When one person accuses another of domestic violence, the other often contends that the abuse was mutual, i.e., both parties were equally violent toward one another and hurt one another equally.
Should the case go to court, some mental health professionals are willing to give testimony corroborating a claim of mutual abuse. Others, however, dispute its existence.
CNBC quotes the CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as saying that she does not believe in mutual or reactive abuse. Rather, she claims that, in every abusive relationship, there is a “primary aggressor” who instigates the violence. Both the courts and the public may assume at the outset that the primary aggressor is male, but the evidence does not always bear that out.
It often occurs that, when there is abuse in a relationship, both parties act with violence. However, that does not mean that the abuse is mutual or reactive. Rather, it typically means that one individual instigates the violence, and the other individual acts in self-defense.
Self-defense may look like abuse. However, there is more to abuse than just physical violence. Abuse involves one person exerting control over the other. For that to occur, there has to be an imbalance of power in a relationship. Mutual abuse could only occur if the balance of power in a relationship shifted on a regular basis, first favoring one party and then the other. This is unlikely because, once an abuser has power, he or she does whatever is possible to keep it.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a survivor and an abuser, from an outside perspective and even for people involved in the relationship. One key difference between the two, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, is that a survivor recognizes that the pattern of behavior in the relationship is unhealthy and is willing to acknowledge that.