Domestic Violence: Pit Bulls and Cobras

I read with interest a news story that took place in Sycamore, IL, the place of my birth. Sycamore is a small rural town with a population of 17,519. It is a lovely place that was named after the Sycamore tree. Crime is 56% lower than the national average and has actually decreased. So you can imagine my surprise to learn of a homicide this month.

On June 9th Lidia Juarez was killed by her estranged husband by gunshot while in her car. Upon returning from lunch, she was found in the parking lot of her employer located in Sycamore. She worked in the social services field as a caseworker for the IL Department of Human Services.

She had filed an order of protection which her husband, Antonio Juarez, violated on March 10. He was also wanted on another warrant, issued March 24, for failing to appear in court for a domestic battery charge. He was found about an hour from where she was killed. He was shot and killed by police after he opened fire on the officers in Lyons, IL.

What causes domestic abuse? No one knows precisely what causes it, and there is no one reason. It is unpredictable. The victim can’t predict when the batterer will strike.

So what kind of a person commits domestic violence? Neil Jacobson and John Gottman did a study on men who commit domestic violence and found two profiles of men who engage in this behavior: pit bulls and cobras. This finding comes from studying physiological arousal during aggression. 20% of batterers can be described as cobras. They exhibited a decrease in heart rate as they became verbally aggressive. They looked, sounded and acted aggressively, yet internally they were calm. “Like the cobra who becomes still and focused just before striking its victim, these men were calming themselves internally and focusing their attention, while striking swiftly at their wives with vicious verbal aggression.” Cobras were more likely to use or threaten to use a knife or gun than the pit bulls. The Jacobson and Gottman study found that 9 percent had either stabbed or shot their partners. In general, cobras were more severely violent than the other batterers. They tend to be more antisocial, have criminal traits, and are highly sadistic in their aggression.

Pit bulls, on the other hand, had increased heart rates as they became verbally aggressive. They exhibited anger as a slow burn, gradually increasing it but never giving up. Pit bulls were much more insecure. They were fearful of being abandoned and perceived betrayal in their partners every move. They lock onto their partners much like a pit bull who refuses to give up a bone. They apply constant scrutiny and attempts at isolation.

Cobras were not particularly clingy, jealous or emotionally dependent. They may push their partners away, unless they need something and someone to give it to them. Their intense and severe violence will elicit fear and prohibit their partners from leaving.

It is a myth that victims stay in abusive relationships. It is much easier to enter an abusive relationship than leave it. The point at which victims begin to plan their escape is when they change from fearful and sad to disgusted and contemptuous toward their mate. This, with increased awareness of dangerousness, allows them to gather their courage and leave. The attempt to escape is a heroic journey. The risk of severe assault and homicide increases when the victim tries to leave. There is insufficient information to determine if Antonio Juarez was a pit bull or a cobra. There are aspects of both in his behavior. But Lidia had the courage to leave him and seek help. Sadly, the judicial system could not protect her.

This tragedy raises awareness of the dangers surrounding domestic violence. If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). For additional information, go to


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