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The Cycle of Domestic Violence and Assault

by Ali Dimoff

Domestic violence, also known as “intimate partner violence,” affects millions, and has multiple forms.

According to The Blackburn Center—for domestic, sexual, and other forms of violence—some forms are: physical, verbal/emotional, psychological, sexual, deconstruction of property or pets, and reproductive coercion.

Justine Thompson, a helpline volunteer and presentation giver for PAAR’s (Pittsburgh Action Against Rape) “Getting Started” program, and vice president of Pitt Main’s Psi Chi, offered some information about the cycle of violence, and how to help break it.

“Interpersonal Violence rarely starts off as the thing we see in movies or the news,” Thompson said. “The insidious thing about interpersonal violence is that it presents itself as a cycle.”

Thompson said the first stage is the “honeymoon” phase, where dependence is built.

During which, Thompson says: “Everything about the relationship seems perfect and it’s easy to ignore or even defend the little things that may be wrong with a partner’s behavior.”

According to Thompson, the second stage is the “tension building” phase, during which a couple may begin to notice their differences.

“This is also when someone’s controlling behavior may start showing. For example, always texting their partner asking where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with, and saying things like, ‘If you really loved me, you’d be with me instead of your friends right now,’” she said.

Thompson said the final stage is the “explosive” phase.

“This is when we may see violence happen, which isn’t always necessarily physical, although it very may well be,” she said. “The abuser tends to place blame for their actions into their partner and justify these actions by using phrases like, ‘Look what you made me do,’ so the victim questions themselves and rationalizes staying in the relationship.”

If the explosive phase is severe enough, police may be called or orders may be issued, Thompson said.

“[When a Protection from Abuse (PFA) is issued] This tends to make the abuser feel threatened that they’ll lose their partner, so they usually return to the honeymoon phase and apologize for their behavior,” she said.

Thompson added: “We know from research that the longer the relationship goes on for, the shorter and shorter the cycle gets from the start of the honeymoon phase to the end of the explosive stage,” she said. “It’s helpful to know how this cycle presents itself, especially when talking to someone in a potentially abusive relationship so they can identify the warning signs.”

Thompson explained it doesn’t have to be a never ending cycle, or end in death.

“There are stages to the leaving process as well and we need to be cognizant of that when we are trying to help a friend get out of an abusive relationship,” she said. “The victim has to first recognize that they are being abused and establish that they won’t accept it anymore.”

According to Thompson, this is a dangerous time for a victim.

“The abuser may feel like they’ve lost control over their partner, so they may go to extremes, like injuring or killing their partner to regain that control,” she said.

Once the steps have been taken to leave, Thompson said the victim will need to re-establish social networks, as a victim can often become isolated during the relationship.

“It’s especially important for friends and family of the victim to be there for them once they’ve left their abuser so they can re-establish their sense of identity and self-esteem,” she said.

Thompson also encouraged others to get involved with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

“PAAR has provided me with myriad opportunities to help people who are in these situations and feel like they can’t get out. If you are interested in volunteering for PAAR, you can head to to learn more about PAAR services and how to get involved,” she said.


How to Help a Friend (from Blackburn Center)

• Remember that only the abuser is responsible for the abuser’s behavior. Not the victim.

• Be patient. It is normal for the victim to feel a tremendous sense of loss at recognizing the relationship will not get better. Accepting that loss may take time.

• It’s okay to say that you have noticed the bruises, or that the person seems to be upset and you are concerned.

• Invite the victim to talk, but don’t insist.

• Instead of telling a victim of domestic violence what to do, encourage her (or him) to examine the available options.

• Understand that it is unrealistic to assure a victim of domestic violence that she will “feel so much better” after leaving. The first several months – or longer – may be very difficult. A victim who is prepared for reality is more likely to have a positive outcome.

• Try to keep yourself from saying things like, “I’d never put up with that,” or “If I were in your situation…”

• Call the police if you hear or see violence taking place.

1 Comment on The Cycle of Domestic Violence and Assault

  1. This is nicely broken down and practical, kudos. I appreciate the way you touch on points minus hyperbole. It’s useful information and I find you worth following.


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