New Zealand has a serious and shocking level of domestic violence. Children are hurt by their parents or caregivers. Siblings hurt each other or their parents. Adults in all types of intimate relationships may choose to use violence. Adult victims and perpetrators may be living in heterosexual, gay or trans-gender relationships. Both men and women can be offenders or victims. However, overwhelmingly, of the tens of thousands of adult against adult domestic incidents, coming to the notice of the police or other support services every year, it is predominately men who use violence against their female partner.
This information regarding offender profiles is based on our years of experience working with both perpetrators of violence and those that are victimised by it. It also draws heavily on the work of Americans Fernando Mederos, Denis Gamache and Ellen Pence, all well respected in this field. While it is not appropriate to put people into tidy ‘boxes’ and respond to them only as a type, rather than an individual, we have found that most people who use violence against their (ex)partner usually fit within one of the following profiles. Obviously, people are complex and may not have all the characteristics of a profile, or may have elements of several.
When considering offender profiles, the bigger picture of what these people generally have in common, must also be remembered. Apart from those who use violence to retaliate or defend themselves against previous acts of violence, people who use violence feel a strong sense of entitlement to control others. They consider that the use of violence is an extremely effective way to get what they want or to punish behaviour they don’t like. It is a choice that many see as being perfectly justified.
Assessing the potential risk of serious danger or lethality to victims is fundamental to work with both the perpetrator and victim of violence. The assessed risk posed by a specific individual at a specific time can be considered to be on a continuum of relatively low, to extreme. It is important to remember that the use of violence often escalates over time, becoming more frequent and more serious. In addition, circumstances, such as their partner leaving, may act as a trigger for an uncharacteristic explosion of violence. Therefore, risk is not static and must be constantly reassessed in order for comprehensive safety plans to be made with the victim of violence.
There has been a lot of research done on what constitutes high risk factors and this information is essential to warn victims of violence of danger. However, despite this, outcomes that no one may ever have predicted happening may still occur. A slap, used many times previously, could result in someone falling awkwardly, hitting her head and dying. If a person chooses to use violence against another, serious injury or death is always a possible result.
The Obsessed Offender
This is the most prevalent profile - the offender who uses a private, systematic pattern of abuse to achieve power and control over their partner and family. These offenders are not usually violent in public settings or with other people. This person cannot seem to tolerate separation from his spouse; he is very jealous, to the extent of being irrational, and he frequently monitors his spouse’s whereabouts through calls, questioning the children and others, drive-by check- up visits, etc. This offender is the most likely to regularly make vexatious applications to the Family Court, to delay, dispute and ultimately continue to maintain control of his ex-partner and any children.
The most dangerous of this profile threatens to kill or harm his partner if she leaves him, asks for a separation, divorce, etc. He often says, “If I can’t have you, no one will.” This type of offender is most likely to stalk, kill or injure his partner and children, even months or years after she has obtained Protection Orders, left him etc. Risk of committing suicide is also a concern with these offenders, or homicide combined with suicide – so that both (sometimes including children) can be together, forever, in death. Obsession is often observed in conjunction with a pattern of threats and the existence of potential triggers, for instance Protection Order applications, conflict over child access, found a new partner.
The Punishing Offender
These are people who occasionally or routinely use violence to solve problems in a range of public and private settings. This type of behaviour is easiest to exhibit and maintain in settings where a certain level of violence is normalised as not being unusual or unacceptable. Although occasionally getting in trouble with say the boss, this means that generally the offender does not feel very worried about possible repercussions from family, friends and workmates. These offenders do not maintain campaigns of terror, or patterns of control over their partners, families or other people. Their partners and children are not usually terrified of them, but they are very careful not to do anything to provoke a bad mood, which could result in violent and rapid punishment. Often people who have been hurt by these offenders remain devoted and do not wish to leave the relationship. They report that most of the time there is a lot of laughter and happiness and while they do not like the violence, for them the good times far out weigh the bad times.
