Domestic violence

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Domestic violence (also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, or intimate partner violence) occurs when a family member, partner or ex-partner attempts to physically or psychologically dominate another. Domestic violence often refers to violence between spouses, or spousal abuse but can also include cohabitants and non-married intimate partners. Domestic violence occurs in all cultures; people of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexes and classes can be perpetrators of domestic violence. Domestic violence is perpetrated by both men and women.

Domestic violence has many forms, including physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, economic deprivation, and threats of violence. Violence can be criminal and includes physical assault (hitting, pushing, shoving, etc.), sexual abuse (unwanted or forced sexual activity), and stalking. Although emotional, psychological and financial abuse are not criminal behaviors in some legal systems, they are forms of abuse and can lead to criminal violence. There are a number of dimensions including:

  • Mode: physical, psychological, sexual and/or social.
  • Frequency: on/off, occasional and chronic.
  • Severity: in terms of both psychological or physical harm and the need for treatment.
  • Transitory or permanent injury: mild, moderate, severe and up to homicide. 

An important component of domestic violence, often ignored is the realm of passive abuse, leading to violence.[1] Passive abuse is covert, subtle and veiled. This includes victimization, procrastination, forgetfulness, ambiguity, neglect, spiritual and intellectual abuse.[2]

Recent attention to domestic violence began in the women's movement, particularly feminism and women's rights, in the 1970s, as concern about wives being beaten by their husbands gained attention. Awareness and documentation of domestic violence differs from country to country. Estimates are that only about a third of cases of domestic violence are actually reported in the United States and the United Kingdom. According to the Centers for Disease Control, domestic violence is a serious, preventable public health problem affecting more than 32 million Americans, or more than 10% of the U.S. population.[3]

Popular emphasis has tended to be on women as the victims of domestic violence. However, with the rise of the men's movement, and particularly masculism and men's rights, there is now advocacy for men victimized by women. In a special report on violence related injuries by the US Department of justice (in August 1997) hospital emergency room visits pertaining to domestic violence indicated that physically abused men represent just under one-sixth of the total patients admitted to hospital reporting domestic violence as the cause of their injuries (see table 7 of this report). The report highlights that significantly more men than women did not disclose the identity of their attacker.



The term "intimate partner violence" (IPV) is often used synonymously. Family violence is a broader definition, often used to include child abuse, elder abuse, and other violent acts between family members.[4] Wife abuse, wife beating, and battering are terms sometimes used, though with acknowledgment that many are not actually married to the abuser, but rather co-habiting or other arrangements.[5] In more recent years, 'battering' or 'battered wife' has become less acceptable terminology, since abuse can take other forms than physical abuse and males are often victims of violence as well. Other forms of abuse may be constantly occurring, while physical abuse happens occasionally. These other forms of abuse have potential to lead to mental illness, self-harm, and even attempts at suicide.[6][7]

The U.S. Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines domestic violence as a "pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner". The definition adds that domestic violence "can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender", and that it can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, economic, and psychological abuse.[8]

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in the United Kingdom in its "Domestic Violence Policy" uses domestic violence to refer to a range of violent and abusive behaviours, defining it as:

Patterns of behaviour characterised by the misuse of power and control by one person over another who are or have been in an intimate relationship. It can occur in mixed gender relationships and same gender relationships and has profound consequences for the lives of children, individuals, families and communities. It may be physical, sexual, emotional and/or psychological. The latter may include intimidation, harassment, damage to property, threats and financial abuse.[9]

In Spain, the introduction of Ley Orgánica 1/2004, de 28 de diciembre, de Medidas de Protección Integral contra la Violencia de Género (Organic Law 1/2004 of December 28, of Measures of Integral Protection against Gendered Violence) defined several key terms. It defines la violencia de género (gendered violence) as una violencia que se dirige sobre las mujeres por el hecho mismo de serlo, por ser consideradas, por sus agresores, carentes de los derechos mínimos de libertad, respeto y capacidad de decisión (a violence that is directed at women for the very fact of being women and therefore being considered by their attackers as lacking the basic rights of freedom, respect, and decision making capability).[10] The new law establishes courts titled Juzgados de Violencia sobre la Mujer (Courts of Violence against Women) and suspends the presumption of innocence for men accused of domestic violence. Courts are empowered to hold closed door hearings before trial and evict men from their homes; suspend parental rights, child custody, or visitation rights; and bar men from possessing weapons.[11]

Forms of abuse

Domestic violence can take the form of physical violence, including direct physical violence ranging from unwanted physical contact to rape and murder. Indirect physical violence may include destruction of objects, striking or throwing objects near the victim, or harm to pets. In addition to physical violence, spousal abuse often includes mental or emotional abuse, including verbal threats of physical violence to the victim, the self, or others including children, ranging from explicit, detailed and impending to implicit and vague as to both content and time frame, and verbal violence, including threats, insults, put-downs, and attacks. Nonverbal threats may include gestures, facial expressions, and body postures. Psychological abuse may also involve economic and/or social control, such as controlling the victim's money and other economic resources, preventing the victim from seeing friends and relatives, actively sabotaging the victim's social relationships, and isolating the victim from social contacts.

Physical violence

Physical violence is the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing injury, harm, disability, or death, for example, hitting, shoving, biting, restraint, kicking, or use of a weapon.

