By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
“The Duluth Model” is the current prevailing theory of domestic violence by law enforcement in the United States.
Its origins are from Duluth, Minnesota and was based on a treatment program run by Ellen Pence, a self proclaimed activist.
The “Cycle of Violence”, “Power and Control Wheel”, and “Batterers Intervention Program” are some of the staples of the Duluth Model in action.
You can read other blogs and the index to my continuing series on defending domestic violence cases here.
The Cycle of Violence
The Cycle of Violence was developed by Lenore Walker in 1979 based on 120 battered women. She believed in three phases:
- Tension Building Phase
- Acute Explosive Phase
- Honeymoon Phase
Her theory is an abuser causes the relationship to build tension which makes the victim “walk on eggshells.” The acute explosive phase is where the violence and abuse occurs and after this there is a honeymoon phase where the abuser apologizes, promises change, and goes out of their way to re-attract their mate. This of course gives way again to another tension building phase and so on according “the cycle.”
Assumptions the “Cycle of Violence Makes”
It Assumes Domestic Abuse Within a Relationship is Unilateral
The cycle of violence assumes the abuse is unilateral and not reciprocal. But studies have shown alarming rates of “Reciprocal Intimate Partner Violence” whereby both intimate partners at times are aggressors and at other times are victims.
It Presumes Guilt
The “Cycle of Violence” seems to have been created as a tool for treatment and therapy – not for the diagnosis of domestic violence. When using it to attempt to prove guilt – it actually presumes guilt as an underlying assumption.
If you replace the very top assumption with its opposite – Defendant is innocent – then absolutely none of the other phases make logical sense. But this diagram shows how the echo-chamber logic is circular in the first place.
Mental Illness & Substance Abuse Also Cause Domestic Violence
The Duluth Model holds, essentially, manipulation control and power are the root causes for domestic abuse. But other contributing factor of domestic violence, as anyone who defends these cases on a regular basis will tell you, are anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses such as psychosis. Not far behind as contributing factors are substance abuse.
Much of the problem with highly subjective echo chamber concepts such as the cycle of violence is the ability for the prosecution to take any evidence whatsoever and flip it into evidence of guilt.
Is buying your spouse flowers a confession? This is what a prosecutor would argue is the “honeymoon” phase. If this were true, though, then every florist needs to contact the police every time someone makes a purchase.
Is every instance of tension in a marriage evidence of “the tension building phase?” If this were true, every marriage counselor would have the police on speed-dial.
Other Criticism of the “Duluth Model”
The Power and Control Wheel
The “Power and Control Wheel” is a similar diagram to the cycle of violence. It differs in that it purports to describe the methods of power and manipulation the abuser uses to control the victim.
The criticism of the Power and Control wheel over-lap with the criticism of the Cycle of Violence. It assumes the physical abuse in a relationship is unilateral. It presumes guilt. It, too, largely ignores mental illness and substance abuse as underlying factors – and proscribes power as the main motivator between an abuser and the abused.
The Countervailing Theory – Reciprocal Intimate Partner Violence
Reciprocal Intimate Partner Violence, also called mutual violence and/or symmetrical violence holds both intimate partners have been aggressors at times and both have been victims at times. Again, this directly undercuts the Duluth Model which presumes the abuse to be unilateral or one-way.
Studies have shown “reciprocal” violence to be between 42% and 70% in relationships where there is domestic abuse. In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, concluded roughly half of abusive relationships fit this profile. The same study shows it was actually women who were thought to be the aggressors 70% of the time, however men inflicted more physical harm to their partners.
If the Duluth Model is Wrong Half of the Time – Then So What?
It’s important because the prosecution can be very heavy handed in the way they attack a case with the Duluth Model. It includes their potential misconceptions about the reality of the relationship of the couple which can skew and make the potential punishment not only unfair and inequitable – but also not assist the couple with the real underlying dysfunctional issues.
From a defense perspective – it also opens the door to defenses such as self defense and consent when we break the misconceptions the Duluth Model may inject.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.