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For more than 40 years, researchers have studied Intimate Partner Violence, providing insight into the problem and offering solutions for decreasing the epidemic of intimate partner homicide. With increased awareness, laws and services, intimate partner homicides of males in the U.S. have significantly decreased since 1980. However, homicides of women are increasing, intimate partner violence in teen dating relationships is on the rise, and more than half of all mass shootings in the U.S. have been linked to domestic violence. We recommend that you watch the film before commenting to gain a better understanding of the conversation!

David Adams

David Adams, Ed.D., is Co-founder as well as Co-Director of Emerge, the first counseling program in the nation for men who abuse women, established in 1977. David has led groups for men who batter and conducted outreach to victims of abuse for 36 years. He has led parenting education classes for fathers for 12 years. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on men who batter and has conducted trainings for social service and criminal justice professionals in 45 states and 16 nations. He has published numerous articles and book chapters, and writes a featured blog on The Huffington Post. David is a Commissioner on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council on Sexual and Domestic Violence and Director of the National Domestic Violence Risk Assessment and Management Training Project. His book, “Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners,” was published by Vanderbilt University Press in 2007. Dr. Adams is a featured contributor to Finding Jenn’s Voice.

William: (walking by the couch where Sarah is sitting, kicks her ankle very forcefully then sits down) Sarah: Why did you do that? William: Why did I do what, dear?Sarah: You just kicked me on the ankle and it really hurts. William: You have a leg ache? Can you get you some aspirin, dear? Sarah: No, I want to know why you kicked me. William: You sound upset, Sarah. I think you may have had a bad dream.(personal communication from case files) Agnes: I think this arguing isn’t good for us. I think we need to take a break. Albert: After all that I’ve done for you; you are an ungrateful bitch! Agnes: I’m not ungrateful, I’m angry Albert. I can’t take your name-calling anymore. Its’ not good for either one of us. Albert: I know, you’re right. I get upset and sometimes the words don’t come out right. I’m so sorry, Agnes. Don’t leave me; you are everything to me! Agnes: I just don’t know if I can take it……you’ve apologized before………. Albert: And you’ve accepted my apology. But have you ever apologized to me? Agnes: For what Albert, what do I need to apologize for? Albert: Do you ever think about what makes me upset? And after all that I’ve done for you. Really Agnes? You are an ungrateful bitch!(personal communication from case files) Sarah and Agnes are victims of gaslighting by abusive husbands. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation, also known as ‘crazy-making’, or ‘mind-messing’, whereby the victims are made to doubt their perceptions of reality, and ultimately, their sanity. One victim advocate describes it as: “…..a form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her memory and perceptions. It makes victims question their very instincts…..making them unsure of everything. As a term, gaslighting derives from a 1938 British play, and later a 1944 movie by the same name entitled, Gaslight. In the movie, the husband attempts to drive his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, crazy by playing tricks on her such as secretly dimming the gas lights and then telling her she is going crazy when she asks if the lights are going dim. Public attention has recently been called to gaslighting due to its alleged use by our recently elected president as a means to manipulate public opinion. This is achieved primarily by directing insulting and divisive rhetoric against various categories of people, followed by denials that he said what he just said, and then grandiose proclamations that he is their biggest champion. When complaints by the insulted groups persist, this type of leader resorts to categorizing them as ‘unappreciative’, ‘angry’, or ‘sore losers’. A growing number of writers have written about gaslighting tactics. Culling from the various lists, these include: Telling blatant lies. Often, mistruths are told with great conviction. Sometimes lying is in the form of actions that contradict the gaslighter’s words. Other times, lying takes the form of denying that they ever said something. Using others as ammunition: Often arguments and lies are supported by mischaracterizing or in the case of children, manufacturing other people’s opinions, to make the victim feel that he or she is alone in their doubts. Creating confusion: This often takes the form of positive reinforcement or flattery when the victim agrees with them, followed by criticism for disagreement or doubts. Projection: The gaslighter often accuses the victim of things, such as infidelity, disrespect, anger, lack of appreciation, for which he or she is guilty. Discrediting or Socially Sabotaging: The gaslighter will spread unfounded rumors about their partner, often suggesting that he/she is crazy or unstable. Trivializing: Making the victim feel that his/her thoughts, feelings or needs are not important. Blocking or Diverting: Changing the subject, diverting attention from the gaslighter’s behavior to the victim’s. Making counter-accusations. Withholding: Punishing the victim by saying they won’t listen to ‘such nonsense’ or ‘dignify such allegations with a response’. Twisting or reframing: Mischaracterizing the victim’s words, raising false accusations. The effects of these tactics, according to Robin Stern who wrote The Gaslight Effect, is often to constantly cause the victim to second-guess oneself, to question one’s own perceptions, to blame oneself, to expend much energy in an attempt to prove oneself to your critical partner, and sometimes to become depressed. Gaslighting is a common behavior exhibited by individuals with narcissistic personalities. Their blaming of others appears to arise from their grandiose view of themselves, whereby they overvalue their own contributions to relationships, and their limited capacity for empathy. Rather than recognizing their privileges and advantages, they tend to present themselves as burdened victims of others who fail to appreciate all of their contributions. The good thing is that once victims of gaslighters are made aware of this form of psychological manipulation, they become more resistant to it. Beyond this, other steps to building resistance include to recognize that the gaslighter’s criticisms reveal more about him/her than about you, to empower yourself, to set limits within the relationship, such as by opting out of arguments entirely, and to seek support and validation from others. One popular blogger refers to gaslighters as ‘dark souls’ who attempt to pass their own miserable understanding of the world onto others. We have a duty to ourselves and to our country to not let them.

