NOTE: People of any and all gender identities can be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. However, the overwhelming majority of victims are women, and the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men, and this article frames this issue accordingly.


Why Do Men Batter Women?

Many theories have been developed to explain why some men use violence against their partners. These theories include: FAMILY DYSFUNCTION, INADEQUATE COMMUNICATION SKILLS, STRESS, CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY, LACK OF, and economic hardship. These issues may be present in battering, but they are NOT the cause of battering. Removing these associated factors will not end men’s violence against women. The batterer begins and continues his behavior because violence is an effective method for gaining and keeping control oVer another person and he usually does not suffer adverse consequences as a result of his behavior. A batterer has learned his violent behavior and makes the conscious decision to control his partner and to use violence against her.

Historically and on a global level, violence against women has not been treated as a “real” crime. This is evident in the lack of severe consequences such as incarceration or economic penalties for men guilty of battering their partners. Rarely are batterers ostracized in their communities, even if they are known to have physically assaulted their partners. Batterers come from all groups and backgrounds, and from all personality profiles. However, some characteristics fit a general profile of a batterer.

A batterer often has low self-esteem and feels powerless and ineffective in the world. He may appear successful, but inside he feels inadequate.

  • A batterer externalizes the cause of his behavior. He blames his violence on circumstances such as stress, his partner’s behavior, a “bad day,” alcohol or other factors.
  • A batterer may be pleasant and charming between periods of violence, and is often seen as a “nice guy” to outsiders.
  • Some behavioral warning signs of a potential batterer include extreme jealousy, possessiveness, a bad temper, unpredictability, cruelty to animals and verbal abusiveness.

Why Do Women Stay?

  • All too often the question, “Why do women stay in violent relationships?”, is answered with a victim blaming attitude. Female victims of abuse often hear that they must like it or need such treatment or they would leave. Others may be told that they are one of the many “women who love too much” or who have “low self-esteem.” The truth is that no one enjoys being beaten, no matter what their emotional state or self-image.
  • A woman’s reasons for staying are more complex than a statement about her strength or character. In many cases it is dangerous for a woman to leave her abuser. In fact, the lethality rate for a woman leaving a battering relationship increases 70% when she attempts to or is in the process of leaving the relationship. If the abuser has all of the economic or social status leaving can cause additional problems for the woman. Leaving could mean living in fear and losing child custody, losing financial support, and experiencing harassment at work.
  • Although there is no profile of the woman who will be battered, there is a well documented syndrome of what happens once the battering starts. Battered women experience shame, embarrassment and isolation. A woman may not leave batterers immediately because:
    • She realistically fears that the batterer will become more violent and maybe fatal if she attempts to leave.
    • Her friends and family may not support her leaving.
    • She knows the difficulties of single parenting in reduced financial circumstances.
    • There is a mix of good times, love and hope along with manipulation, intimidation, and fear.
    • She may not know or have access to safety and support.

Reasons why women stay generally fall into 3 major categories:


Lack of Resources

  • Most women have at least one dependent child.
  • Many women are not employed outside of the home.
  • Many women do not have property that is solely theirs.
  • Some women lack access to cash or bank accounts.
  • Women who leave fear being charged with desertion and losing children and joint assets.
  • A woman may face a decline in living standards for herself and her children.
  • A woman may not have access to or may not know of any emergency housing in her area. She faces the possibility of her and her children being homeless.

Institutional Resources

  • Clergy and secular counselors are often trained to see only the goal of “saving” the marriage at all costs, rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
  • Police officers often do not provide support to women. They treat violence as a “domestic dispute,” instead of a crime where one person is physically attacking another person.
  • Police may try to dissuade the woman from filing chargers.
  • Prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute cases, judges rarely levy the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probabtion or a fine is much more common.
  • Despite the issuing of a restraining order, there is little to prevent a released abuser from returning and repeating the assault.
  • Although there are women’s programs, there are still not enough shelters to keep women safe.

Traditional Ideology

  • Many women do not believe divorce is a viable option.
  • Many women believe that a single parent family is unacceptable, and that even a violent father is better than no father at all.
  • Many women are socialized to believe that they are responsible for making their marriage work. Failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as women.
  • Many women become isolated from friends and families, either by the jealous and possessive abuser, or to hide signs of the abuse from the outside world. The isolation contributes to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
  • Many women are taught that their identity and worth are contingent upon keeping a man.
  • The abuser rarely beats the woman all the time. During the nonviolent phases he may fulfill the woman’s dream of romantic love. She believes that he is basically a “good man,” which reinforces her decision to stay. She may also rationalize that her abuser is basically good until something bad happens to him and he has to “let off steam.”