Psychological Pressure, Guilt, and Recanting Domestic Abuse

Imagine you've been abused by your spouse.  You've been brave enough to call the police, and your abuser has been taken away to be charged.  

Then the phone rings.  It's your spouse…using their one phone call to call you.

This situation happens more frequently than you might imagine.  

Researchers analyzed such recorded calls between 17 abusers and their victims and found that there was a distinct (and quite disturbing) pattern to the conversation.


“The existing belief is that victims recant because the perpetrator threatens her with more violence.  But our results suggest something very different,” said Amy Bonomi, lead author of the study and associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.

“Perpetrators are not threatening the victim, but are using more sophisticated emotional appeals designed to minimize their actions and gain the sympathy of the victim.”  (via Ohio State University news release)

Bonomi then points out that understanding the type of psychological pressures exerted by accused abusers is important for us to be able to offer counseling to victims.

The steps described include minimizing the abuse ("Did I really hit you that hard?  Do I really deserve to go to jail for ten years for hitting you?  Do you really want that?"), recasting the abuser as the victim ("I'm so depressed here.  It's terrible.  I MISS you and the kids."), then, once the abuser has the victim's sympathy, bonding with the victim to gain the victim's cooperation in evading prosecution.  This particular stage turns the victim's sympathy into positive emotion, reminding the victim of the good times and reinforcing their love and solidarity against everyone else who "doesn't understand them".  

Anyone who's been in an abusive/codependent relationship will recognize these tactics.  What's frightening is that they so often work.  And how 17 different abusers just in this one study all used roughly the same strategy.  What, is there a handbook going around somewhere?

I'll just leave this post with a link to an article with excellent tips and links for abused and battered partners.  Just feels right.


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