Sexual violence

Sexual violence is divided into three categories:[citation needed]

  1. use of physical force to compel a person to engage in a sexual act against his or her will, whether or not the act is completed;
  2. attempted or completed sex act involving a person who is unable to understand the nature or condition of the act, unable to decline participation, or unable to communicate unwillingness to engage in the sexual act, e.g., because of underage immaturity, illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or because of intimidation or pressure; and
  3. abusive sexual contact.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse (also called psychological abuse or mental abuse) can include humiliating the victim privately or publicly, controlling what the victim can and cannot do, withholding information from the victim, deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished or embarrassed, isolating the victim from friends and family, implicitly blackmailing the victim by harming others when the victim expresses independence or happiness, or denying the victim access to money or other basic resources and necessities.

Women who are being emotionally abused often feel as if they do not own themselves; rather, they may feel that their significant other has nearly total control over them. Women undergoing emotional abuse often suffer from depression, which puts them at increased risk for suicide, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse.[12]

Economic abuse

Economic abuse is when the abuser has complete control over the victim's money and other economic resources. Usually, this involves putting the victim on a strict "allowance," withholding money at will and forcing the victim to beg for the money until the abuser gives them some money. It is common for the victim to receive less money as the abuse continues. This also includes (but is not limited to) preventing the victim from finishing education or obtaining employment, or intentionally squandering or misusing communal resources.[citation needed]


In addition, stalking is often included among the types of Intimate Partner Violence. Stalking generally refers to repeated behaviour that causes victims to feel a high level of fear (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000).



Domestic violence occurs across the world, in various cultures,[13] and affects people across society, irrespective of economic status.[5] In the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics women are about six times as likely as men to experience intimate partner violence.[14] [15] Percent of women surveyed (national surveys) who were ever physically assaulted by an intimate partner: Barbados (30%), Canada (29%), Egypt (34%), New Zealand (35%), Switzerland (21%), United States (22%).[16] Some surveys in specific places report figures as high as 50-70% of women surveyed who were ever physically assaulted by an intimate partner.[16] Others, including surveys in the Philippines and Paraguay, report figures as low as 10%.[16] The rate of intimate partner violence in the U.S. has declined since 1993.[17] Almost always, surveys will undercount actual numbers.[citation needed] Results will also vary, depending on specific wording of survey questions, how the survey is conducted, the definition of abuse or domestic violence used, the willingness or unwillingness of victims to admit that they have been abused and other factors.

Another controversy is the level of physical aggression in relationships of men versus women. For example, Martin S. Fiebert examined 219 studies on intimate partner violence and concluded that "women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners."[15]

Domestic violence against women in lesbian relationships is about as common as domestic violence against women in heterosexual relationships.[18]

Violence against women

In the United States males experienced higher victimization rates than females for all types of violent crime except rape and other sexual assault;[19] but 20 percent of all violent crimes experienced by women in the U.S. are cases of intimate partner violence, compared to 3 percent of violent crime experienced by men.[20] According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, "in 1994 for every 5 violent victimizations of a female by an intimate, there was 1 of a male. Intimates committed over 900,000 victimizations of females and about 167,000 victimizations of males."[21]

There is currently limited research on the abuse of lesbian women by their lesbian partners, however an investigation by the Canadian Government saw some 19% of a survey of lesbian women respond to being victims of their partners.[22]

During pregnancy

Domestic violence during pregnancy can be missed by medical professionals because it often presents in non-specific ways. A number of countries have been statistically analyzed to calculate the prevalence of this phenomenon:

  • UK prevalence: 2.5-3.4%[23][24]
  • USA prevalence: 3.2-33.7%[25][26]
  • Ireland prevalence: 12.5%[27]
  • Rates are higher in teenagers[28]
  • Severity and frequency increase postpartum (10% antenatally vs. 19% postnatally;[29] 21% at 3 months post partum[30]

There are a number of presentations that can be related to domestic violence during pregnancy: delay in seeking care for injuries; late booking, non-attenders at appointments, self-discharge; frequent attendance, vague problems; aggressive or over-solicitous partner; burns, pain, tenderness, injuries; vaginal tears, bleeding, STDs; and miscarriage.

Domestic violence can also affect the fetus, the subsequent baby, and existing children:

Violence against men

According to a July 2000 Centers for Disease Control report, data from the Bureau of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey consistently show that women are at significantly greater risk of intimate partner violence than are men, while data from the National Family Violence Survey contradict these data and consistently show that men and women are equally likely to be physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

The same report, on phone interviews with 8000 men and 8000 women, reported that 7.5% of men have been raped or assaulted by an intimate at some time in their life time (compared to 25% of women), and 0.9 percent of men had been raped or assaulted in the previous 12 months (compared to 1.5% of women)[31].

