When It Is Not Domestic Violence by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D.

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One of the most difficult concepts for people to accept is the fact that “domestic violence” rarely involves criminal intimate partner violence. What it does involve under current definitions are financial problems, emails, telephone messages, dirty looks, swearing, loud arguments, neighbors calling the cops, jealousy, revenge, vengeance, infidelity, paternity fraud, custody battles, false allegations, lunachics, mental problems, self inflicted injuries, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and maybe some pushing and shoving. Of course all of these problems are exacerbated if one or both are involved with substance abuse, alcohol or drugs (both legal and illegal). But rarely can the elements of mens rea and actus reus, essential to conviction for a crime, be established beyond a reasonable doubt in these events. And very often the events, as described below, bear no relation whatsoever to criminal intimate partner violence.


Natural events


What is today termed “domestic violence” can occur between a man and a woman for many reasons. The very great majority of these acts are not, and should not be of concern to society except in extreme circumstances. A few of these acts are tabulated below:

Simple accidents


Examples of accidents in which one may injure their partner might include:

• Opening a door at the wrong time.

• Bumping into your partner and knocking them down.

• Accidentally tripping them.

• Accidentally dropping something on them.

• Turning unexpectedly with something sharp or hot in your hand.

And many more things that happen between two people in close proximity that result in cuts, bruises, burns, and other injuries.

Of course, the accident need not involve the other partner at all. One man's significant other gave herself a black eye answering the telephone in a hurry. Doing so, she banged herself in the cheek bone with the receiver.

There are also incidents related to one's occupation. For example, children think it's fun to slip up and scare daddy or mommy. But with a daddy, or mommy, in a high-risk occupation like prison corrections that can be dangerous. One corrections officer noted that he knew people who, in a split second, had someone down by the throat only to realize it was their spouse or child who had come up behind them and tapped them on the shoulder. Note that Desert Waters might provide some help if you are a corrections officer.

As noted below, the same problems can occur in military families.



You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.


Normal, healthy couples play with one another very commonly. Play might take the form of:

• Mock combat such as pillow fights. In fact, we suspect that a couple who have never had a pillow fight don't have much of a relationship.

• Wrestling.

• Pushing or throwing their partner on to a bed, or couch, or on to the floor. For example, many a man has his partner's breast in his hand as he pushes her down on the bed.

• Flipping each other with towels after showering together.

• Trading jokes that an outsider might regard as insulting or demeaning.

It is very common for women, and men, to shout or scream during such play.

Unfortunately, accidents may also happen during such play. Bones can be broken, sprains occur, bruises may result, or a partner may be cut or scratched.

Sleep disorders


Many people walk in their sleep. During those incidents the sleepwalker may cause damage either to themselves or others by falling down stairs, walking into walls, etc.

Or an intimate partner might be suffering from periodic limb movement disorder or restless leg syndrome. Both may occur together and they are also called (nocturnal) myoclonus. Persons suffering from these disorders may unconsciously hit and kick their partners in their sleep hard enough to bruise them. These disorders are estimated to occur in 5% of the population and the incidence increases with age.

Or a person may simply roll over and fall out of bed, breaking an arm in the process, or grabbing and injuring their partner trying to save themselves while falling.



Virtually all of us have bad dreams at some point in our lives. Perhaps we were in an auto accident, a loved one dies, they have been assaulted, or for reasons not understood, a person becomes violent in their sleep. That violence can easily harm anyone in bed with them.

Military experiences


Men who train for, or who have experienced combat are dangerous. One quickly learns not to touch them or shake them when they are asleep as their response can be violent. Such men will often attack out of instinct if anyone wakes them unexpectedly or even startles them while awake. They will often strike out at whoever wakes them, they may grab and choke the person, or commit other acts of violence before they come fully awake. Since their training and experience is to kill or be killed, their response during such incidents will be extreme and is calculated to cause injury, if not death, to the one they feel is attacking them.

Between partners such acts of violence usually occur when a couple are new to each other, or have been apart for a long period of time. The man soon seems to become subconsciously aware that his mate is safe. She soon learns to awake him in fashion that doesn't startle him and to be a safe distance away when trying to wake him.

Often couples practice marital arts with one another, as well. Or one partner might be showing the other a new hold or throw they've learned. And accidents do happen.

Self-inflicted injuries


There are many things that we do to ourselves that result in scratches, cuts, bruises, broken bones, and other injuries that may appear to be the result of abuse or caused by someone else.

During perimenopause about 20% of women suffer from formication (itching), or a feeling that ants are crawling on their skin. As a result, they may scratch themselves raw. Formication may also be associated with legal and illegal drug use and alcoholism.

Many times we have heard from men who tell us they were arrested for domestic violence because the woman in their life had an injury they had nothing to do with. About 1% of the general population and 10% of adolescents self-mutilate and females do it twice as often as males (2:1 ratio). 80% of females who self-mutilate have a history of sexual abuse. The most common manifestation is cutting but other forms include burning (often with caustic substances), hitting, skin scratching, biting, hair pulling, bone breaking, and, in more drastic cases, stabbing themselves, amputations, and self castration. Self mutilation is very addictive, particularly with cutting.

