Domestic Violence & PTSD Therapy

The Duluth Model of Domestic Violence lists 8 toxic areas of relationships, yet a perpetrator can only be arrested and prosecuted for 2 of the 8 items (Threats & Violence).

A lot of victims of Domestic Violence feel like they aren’t really victims of domestic violence since they were not physically battered (at least not very often).

I believe a better name for Domestic Violence is Toxic Relationships or Toxic Partner. Emotional abuse does significantly more harm to the victim than physical abuse does; bones mend and bruises heal but the emotional/psychological abuse is carried by the victim for years.

Since the field of Psychology is sticking with the term Domestic Violence, I will refer to it as Domestic Violence to avoid confusion, even though Toxic Relationship is a better way to describe many unhealthy relationships.

1. Domestic violence includes:

physical abuse
sexual abuse
psychological abuse
abuse to property and pets (Ganley, 1989).

2. Exposure to this form of violence has considerable potential to be perceived as life-threatening by those victimized and can leave them with a sense of vulnerability, helplessness, and in extreme cases, horror.

3. Physical abuse refers to any behavior that involves the intentional use of force against the body of another person that risks physical injury, harm, and/or pain (Dutton, 1992).

4. Physical abuse includes pushing, hitting, slapping, strangling (vs. choking), using an object to hit, twisting of a body part, forcing the ingestion of an unwanted substance, and use of a weapon.

5. Sexual abuse is defined as any unwanted sexual intimacy forced on one individual by another. It may include oral, anal, or vaginal stimulation or penetration, forced nudity, forced exposure to sexually explicit material or activity, or any other unwanted sexual activity (Dutton, 1994). Compliance may be obtained through actual or threatened physical force or through some other form of coercion.

6. Psychological abuse may include derogatory statements or threats of further abuse (e.g., threats of being killed by another individual). It may also involve isolation, economic threats, and emotional abuse.

7. Domestic violence is widespread and occurs among all socioeconomic groups. In a national survey of over 6,000 American families, it was estimated that between 53% and 70% of male batterers (i.e., they assaulted their wives) also frequently abused their children (Straus & Gelles, 1990). Other research suggests that women who have been hit by their husbands were twice as likely as other women to abuse a child (CWP, 1995).

8. Over 3,000,000 children are at risk of exposure to parental violence each year (Carlson, 1984). Children from homes where domestic violence occurs are physically or sexually abused and/or seriously neglected at a rate 15 times the national average (McKay, 1994). Approximately, 45% to 70% of battered women in shelters have reported the presence of child abuse in their home (Meichenbaum, 1994). About two-thirds of abused children are being parented by battered women (McKay, 1994). Of the abused children, they are three times more likely to have been abused by their fathers.

9. Studies indicate that physical and sexual violence in the lives of children should be viewed as a serious public health problem. State agencies reported approximately 211,000 confirmed cases of child physical abuse and 128,000 cases of child sexual abuse in 1992. At least 1,200 children died as a result of abuse. The most dangerous time for a child is when they step in to defend their mother. It has been estimated that about 1 in 5 female children and 1 in 10 male children may experience sexual molestation (Regier & Cowdry, 1995).

10. Domestic Violence as a Cause of Traumatic Stress (PTSD) As the incidence of interpersonal violence grows in our society, so does the need for investigation of the cognitive, emotional and behavioral consequences produced by exposure to domestic violence, especially in children. Traumatic stress is produced by exposure to events that are so extreme or severe and threatening, that they demand extraordinary coping efforts. Such events are often unpredicted and uncontrollable. They overwhelm a person’s sense of safety and security.

11. Terr (1991) has described “Type I” and “Type II” traumatic events. Traumatic exposure may take the form of single, short-term event (e.g., rape, assault, severe beating) and can be referred to as “Type I” trauma.

12. Traumatic events can also involve repeated or prolonged exposure (e.g., chronic victimization such as child sexual abuse, battering); this is referred to as “Type II” trauma. Research suggests that this latter form of exposure tends to have greater impact on the individual’s functioning. Domestic violence is typically ongoing and therefore, may fit the criteria for a Type II traumatic event.

13. With repeated exposure to traumatic events, a proportion of individuals may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD involves specific patterns of avoidance and hyper-arousal (e.g., exaggerated startle response). Individuals with PTSD may begin to organize their lives around their trauma. Although most people who suffer from PTSD (especially, in severe cases) have considerable interpersonal and academic/occupational problems, the degree to which symptoms of PTSD interfere with overall functioning varies a great deal from person to person.