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David Adams Psychologist, and Co-Founder and Co-Director of Emerge, an abuser education program and national training center on domestic violence
Four year old boy: “Mommy, you look at me when I’m talking to you!”
Five year old boy: “Mommy, you’re a stupid liar!”
Seven year old girl: “Dad said you are ungrateful.” Mother: “Do you think I’m ungrateful honey?” Girl: I don’t know, he said you were”.
Eleven year old boy: “When is Dad coming home? Mother: “I don’t know dear” Boy: “Dad says he wants to but you won’t let him”
Fourteen year old girl: “Dad’s right, you are a bitch mother!”
These children have all lived with domestic violence. They show a range of effects that are typical of children exposed to this type of abuse. On a concrete level, many are confused about why their parents are living apart, and who is responsible. Some blame their fathers for his abusive behavior, but just as often, they blame their mothers for ‘driving him away’. Isn’t she chronically ‘ungrateful’ or ‘impossible to please’, as many abusers claim? Some children vent their anger toward their mother because she is typically the more approachable parent. Anger is more easily expressed to her than to a father whose anger must be assuaged.
Regardless of which parent they blame, many kids in homes where this is domestic violence to feel responsible for one or more of their parents; responsible for protecting the abused parent, and/or responsible for managing the anger of the abuser. Children caught in these situations are more likely than other children to suffer a host of emotional problems like anger, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. They are more likely to perform poorly and to drop out of school. Children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs, engage in juvenile crime, become pregnant, make someone pregnant and engage in teen dating violence.
They are also more likely to grow up to become abusers.
One national survey found that children who were exposed to severe domestic violence were three times more likely to become abusers as adults. But when exposed to severe domestic violence, children are one hundred times more likely to become abusers. Despite these problems, many family courts continue to only consider only one factor when determining child custody or visits for abusive men; whether he has put his hands on the children. Short of that, he is ‘good to go’ as a custodial parent in the eyes of custody evaluators and judges. There appear to be two basic problems in how family courts respond to domestic violence allegations by mothers. One is that victims are often not believed, and another is that even when their allegations are validated, it sometimes does not count against the abusive ex-partner in terms of sharing legal or physical custody of the children. Numerous studies have found that custody evaluators often do not properly assess for domestic violence when it is claimed by mothers, and that even when it is substantiated, it is often ignored in minimized in their final reports.
One study found that in many cases evidence about domestic violence is excluded from child custody evaluation reports. More troubling, is that even when domestic violence by the father is validated by custody evaluators, in many cases it does not hinder the father’s chances of gaining joint legal and/or physical custody. A mega analysis of various surveys of custody evaluators found that approximately 40% say that they typically recommend sole legal and physical custody to mothers who are victims of domestic violence, while 47% typically recommend joint legal and physical custody to both parents
There appear to be two primary determining factors in these decisions. One is lack of expertise or training on domestic violence and the other is gender bias about mothers and fathers. Custody evaluators and judges who have not had adequate training are far less likely to identify abuse as a pattern of coercive behavior, as opposed to viewing it as a response to stress. Also, they are less likely to recognize the negative impact of domestic violence on children as well as its corrosive effect on responsible co-parenting. Secondly, gender biases appear to play a major role in judge’s decisions and custody evaluator’s recommendations. According to one study, male evaluators (though not most), and particularly those with patriarchal beliefs, are more likely to believe that domestic violence is not important in child custody determinations, and to believe that mothers, more often than fathers, fabricate allegations of domestic violence. Biased evaluators (of both genders) are also more likely to judge abused mothers harshly.
Evaluators appear to prefer their victims to be meek as opposed to angry or defiant. Rather than seeing that a mother’s anger is an understandable response to abuse, uninformed and/or biased evaluators sometimes see the mother as being vindictive and guilty of ‘alienating’ the children against the father. Anger is not the only emotional response of abused mothers that is misconstrued. Rather than seeing that a mother’s depression or anxiety might be the result of domestic violence, uninformed evaluators view it as a sign of mental illness that disqualifies her as a custodial parent.
Domestic violence often continues after separation and divorce. In fact, men with histories of domestic violence are more likely than nonabusers to seek full custody of their children. Is it because they recognize the best interests of their children, or because they seek to maintain their control over their ex-partners and children? The court’s muddled grasp about this often means that victims of domestic violence, and their children, are re-victimized by the court system, and are doomed to having to continuously battle the effects of abusers who continue to exert control through court-sanctioned custody or unsupervised visitation. This provides cover for abusers to continue to undermine the mother’s relationship with the children, and sends a terrible message to children who are caught in the middle. Children continue to pay the price when the system affirms the abusive father’s rights as a parent and perpetuates their exposure to domestic violence.
Without safety from an abusive father, the little boy who calls his mother “a stupid liar”, is attempting to resolve his fear and confusion by copying his father’s behavior. With training on domestic violence, criminal courts have done a better job of protecting adult and child victims of domestic violence. We should expect no less from our family courts.

