Russ arrived at my office for his initial domestic violence assessment. He had been arrested for domestic violence, and was seeking a diversion agreement with the district attorney. As a condition prior to the diversion being granted, Russ was asked to complete a DV assessment with me. He was a business owner in a small town. He did not want this situation going to court because it could certainly heap embarrassment on him and his family, and impact his business.
I interviewed Russ for nearly two hours. He began his assessment by telling me that he was completely embarrassed that he had hit his wife. He explained that Bethany had an affair with a co-worker. Russ confronted her shortly after he had found pictures of Bethany and the co-worker on her phone in a compromising situation. The confrontation turned to yelling, and during the yelling, she stood up and pushed Russ. Russ slapped her in the "heat of the moment", and Bethany called the police.
Russ told me about his 12 year marriage and their two wonderful kids. He spoke of his admiration for his wife as a partner and a mother. He was deeply troubled by Bethany's affair and he was hopeful that they could somehow repair their marriage, if was it was not too late already. I have to admit that I really liked Russ.
As Russ left my office, I felt confident that as unfortunate as this situation was, there was no pattern of domination and control. There was little doubt in my mind that this was a case of situational violence and Russ would not be recommended for a batterer intervention program.
As a component of our assessments, we try to contact the identified victim in the case. I gave Bethany several calls over the next few days, and had arrived at the conclusion that she was not returning my calls because she did not want to be included in the assessment process. I began writing up my report, concluding that this was a case of situational violence, when my phone rang. When I answered, I heard Bethany's voice asking to come and see me. I made the appointment.
As Russ left my office, I felt confident that as unfortunate as this situation was, there was no pattern of domination and control.
To avoid making this blog post far too long, suffice it to say that Bethany came to my office and shared with me years of physical and mental abuse. She was not having an affair with a co-worker, but Russ routinely made these accusations. On the night of the incident, Bethany begged and pleaded for Russ to go to the company picnic. He refused, staying home drinking all afternoon and evening. She did take many pictures while she was at the event, but there were no "compromising" pictures. When she returned home that evening, she met a "monster" who systematically abused her for hours. She showed me the pictures she had taken of herself the morning following the beating and torture.
I share this story with you, as I believed Russ. He was charming, intelligent, a hard worker, and made it seem to me that he was being responsible for his behavior. As a clinician, I thought I could read people pretty well. I was wrong. The cost of being wrong about "situational violence" as opposed to battering is potentially enormous. If judges believe the violence is "situational", they feel free to order mediation or conciliation services, and may be quite comfortable with certain liberal visitation schedules. If we believe that the violence was "situational", couple counseling makes sense, and the victim's behavior can seem to be irrational. If we get it wrong about "situational" violence, the victim can be placed in further serious danger by well-meaning professionals.
Situational violence is often a term we use when we do not have the information to prove otherwise.
Bethany taught me some valuable lessons. She taught me to trust the evidence, not my senses. She taught me how important it is to consider the perspective of the victim. She also taught me something about "Situational Violence" that has proven to be true through the years. Situational violence is often a term we use when we do not have the information to prove otherwise. And it just might be that we don't have the information because we found the individual likeable, and really want to believe the violence is situational. However, when we have thorough information regarding cases of violence and cruelty in the home, situational violence rarely is.