The New Face of Conjugal Violence: Mutual Violence (Part I)

My first idea was to write on the subject of conjugal violence.

By Delphine Caubet

I wanted to know what goes on inside the head of a man who mistreats his spouse.

After several interviews and a lot of information collecting, I had to concede to two truths. First of all, conjugal violence doesn’t at all resemble the stereotype of a misogynous man who beats his wife. Secondly, the reality has changed. There’s a new sort of violence: mutual violence.

“The clientele has changed,” says Yves Nantel, who coordinates the Service d’aide aux conjoints (an organization that helps violent men). “There’s less physical violence. Conjugal violence as we imagine it is tinted towards the 80s stereotype, when a man had to be a ‘real man.’”

In 2015, this intervenor saw a lot of “bizarre breakups, for which we didn’t know what to do.” Among these saw the emergence of a new form of violence: mutual violence.

Communication is a Must

These violent couples generally had communication problems combined with other factors. Notably, one or both had a history of domestic violence at home when they were children, or suffered from external sources of stress (financial, job loss, etc.).

Josée Desjardins of Donne-toi une chance (give yourself a chance), a help service for men with violence and other psychological issues, followed up with one dysfunctional couple. The man’s jealousy made him anxious, which led to violent episodes – a situation that outraged his wife. The violent episodes were cyclical, with ups and downs of intensity. The wife wanted to communicate, voices would be raised, and both physical and psychological violence would occur.

Note that in this type of circumstance, if the couple wanted to file a complaint against each other, the man would automatically end up in detention for the night.

These episodes of mutual violence are dramatic, but one point is “reassuring”: at least the woman no longer has any fear of expressing herself.

Clément Guèvremont is the director of Option, an organization that helps violent spouses and their spouses. He confirms that the justice system is geared towards extreme cases. For recidivists, he notes that a loss (freedom, children…) can lead them to change. For non-recidivists, the system isn’t adapted for them, and could even lead the man to commit suicide.

Once alerted, police automatically get the man out of the house. Some men can leave a prison cell traumatized. Some may even be sexually assaulted while in detention.

Such incidents are more and more subject to the justice system. “But the system isn’t geared towards our time,” says Guèvremont. “It’s like dropping a bomb on a village. The system has become heavy. And there can be other factors contributing to violence, like drugs, employment… and it can take a long time before you appear before a judge, up to 14 months! Yes, we have to break the circle of violence, but violence is a lot more complicated today. There are hits, harassment, and intentions that should be considered…”

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