In light of October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I interviewed a therapist who specializes in working with victims of domestic violence as well as court mandated perpetrators of domestic violence. Her name is Brianne Baker and she is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Santa Clara County, California. She has been teaching domestic violence classes to court-mandated individuals for over 5 years and has trained others to run these classes. Prior to that, she provided therapy to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. Here is what she had to say about domestic violence:
Julia: How would you define domestic violence?
Brianne Baker: Domestic violence is any use of power and control over an intimate partner or family member. The more commonly used term nowadays is “intimate partner violence” to account for gender inclusion.
Julia: What are some of the misconceptions about domestic violence?
Brianne: The most commonly held misconception is that perpetrators plan the violence. Most domestic violence is reactive abuse, it is not planned. When people do not possess coping and communication skills, they can react in an abusive way.
Julia: Is domestic violence just physical abuse?
Brianne: No. There are about 8 categories including sexual abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse, coercion, intimidation, manipulation, etc. The idea is that one uses power and control in different ways. These are things that are absolutely unacceptable to use in a relationship. People often don’t realize that domestic violence can be more than just physical abuse.
Julia: How do you think sex addiction could contribute to domestic violence?
Brianne: The idea is that prior to violence, there is tension in the relationship. Any sort of addiction (sexual or chemical) can create tension in a relationship. If that tension isn’t addressed, it can escalate to a big event such as domestic violence. Then there’s a honeymoon phase, and the cycle starts all over again.
Julia: What are some things a person should consider if they may be perpetrating domestic violence on their partners?
Brianne: For a perpetrator, there is a lot of denial involved. If there is potential for getting caught, there may be some shame that may need to be addressed before change can be made. The more accountability they can take, the more likely they will be to learn new skill sets. The longer the denial exists, the longer it keeps them from acknowledging their shame and making changes. There needs to be accountability for the impact on the other person. One of the core issues is that there is a toxic relationship and it can come from both sides. A perpetrator can learn a new skill, try it at home, and the other person can reject it because they are not used to the new dynamic. This can be taken as a deep rejection and it can come from the victim being resistant to change because they struggle with changing their role in the relationship. The perpetrator needs to consider not only changing their own behavior, but the acceptance of the changes by the victim.
Julia: What are some things a person should consider if they may be a victim of domestic violence?
Brianne: They have to accept that they can’t change the other person, they can only change themselves. If the perpetrator of the abuse is not willing to change themselves, there is nothing they can do. The victims have to do their own work toward making changes in how they interact with others, and have to be able to accommodate the changes that the perpetrator is trying to make. This avoids enabling of the abuse.
Julia: Are there any interactions between addiction and domestic violence?
Brianne: Statistics show that addiction is coupled with domestic violence about 80% of the time. The main interaction is that addiction increases the risk for domestic violence.
Julia: What is important in healing from domestic violence?
Brianne: Equality is the main component in healing from domestic violence. Equality is the opposite of power and control. Establishing equality is the key to undoing the patterns of power and control.
Julia: Are there any gender based issues in domestic violence?
Brianne: First and foremost, there has to be acknowledgement of that fact that male privilege exists. And it contributes to domestic violence. There is a sense of entitlement that is often unacknowledged. People often are not aware of their privilege or how it plays out in relationships. A lot of what I do is show people how they have privilege and abuse it. There are a lot of assumptions from males about what women’s roles are and what a relationship should look like. When women don’t measure up to these assumptions, that can lead to violent behavior.
Julia: What is something people should know about perpetrators of domestic violence?
Brianne: The majority of the men who take my classes were at some point victims of domestic violence themselves. Either by witnessing it in their home lives or being around violent communities. Their thinking patterns are stunted because of their own trauma histories. These are not just inherently angry people, these are people who need to do their own healing.
Julia: What does treatment look like for perpetrators of domestic violence?
Brianne: Safety planning and accountability is mainly what happens in treatment. It’s a lengthy process, but those are the main components of it.
Julia: What is a trend you have seen in the world of domestic violence?
Brianne: A lot of women are quick to go to court after a domestic violence arrest, and later claim the perpetrator didn’t do anything. There were a lot of deaths as a result of this. Perpetrators were released back home and would take out their anger over the arrest on the victim. Now, in my county, victims are required to take a class on their rights before they request a “peaceful contact order”. Before a “peaceful contact order” can be granted, a “stay away order” is granted which requires that perpetrators stay away from the victim for 14 days. This has greatly reduced the number of deaths we were seeing. I’m really glad this has been put in place.
Julia: Who can provide classes to perpetrators of domestic violence?
Brianne: Most classes can be run by someone who completes a 40 hour class and takes 16 credits per year to maintain their certification to run DV classes. You don’t have to be a therapist or have a teaching or mental health credential to run these classes.
If you believe you may be a victim of domestic violence, or if you may have perpetrated domestic violence and want to get help, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233. If you are interested in contacting Brianne Baker, you can find her at https://www.briannebakermft.com/.