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David Adams Psychologist, and Co-Founder and Co-Director of Emerge, an abuser education program and national training center on domestic violence
“Your honor, this is the first time my client has been arrested for domestic violence”. This lawyer is doing his job by trying to get his client the best possible deal in court. For ‘first time offenders’, this generally means a dismissal, especially if there is no clear evidence brought forth by the prosecutor that a crime has been committed.
When the prosecutor has a strong case, first time offenders in many states might not get off the hook entirely as their case might be “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal”, or receive “pre-trial probation to be dismissed” This generally means that the offender has not been found guilty of a crime, and unless he is arrested for a new offense, there will be no legal consequences. Less fortunate offenders are placed on probation with the condition to attend an abuser intervention program.
So-called first time offenders are like a breath of fresh air in the criminal justice system. In comparison to ‘real criminals’, or ‘frequent fliers’, they are viewed as light weights who don’t really pose a threat to society, or to their victim. And their own depictions of their violence would seem to bear this out. Often, they claim that there violence was ‘a misunderstanding’, or the unfortunate result of having ‘too much to drink’. One such man, James, claimed it was both. He provided the following account in court:
“I went to bat something out of her (his wife’s) hand and just as she turned her head, my hand grazed her on the cheek. We’d both had a few drinks so neither of us was thinking very clearly”. It’s (was) totally not intended and this is the first time anything like this has happened.”
Upon advice of his attorney, James admitted to ‘sufficient facts’ and his case was “continued without a finding.”
But was this, in fact, James’ first offense? As it turns out, no. We need to start thinking of men like James in the same way that we have come to think of first time drunk drivers. An overview study of drunk driving arrests determined that those arrested for the first time for drunk driving had, on average, driven drunk between 200-2,000 times, depending on the survey.
There have not been similar surveys for men who are first time arrestees for domestic violence but there is no reason to suppose that their rate of prior incidents is much less than for the arrested drunk driver. We know that only one in four victims of abuse call the police. This means that three-quarters of abusers don’t even merit being called ‘first time offenders” by the police, since they are never arrested.
And becoming a first time offender in the eyes of the court is even less likely when we look at how few abusers end up facing criminal charges. According to one study that examined 517 cases in which victims said they were assaulted by a partner, 387 of the perpetrators were not reported to the police, 456 were not arrested, and 501 (97% of the total) did not face criminal charges.
I came to know James during the course of his attending the abuser intervention program to which he was court mandated. During the beginning stages, James frequently expressed bitterness over his having been arrested for such a ‘trivial thing’. He told us he should not be taking up space in a program for ‘men who beat their wives’. Over time, with education that violence is any act that can place a partner in fear, James began to ‘remember’ prior incidents of violence toward his wife, Mary. These included his threatening to kill her, punching holes in walls, slamming doors, breaking some of her belongings, and driving recklessly with her in the car. Later on, after James had received education and about psychological forms of abuse, he conceded that he had frequently called Mary degrading names, insulted her intelligence, criticized her, cheated on her, and ignored her feelings. But these new admissions were not just the result of James’ edification about domestic abuse. At the same time, he was also receiving critical perspective and feedback from group members and leaders. One turning point, according to James, was when another member said to him, “I used to think I was unlucky for being arrested too. Now, I know I was lucky for getting away with it for so long.”
My work with abusers has shown that the term ‘first time offender’ is even more of a misnomer when one asks abusers about their prior relationships. As part of the accountability process, my program requires abusers to engage in an exercise called a relationship history.
In this exercise, men are asked a series of questions about their behavior in prior intimate relationships. Judging from their answers, it appears that the man who has not abused prior partners is the exception to the rule. In my recent review of 76 relationship histories, 63 of the men (83%) admitted to some type of physical or verbal abuse of at least one prior partner. In essence, nearly two-thirds of these men are serial abusers of women.
Because we employ a broader definition of abusive behavior, the actual rates of serial abuse found here are higher those reported in research studies that utilize more narrow legal definitions. But even by legal definitions, many abusers are serial offenders. One study that examined the criminal histories of over 2,000 convicted abusers in Massachusetts found that 43% of these men had abused at least two victims, as determined by prior restraining orders that had been taken out against them. Sixteen percent of these men had more than three or more victims.
It certainly makes sense to create enhanced sanctions for serial abusers since various studies have found them to pose an increased risk for fatal assaults on women. However, enhanced sanctions for serial offenders sometimes mean that the hidden serial abuser, the ‘first time offender’ is more likely to get a free pass. Compounding the court’s tendency to give first time offenders a pass is that many come across as likable, even more so than their victims. As the result of this disparity in the charm factor, many victims are not believed when they allege abuse.
We need to look at more than criminal records and likeable demeanors to tell us who the repeat and the serial abusers are. If we dig deeper, we find there is often a trail of destruction in the histories of supposed first time offenders. Left unchecked and untreated, most of these men will continue to abuse women and to adversely affect their children along the way. As James reflects, “I thought I was unlucky (for his arrest) but now I realize I’d done much worse to Mary and probably should have been arrested for that. I guess there’s ironic justice in that”.