In May, 2007, researchers with the Centers for Disease Control reported on rates of self-reported violence among intimate partners using data from a 2001 study. In the study, almost one-quarter of participants reported some violence in their relationships. Half of these involved one-sided ("non-reciprocal") attacks and half involved both assaults and counter assaults ("reciprocal violence"). Women reported committing one-sided attacks more than twice as often as men (70% versus 29%). In all cases of intimate partner violence, women were more likely to be injured than men, but 25% of men in relationships with two-sided violence reported injury compared to 20% of women reporting injury in relationships with one-sided violence. Women were more likely to be injured in non-reciprocal violence.[32]

While much attention has been focused on domestic violence against women, men's rights activists argue that domestic violence against men is a social problem that is also worthy of attention.[15] Each year, 834,000 men are raped or physically assaulted by intimate partners an average 3.5 times/year, for a total of 2.9 million assaults/year (4.9 million for women). Men in intimate relationships with other men are more likely to be raped or assaulted than men in heterosexual relationships[31]. According to the 2000 CDC/Justice study, "Approximately 23 percent of the men who had lived with a man as a couple reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a male cohabitant, while 7.4 percent of the men who had married or lived with a woman as a couple reported such violence by a wife or female cohabitant. These findings, combined with those presented in the previous bullet, provide further evidence that intimate partner violence is perpetrated primarily by men, whether against male or female intimates."

A 2007-2008 online non-random, self-report survey is being conducted by researchers at Clark University and Bridgewater State College, which seeks to document the experiences and health of men who have sustained partner violence in the past year.[33] Anyone may fill out the survey.

Violence against children

When it comes to domestic violence towards children involving physical abuse, research in the UK by the NSPCC indicated that "most violence occurred at home" (78 per cent). 40 - 60% of men and women who abuse other adults also abuse their children.[34] Girls whose fathers batter their mothers are 6.5 times more likely to be sexually abused by their fathers than are girls from non-violent homes.[35]

Violence against teens

Teen dating violence is a pattern of controlling behavior by one teenager over another teenager who are in a dating relationship. While there are many similarities to "traditional" domestic violence there are also some differences. Teens are much more likely than adults to become isolated from their peers as the result of controlling behavior by their boyfriend/girlfriend. Also, for many teens the abusive relationship may be their first dating experience and have never had a "normal" dating experience with which to compare it.[36]

2005 World Health Organization Multi-country Study

The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the same year, concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that violence against women is a public health and human rights concern. Work in this area has resulted in the establishment of international standards, but the task of documenting the magnitude of violence against women and producing reliable, comparative data to guide policy and monitor implementation has been exceedingly difficult. The World Health Organisation Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women 2005is a response to this difficulty. Published in 2005 it is a groundbreaking study which analysed data from 10 countries and sheds new light on the prevalence of violence against women. It seeks to look at violence against women a public health policy perspective. The findings will be used to inform a more effective response from government, including the health, justice and social service sectors, as a step towards fulfilling the state’s obligation to eliminate violence against women under international human rights laws.


The form and characteristics of domestic violence and abuse may vary in other ways. Michael P. Johnson (1995, 2006b) argues for three major types of intimate partner violence. The typology is supported by subsequent research and evaluation by Johnson and his colleagues,[37] as well as independent researchers.[38]

Distinctions need to be made regarding types of violence, motives of perpetrators, and the social and cultural context. Violence by a man against his wife or intimate partner is often done as a way for men to control "their woman".[citation needed] Other types of intimate partner violence also occur, including violence between gay and lesbian couples,[39] and by women against their male partners.[40]

Distinctions are not based on single incidents, but rather on patterns across numerous incidents and motives of the perpetrator. Types of violence identified by Johnson:[41][42][40]

  • Common couple violence (CCV) is not connected to general control behavior, but arises in a single argument where one or both partners physically lash out at the other. Intimate terrorism is one element in a general pattern of control by one partner over the other. Intimate terrorism is more common than common couple violence, more likely to escalate over time, not as likely to be mutual, and more likely to involve serious injury.[43][42][44][40]
  • Intimate terrorism (IT) may also involve emotional and psychological abuse.[45][46][47]
  • Violent resistance (VR), sometimes thought of as "self-defense", is violence perpetrated usually by women against their abusive partners.[48][49][42][50][51]
  • Mutual violent control (MVC) is rare type of intimate partner violence occurs when both partners act in a violent manner, battling for control.[52][40]

Another type is situational couple violence, which arises out of conflicts that escalate to arguments and then to violence. It is not connected to a general pattern of control. Although it occurs less frequently in relationships and is less serious than intimate terrorism, in some cases it can be frequent and/or quite serious, even life-threatening. This is probably the most common type of intimate partner violence and dominates general surveys, student samples, and even marriage counseling samples.

Types of male batterers identified by Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) include "family-only", which primarily fall into the CCV type, who are generally less violent and less likely to perpetrate psychological and sexual abuse. IT batterers include two types: "Generally-violent-antisocial" and "dysphoric-borderline". The first type includes men with general psychopathic and violent tendencies. The second type are men who are emotionally dependent on the relationship.[53][51][40] Support for this typology has been found in subsequent evaluations.[54][55]

Others, such as the CDC, divide domestic violence into two types: reciprocal violence, in which both partners are violent, and non-reciprocal violence, in which one partner is violent.[32]


There are many different theories as to the causes of domestic violence. These include psychological theories that consider personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender, as well as social theories which consider external factors in the offender's environment, such as family structure, stress, social learning. As with many phenomena regarding human experience, no single approach appears to cover all cases.


