The cycle of violence and community attitudes

The theory that domestic violence occurs in a cycle was developed in 1979 by Lenore Walker as a result of a study conducted in the United States, and published in her book The battered woman (Harper and Row). The ‘cycle of violence’ depicts how violent events occur within a context of power and control. Many women who have experienced violence recognise this pattern, which can happen hundreds of times in an abusive relationship. Each stage lasts a different amount of time in a relationship. The total cycle can take anywhere from a few hours to a year or more to complete. Over time the cycle may become quicker or even start to skip the ‘honeymoon phase’.

It is important to remember though that not all domestic violence relationships fit the cycle.

In 1984, the Domestic Violence Intervention project developed the Power and control wheel. Commonly known as the ‘Duluth model’, it illustrates the pattern of actions and behaviours used by a violent man to control his female partner. ‘Power and control’ are at the centre of the wheel and extending from the centre (like spokes) are the range of techniques used to instill fear; threats, intimidation, coercion, emotional abuse, economic abuse, isolation, minimising, denying and blaming, using children, and using male privilege. All of this occurs within the context of physical and sexual violence – the rim of the wheel.

Community attitudes to domestic violence

Positive and respectful community attitudes are critical for reducing domestic violence (National plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010 – 2022). Evidence shows that there is an increased risk of violence against women where norms support the traditional gendered power-imbalance or notion of male privilege including:

  • ‘macho’ constructions of masculinity
  • ideas that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’
  • notions that men should ‘wear the pants’ as heads of the household and wage-earners
  • standards that segregate male drinking and encourage excessive or binge drinking
  • standards that create peer pressure to conform to these ideas of masculinity and male behaviour. (Time for action: The National Council’s plan for Australia to reduce violence against women and their children 2009-2021.)

A long-term commitment to education and eradication of these social ‘norms’ is necessary to effect change.