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George: “I was so afraid of my father. But then, I was attracted to his attitude which is to do onto others before they do onto you. Me and him……after that…..we couldn’t be beat.”
What about your mother; were you still worried for her safety?
“I worried, sure, but then again I figured any anyone who lets themselves get beaten deserves to be beaten.”
Edwin: “My brother Elroy used to beat me up every single day but I couldn’t do anything about it cause he was my father’s favorite. Then one day, I beat up Elroy real bad - and I was my father’s favorite after that.”
George and Edwin have two things in common. They both grew up with fathers who beat their mothers. As toddlers and young children, they were feared their fathers. Their second point in common is that as adults, George and Edwin killed their intimate partners.
George and Edwin were two of the 31 inmates I interviewed for my book, Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners. I found that the murders these men committed were neither random acts of rage nor ‘crimes of passion’ as commonly portrayed in the media. Rather, they were culminations of longstanding grievances towards women on the part of abusive men. Their violence usually appeared quite suddenly soon after fast courtships with women that averaged two months, and in a few cases were as short as two days. The first act of violence usually occurred quickly after the beginning of co-habitation and was followed by the abuser’s apologies and promises that it would never happen again. However, these ‘quick fixes’ were quickly followed by new acts of violence.
Over time, the men stopped apologizing and started blaming their partners for ‘driving me to it’, or for ‘leaving me no choice’. Most of the victims expressed unhappiness and sought to end the relationship. This triggered increased surveillance by the abusers, which was often accompanied by stalking during periods of separation. It was not love but possessive control that motivated these men to prevent their partners from leaving for good. As one killer put it, “At least I could make sure no other man could have her”. Explaining his decision to coerce his estranged wife to have sex with him just before he stabbed and bludgeoned her to death, another man said, “I wanted the other man to know I was the last to have her”. A victim of attempted homicide whom I interviewed said that while her estranged husband was strangling her, he told her, “Think you’re done with me bitch; you’re not done with me until I say you’re done with me; got that?”
Where does this possessive control come from? I believe there are two primary pathways. On the societal level, large segments of popular culture and media still glamorize violence toward women. Increasingly, the ‘stars’ of crime shows are beautiful dead women whose naked bodies are splayed for all to see - first on the pavement or floor highlighted by a chalk outline and then on the medical examiner’s table. Violent and possessive control over women is also celebrated in popular music. Catchy song beats often camoflage lyrics that reveal contempt for women - or sell the notion that women can drive men to violent extremes in the name of love, as in “I’d take a bullet in the brain for you” (Bruno Mars) and “I keep on bleeding for love” (Leona Lewis), and “I’ll be watching you” (Sting). At the same time, online pornography and much of the gaming industry provide templates to show young men how act out virtual misogynistic and violent fantasies. And until recently, celebrity men who behave badly toward women have not been held to account, leaving young fans to conclude that their public acclaim and admiration trumps their abusive behavior toward women. Given all this messaging, our societal tolerance of violence against women should not be seen as a social aberration but as a continuing reflection of structured gender inequality in which there is yet to be a critical mass of women in positions of power.

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