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What Makes People Choose to Abuse?

There’s no simple way to predict who will become a batterer

  • September 10, 2014
  • By domesticshelters.org
What Makes People Choose to Abuse?

Abusive partners inflict violence on an astounding 2 million American women each year. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in our country. 

At the same time, 2.5 million people are getting married each year, entering into what they believe will be the utmost happy and respectful partnership. While domestic violence can occur in any type of relationship—married or not—the statistics are still enough to make something very clear: Many people are signing up for domestic abuse and have no idea. It begs the question that has no easy answer: What makes someone become a batterer?

It’s a query that makes Juanito Vargas sigh deeply and respond, “It can be many things. It’s definitely not a simple answer; it’s very complicated.” Vargas is the associate vice president of Safe Horizon, a New York domestic violence nonprofit and the largest victims’ services agency in the U.S. He says his staff doesn’t spend a lot of their energy trying to understand the abuser, but rather trying to help the survivors. “Our concern,” he says, “is with the survivors.”

Still, he acknowledges that the one thing advocates know for sure is that many abusers, when asked about their childhood, speak of either witnessing or experience violence in their own homes. While studies and surveys on the topic report varied numbers, one statistic shows 73 percent of male abusers were abused as children.

Vargas is quick to point out that not everyone who has been exposed to childhood trauma or abuse will go on to abuse a partner. He says other factors can play a role, such as society at large. Vargas lists factors such as “how we think of violence, how violence is aimed at women, how women are objectified,” as possible contributors to a domestic violence trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

“One of the other things we see is the role poverty plays in all this,” says Vargas. Studies have shown a higher incidence of domestic violence within poorer communities. Poverty can lead to increased stress levels, exacerbating an existing violence problem. Financial insecurity also makes it more difficult for survivors to find a viable way out of a relationship with an abuser. For more indicators that may help you spot an potential abuser ahead of time, see these statistics. 

Some survivors feel like their partner is abusive only when he or she is drinking, but advocates say drinking should not be used as an excuse for domestic violence. Read more about that hot button topic in "Why We Can't Blame Abuse on Alcohol."

No matter the reason someone is abusive, survivors should remember one thing: It’s not their fault. Abusers choose to be abusive and there is never an excuse for violence. Find help now if you are with an abusive partner.