The Happy Trail

Puget Sound welcomes Lundy Bancroft to speak on patterns of domestic violence

Lundy Bancroft speaking in Kilworth Chapel — Photo credit to Alec Dionne

Domestic violence is still a major issue in the U.S. today. There is some support for victims of domestic violence through crisis hotlines and emergency housing in some areas, but what about helping abusers change their behavior in the first place? That is a question that Lundy Bancroft has spent his career trying to answer. Bancroft gave a presentation about domestic abuse in the Kilworth Chapel on Sept. 17. Approximately 100 Puget Sound students attended the discussion that explored how abusers justify their behavior, as well as discussed signs of abuse and how to help.

While Bancroft acknowledged that there is plenty of abuse within same-gender couples as well as abuse of men by women, Bancroft has focused on male abusers of female romantic or sexual partners. Therefore all of the analysis he provided was based on heterosexual couples with a male abuser.

When Bancroft began his career in domestic abuse in the 1990s, there weren’t many education programs for abusers to unlearn their behavior. He joined a counseling group called Battery Prevention Therapy for men to voluntarily come and unlearn their patterns of abusive behavior.  

Bancroft started the presentation by dispelling common misconceptions about domestic abuse that are perpetuated by media and news reporting. Bancroft said that the most common and dangerous misconception about domestic abuse is that the abuser irrationally explodes because they are so upset and simply cannot control themselves when experiencing intense emotion.  

The reality is that abuse is used as a manipulative instrument by the abuser. Researchers know this because time and again abusers can change their “irrational” behavior if it is in their best interest. For example, Bancroft explained, an abuser may act “irrationally” with violence, but when an outside party comes to intervene, the abuser is able to quickly collect themself so as to keep themselves out of trouble.  

Bancroft pointed out that research has shown that abusers don’t have higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse or unhappiness. Instead, he claimed that abusers all have a certain belief system that makes them think that they have the right to the final say in their relationships. This belief usually stems from misogynistic messages men are fed by male role models, and serves as justification of violence towards their partner. Bancroft said that this value is not an inherent trait but one that is taught, and he believes that he can change this through education and confrontation.

“Men’s bad attitudes about women don’t come from women,” Bancroft said. “Instead, they come from his experiences with men. They come from his peers as a teenager, his father, what the media says about women.”

Bancroft also told the audience about basic signs of abuse. One is that if the victim confronts their partner about the abuse, it only gets worse because the abuser punishes their partner for resisting them. He advised the group to test their early relationships for future abuse by resisting what their partners want them to do and observing how they react.

Other signs of abuse are blatant disrespect of one’s partner, manipulation and tearing down the self-esteem of one’s partner. Warning signs of potential future abuse include separating a partner from friends, extreme jealousy, insincere apologies and blaming a partner for everything, even when it’s not their fault.  

“It’s important to be aware of how he treats women in general,” Bancroft said. “If he has bitterness towards women or blames his bad behavior on his ex-girlfriends, that [is a sign of future abuse].”

The final part of his presentation discussed how outsiders can help people escape abusive relationships. Bancroft suggested that allies need to listen patiently to the victim and to make sure not to fix it right away. While an ally should offer resources and tell the victim it’s not their fault, they should not tell them what to do. Adding pressure on the already highly stressful situation may make the victim freeze.

Bancroft advocated for college students to continue to talk about abuse with each other. This way, it will become more socially acceptable to bring it up when it is happening. Finally, he said that we need to stop accepting abuser’s excuses for their actions. Instead, call them out, stop feeling sorry for them, stand by people who are abused and demand a society in which everyone can be respected in their relationships.