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Situational Violence Versus Domestic Violence

One aspect of abusive relationships that can be hard to grasp is the difference between situational violence and domestic violence. To be clear, Blackburn Center believes that all relationships should be free from abuse, and that no form of violence is acceptable. However, there is a difference between domestic violence and situational violence — and understanding the difference is critical.

The distinguishing feature of domestic violence is that it forms a pattern of abuse. The type of abuse can vary, from physical and sexual violence to emotional and psychological abuse. The one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other. It is incredibly important to recognize that each act of violence is part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. Victims of domestic violence are likely to suffer severe physical and psychological consequences of the abuse, and are more likely to be killed by their abuser (2 out of 3 female homicide victims are killed by a family member or intimate partner). An ongoing pattern of power and control are the hallmarks of domestic violence, as evidenced by this case, where the abuse escalated to homicide. This is an extreme example of domestic violence, but one that we are becoming increasingly accustomed to seeing in our society.

In contrast, situational violence does not necessarily form a pattern; it occurs when one or both partners handles conflict with violence. It differs from domestic abuse because the violence is specific to the situation and generally minor; it does not escalate over time. While one or both partners may use violence to gain control during a fight, there is not an ongoing effort to exert power or control over the other between fights. The violence may be mutual, and may occur less often and less regularly than domestic violence does. People who engage in situational violence tend to be poor communicators who do not know how to argue without resorting to physical or verbal aggression. Both men and women engage in this type of violence. The fact that this type of violence differs from domestic violence does not mean that it is acceptable, or that it isn’t criminal behavior. Assaulting someone is typically a crime, and using violence to solve problems is always wrong.

One recent example of situational violence involves professional soccer player Hope Solo. In July 2014, Solo was arrested for allegedly assaulting her sister and nephew; the charges were later dropped for procedural reasons. While Solo and her family tell different stories of what happened that night, the heart of the story is that Solo insulted her nephew, and the argument turned physical (with Solo claiming that her nephew injured her, and her nephew and sister claiming that Solo was the aggressor and he was simply defending himself and his mother). While it seems apparent that Solo was the primary aggressor in this case, it represents situational violence rather than domestic violence because it was not part of a pattern of power and control by one intimate partner against the other. Solo was justifiably arrested for assaulting her nephew and sister, but it is important to distinguish her case from cases involving a systematic pattern of abuse.

Situational violence is a form of abuse, and it is harmful. However, unlike domestic violence, it is less likely to result in long-term physical or psychological illness, or in homicide. When discussing incidents of situational violence, it is important to distinguish between this type of abuse and domestic violence, as the impact on the victims is very different. We encourage you to learn more about domestic violence and other types of abuse, so that you can join us in the fight to end all types of violence. You can also get involved by volunteering for our organization, or donating to support our mission. No type of violence is OK — and speaking out against it is critical to ending violence and abuse!

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