Gender violence causes great pain and rejection in society, and more and more. The Organic Law 1/2004 of 28 December on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence, known as the Law on Gender Violence in Spain, defines it as “any act of physical and psychological violence, including attacks on sexual freedom, threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty”, and that occurs “as a manifestation of discrimination, the situation of inequality and the Power relations of men over women are exercised over them by those who are or have been their spouses or by those who are or have been linked to them by similar emotional relationships, even without coexistence “. Thus, domestic violence and intimate partner violence are differentiated from gender violence, which is briefly referred to as that exercised against women simply because they are women .
Gender-based violence, as it is well defined by the people and expert organizations on the subject, is not caused by individual factors of the abusive men, but is supported by a whole social and cultural context of inequality that has as its maxim expression these signs of violence against women. Inequality, as we said, manifests itself, becomes visible, in different areas where people develop, but when it occurs in the couple, the consequence is abuse.
The greatest extreme to which this type of violence reaches is the murder of the woman by her partner . We are aware of the large number of cases of sexist murders or femicides that take place. Behind them, the number of couples in which this situation occurs multiplies alarmingly. But still many people fail to understand the social background that feeds them.
Why are the victims in violent relationships?
One of the issues that most disorients society regarding gender violence is the reason why women victims of gender violence remain in abusive and mistreatment relationships. We can’t put ourselves in their place and we think that if we were in the same situation, we would run out of them. But this is not the case, why? In addition, there is no distinction by social class, origin, profession or age, nor by type of personality. There are specific cases where the vulnerability is greater, but in truth the responsibility of being trapped in a relationship of this type is as much of the society as of the abuser.
The explanation for why a woman stays in an abusive relationship for years is clearly psychological. There are feelings and perceptions such as fear, helplessness, lack of self-esteem, or believing that there are no resources, that come into play, but all of this carries behind a mechanism that feeds it: the cycle of violence.
The cycle of violence and its phases
The cycle of violence is a model exposed by the American psychologist Lenor Walker in 1984. It is the explanation of the phases through which the sentimental relationship goes through, which are a consequence of the abuse and at the same time cause that it continues in time. It consists of three phases:
1. Voltage Phase:
During the tension phase, hostile reactions occur from the abuser unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. His mood changes suddenly , he is extremely sensitive, and manifests itself in bad statements, quarrels with his partner, reproaches, and small signs of aggressiveness. The victim changes his behavior to suit his supposed demands: he is condescending, he tries to please him, he tries not to do anything that might bother him, he tries to anticipate what he might want, etc. In this way, she believes that she can control the situation . However, these little outbursts do not depend on what she does: they will appear at any moment even if the woman is blamed.
However, due to the discomfort of these situations, which can appear in private or in front of other people, the victim tends to cover them up and, as a consequence, also to isolate himself so that there are no witnesses . The reason is that the people around can warn her of the abusive behavior of the abuser, but since she considers that they are her fault or simply a source of her partner’s character or external factors (work, fatigue, possible financial difficulties, etc. .), you are not comfortable with these statements.
2. Aggression phase:
The tension accumulated during the previous phase explodes into an explicit and larger violent reaction. Behaviors of psychological, physical and / or sexual abuse take place , and it is the phase in which the integrity of the victim is most at risk. They can be physical attacks (beatings and beatings), but also other types of violence, such as isolating her, frightening her by hitting the walls or furniture in the house, shouting, intimidation, threats, breaking objects of the victim, rapes , etc.
There is no specific episode that triggers the attack, it cannot be predicted, because it is something that only depends on him although he blames her. The excuse he gives, or the reason he thinks he should get to this point, is because he wants his wife to learn to behave the way he wants. The normalization that we have in society that problems can be solved in a violent and taxable way fuels this method of “teaching” women (think of situations in everyday life in which we react by yelling at another person when they do something we believe which is wrong, insulting on social networks when they think differently or even coming to blows when we believe that someone is trying to be above us).
It is at this time when the victim is afraid for his partner , suffers acute stress that can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder . That is why it is the phase in which it is common for the victim to ask for help and may have the intention of escaping from their situation, although fear, helplessness and blockage prevent them from taking that step.
However, this phase, which is believed to be the most common in abusive relationships, is very short, and takes time to reappear. If the aggressions were constant, no people would bear them.
3. Honeymoon phase, calm or regret:
In this phase the tension disappears. The abuser apologizes to his partner, shows regret, tries to make up for the damage and sometimes even takes the blame and says he needs help. He manipulates her emotionally because he knows that if the violence continued, she would abandon him. The abuser shows himself and behaves as she wishes , then hopes reappear that he will change and that he will definitely stop attacking her. It “confirms” that the previous phases were the result of other factors, either external or because of her, or that she really has a problem that she will be able to overcome in order to be happy. However, with the passage of time this phase tends to disappear and the aggression phases occur less often.
The strong emotional dependence is what allows the woman to believe that all this will happen, because in truth she does not want to abandon her partner, but to stop behaving like this. What will happen in this phase, on many occasions, is that the victim withdraws the complaints that he may have previously made, or if he only abandoned the abuser, return to him. However, this is not understood by the people around her who want to help her , feel cheated, frustrated, that they have wasted time and the common reaction is to judge the victim (“it is that she does not want to be helped”, “is that they return with them and thus there is no one to do anything “, “is that he does not allow himself to be helped”, etc). For this reason, it is very important to know this cycle of violence, because if not, what we will do is abandon the victim.
It is true that not all couple relationships in which gender violence occurs conform to this model. The cases are very diverse and there is always more than one theory that explains psychological and sociological phenomena. But it is very important to know this model of the cycle of violence to understand why many girls or women who are victims of abuse return to their partners, do not leave the relationship or withdraw any complaints filed.
I try to help her but she has returned to him, what can I do?
In the event that you find yourself in the situation explained above, that the victim has returned to his abuser or has withdrawn the possible complaints filed, you must not stop being next to the victim. It is normal that these “steps backwards” are taken during the intervention process to help women who survive gender-based violence . They are part of the process, although in each case it may or may not occur, or a different number of times, and experts know it.
What you have to do when faced with a case of abuse is to go and speak to an organization that has a service for victims of gender violence, such as the Institute for Women or specific associations of gender violence. Also 016. There you must explain the case, what you know , either in the company of the victim if he is in the phase of wanting to leave the relationship, or by yourself or alone in case he does not want to do so. In this type of intervention, professionals must be well aware of the cycle of violence and many other aspects of sexist violence in order to know how to act and manage the situation, always taking into account the danger that the victim’s life may run.