Psychological theories focus on personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender. Personality traits include sudden bursts of anger, poor impulse control, and poor self esteem. Various theories suggest that psychopathology and other personality disorders are factors, and that abuse experienced as a child leads some people to be more violent as adults. Studies have found high incidence of psychopathy among abusers.[56][57][58] Dutton has suggested a psychological profile of men who abuse their wives, arguing that they have borderline personalities (between psychotics and neurotics), which are developed early in life.[59][60] Gelles suggests that psychological theories are limited, and points out that other researchers have found that only 10% (or less) fit this psychological profile. He argues that social factors are important, while personality traits, mental illness, or psychopathy are lesser factors.[61][62][63]

It should be noted that Borderline Personality Disorder as used in this context is outdated. Whilst it was originally believed that a person's psychological state was between neurotic and psychotic it is now recognised that BPD is the most severe and intransigent of the personality disorders.[64]

Social theories

Looks at external factors in the offender's environment, such as family structure, stress, social learning, and includes rational choice theories.

Resource theory

Resource theory was suggested by William Goode (1971).[65] Women who are most dependent on the spouse for economic well being.[clarification needed] Having children to take care of, should they leave the marriage, increases the financial burden and makes it all the more difficult for them to leave. Dependency means that they have fewer options and few resources to help them cope with or change their spouse's behavior.[66]

Couples that share power equally experience lower incidence of conflict, and when conflict does arise, are less likely to resort to violence. If one spouse desires control and power in the relationship, the spouse may resort to abuse.[67] This may include coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, isolation, making light of the situation and blaming the spouse, using children (threatening to take them away), and behaving as "master of the castle".[68][69]

Social stress

Stress may be increased when a person is living in a family situation, with increased pressures. Social stresses, due to inadequate finances or other such problems in a family may further increase tensions.[70] Violence is not always caused by stress, but may be one way that some (but not all) people respond to stress.[71][72] Families and couples in poverty may be more likely to experience domestic violence, due to increased stress and conflicts about finances and other aspects.[73] Some speculate that poverty may hinder a man's ability to live up to his idea of "successful manhood", thus he fears losing honor and respect. Theory suggests that when he is unable to economically support his wife, and maintain control, he may turn to misogyny, substance abuse, and crime as ways to express masculinity.[73]

Social learning theory

Social learning theory suggests that people learn from observing and modeling after others' behavior. With positive reinforcement, the behavior continues. If one observes violent behavior, one is more likely to imitate it. If there are no negative consequences (e.g. victim accepts the violence, with submission), then the behavior will likely continue. Often, violence is transmitted from generation to generation in a cyclical manner.[74][75][76][77][78]

Power and control

In some relationships, violence arises out of a perceived need for power and control, a form of bullying and social learning of abuse. Abusers' efforts to dominate their partners have been attributed to low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy, unresolved childhood conflicts, the stress of poverty, hostility and resentment toward women (misogyny), hostility and resentment toward men (misandry), personality disorders, genetic tendencies and sociocultural influences, among other possible causative factors. Most authorities seem to agree that abusive personalities result from a combination of several factors, to varying degrees.

A causalist view of domestic violence is that it is a strategy to gain or maintain power and control over the victim. This view is in alignment with Bancroft's "cost-benefit" theory that abuse rewards the perpetrator in ways other than, or in addition to, simply exercising power over his or her target(s). He cites evidence in support of his argument that, in most cases, abusers are quite capable of exercising control over themselves, but choose not to do so for various reasons. [79]

An alternative view is that abuse arises from powerlessness and externalizing/projecting this and attempting to exercise control of the victim. It is an attempt to 'gain or maintain power and control over the victim' but even in achieving this it cannot resolve the powerlessness driving it. Such behaviours have addictive aspects leading to a cycle of abuse or violence. Mutual cycles develop when each party attempts to resolve their own powerlessness in attempting to assert control.

Questions of power and control are integral to the widely utilized Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. They developed "Power and Control Wheel" to illustrate this: it has power and control at the center, surrounded by spokes (techniques used), the titles of which include:

  • Coercion and threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming
  • Using children
  • Economic abuse
  • Male privilege

The model attempts to address abuse by one-sidedly challenging the misuse of power by the 'perpetrator'.

Critics of this model suggest that the one-sided focus is problematic as resolution can only be achieved when all participants acknowledge their responsibilities, and identify and respect mutual purpose.[80]

The power wheel model is not intended to assign personal responsibility, enhance respect for mutual purpose or assist victims and perpetrators in resolving their differences. It is an informational tool designed to help individuals understand the dynamics of power operating in abusive situations and identify various methods of abuse.

Alcohol-related and non-alcohol related violence

Other factors associated with domestic violence include heavy alcohol consumption,[73] mental illness,[citation needed] classism, various political and legal characteristics such as authoritarianism and dehumanisation.[citation needed]

Prescription Drugs

It is also important to this topic to understand the paradoxical effects of some sedative drugs.[81].Serious complications can occur in conjunction with the use of sedatives creating the opposite effect as to that intended. Malcolm Lader at the Institute of Psychiatry in London estimates the incidence of these adverse reactions at about 5%, even in short-term use of the drugs.[82] The paradoxical reactions may consist of depression, with or without suicidal tendencies, phobias, aggressiveness, violent behavior and symptoms sometimes misdiagnosed as psychosis. [83][84] The contribution of these reactions is one possible component.

