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Domestic Violence

A Comparison of the Cycles of Violence

Victims of domestic violence often suffer not only from the effects of physical or verbal abuse from their partners but also from "well meaning" individuals who make statements that can be hurtful. Without realizing what they are saying, friends, relatives or acquaintances may actually end up blaming the victim for the abuse. Any statement that takes the focus off of the abuser and places it on the victim is very damaging. Examples of this are: "Why doesn't she just leave?" or "What did she do to make him mad?"

Another example of victim blaming is embedded within the well-publicized Tension Building Explosion Model of the Cycle of Violence developed by Lenore Walker in 1979. This theory does not provide an accurate understanding of what may precede a "domestic violence occurrence" and what a family may experience in the aftermath of the abuse.

The following is an explanation of the Tension Building Explosion Model and what the Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service refers to as The Cycle of Violence.

Tension Building/Explosion Model

In 1979, Lenore Walker, author of The Battered Woman, developed the Tension Building/Explosion Model of the Cycle of Violence. Walker based her cycle on research conducted on 120 battered women. The Tension Building/Explosion cycle has been used since that time in countless books and articles to indicate what is happening in the lives of abused women. The Tension Building/Explosion Model involves three stages:

  • Tension Building Phase
    During the tension building phase the abuser becomes more temperamental and critical of the victim. As the tension escalates, the victim feels as if she is "walking on eggshells." The victim may try to placate the abuser to prevent the abuse.

  • Acute Explosive Phase
    The abuser verbally or physically attacks the victim. This is much more intense than during the tension building phase and may increase in intensity with each explosive phase.

  • The Honeymoon Phase
    The batterer expresses remorse over his behavior and promises to change. The batterer is charming and may offer gifts such as flowers, jewelry, perfume and candy.

Concern About Impact of Tension Building/Explosion Model

By 1983, women working in the Anti-violence Movement realized the Tension Building /Explosion model was flawed. Abusers do not harm their intimate partners because of tension and stress. As humans, each of us feels stress and tension in our lives and yet, we do not make the choice to abuse someone else. If it were a matter of tension the abusive person would be unable to control his behavior and would batter whoever was causing the stress (i.e., the boss who yells at him or police officers who pull him over, etc.) Also abusers would not be able to control where their punches landed. Many abusers "target punch" their partners - specifically targeting areas where the bruises and marks are less likely to be seen - the neck, back, upper torso and legs.

The Tension Building/Explosion Model may also be used to blame the victim for the abuse. If she would just keep the children quieter or keep the house clean there would be less stress in the household. It becomes the victim's responsibility to keep the abuse from happening. Due to our socialization process, it is common for women in our society to feel responsible for making a relationship "work" and the Tension Building/Explosion Model of the Cycle of Violence only feeds into those stereotypes.

Since 1983, advocates for women who are abused have found the cycle presented in the next topic to be a more accurate representation of what occurs when someone chooses to be violent.

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