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Domestic Violence As Terrorism

With the nation’s eyes focused on the issue of international terrorism, some psychologists, social workers, law enforcement officers, and formerly battered individuals have begun to recognize that what the foreign terrorists are attempting to do on an international basis happens with stunning regularity inside many American homes. That is, while international terrorists pursue power and control over nations, intimate terrorists pursue power and control over their intimate partners.

Devastating Effects

Workers in the field of domestic violence contend that the verbal, emotional, psychological, and physical violence of the abusers operate on the psyches of their victims in the same way as the behavior of terrorists operates on their victims. Many survivors of domestic violence, who are introduced to the experiences of hostages released from the hands of international terrorists, find that their experience matches the hostage experience in many respects. Survivors of terrorist attacks and survivors of the abuse perpetrated upon them by their intimate terrorists often experience exactly the same symptoms, usually manifested as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Victim-thinking And Vengeance

Some, who have analyzed both international terrorist psychology and the patterns and profiles of intimate partner abuse perpetrators, have concluded that the roots of both lie in a common consciousness of victim-hood. That is, both the international terrorist and the intimate terrorist perceives of himself as a victim, the international terrorist of crusades against his religion, the intimate terrorist of attacks on his integrity. Those who believe they are victims often seek revenge against those whom they blame for their perceived injuries. Vengeance-seeking victims often turn to violence, analysts contend.

Destroy Independence And Individualism

Some observers of international politics also note that international terrorists see the independence of individuals and democracy of nations as a threat to their belief system, and therefore their very lives. Thus, one mission of international terrorism is to gain power and control over independence and individualism. At-home terrorists see the independence and individualism of their family members as threatening to their lives as well. Thus, the mission of at-home terrorists or perpetrators of domestic violence is to gain power and control over their intimate partners.

Controlling To Avoid Abandonment

Some studies of the controlling behavior of perpetrators of intimate partner violence have found that the root cause for it is that intimate terrorists have a deep-seated belief that their intimate partners will eventually abandon them unless kept under complete control. In the intimate terrorist’s mind, that control requires constant vigilance and a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude towards violence. Thus, if constant vigilance fails to keep the partner under control, abusers may see their only other option is to use ever-escalating behaviors such as manipulation, emotional and verbal abuse, threats of physical violence and actual physical violence. Those who work in the field of domestic / intimate partner violence, formerly battered spouses, and the abusers themselves are able to describe a wide variety of controlling activities that have been used to maintain the dominance of abusers so that their partners do not leave them.

Leaving The Relationship With An Intimate Terrorist

One way that professionals know that fear of abandonment is the driving force behind intimate terrorists’ behavior is that invariably victims report

  • Their partners are extremely jealous and often obsessed with thoughts that they are being cheated on
  • Their partners try to control where they go, who they see and what they do even at work, or to the point of refusing to allow them to go to work
  • When they threaten to leave the relationship, the violence increases
  • When they try to leave, they are prohibited by all kinds of behavior ranging from the abusers threatening suicide to the abusers threatening to take their children to being physically prohibited from leaving and other forms of imprisonment
  • When they actually leave, their partners follow through on many of the earlier-made threats

Most Dangerous Time

Crime statistics show that when victims leave their perpetrators, they enter the most dangerous period of the relationship.

  • When victims of domestic violence leave, their partners often participate in stalking
  • Most kidnapping of the children of abuse victims occur post-separation
  • The majority of victims actually murdered by their abusers are killed either in the process of leaving or after leaving
  • Murders / Suicides are usually committed by the intimate partner of an abused victim, either as the victim is trying to leave the relationship or the abuser perceives the victim as leaving the relationship


Whether naming intimate partner violence as intimate terrorism and comparing it to international terrorism is a useful analogy or not remains to be seen. However, observing the similarities as well as the differences between them may be helpful as the search for resolution of the devastating effects of each upon their victims continues.

Might You Be An “Intimate Terrorist”?

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Might you be an “Intimate Terrorist”?

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