype you may have. Domestic violence spans all these and more.
One in four women will be the victim of domestic violence at some point in her lifetime. Every fifteen seconds in America a woman is abused, 95% of the time by a man. This is not to say that women don’t ever abuse men, but their numbers pale in comparison to those of men who abuse women. So let us define it: the male batterer.
The important thing to understand about the male batterer is that he is not a devil.
He doesn’t have horns and a pitchfork tail that you can see when you walk down the street, or when he comes to your door on the first date. If he did, this would be an easy conversation. Instead, the abuser is a person who has a profound, complex, destructive and sometimes deadly belief system that should not be underestimated. He comes to your door with flowers in one hand, a smile on his face, and sweet words to make you feel special – lucky even – that such a charismatic, charming, giving man is interested in you and only you.
But beware. The first characteristic of a male batterer is that he rushes into relationships. He uses lines straight out of a movie and creates a fairy tale fantasy for his victim, using sentences that all women love to hear: “It was love at first sight. You’re the only one for me.” Some survivors report, “I had never felt loved like this by anyone.” Many victims knew or dated their abuser for less than six months before they were engaged or living together.
The second characteristic of a male batterer is that he’s jealous. A woman will often brush this aside, thinking jealousy is a result of his love for you. But jealousy is not a symptom of a healthy relationship; it is not because he loves you that he always wants to know who you’re with, or he gets upset when you’re with anyone besides him. It is because the male batterer has low self-esteem and he fears being abandoned and losing control.
The third characteristic is controlling behavior. Again, in the beginning, this is packaged and sold as concern for your welfare: “I just want to know you’re okay. I was worried about you.” But really, he’s worried that you are slipping outside his control. He starts questioning you every time you’re late: “Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing?” Before long, he starts limiting your independence and personal choices. But he does it because “he loves you.” Because he’s “worried about you.”
The fourth characteristic is isolation: the male batterer will isolate you in an attempt to have complete control over your life. He limits your access to friends and family in order to be your sole focus in life, and he cuts off any means of emotional support you may have eventually leaned on. You won’t realize it’s being done, as this is often gradual – just that he wants to spend more and more time with you.
The fifth characteristic is unrealistic expectations. He will demand perfection in every aspect of the relationship and become angry or abusive when he does not receive it. He will expect you to take care of all of his needs – physical, emotional, sexual, and sometimes financial as well.
Other characteristics of a batterer are poor communication skills, hypersensitivity, and a pattern of blaming others for his behavior. He may have a history of abusing drugs or alcohol. He believes in male superiority, sometimes couched in a religious context. He often presents dual personalities – a perfect gentlemen around others or at work, and a monster at home. He has a great need to control situations or people.
And another: he is dangerous.
Too often, women say to themselves, “I would never stand for that,” or “that would never happen to me.” Women say these things to themselves every day. And every day, women find themselves in abusive relationships – financially, emotionally, and psychologically dependent on a batterer.
It’s important to recognize the early signs. Share this information with your friends, your family members, your colleagues. Be on the lookout for friends who may be getting involved with a man who fits this description. And above all, seek help if you or someone you know needs it. The phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and the website is www.thehotline.org. Above all, stay connected to other people in the world around you.
Remember: you are not alone.
Brian E. is a domestic violence specialist and expert on correctional behavior within the criminal justice system. He has worked extensively with batterers and survivors of domestic violence. Brian E. is a guest blogger at Fem2pt0 – this is his first post.