Psychopathy and Domestic Violence Is There a Link?
Written by Victoria Marion
Psychopathology and Domestic Violence
Personality traits among domestic abusers include male privilege, sense of entitlement, a controlling and demanding demeanor, manipulative, deception, and authoritarianism, many of the same traits seen in the police personality. “Psychopathy has been one of the most powerful, if not the single most powerful predictor of continued violence across a variety of different samples including general criminal offenders of different crimes, including domestic violence, sex offenders, substance abusers, psychiatric patients, men and women, adolescents, and in various countries throughout the world” (Huss & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2006).
In a study performed by Huss & Langhinrichsen-Rohling revealed three typologies of batterers LLA: Low-Level Antisocial, GVA: Generally Violent/Antisocial, BD: Borderline/Dysphoric, and FO: Family Only. “The study revealed a great deal of overlap between the Generally Violent, Antisocial (GVA) classification of batterers and many dimensions of psychopathy” (2006). “Research has suggested that the generally violent/antisocial batterers (GVA) are characterized by general antisocial features and greater substance abuse, the most severe partner violence, and the commission of violence both against the partner and against others” (Huss & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2006).
This is an interesting finding and may be applied to police officers who batter. Police officer’s as a whole have a high rate of domestic violence, divorce, and substance abuse. Past research has suggested that police-related work and stressors may contribute to these findings. However, if this were the case, why do some officers engage in domestic violence whereas others do not? There appears to be a strong link to domestic violence, psychopathy and assessment for psychopathy should be at the forefront of the police selection process.
A psychological instrument, The Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) relies on the the truthfulness of responses. Psychopaths are notorious liars and part of the instrument includes third party interviews to include family members or other witnesses of the evaluee. Family members are biased and offer bias statements that will provide unreliable results. “Several studies assessing domestic violence perpetrators have relied on a self-reporting measure to assess psychopathy in their samples of male batterers; Yet, the use of a self-reporting measure to assess psychopathy has been routinely criticized because of a central feature of psychopaths are their ability to con and manipulate (Rogers, Vitacco, & Jackson, 2002)” (Huss & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2006).
“A study performed by and published by Campbell (1995) was based on a woman’s belief that her partner might kill her. Certain terrorist tactics, such as choking to the point of the woman losing consciousness contribute to this belief” (Dutton & Kerry). “However, this belief notwithstanding, the personality disorder most likely to actually kill his spouse is dependent and passive-aggressive, not the profile predicted by these scales” (Dutton & A study by Showalter, Bonnie & Roddy (1980) concluded that "especially significant was the fact that spousal killers lacked recorded histories of assaultive or other socially disturbing behavior” (Dutton & Kerry).
This is interesting in that we do not hear of police officers who abuse their intimate partners as in the example above until it is too late when the victim was murdered by the officer. It is then that it makes the news. A similarity includes police officers who batter and psychopaths’ alike do not always have past histories of abuse. For police officers, this may be due to departmental bias and cover-up, and having the ability to manipulate, coerce, and deceive others; and with psychopaths, they have the ability to manipulate, coerce, charm and con others.
Police officers have the privilege and ability to take a life or liberty from individuals and when a psychopath has this authority and powerful privilege, they can easily turn it into misuse of power or abuses of authority in the hands of unethical, immoral individuals who do not regard the rights of others; a similar definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder; and Psychopathy. These are traits and issues seen in police officers who batter and abuse their power.
Common themes emerged from the collected data included occupational stress related to police work as the most commonly cited material. Additionally, many of the studies performed included studies comparing large police departments versus smaller or rural police departments. These studies revealed that larger police departments had more exposure to critical incidents such as shootings and more action or negative stressors on the job as a potential for carrying over job-related stress into the officers family life, resulting in domestic violence.