Sex and gender

Modes of abuse are stereotyped by some to be gendered, females tending to use more psychological and men more physical forms.[citation needed] The visibility of these differs markedly. However, experts who work with victims of domestic violence have noted that physical abuse is almost invariably preceded by psychological abuse. Police and hospital admission records indicate that a higher percentage of females than males seek treatment and report such crimes.

Unless or until more men identify themselves and go on record as having been abused by female partners, and in a manner whereby the nature and extent of their injuries can be clinically assessed, men will continue to be identified as the most frequent perpetrators of physical and emotional violence.

See also the section "Gender Differences" in this article, and some of the statistics in the subsection "U.S." in the "Statistics" section.

Cycle of violence

Frequently, domestic violence is used to describe specific violent and overtly abusive incidents, and legal definitions will tend to take this perspective. However, when violent and abusive behaviours happen within a relationship, the effects of those behaviours continue after these overt incidents are over. Advocates and counsellors will refer to domestic violence as a pattern of behaviours, including those listed above.

Lenore Walker presented the model of a Cycle of Violence which consists of three basic phases:

Honeymoon Phase
Characterized by affection, apology, and apparent end of violence. During this stage the batterer feels overwhelming feelings of remorse and sadness. Some batterers walk away from the situation, while others shower their victims with love and affection.
Tension Building Phase
Characterized by poor communication, tension, fear of causing outbursts. During this stage the victims try to calm the batterer down, to avoid any major violent confrontations.
Acting-out Phase
Characterized by outbursts of violent, abusive incidents. During this stage the batterer attempts to dominate his/her partner(victim), with the use of domestic violence.

Although it is easy to see the outbursts of the Acting-out Phase as abuse, even the more pleasant behaviours of the Honeymoon Phase serve to perpetuate the abuse. See also the cycle of abuse article.

Many domestic violence advocates believe that the cycle of violence theory is limited and does not reflect the realities of many men and women experiencing domestic violence.

Gender differences

The role of gender is a controversial topic related to the discussion of domestic violence.

Erin Pizzey, the founder of an early women's shelter in Chiswick, London, has expressed her dismay at how she believes the issue has become a gender-political football, and expressed an unpopular view in her book Prone to Violence that some women in the refuge system had a predisposition to seek abusive relationships. She also expressed the view that domestic violence can occur against any vulnerable intimates, regardless of their gender.

A Freudian concept, repetition compulsion, has also come up in modern psychology as a possible cause of a woman who was abused in childhood seeking an abusive man (or vice versa), theoretically as a misguided way to "master" their traumatic experience.[85]

Gender aspects of abuse

There continues to be discussion about whether men are more abusive than women, whether men's abuse of women is worse than women's abuse of men, and whether abused men should be provided the same resources and shelters that years of advocacy, money-rasing, and funding has gained for women victims[86] sekä Carney (2007)[87][citation needed].

Martin S. Fiebert of the Department of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach, provides an analysis of 219 scholarly investigations: 170 empirical studies and 49 analyses, which he believes demonstrate women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men.[15] In a Los Angeles Times article about male victims of domestic violence, Fiebert suggests that "...consensus in the field is that women are as likely as men to strike their partner but that - as expected - women are more likely to be injured than men. However, he noted, men are seriously injured in 38% of the cases in which "extreme aggression" is used." No statistic was given to shed light on how often "extreme aggression" occurs with women as the aggressor. The article goes on to say, "We've all learned to be wary of statistics, and Fiebert says studies abound on the subject. He notes, however, that those suggesting men are also frequent abuse victims should not be used to minimize the threat that women face from abusive boyfriends or spouses."[88]

In a Meta-analysis, John Archer, Ph.D., from the Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, UK, writes:

The present analyses indicate that men are among those who are likely to be on the receiving end of acts of physical aggression. The extent to which this involves mutual combat or the male equivalent to “battered women” is at present unresolved. Both situations are causes for concern. Straus (1997) has warned of the dangers involved — especially for women — when physical aggression becomes a routine response to relationship conflict. “Battered men” — those subjected to systematic and prolonged violence — are likely to suffer physical and psychological consequences, together with specific problems associated with a lack of recognition of their plight (George and George, 1998). Seeking to address these problems need not detract from continuing to address the problem of “battered women."[89]

Donald G. Dutton and Tonia L. Nicholls, from the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia also undertook a meta-analysis of data in 2005. They concluded:

Clearly, shelter houses full of battered women demonstrate the need for their continued existence. Moreover, outside of North American and Northern Europe, gender inequality is still the norm (Archer, in press). However, within those countries that have been most progressive about women’s equality, female violence has increased as male violence has decreased (Archer, in press). There is not one solution for every domestically violent situation; some require incarceration of a terrorist perpetrator, others can be dealt with through court-mandated treatment, still others may benefit from couples therapy. However, feminist inspired intervention standards that preclude therapists in many states from doing effective therapy with male batterers are one outcome of this paradigm. The failure to recognize female threat to husbands, female partners, or children is another (Straus et al., 1980 found 10% higher rates of child abuse reported by mothers than by fathers).
The one size fits all policy driven by a simplistic notion that intimate violence is a recapitulation of class war does not most effectively deal with this serious problem or represent the variety of spousal violence patterns revealed by research. At some point, one has to ask whether feminists are more interested in diminishing violence within a population or promoting a political ideology. If they are interested in diminishing violence, it should be diminished for all members of a population and by the most effective and utilitarian means possible. This would mean an intervention/treatment approach based on other successful approaches from criminology and psychology.[90]

