By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
The overwhelming mentality in family assault prosecution is the violence is always unilateral. That is, one spouse and one spouse alone is perpetually controlling, manipulative and ultimately physically abusive. This is the theory of “the cycle of violence.”
I’ve handled hundreds of domestic assault cases and this just isn’t my experience. The “cycle” is true some times but not nearly as often as most prosecutors believe. Most cases involve reciprocal violence.
My experience is there is dysfunction which manifests itself by the couple communicating through violence and assaultive actions. She throws a phone at him one day — he pushes her into a wall the next day. She gets drunk and hits him with a fist – he punches back. The person prosecuted might have been the perpetrator that day — but it doesn’t mean the entirety of the relationship circulates around that one person controlling, manipulating and battering the other. They continually do it to one another.
“The Cycle of Violence”
The theory essentially makes domestic violence unilateral. One side, and one side alone, is always to blame the for each and every instance of domestic violence — typically the man in a heterosexual relationship. The theory goes he is controlling, often degrading, manipulative and physically abusive. This is followed by a honeymoon period of sorrow and remorse but builds back into the explosive rage and violence.
The “Cycle” though, has many blindspots. For instance there is no consideration of mental health issues or even for basic self defense situations.
The “cycle of violence” does have some of merit. The problem is the degree of belief and trust some prosecutors put in this theory. What prosecutors don’t know about a couple — they might fill in with conjecture often related to their “cycle” theory.
Here’s an example: In a assault/ family violence case the complaining witness does not return the prosecutor’s phone calls. Plugging in the generic ‘cycle of violence,’ many prosecutors assume the reason is because the batterer is in control of ‘victim,’ or that the ‘victim’ wants to help the batterer because she can’t stand up for him/herself.
Reciprocal Domestic Violence
Academic studies support my observations in my practice. In one study, it shows reciprocal violence is far more common than unilateral — and that it is most commonly the female that is the aggressor. The idea the male is typically the aggressor has been shown to be stereotypical and false.
Whether you believe spouses beating up one another is reciprocal or not — the truth is we simply don’t know and that all couples develop their own unique mini-culture.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.