Domestic violence is a prevalent issue in the United States. In fact, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that domestic abuse makes up 15 percent of all violent crime, and 20 Americans are physically abused by their partners every minute. Because 19 percent of domestic assaults involve some form of weapon, it is no surprise that criminal justice professionals often encounter these situations in the field.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), domestic violence is “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain power and control over another intimate partner.” It can appear in more than one form, including the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Economic abuse
  • Psychological abuse

Though it most commonly affects women aged 18 to 24, the DOJ reports that it can happen to anyone “regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.” It can occur in all types of intimate relationships. In addition, its effects go beyond those directly involved. Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence are more likely to experience social and physical problems, as well as perpetuate the cycle of violence when they get older, the DOJ explains. It is important for criminal justice professionals to understand the signs and causes of domestic violence because of its far-reaching effects.

The Cycle of Abuse

In 1979, psychologist Lenore Walker discovered that domestic violence often follows three separate phases. After interviewing 1,500 victims of domestic abuse, Walker identified the following cycle of abuse:

1. Tensions build: In this phase, the seeds of domestic violence are often caused by ordinary life stressors such as financial problems, unemployment, parenting disagreements and more. The abuser begins to feel angry or threatened. The victim may attempt to control the situation by keeping the abuser calm, along with avoiding arguments by walking on eggshells.

2. Incident or “acute violence”: Eventually, the abuser lashes out in a violent way. Verbal or emotional abuse often gives way to physical abuse. The incident may be triggered by an external event or the abuser’s emotional state, but is not caused by the victim’s behavior. According to Willis C. Newman, if children witness the event(s), abusers will often defend their actions by expressing that the victim deserved the assault. However, the incident is both unpredictable and out of the victim’s control, according to Domestic Violence Roundtable.

Earn a Specialized Criminal Justice Degree

West Virginia State University has created a specialized Criminal Justice degree program that you can complete fully online. Start your career today.

Get Started

3. Reconciliation or “honeymoon stage”: After the incident, abusers are often embarrassed or ashamed by their behavior. As a result, they express remorse or try to minimize the abuse. In some cases, abusers often attempt to blame the victim, but many abusers respond by exhibiting loving behavior, apologizing and giving gifts. It is during this phase that some victims decide to stay in the relationship, hoping the abuser will change.

The cycle of abuse can occur over the course of days, weeks or months. It is important to note that every relationship is different, and while this cycle is common, not every violent relationship follows this pattern.

Criminal Justice Education at West Virginia State University

Domestic violence remains a widespread problem, and understanding the cycle of abuse is highly relevant for criminal justice professionals. Police officers, victim advocates and others who work as part of the criminal justice system provide victims of domestic violence with a vital safety net. Undergraduate study in criminal justice is an ideal way to prepare for the demands of working in the field.

West Virginia State University offers a fully online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree that gives students an understanding of the modern criminal justice system grounded in both theory and practical application. With a curriculum informed by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, this program features an in-depth study of the causes of crime, the relationship between criminal justice and society, and more. WVSU also offers criminal justice certificates in investigation, corrections and law enforcement, along with a generalist option.