Self-injurious actions are often related to, or associated with PTSD, borderline personality disorder, mood and eating disorders, dissociation, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and frequently includes substance abuse.

Many other diseases and physical conditions leave individuals susceptible to bruises or other skin conditions that are totally unrelated to violence of any sort.

Interactions with children and pets


There are many situations in which parents and children unwittingly or accidentally inflict injuries on one another. Children chasing each other around the house may knock their mother over, parents may not see a child standing close behind them and step on them, and various other scenarios.

The same sort of accidents may happen with pets. Cats, particularly kittens, may scratch. Large dogs gamboling around the house, particularly with children in chase, can run into a woman and bruise her or break bones.

These are not family violence or child abuse and are not the business of official or police agencies.


Games couples play

Bondage, domination, and other ways men and women enjoy one another


Perfectly normal couples often enjoy tying their partners up as part of lovemaking or other games they may play. Blindfolds and gags are common. Men and women also enjoy making the other submit to their wishes as part of lovemaking. Such sex games have been detailed in the widely-read The Joy of Sex.

Feminist beliefs, and the political climate, have changed since Comfort's book was published in 1972, but these actions remain an integral part of many couples normal behavior. As illustrated in his book, such practices have been an integral part of many couple's lovemaking throughout recorded history. Thus, a man pinning down, or tying his wife and forcing himself upon her does not usually constitute rape, try as radical feminists may to make it appear so.

For example, in an April 14, 1999, article Kathleen Parker reviews some of the warning signals published by Ann Landers to help women figure out whether they are married to a batterer. Parker notes that all of the signals are “him,” and wonders what about “her” because the warnings apply equally to men and women for such things as mood swings, jealousy, threats, throwing or breaking things, hurtful comments, controlling behavior, etc. Then there is the issue of sex, of which one warning was: “Your mate may be a batterer if he starts having sex with you when you' re sleeping.” Parker comments: “If you' re chuckling, you know what I mean. If not, talk to your personal physician about Viagra.”



Reportedly about 10% to 15% of couples engage in some form of BDSM. “BDSM” is an acronym of “B&D” (Bondage & Discipline), “D&S” (Dominance & Submission), and “S&M” (sadomasochism). “BDSM” refers to any or all of these things, and other games couples play. Commonly these are mild forms such as bondage, spanking, blindfolds, etc., but may take more extreme forms such as whipping. For the most part BDSM must be regarded as within the normal range of human behavior.

BDSM may be done in conjunction with sexual congress, as foreplay, or simply for mutual enjoyment. Tying up your lover is BDSM; so is flogging that person, or bossing that person around, or any of a thousand other games couples invent. BDSM is characterized as highly erotic, usually (though not always) involving sex or sexual tension; and is highly psychologically charged. One person (the “submissive” ) agrees to submit to another person (the “dominant” ); or, alternately, one person agrees to receive some sort of sensation, such as spanking, from another. Some like to be submissive all the time, some like to be dominant all the time; some like to switch, being submissive one day and dominant the next.

Many couples practice some element of BDSM in their sexual lives without even necessarily being aware of it. They may think of “S&M” as “That sick stuff that people do with whips and cattle prods and stuff,” yet still blindfold one another from time to time, or tie one another down and break out the whipped cream...

All of these things are “BDSM.” BDSM is rarely hard-core sadomasochism; it can be remarkably subtle and sensual and soft. Pinning your partner to the bed and running silk or ice cubes or rabbit fur over your lover's body qualifies as “BDSM” (specifically, of a variety called “sensation play”).

BDSM doesn't have to involve all of these.

There are many people involved in BDSM who enjoy tying others up, or being tied up themselves, but who do not enjoy S&M — that is, they aren't interested in inflicting or receiving pain. Sometimes, one partner just ties up the other, as a form of foreplay. Similarly, there are many people who may like the psychological control they get from ordering their lovers to do things, but do not care for being physically restrained or tied, or for tying up their lovers.

BDSM is as varied as the people who do it.

Some love the aesthetic of an elaborate rope harness, or an elaborate form of bondage; others simply aren't interested in the bondage elements at all. The key to all these different forms of BDSM, though, is the exchange of power. One person (the “bottom” or “submissive”) is choosing to allow the other person (the “top” or “dominant”) to have control over him or her in some way — perhaps by allowing the dominant to tie them up, perhaps by allowing the dominant to spank them, perhaps simply by doing whatever the dominant instructs them to.

People who are practicing BDSM in any of its multitude of forms are doing it voluntarily, for fun. It's a way to explore. Everything that happens in a BDSM relationship is consensual, done with informed consent or Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC), and is not abuse.

The difference is that an abuser has no regard for the feelings, needs, or limits of the victim. A BDSM dominant is concerned above all else with the needs and desires of the submissive.

Extremes of passion


Many men and women are very vocal during sexual congress and the sounds of that enjoyment are often indistinguishable from a person in pain.

