Other Forms of Intimate Partner Violence - Responsive Violence
Responsive violence is violence used by victims of domestic abuse or other assaults63 who are trying to escape, stand up for themselves, stop the assailant’s violence, defend themselves or others, or retaliate. It is an attempt to gain short-term control in a violent situation.
The choice to respond to an assault with violence is influenced by many factors, including:
- The individual’s values and attitudes.
- What they have learned throughout their life about when violence is and is not justifiable.
- The costs and benefits of responding with violence. (Many victims accurately perceive that they may be seriously injured if they fight back or try to defend themselves, and decide that doing so is not worth it. Others decide that the risk is outweighed by the need to try to protect themselves and their children.)
Assault (or anticipated assault) by a abuser.
Gender of actors
How does responsive violence differ from abuse?
- It is occasional and situational; there is no ongoing pattern of controlling behavior (except by the abuser who is the target of the responsive violence).
- It is accompanied by feelings of fear, desperation or anger, not entitlement.
- It is usually defensive, and is motivated by the desire to:
- Contain or escape the immediate situation.64
- Defend oneself and one’s children.
- Avoid being killed.
- It is sometimes retaliatory.
- It is usually less injurious than abusive violence.
- It stops if the partner stops his/her assault.
- It is unlikely to escalate if the abuser leaves. Victims who are left by an abusive partner tend to let him/her go.
Consequences to targets
Most abusers are not seriously injured when their victim fights back, though in a small minority of cases, abusers are killed by partners they have abused.
Implications for intervention
Victims who respond with violence – the majority of women arrested for IPV – are often incorrectly identified as abusers.65 This can happen to an abused woman when:
- Responding officers do not recognize signs that she acted in self-defense.66
- The abuser convincingly accuses her of abuse, and perhaps even is the one who calls police. 67,68
- Her violence was pre-emptive, i.e., she recognized cues that an assault was imminent, and struck first to fend off her partner’s attack. She herself may also see her own pre-emptive or self-defensive violence as abusive.
With same-sex couples, police are more likely to arrest both parties. One study found that 26% of female same-sex cases and 27% of male same-sex cases led to dual arrests, while in opposite-sex cases, only 0.8% of those with male offenders and 3% of those with female offenders resulted in dual arrests. Dual arrests can only be avoided if responding officers are careful to accurately determine who the primary aggressor is.
Regardless of the gender of the partners, officers should not take it at face value if either one says it was mutual or just a fight. They should ask the partners, separately, to describe both the current incident and one or more previous ones – including what each one actually did and said, and why. Taking a victim’s claim of responsibility at face value can lead to responses that revictimize her/him – such as arrest or assignment to an abuser program.70
It is important not to confuse responsive violence with abuse. People who abuse their partners often convince themselves and others that their violence is a legitimate response to some provocation by their victim.
- Responsive violence can occur in a variety of situations. This section only discusses violence that is in response to abuse.
- Dasgupta (2001).
- Edleson, J. (1998). Responsible mothers and invisible men: Child protection in the case of adult domestic violence, Journal of Interpersonal Violence 13 (2): 294-298.
- Crager, M., Cousin, M. & Hardy, T. (April 2003). Victim-defendants: An emerging challenge in responding to domestic violence in Seattle and the King County region. King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
- See The Myth of Mutual Violence. (LGBT section)
- Pattavina, A., Hirschel, D., Buzawa, E., Faggiani, D. & Bentley, H. (2007). Comparison of the police response to heterosexual versus same-sex intimate partner violence (abstract), Violence Against Women, 13(4): 374-394.
- In a research context, taking women’s self-reports of abusiveness at face value can lead researchers to overestimate the number of female abusers.