Theories that women are as violent as men have been dubbed "Gender Symmetry" theories.[91][92].</ref> In the most serious violence the men do dominate for example in 1999 in the US, 1,218 women and 424 men were killed by an intimate partner, regardless of which partner started the violence and of the gender of the partner.[93] On the other hand, Michael Kimmel of the State University of New York at Stony Brook found that men are more violent inside and outside of the home than women.[94]

A problem in conducting studies that seek to describe violence in terms of gender is the amount of silence, fear and shame that results from abuse within families and relationships. Another is that abusive patterns can tend to seem normal to those who have lived in them for a length of time. Similarly, subtle forms of abuse can be quite transparent even as they set the stage for further abuse seeming normal. Finally, inconsistent definition of what domestic violence is makes definite conclusions difficult to reach when compiling the available studies.[95]

Both men and women have been arrested and convicted of assaulting their partners in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The bulk of these arrests have been men being arrested for assaulting women. However, in the case of reciprocal violence, frequently only the male perpetrator is arrested.[96] Determining how many instances of domestic violence actually involve male victims is difficult. Male domestic violence victims may be reluctant to get help for a number of reasons.[95] Another study has demonstrated a high degree of acceptance by women of aggression against men.[97]

Murders of female intimate partners by men have dropped, but not nearly as dramatically.[98] Men kill their female intimate partners at about four times the rate that women kill their male intimate partners. Research by Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD RN FAAN has found that at least two thirds of women killed by their intimate partners were battered by those men prior to the murder. She also found that when males are killed by female intimates, the women in those relationships had been abused by their male partner about 75% of the time. (See battered person syndrome and battered woman defence.)[citation needed]

Some researchers have found a relationship between the availability of domestic violence services, improved laws and enforcement regarding domestic violence and increased access to divorce, and higher earnings for women with declines in intimate partner homicide.[99] However, both men and women are far less likely to be abused when married to each other. The bulk of injuries from domestic violence involves co-habitation or the distresses of relationship break-ups.

Gender roles and expectations can and do play a role in abusive situations, and exploring these roles and expectations can be helpful in addressing abusive situations, as do factors like race, class, religion, sexuality and philosophy. None of these factors cause one to abuse or another to be abused.[citation needed]

Concerns about Social Programs dealing with Violence

In 1997, the Canadian Advertising Foundation ruled that a National Ad campaign that featuring Nicole Brown Simpson's sister Denise with the slogan entiled, "Stop violence against Women" was in fact portraying only men as aggressors, and that it was not providing a balanced message and was in fact contributing to gender stereotyping. (The murder of Nicole Simpson also included the murder of Ronald Goldman) [100]

Domestic violence in same-sex relationships

Domestic violence also occurs in same-sex relationships. In an effort to be more inclusive, many organizations have made an effort to use gender-neutral terms when referring to perpetratorship and victimhood.

Historically domestic violence has been seen as a family issue and little interest has been directed at violence in same-sex relationships. It has not been until recently, as the gay rights movement has brought the issues of gay and lesbian people into public attention, when research has been started to conduct on same-sex relationships. Several studies have indicated that partner abuse among same-sex couples (both female and male) is relatively similar in both prevalence and dynamics to that among opposite-sex couples.[101] Gays and lesbians, however, face special obstacles in dealing with the issues that some researchers have labeled "the double closet". A recent Canadian study by Mark W. Lehman[102] suggests similarities include frequency (approximately one in every four couples); manifestations (emotional, physical, financial, etc.); co-existent situations (unemployment, substance abuse, low self-esteem); victims' reactions (fear, feelings of helplessness, hypervigilance); and reasons for staying (love, can work it out, things will change, denial). At the same time, significant differences, unique issues and deceptive myths are typically present. Lehman points to added discrimination and fear gays and lesbians can face; dismissal by police and some social services; a lack of support from peers who would rather keep quiet about the problem in order not to attract negative attention toward the gay community; the impacts of HIV status or AIDS in keeping partners together, due to health care insurance/access, or guilt; outing used as a weapon; and encountering supportive services that are targeted and/or structured for the needs of heterosexual women and which may not meet the needs of gay men or lesbians.

Diagnosis planning

The American Psychiatric Association planning and research committees for the forthcoming DSM-V (2012) have canvassed a series of new Relational disorders which include Marital Conflict Disorder Without Violence or Marital Abuse Disorder (Marital Conflict Disorder With Violence).[103] Couples with marital disorders sometimes come to clinical attention because the couple recognize long-standing dissatisfaction with their marriage and come to the clinician on their own initiative or are referred by an astute health care professional. Secondly, there is serious violence in the marriage which is -"usually the husband battering the wife" .[104] In these cases the emergency room or a legal authority often is the first to notify the clinician. Most importantly, marital violence "is a major risk factor for serious injury and even death and women in violent marriages are at much greater risk of being seriously injured or killed (National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women 2000)."[105] The authors of this study add that "There is current considerable controversy over whether male-to-female marital violence is best regarded as a reflection of male psychopathology and control or whether there is an empirical base and clinical utility for conceptualizing these patterns as relational."[105]

