Chapter 2


When you hear about family violence or spousal abuse, it is not surprising that most people would assume that you were talking about women. There's no question that the vast majority of published articles and data refer to wife abuse or abused women and the information is serious and troubling. About 70 Canadian women die at the hands of their male partner each year and so many more are physically or emotionally abused. Having served 5 years on the Board of Directors of the women’s shelter in my own community, I am well aware of many specific tragic cases which have sensitized me to the severity of the problem. I am also a firm believer that there is no excuse for abuse and I support zero tolerance initiatives.

Most of the literature addressing the issue of abuse of women makes substantial use of the concepts of power and control. The most prevalent indictment of men is that they maintain a power imbalance and control over women through abuse. Women’s advocates say that the abuse manifests itself in a number of ways such as the following:

There also is a cycle of violence against women which has been generally accepted in the industry. The following is a concise description extracted from the Peel Regional Police Training Manual:

The cycle of violence has three distinct phases: a tension-building phase, an explosive incident, and a honeymoon phase. In the tension-building phase, a man begins to feel angry, frustrated or out of control, often as a result of the incidents or experiences that are external to his relationship. The man is unable to express his feelings or to connect them to his external experiences, and so he tries to legitimize his feelings by blaming them on real or imagined things that his partner has said or done. The man may release his growing anger and frustration by initiating minor abusive incidents, such as pushing, shoving, or calling the woman names, which become more frequent and intense as time goes on. At the same time, the man may become increasingly jealous of the woman and attempt to exert more and more control over her activities and interactions with other people.

The woman often does not understand why the man is angry and frustrated. She may blame the man’s behaviour on outside forces, such as pressures at work or the consumption of alcohol, but she may also wonder whether she is in some way contributing to his anger and frustration. As the man's behaviour becomes less and less rational, the woman may begin to believe, at some level, that the abuse is legitimately directed at her. The woman attempts to handle the man by being placating or conciliatory, or by trying to stay out of his way. Her goal is to prevent further abuse by diffusing the man's tension and anger, in the belief that if she waits long enough, the situation will change and the abusive behaviour will stop.

Despite the woman's efforts, the man's tension inevitably builds to the point where he loses control and an explosive incident occurs. The abuse is again often triggered by an external event in the life of the man, but is blamed on, or related to one or a number of complaints about the woman or the woman's behaviour that the man raised in the tension-building phase. The first explosive incident which occurs may be relatively minor, such as a man pushing a woman or calling her a hurtful and abusive name. Subsequent abusive incidents become more and more significant, and may ultimately involve serious violence including punching, choking, rape, and use of weapons or objects. If sexual assault is involved, particularly when objects are used during the assault, the likelihood increases that even greater acts of violence will follow. The police or other service agencies are generally contacted at this point, if at all.

Shock, disbelief and denial follow the explosive incident for both the man and the woman. They try to rationalize the seriousness of the incident: the man may attempt to reduce his feeling of responsibility for the abuse by emphasizing the woman's behaviour which he believes triggered the incident; the woman may minimize the extent of her physical and emotional injuries or convince herself that the abuse was somehow warranted. At this time, the woman invariably experiences depression and feelings of helplessness.

The honeymoon phase follows. The man becomes contrite and behaves in a charming and loving manner. He apologizes for the abuse, asks the woman for her forgiveness, and promises that further abuse will never occur. Typically, he reinforces his apologies with candy, flowers, cards and other gifts, or promises to change behaviour, such as consuming alcohol or working overtime, which the woman believes contributed to problems in the tension-building phase.

The honeymoon phase of the cycle of violence gives the woman a false sense of hope and power. She sees the positive characteristics of the man she fell in love with, and she feels she has the power to force the man to seek help for his abusive behaviour. As a woman becomes more committed to saving her relationship, she isolates herself from relationships with friends or family which were a source of the man's jealousy in the tension-building phase. The man and woman become increasingly emotionally dependent upon each other and convince themselves they can resolve their problems alone. At this time a woman who has called the police will often urge the Crown to drop charges which were laid against the man as a result of the explosive incident.

As time goes on, tension mounts, another incident occurs, another honeymoon follows: the cycle of violence repeats itself. The cycle may take days, weeks, months, or even years to be completed. However, it often grows shorter over time, and the severity of the explosive incident generally increases with each cycle. Each cycle a woman passes through tends to lower her self-esteem and impair her judgment. It becomes more and more difficult for her to leave the relationship, or to recognize that she is not responsible for the violence in the relationship.

It is also well accepted that the impact of abuse has a significant adverse affect on children in the family. The following is a summary of the impacts as compiled by The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence:

One of the most common questions asked is why a woman in an abusive relationship does not leave. Based on some of the literature produced, the following are the most common responses:

The tragedy of violence against women is a complex problem which has no simple solution. It will take a comprehensive strategy of both preventative and remedial approaches and it needs the active support of all concerned, including men.