On the other hand, other studies revealed a much different view of the problem to include individual personality traits of the officer, substance abuse, police training and tactics as variables responsible for domestic violence within the police population. Both studies identified negative stressors related to police work as potential risk factors to domestic violence within this population. “Another recurrent theme noted in research relates to the effect that occupation has an impact on a person’s perception and view of the world. Doctors, janitors, lawyers and industrial workers develop distinctive ways of perceiving and responding to their environment and elements in the police milieu, danger, authority, and efficiency, as they combine to generate distinctive cognitive and behavioral responses in police: a “working personality” would be no different” (Skolnick).
It is also suggested that occupation tends to lead to lifestyle habits. For example, medical personal tend to be more health-oriented due to their training and from what they see every day in the health care area. Police work becomes a lifestyle and carried over into the home by overprotection of family members, suspicion and looking out for danger.
Patterns in the research included potential causes and risk factors for domestic violence to include police culture, police training and tactics learned in the profession, and individual personality traits to be the most commonly discussed in the literature.
Additionally, lack of policy, policing amongst themselves, and the threat to the loss of a job as a result of the Lautenberg Amendment to the family violence act are components to protecting police officers who engage in domestic violence. Other classifications included demographic characteristics of the sample population including gender, the rank of the officers, total years as a police officer, years on the job and how long the officer has been at present police department, age, marital status, surveys of victims and officers.
Gaps and Contradictions
Gaps and contradictions in the literature include a lack of empirical studies by the psychology profession, with a vast majority of the articles being published between 1990 through 1998. The decade long gap of articles relating to this sensitive topic ranges from 2000 to 2011 and my research has provided very few articles on the topic. Limitations of scholarly sources, empirical data, research, and findings are significantly scares during this time period. This may potentially be due to the emergence of police psychology becoming more recognized as an official discipline in the early 1990’s during the same time when domestic violence and child sexual abuse were still in their infancy.
Domestic violence by police officers is a special population of abuse and the dynamics of police culture, training, traits, and influence on family violence was addressed only within the law enforcement community during this time period; and still remains constant today.
The explanations and theories of police officers who batter are vast and vary from context to context; including police stress and family spill over to be the most common theory. Additionally, the research found that job burnout, constant negative stressors related to police work, emotional stress related to the job, critical incidences such as shootings, and substance abuse among the law enforcement community to be the most common variables and potential risk factors for committing domestic violence within the police family.
Other contradictions in the research were broad. For example, authoritarianism and the need for power and control were common among police batterers. These traits are found in men who batter in the general public. Other abusive behaviors found in police officers and the general public includes economic abuse, sexual abuse, threats, intimidation, isolation, emotional abuse, using male privilege, and using the children.
Other studies provide a look into the individual officer’s personality traits through psychometric instruments that are used to recruit police officers and screen for the potential for “poor or weak” police officers. It is suggested that personality traits that make effective officers are also traits seen in men who batter in the general public. For example, a study by Kraft states “The Inwald Personality Inventory (IPI) had slightly better predictive validity than the MMPI for forecasting and screening out potentially poor police recruits” (Kraft 2000). Police recruits are “weeded out” if they do not possess qualities that the department is looking for, such as a strong authoritative presence, strong ego, the ability to think quickly on their feet. Psychopaths have these same overlapping traits. Narcissistic psychopaths have the ability to captivate judges, juries, and audiences with the ability to offer plausible alternative scenarios no matter what the situation is. They have the ability to think on their feet and provide believable explanations. It is difficult to break a narcissist as it is difficult to break a “good cop.” Is this skill, training, or pathology? “Furthermore, White and Honig (1995) report a high incidence of domestic violence within law enforcement families, indicating that job characteristics such as “habituation to force, seeing force as a viable solution, rigid chain of command, the expectation of compliance and the absence of outside input due to police solidarity enhance the risk for domestic violence even more” (p. 200)” (Kraft, 2000).
Additionally, “the MMPI reveals new content scales, Butcher (1989) describes certain subscales capturing External Aggressive Tendencies including anger (a measure of loss of control influenced by frustration or stress), high scores on a cynicism scale, antisocial practices and type-A behavior correlating with overbearingness aggressiveness, and overt directness” (Kraft, 2000) that may contribute to domestic violence by police officers.