Recommendations for clinicians making a diagnosis of Marital Relational Disorder should include the assessment of actual or "potential" male violence as regularly as they assess the potential for suicide in depressed patients. Further, "clinicians should not relax their vigilance after a battered wife leaves her husband, because some data suggest that the period immediately following a marital separation is the period of greatest risk for the women. Many men will stalk and batter their wives in an effort to get them to return or punish them for leaving. Initial assessments of the potential for violence in a marriage can be supplemented by standardized interviews and questionnaires, which have been reliable and valid aids in exploring marital violence more systematically."[105]

The authors conclude with what they call "very recent information"[106] on the course of violent marriages which suggests that "over time a husband's battering may abate somewhat, but perhaps because he has successfully intimidated his wife. The risk of violence remains strong in a marriage in which it has been a feature in the past. Thus, treatment is essential here; the clinician cannot just wait and watch."[106] The most urgent clinical priority is the protection of the wife because she is the one most frequently at risk, and clinicians must be aware that supporting assertiveness by a battered wife may lead to more beatings or even death.[106]

Response to domestic violence

The response to domestic violence is typically a combined effort between law enforcement agencies, the courts, social service agencies and corrections/probation agencies. The role of each has evolved as domestic violence has been brought more into public view.

Domestic violence historically has been viewed as a private family matter that need not involve government or criminal justice intervention.[107] Police officers were often reluctant to intervene by making an arrest, and often chose instead to simply counsel the couple and/or ask one of the parties to leave the residence for a period of time. The courts were reluctant to impose any significant sanctions on those convicted of domestic violence, largely because it was viewed as a misdemeanor offense.

Activism, initiated by victim advocacy groups and feminist groups, has led to a better understanding of the scope and effect of domestic violence on victims and families, and has brought about changes in the criminal justice system's response.

Several projects have aided in filling the voids in the justice system as it pertains to the protection of victims. One such initiative, The Hope Card Project, makes an attempt to remedy several problems through the issuance of an ID card to victims of abuse. The card is used to identify both parties in a domestic violence protection order and provides additional resources to the victim through a voucher program for services. "There is no photograph on a protection order, so a photograph is a bonus, not a necessity. There are several methods used to obtain the photograph. Some jurisdictions have a photograph taken of the offender during the first hearing while both parties are present. Another method is for officers to take a photograph in the field or retrieve a booking photograph from their local jail. In a lot of cases the victim brings a photograph and it is scanned. Lastly, the new online site has some state motor vehicle department photograph databases connected for that purpose. This is the ideal method." The Hope Card Project

Medical response

Medical professionals, who have contact with abuse victims through medical visits, have a role to play in helping domestic violence victims. Many cases of spousal abuse are handled solely by medical professionals and do not involve the police. Sometimes cases of spousal abuse are brought into the emergency room,[108] while many other cases are handled by family physician or other primary care provider.[109]

Doctors and other medical professionals are in position to empower victims, give advice, and refer them to appropriate services. The health care professional in the United Kingdom, the United States, and elsewhere has not always met this role, been uneven in quality of care, and in many cases has been unhelpful due to misunderstandings they have about domestic violence.[110] Myths that have prevailed in the past and influenced how a doctor approaches a case, where domestic violence may be involved, include the belief that domestic violence is rare, that women are responsible for the violence, and it is inevitable.[111][112] Washaw (1993) suggests that many doctors prefer not to get involved in people's "private" lives. Clifton, Jacobs, and Tulloch (1996) found that training for general practitioners in the United States about domestic violence was very limited or they had no training. Abbott and Williamson found that knowledge and understanding of domestic violence was very limited among health care professionals in a Midlands, United Kingdom county, and that they don't see themselves as being able to play a major role in helping women in regards to domestic violence.[110] Furthermore, in the biomedical model of health care, injuries are often just treated and diagnosed, without regard for the causes.[113] As well, there is substantial reluctance for victims to come forward and broach the issue with their physicians.[114] On average, women experience 35 incidents of domestic violence before seeking treatment.[115]

A number of medications have been used for control of aggression. Good evidence exists on the efficacy of clozapine.[citation needed] Evidence also exists for SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake ihibitors), like "Prozac", hormonal antiandrogenic agents, beta-blockers, quetiapine and ariipiprazole.[citation needed] Lithium and anticonvulsants are widely used but their efficacy is not strongly supported.[116]

Law enforcement

In the 1970s, it was widely believed that domestic disturbance calls were the most dangerous type for responding officers, who arrive to a highly emotionally charged situation. This belief was based on FBI statistics which turned out to be flawed, in that they grouped all types of disturbances together with domestic disturbances, such as brawls at a bar. Subsequent statistics and analysis have shown this belief to be false.[117][118]

Statistics on incidents of domestic violence, published in the late 1970s, helped raise public awareness of the problem and increase activism.[107][119] A study published in 1976 by the Police Foundation found that the police had intervened at least once in the previous two years in 85 percent of spouse homicides.[120] In the late 1970s and early 1980s, feminists and battered women's advocacy groups were calling on police to take domestic violence more seriously and change intervention strategies.[121] In some instances, these groups took legal action against police departments, including in Oakland, California and New York City, to get them to make arrests in domestic violence cases.[122] They claimed that police assigned low priority to domestic disturbance calls.[123]

