Breaking News
More () »

'Mutual abuse' talk sparks conversation, but Indiana experts say it's a divisive term

"Situational couple violence" has gotten a lot of pushback from the domestic violence community over the years, leading to further research and study.

INDIANAPOLIS — With experts in the ongoing Heard-Depp legal case using the term "mutual abuse" to describe the violence in their relationship, the phrase has been circulating online, sparking conversations. But it's a divisive term, experts say.

"I don't think the domestic violence community accepts that's a real thing except in very unusual cases," said Dr. Larry Bennett, IU School of Social Work. 

Bennett said mutual abuse, or situational couple violence, has gotten a lot of pushback from the domestic violence community over the years, leading to further research and study. 

While many victims may defend themselves if they feel attacked, according to Bennett, it's not unusual for a primary aggressor to use it as an excuse to say the violence was the other person's fault or mutual.

"The people who are domestic violence perpetrators and the people who support them like to believe that," Bennett said. "But if one of those people are afraid, then that's not what it is."

According to Kerry Hyatt Bennett, legal counsel for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is about control, maintaining power over a person, and it often escalates over time.

RELATED: Advocates encourage domestic violence survivors to reach out after Boone County woman's death

But situational couple abuse typically deals with people with poor communication skills and an inability to solve problems without violence. Lumping the two ideas together can be very diminishing for victims, Hyatt Bennett said. 

"And the reason why it's important to get those two separated is because domestic violence very often exacerbates and is lethal in the end. Situational couple violence is not," Hyatt Bennett said. 

RELATED: Domestic Violence Network encourages teens to speak up about dating violence

And deadly domestic violence is a growing issue.

In 2020 and 2021, the coalition recorded 98 intimate partner violence-related deaths, a 181% increase from the previous year.

Hyatt Bennett said it's important to remember that a victim fighting back is not the same as initiating violence and shouldn't be treated that way.

"Because if people dismiss it as situational couple violence or just people who use violence when they don't know how else to respond, than that's a failure to recognize the issue. And a failure to recognize the issue means that the 181% increase in domestic violence fatalities is going to increase further," Hyatt Bennett said. 

Resources for domestic violence victims, survivors

If you or someone you know is in need of help getting out of an abusive relationship, there is help out there for victims and survivors.

Here is a list of resources in central Indiana: 

Before You Leave, Check This Out