The Charming, Manipulating Offender
Often successful in their careers, these offenders are usually considered “law abiding citizens” who do not often come to the notice of the police. They are smart or simply very manipulative and their use of violence and other controlling behaviours is sophisticated and cautious. Often the use of violence is not socially accepted in the circles in which they move and like the obsessed offender, they take the trouble to conceal it from others. Punishment is meted out at their convenience and their rage is calculated, chilling and controlled.
Like the sadistic offender, this person is more narcissistic than other types of offenders and considers that the world revolves around them. They can be extremely charming, sometimes with an exciting dangerous edge, attractive to potential partners and others in their social group. Like a cat with a mouse, their manipulative use of words, twists everything around to confuse their victims, making them feel guilty and further entrapped. They can be superior and disdainful, have to have the last word and feel provoked and justified to punish by what they feel they have to put up with from their victim.
Again, much like the obsessed offender, they feel like they are the real victim, sometimes threatening to commit suicide. However, this is just another form of guilt inducing manipulative behaviour used to control their victim and rarely carried through with. When a relationship concludes, this offender quickly moves on to establish a new one and usually has limited interest in former partners.
The Sadistic Offender.
This person’s pattern of violence is vengeful and has a bizarre, depersonalised and cold character. He treats her with a profound absence of consideration of her as a person. His violence usually involves inflicting severe pain or torture, such as burning her, starving her, beating her for hours, etc. These offenders often assault their spouses without warning or apparent provocation. He may abuse his children sexually and this possibility should be investigated and ruled out. Usually, a sadistic offender terrifies his spouse profoundly through torture and continuous degradation and she is not likely to attempt to flee. He is very likely to retaliate against her if she seeks help. This type of offender frequently does not have a criminal record. He is usually employed and may even have a prestigious position in the community.
The Hyper-Violent Offender
This offender takes offence easily; a look, a question, even the most reasonable or mild attempts at limit-setting by others can trigger a violent response. He is generally violent and has no social inhibitions. He feels all “challenges” place his manhood and courage in question and that he must always prove himself. He often has a long criminal record resulting from pub fights, brawling, assault charges etc. This offender can be very dangerous to his partner and any children, particularly if she fights back, which is not an unusual response for many victims (see retaliatory offender). He usually has very conflicted and belligerent relationships with authority figures who he may assault if he feels angry or directly challenged.
The Pathological Offender
The violence perpetrated by this offender is caused by a detrimental impact to normal brain function. For example head injuries, mental illness, psychosis brought on by extreme alcohol or drug use, Alzheimer’s disease. It is rare for violence to be solely caused by pathology, with this used more frequently as an excuse.
The “One Off” Offender
This is an offender with no previous history of hurting their partner. Violence is perpetrated in a moment of rage as a result of some major stressor. Most adults have moments in which they fear losing total control, few do, which is why this type of offending is rare. It is however, one of the most common excuses used by violent offenders. One off violence should be considered carefully by all concerned. The offender may be so aghast and apologetic that nothing similar ever occurs. However, it could result in the beginning of a pattern of further physical violence, particularly if the behaviour is reinforced by being found to be both effective and without significant repercussions.
The Retaliatory Offender
This offender is a victim of previous domestic violence who hits back in retaliation, or in defence. Mainly women, the intention of the violence they use is to stop, or protest against the violence they have received. This category of offender is not motivated to control or terrify their partner. They sometimes use weapons to compensate for the difference in strength between themselves and their partner. Generally the violence sustained by the victim of their assault, is not serious, nor is the victim frightened. These offenders are normally low risk and the lack of fear experienced by the victim sets these offenders apart from the other profiles.
However, the major exception to this is when the violence used is intended to be terminal. This is sometimes an option considered by victims terrorised by extreme violence, but is fortunately rare. It is most likely to occur when the person decides that the likely consequences of either fighting back when assaulted, or being prevented from leaving the relationship, will result in serious injury, possibly death, to themselves or someone else.
By Jane Drumm