Couples often become very rough with each other during sex and may inflict scratches, bruises, or other injuries on their partners while they couple. For example, women may be bruised around the mouth while performing fellatio, a man may bruise his partner's hips during sexual congress, and women often scratch their partner during orgasms.

The July 2006 issue of Playboy Magazine (p. 25) presented an estimate that British couples cause an estimated $600+ million in damages each year while having sex. They stated that during congress some 33% of couples break something. About 10% of the couples even file insurance claims for the breakage, citing smashed lamps, ripped curtains, and, of course, busted beds. Nor was the damage limited to objects. During rambunctious sex 41% of couples report such common injuries as carpet burns, 33% pulled backs, and some 12% twisted ankles or wrists. Would anyone care to claim coupling is less boisterous in their former colony? If so, the following vignette from the September 2006 Playboy Advisor might be used in defense of American congress:

“When my girlfriend and I have sex, she likes to be on top. I have no problem with that, but sometimes she flails her arms and hits me in the face. Any suggestions? — N.D., Omaha, Nebraska”

Such injuries commonly go entirely unnoticed until after they finish coupling. Bruises may not be evident until a day later.

Or take yet another example from the September, 2002, issue of Playboy (p. 16). A Romanian couple were both naked and he was fixing pancakes for their breakfast. She thought that would be a great time to perform fellatio on him. He became so distracted by that act that he spilled hot oil on her back, causing her to reflexively bite down hard on his penis. Pain from her bite caused him to whack her on the head with the skillet. They both ended up in the hospital but was this domestic violence?

Many more examples are found of the foibles and follies of making love. But these are not matters for the police and courts.


None of the above are acts of 'domestic violence'


None of the events above should be considered in the realm of “domestic violence” yet we doubt that any of them have not been used in charges of domestic violence or abuse by a woman against a male, or by the police in filing charges.

Under current laws, self-inflicted injuries, whether deliberate or not, are the most pernicious when a woman goes to a hospital or the police station with or without a claim of assault. Hospitals and medical personnel are required by current law C.R.S. § 12-36-135 to report any such suspicious incidents, even when the woman tells them she had an accident. Since an arrest is mandatory in such circumstances, and a warrant is not required, the woman's partner is taken to jail by the police no matter what she says or wants. It seems to us the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution was written to avoid such abuses of police powers.

Other scenarios are easily imagined where circumstances conspire to make it appear a male has abused his partner. Take a soldier just back home from combat. He is going to want a woman, and finds one. Likely not one he wants to take home to his mother, but she satisfies his needs. Afterwards they fall asleep. During the night he begins to relive his horrifying experiences in his dreams and is yelling and thrashing. She grabs him and starts shaking him to try and wake him up. He thinks he is being attacked and strikes her and throws her violently out of bed. No doubt she is bruised and battered. But do we want to convict a combat veteran of “domestic violence,” and take his weapon away because some doxy startled him in his sleep? Such actions ill-serve the men who give so much for their country. Those who stand on the ramparts do not deserve to be degraded by those who hide behind them. Such actions also make it much harder to find men willing to serve their country in the future and the falling enlistment rates of the late '90s are a manifestation of the current corrupt laws and government.

Accidents are more likely to happen when people are angry. Because an accident happens during an argument between a couple does not automatically elevate it to the level of domestic violence.

Many people bruise rather easily and that is common among women. The presence of a bruise is thus not prima facie evidence of domestic violence, though the absence of bruising may suffice to show that whatever occurred was not severe.

The present law makes an arrest mandatory when domestic violence is reported. As a result, the male of a couple who are having sex, or playing with one another, that is overheard by the neighbors can be, and all too frequently is arrested. The sounds of love are often indistinguishable from pain and may be intermingled if the couple practices S&M. The last thing our society needs is the police in our bedrooms. Yet we have placed them there in misguided efforts to stop “domestic violence”!

Once charged with domestic violence the law, C.R.S. § 18-6-801(3), prohibits dismissal or plea bargaining to a charge that does not include “domestic violence.” Since domestic violence is a crime against the State, this is true whether or not a woman supports the charge or not.

The only way a male can then establish his innocence in order to avoid a lifetime sentence is to go through a jury trial. Aside from the burden on the courts, the male is placed in extreme jeopardy all too commonly with little justification or evidence. Under no drop stipulations, common sense cannot prevail. The outrageous expense of a lawyer is a virtual necessity in the circumstances for something that could probably be easily handled either by mediation or negotiation in most cases without the present draconian provisions of current laws.

Ours is a plea for common sense and the restoration of liberty.
The last place we need police is in our bedroom!



| EJF Home | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| DV Home | Abstract | Contents | Authors and Site Map | Tables | Index | Bibliography |


| Chapter 10 — The Female Of The Species |

| Next — Justifiable violence against women |

| Back — Comparative study of battered and violence-prone women by Erin Pizzey |


This site is supported and maintained by the Equal Justice Foundation.

Last modified 10/15/18