Mental Health & IPV

by Dorislee Gilbert, Executive Director

May is National Mental Health Month, and as you’ve learned more about mental health, you may be wondering about the intersection of mental health or mental illness and intimate partner violence (IPV). It is not uncommon for people to assume that batterers must be mentally ill. However, the majority of batterers are not mentally ill. Even when they are, their mental illness does not cause them to be abusive, though it may increase the severity of the abuse or make it more difficult for batterers to change.  According to Lundy Bancroft, national expert on the treatment of batterers and author of Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, mental illness can be a lie that perpetrators of abuse tell to get away with their abuse. He writes: “Many abusers who are not mentally ill want women to think that they are, in order to avoid responsibility for their attitudes and behavior.” When we assume that people who abuse their intimate partners must be mentally ill, we fuel the acceptability of this excuse when offered by batterers.

Just as we sometimes make assumptions about the mental health of batterers, we also can be quick to make assumptions about the mental health of those who are victimized. We assume that because they don’t leave they must be mentally ill and somehow like what is happening to them. Or we assume—often because the batterer perpetuates this image—that the victim is mentally ill and the related unpredictable, inconsistent, or even violent behavior caused by her mental illness causes her to lie about violence or causes his violence. It is true that many victims of IPV do have adverse mental health outcomes. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 20% of persons victimized by IPV report new onset of a psychiatric disorder such as major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorder. However, these disorders do not cause IPV; rather, they often result from it. The trauma experienced by survivors of IPV can leave them deeply scarred, with both physical and psychological symptoms.

When we assume that mental illness causes victimization, we do a disservice to women everywhere. We tacitly approve or at least excuse batterers who prey on those with pre-existing mental illnesses. We increase the chances that methods of abuse like gaslighting and assuring the victim that no one will believe her are effective. We close the door of escape from abuse for women who suffer from mental illness.

During this National Mental Health Month, it is important to recognize that batterers and their victims can have mental health issues, illnesses, or conditions, but that none of those cause, excuse, or explain IPV. IPV is an issue separate and apart from mental illness, though there can be overlap. By acknowledging this, we affirm the value of safe relationships, encourage appropriate mental health treatment, and accept that mental illness does not prevent persons from being involved in healthy relationships. 

A statement from our Executive Director

June 3rd, 2020

At the Mary Byron Project our mission is enhancing justice to end intimate partner violence. The recent killings of African Americans Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police exemplify where justice needs desperately to be enhanced. Our hearts break with so many people across our nation who are crying out for racial justice, and we cannot stay silent. Instead, we join in demanding change.

We recognize that racial injustice and police brutality exist and have long existed in our country and that both are unacceptable. In direct relation to our mission, we recognize that racial injustice and police brutality make ending intimate partner violence harder.
When a person’s race determines the amount and type of justice they get through the system, there is no justice. Imagine being an African American victim of intimate partner violence whose choices are to continue being a silent victim of intimate partner violence or to turn for protection to a system that you’ve seen not help—and even hurt or kill—African American people. Those choices are hardly choices at all. They are certainly not choices that will end intimate partner violence.

At the Mary Byron Project our goal of enhancing justice to end intimate partner violence includes making justice available, safe, and equal for African Americans.

Make Strangulation a Felony in KY

Written by Mary Byron Project Intern

February 25, 2016: Cedric Ford fatally shot three people and wounded fourteen in Newton and Hesston, Kansas.

June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen, brutally shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 outside a night club in Orlando, Florida. This is the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in US history.

November 5, 2017: Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and injuring 20 more. This was labeled the fifth-deadliest mass shooting in the US and the deadliest shooting in a place of worship in the US.

Something these men have in common? They all had a history of domestic violence and had previously strangled a wife or girlfriend. Kelley was charged with a misdemeanor after strangling his wife and served one year in prison. Ford was also charged with a misdemeanor after strangling his girlfriend and was only required to attend anger management classes. Mateen had strangled both of his wives, but was never charged for either assault. Had these men been convicted of felony strangulation, is there a chance that one or all of these horrific shootings may not have even had the opportunity to occur?

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Seeking Justice for Victims in Court

Written by: Mary Byron Project Intern

DISCLAIMER: While this article’s focus is on victims of domestic and dating violence, I think it is important to note a serious issue in the discussion of this topic. Too often we lose sight of the problem at hand as we often times ask questions that aren’t truly relevant in combatting the issue of violence against women. Yes, it is important to hear the voices of victims and understand their situations so we can better help them, but often times this can lead to a sense of victim blaming. We tend to ask questions or focus on topics that either directly or indirectly assign blame to the victim. In order to put an end to these crimes, we must assign full responsibility to the perpetrator. While this blog is about understanding a victim’s mentality, the Mary Byron Project’s focus is putting an end to these crimes, and we recognize that this goal revolves around a focus on the perpetrator.

Too many times, there have been cases in which if a protection order had been kept in place, a life could have been saved. This situation is illustrated in the case of Anne Johnson. According to a Huffington Post article, Anne was a victim of domestic violence who had filed for an order of protection against her ex-husband. In the petition, she stated, “I am afraid that without this protective order, Shaun Philip Hardy will continue to hurt me or even kill me in the future.” However, the order was later requested to be dismissed and Johnson reunited with Hardy for the sake of their special needs son. Johnson was later murdered by Hardy, her body found wrapped in dark plastic in their garage.

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