Spanking and the cycle of domestic violence

Until we stop condoning physical assaults against children by everyone — including parents and guardians — we will not be involved in a positive, proactive, preventative domestic violence effort

By Richard Davis, ALM

May 11, 2011

There is rarely a single reason or simple solution for anything. However, recent evidence-based data suggests that role modeling physical assaultive behavior is a primary reason for the replication of that behavior. Recent criminal justice data documents the fact that the majority of violent offenders come from homes in which assaultive behavior is common and live in violent neighborhoods where the community does not value education.

On April 5, 2011 the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services jointly released the report Evidence-Based Practices for Children Exposed to Violence: A Selection from Federal Databases (EBPCEV). The intent of the report is to provide findings from federal reviews of research, studies and program evaluations to help communities improve outcomes for children exposed to violence.

While it should be obvious to domestic violence interveners and public policy makers that we are not going to arrest and incarcerate our way to safer homes and neighborhoods, most of them appear oblivious to the evidence-based data which documents that we have not — and will not — do so. What should also be obvious yet seems not to be is the fact that education not incarceration and proper role models are the best and most cost-effective long-term panaceas for violence inside and outside our homes…

…On page nine of the glossary section lists prevention and intervention efforts. The last one is indicated interventions. Indicated interventions are approaches that are aimed at intervening with people who have already perpetrated violence or have been victimized. Indicated intervention is the primary role of law enforcement. Interventions after the fact still receive the majority of research, resources and personnel under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The first intervention listed is primary prevention. Primary prevention attempts to prevent the problem from ever occurring. Central to this effort are strategies that attempt to prevent the initial victimization or perpetration.

After 35 years of placing reactionary law enforcement on the front lines of preventing domestic violence, it should be clear that we have not arrested and incarcerated our way out of the problem. This, of course, does not mean that law enforcement should end arresting all domestic violence offenders. However, interveners and public policy makers do need to recognize that arrest is reactionary and not preventative. Evidence-based data documents that arrest accomplishes little to nothing to prevent future and further victimization.

Initial Victimization or Perpetration

On page 24 of the findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey report, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence , it documents that:

For example, 40 percent of surveyed women and 54 percent of surveyed men said they were physically assaulted as a child by an adult caretaker.

Until we end condoning physical assaults against children by everyone — including parents and guardians — we will not be involved in a positive, proactive, preventative domestic violence effort. We will remain a delusional society that expects that it can somehow mysteriously and magically end physical assaultive behavior between family members or intimate partners when they reach age18 with arrests, while continuing to use or condone the use of physical assaults against children under the age of 18 years old.


The central concept of Community Policing is that society must play a fundamental role in preventing crime. My column Prevention versus protection notes that law enforcement alone has little if any effect concerning the rise or fall of the most violent of crimes, homicide. It is time interveners and public policy makers acknowledge that:

1.) Violence begins in our homes and not on our streets.
2.) The most violent of all violent crimes is homicide and arrest and incarceration have little to no effect on homicide rates.

It’s time interveners and public policy begin talking about the fact that law enforcement has not and cannot prevent people from using minor or lethal physical assaults, both inside and outside the home. As long as adults continue to role model the use of physical assaults against children and among each other to achieve goals, physical assaultive behavior will continue regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or relationship between offender and victim. In Massachusetts we are attempting to begin that discussion. That discussion is needed because until we begin at the beginning there will be no end in sight.