Why male offenders commit violent crimes against female partners

Two recent spine-chilling murders of women, in which a 16-year-old girl was stabbed in Delhi and a 28-year-old woman was chopped into pieces in Mumbai, have reignited the debate around women’s safety in the country.

There has been an ongoing debate on what contributes to such behaviours. Is it nature or nurture? The answer to this question is not straightforward, says a city-based psychologist, Trisha Daruwala. It has been noticed that genetics do play a role in establishing some aspects of emotionality but our experiences play a role in determining whether they will be displayed or not.

Hence, rather than being tied up in this debate, research suggests that it might be more helpful to examine the influences of biological, psychological and social factors on behaviour. This can be termed as the biopsychosocial theory.

Biological influences
A range of studies have shown that neurological abnormalities have been found in the minds of cold-blooded killers. Some of the major brain areas that have been observed to play a role are the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. The former’s subpart – the neocortex, possibly lacks cortical density or thickness of persons with psychopathy, which are brain regions implicated in processing and recognizing emotions. This explains the symptom of the inability to feel remorse.

Additionally, they had a lesser level of activation in the amygdala which can make a person fearless. Hence, amygdala disinhibition can explain the low moral evaluations and normalcy while committing a gruesome crime. However, the extent to which biological factors are involved highly depends on the kind of environmental exposure the individual has experienced.

Psychological theories
Psychoanalysis based on deviant behaviour has various aims. Some try to understand variables that relate to such behaviour, while others try to understand what maintains such behaviours. We will try to focus on the latter keeping in mind the context of the article.

1. Learning theories
Within these theories in the context of criminal behaviour, there is the theory of differential association. It posits that criminal behaviour is a result of what we have learned from our environment about deviant behaviours and how frequently those behaviours were reinforced when they were performed.

2. Personality Theories

A popular model called Five-Factor-Model (FFM), also called ‘Big Give’ can be employed to understand the personality profile of psychopaths. As per research, their profile shows low scores on conscientiousness (cautious, dutiful, self-discipline, self-efficacy) and agreeableness (cooperation, morality, sympathy and others). There are mid-range scores on neuroticism (emotional dysregulation, vulnerability, moderation and others).

Another important personality construct is narcissism. There is arrogance, social boldness and dominant behaviours displayed. As per research, long-term substance use is seen as an independent risk factor for violence and the diagnosis of substance abuse disorder places an individual at risk of violence more than any other mental illness and elevated substance abuse in psychopaths largely explains related violent crime.

3. Social Factors

Research shows the following factors can exacerbate their tendencies towards physical expression:

A. Living within psychotic households
B. Witnesses to psychotic parental rages
C. History of physical abuse
D. Patriarchal culture holds favours to violent behaviours in boys as a means to combat a threat to their virility

Specific to Partner Killing
Daruwala lists down major reasons that lead to violent crimes against female partners by male offenders:

A. Anger due to instances of infidelity
B. Estrangement: A desire to control. Loss of control can trigger

The social learning theory posits that individuals resort to violence to achieve desired behaviours through observing violent behaviours, especially in childhood. Children often learn through modelling and when men witness such behaviour from their fathers in childhood, their likelihood of abusing their wives in adulthood increases.

Also Read: Women’s safety: Keep these ‘essential items’ in your bag to protect yourself