The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment was a study done in 1981-1982, led by Lawrence W. Sherman, to evaluate the effectiveness of various police responses to domestic violence calls in Minneapolis, Minnesota, including sending the abuser away for eight hours, giving advice and mediation for disputes, and making an arrest. Arrest was found to be the most effective police response. The study found that arrest reduced the rate by half of re-offending against the same victim within the following six months.[124] The results of the study received a great deal of attention from the news media, including The New York Times and prime-time news coverage on television.[125] Many U.S. police departments responded to the study, adopting a mandatory arrest policy for spousal violence cases with probable cause.[126] By 2005, 23 states and the District of Columbia had enacted mandatory arrest for domestic assault, without warrant, given that the officer has probable cause and regardless of whether or not the officer witnessed the crime.[127] The Minneapolis study also influenced policy in other countries, including New Zealand, which adopted a pro-arrest policy for domestic violence cases.[128]

However, the study was subject of much criticism, with concerns about its methodology, as well as its conclusions.[125] The Minneapolis study was replicated in several other cities, beginning in 1986, with some of these studies have producing different results.[129] In the replication studies, arrest seemed to help in the short run in some cases, but those arrested experienced double the rate of violence over the course of one year.[129] Criminologists do not fully understand the reasons why deterrent effects do not last over time. But they suggest that abusers may initially fear punishment, though many cases do not make it all the way through the criminal justice process. If the victim is uncooperative during investigation, the prosecutor may choose not to pursue the case.[130] If the case is pursued through the criminal justice system, sometimes the resulting sentence is minor. Subsequently, any fear that the abuser has of punishment may have diminished.[131]

Domestic response of law enforcement today

Each agency and jurisdiction within the United States has its own Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) when it comes to responding and handling domestic calls. Generally, it has been accepted that if the understood victim has visible (and recent) marks of abuse, the suspect is arrested and charged with the appropriate crime. However, that is a guideline and not a rule. Like any other call, domestic abuse lies in a gray area. Law enforcement officers have several things to consider when making a warrantless arrest:

  • Are there signs of physical abuse?
  • Were there witnesses?
  • Is it recent?
  • Was the victim assaulted by the alleged suspect?
  • Who is the primary aggressor?
  • Could the victim be lying?
  • Could the suspect be lying?

Along with protecting the victim, law enforcement officers have to ensure that the alleged abusers' rights are not violated. Many times in cases of mutual combatants, it is departmental policy that both parties be arrested and the court system can establish truth at a later date. In some areas of the nation, this mutual combatant philosophy is being replaced by the primary abuser philosophy in which case if both parties have physical injuries, the law enforcement officer determines who the primary aggressor is and only arrest that one. This philosophy started gaining momentum when different government/private agencies started researching the effects. It was found that when both parties are arrested, it had an adverse affect on the victim. The victims were less likely to call or trust law enforcement during the next incident of domestic abuse.[132]


In 1981, the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project became the first multi-disciplinary program designed to address the issue of domestic violence. This experiment, conducted in Duluth, MN, frequently referred to as the "Duluth Project."

It coordinated agencies dealing with domestic situations, drawing together diverse elements of the system, from police officers on the street, to shelters for battered women and probation officers supervising offenders.

This program has become a model for other jurisdictions seeking to deal more effectively with domestic violence. Corrections/probation agencies in many areas are supervising domestic violence offenders more closely, and are also paying closer attention to the victim's needs and safety issues.

There has been controversy as the Duluth framework depends on a strict "patriarchal violence" model and presumes that all violence in the home and elsewhere has a male perpetrator and female victim. Also evidence of success of the model is limited, with scholarly analysis and critique[80].

Many victims leave their abusers, only to return. Research has shown that a major factor in helping a victim to establish lasting independence from the abusive partner is her or his ability to get legal assistance. Economists at the Brennan Center for Justice analyzed Bureau of Justice Statistics data to determine what accounted for the nationwide reduction in reported abuse. Their findings revealed that one significant factor was the availability of legal services to assist abuse victims. Another major study by economists at Colgate University and the University of Arkansas flatly stated that the only public service that reduces domestic violence in the long term is legal aid.[133] Legal assistance can provide essential safety planning, buttress a family’s economic position through child or spousal support, allay fears planted by the batterer about loss of custody, and help victims to secure needed government benefits.

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External links


Further reading

  • Hamel, John; Nicholls, Tonia L. (2007). Family Interventions in Domestic Violence: A Handbook of Gender-Inclusive Theory and Treatment. New York, NY: Springer Pub.. ISBN 082610245X. OCLC 70122424. 
  • Hampton, Robert L.; Gullotta, Thomas P. and Ramos, Jessica M. (2006). Interpersonal Violence in the African American Community: Evidence-Based Prevention and Treatment Practices. New York, NY: Springer. ISBN 0387295976. OCLC 70200773. 
  • Radford, Lorraine and; Hester, Marianne (2006). Mothering through Domestic Violence. London, UK; Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1843104733. OCLC 65205017. 
  • Roberts, Albert R. (2007). Battered Women and their Families: Intervention Strategies and Treatment Programs (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Springer Pub.. ISBN 9780826145925. OCLC 76791906. 
  • Wilcox, Paula (2006). Surviving Domestic Violence: Gender, Poverty and Agency. Houndmills, England; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1403941130. OCLC 62325091. 
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