Why Do People Commit Abuse? An “Unconventional” Study Asked The Perpetrators About Why They Did It

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After the news about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment of different women broke, a national conversation about sexual harassment and assault has continued to examine the different ways power enables people to commit these acts. More often than not, we get our information about how assault works from the people who have been assaulted, but not from those who actually perpetrate the abuse. A new study out of Ontario asked perpetrators of domestic violence about the affects of their abuse, and it's groundbreaking for several reasons.

You’re probably familiar with statistics that one in six women has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape, and at least 65 percent of women experience street harassment. While these statistics relay important information, they are presented in the passive voice — these are things that happened to women, not crimes that people committed. As Jackson Katz told Bustle earlier this month, “Asking the question: "How many men raped women?" rather than "How many women were raped?" is much more likely to lead to actions that prevent rape, because it shines the spotlight in the direction of the source of the problem."

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This study is going to the source of the problem as well. As reported in a press release, the study comes from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto and Western University, and looks at the impact of domestic violence on workers and workplaces from the perspective of perpetrators of domestic violence. Researchers surveyed over 500 workers (443 of whom were heterosexual men), asking questions about lost time and productivity due to domestic violence, how often and to what degree domestic violence occurred at the workplace, and the workplace’s response to domestic violence.

The results were disturbing, but not surprising. One-third of survey respondents admitted to being in contact with their ex-partner during work hours for the express purpose of monitoring their actions and whereabouts. Twenty-five percent of men who engaged in these emotionally abusive behaviors used work time to drop by their ex-partner’s home or workplace, and 20 percent said that their coworkers were aware that they were doing this.

Distracted by anger, perpetrators of domestic violence put others at danger while at work. One participant in the study recalled: “I spent a night in jail, and got out in the morning, went to work, and due to lack of sleep and stress, I got into a car accident with a work vehicle.”

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Some of the perpetrators of domestic violence reported wanting to seek help at work, but felt unsupported in doing so. Only 1 in 3 men talked about domestic violence at work. Those who did were more likely to talk to a coworker than a supervisor. Most men were concerned they would lose their jobs if they sought help.

Dr. Katreena Scott, a researcher on the study, said in the press release that studying perpetrators allows us to find out what resources perpetrators believe will help them stop being abusive.

"It is important to understand the experiences of the perpetrators of violence in sharing information with their workplaces and their opinions on the types of resources that should be available," said Scott. "Education is needed and so too are resources to support workers who are using violence in their intimate partner and family relationships."

This survey aimed to raise awareness about the intersection of domestic violence and workplace safety and productivity. This is a relatively novel idea because, as the name states, domestic violence is thought to be a problem within the household. The survey creators recommend workplace policies that support workers in disclosing issues regarding domestic violence — even if they’re the perpetrator.