Perpetrators of violence often try to avoid responsibility for their abusive behaviour.

They may blame someone or something else. They may find excuses for their verbal and physical abuse such as, “they were in a blind rage,” or, “they were so out of control with their anger that they did not know what they were doing.”

As well, they may blame their behaviour on their partners, an abusive childhood, stress, alcohol problems, their cultural background, financial problems, or their personalities (i.e. an “intense personality; a tendency to “over-react”).

Unfortunately, sometimes professionals, such as counsellors and lawyers, also hold beliefs about violent behaviour that excuse perpetrators of responsibility for their own behaviours.

Nobody knows why some people are violent in their intimate relationships.

Many studies have been done, but nobody has been able to find a “cause” of violent behaviour. In any case, we believe that there are no acceptable reasons for one partner abusing another in an intimate relationship.

It is not surprising that many victims are also confused about their partner’s violent behaviour, and do not understand why he does such mean and hurtful things. In our view, this “failure to understand” is another way that victims resist abuse. It shows that victims know that there are no acceptable reasons for abusive behaviour.

We have found from our experience in working with perpetrators that their abuse is planned and deliberate. The most obvious ways perpetrators show that their abusive behaviour is deliberate is by trying to stop victims from resisting.

The following are some additional ways that perpetrators show they actually do have control over their behaviour:

  • The perpetrator can suddenly change his behaviour in the middle of an abusive episode. A woman noticed her partner was able to stop his verbal attack when a friend unexpectedly showed up at their door. He quickly switched from being enraged to pleasant and friendly.
  • The perpetrator threatens to be abusive if the victim does not do as he wishes. A man, who had smothered his wife on several occasions with a pillow, threatened further smothering to attempt to control her.
  • The perpetrator does not abuse others – only his wife. A husband excused his behaviour towards his wife by saying he was “overtired” or “stressed”. However, she noticed that he chose to be kind and considerate to others when he was tired and stressed. Apparently, he was able to choose the target of his “stressed” behaviour.
  • The perpetrator makes decisions about the type and amount of abuse. Even when they become abusive, perpetrators have rules about how far they will go. For instance, one may never physically hit their partner. Their abusive behaviours may instead include throwing objects towards her, and being verbally abusive. Other perpetrators will push, grab, or slap, but they will not punch their partner. Others will never use a degrading name, but they will constantly criticize.
  • Perpetrators are selective about where they will inflict injury on a victim’s body. Victims of physical abuse often say that perpetrators bruise them on parts of their bodies where the bruises will not be seen. Abusing victims in this manner allows perpetrators to better escape the consequences of their actions from others. Other perpetrators have deliberately assaulted their partners on their faces, thinking that they will then stay home and not dare to show their bruises to others. Actions such as these by perpetrators suggest that they are quite purposeful about how and where they are physically abusive towards their victims.
  • Perpetrators are selective about when and where they will be abusive. An example of this behaviour is when a wife disagreed with something her husband said while they were together in the mall, but rather than responding abusively in public, her husband waited until they were in the privacy of their car before attacking her verbally. In contrast, other victims report that their partners wait until they are in a public situation to humiliate the victim by insulting her in front of others.

Exercise for victims of abuse

Reflect upon some of your partner’s abusive behaviours. Can you see evidence that these behaviours were deliberate, controlled, or planned? Does he act differently towards you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to his abuse? Does he treat others with respect, and you with disrespect? Write down all of the evidence you have that indicates his abuse was deliberate. What is it like for you to think of the perpetrator’s behaviour in this way?

To learn more about how women resist abuse in intimate relationships, read the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter’s publication, Honouring Resistance.