Causes and Symptoms (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Domestic or family violence is the intentional use of violence against a family member. The purpose of the violence is to assert domination, to control the victim’s actions, or to punish the victim for some actions. Family violence generally occurs as a pattern of behavior over time rather than as a single, isolated act.
Forms of family violence include child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, spousal or partner abuse, and elder abuse. These forms of violence are related, in that they occur within the context of the family unit. Therefore, the victims and perpetrators know one another, are related to one another, may live together, and may love one another. These various forms of violence also differ insofar as victims may be children, adults, or frail, elderly adults. The needs of victims differ with age and independence, but there are also many similarities between the different types of violence. One such similarity is the relationship between the offender and the victim. Specifically, victims of abuse are always less powerful than abusers. Power includes the ability to exert physical and psychological control over situations. For example, a child abuser has the ability to lock a child in a bathroom or to abandon him or her in a remote area in order to control access to authorities. A spouse abuser has the ability to physically injure a spouse, disconnect the phone, and keep the victim from leaving for help. An...
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Treatment and Therapy (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Physicians play an important role in stopping family violence by first identifying people who are victims of violence, then taking steps to intervene and help. Physicians use different techniques with each age group because children, adults, and older adults each have special needs and varying abilities to help themselves. This section will first consider the physician’s role with children and will then examine the physician’s role with adults and older adults.
Because children do not usually tell a physician directly if they are being abused physically or sexually, physicians use several strategies to identify child and adolescent victims. Physicians screen for abuse during regular checkups by asking children if anyone has hurt them, touched them in private places, or scared them. To accomplish this screening with five-year-old patients having routine checkups, physicians may teach their young patients about private areas of the body; let them know that they can tell a parent, teacher, or doctor if anyone ever touches them in private places; and ask the patients if anyone has ever touched them in a way that they did not like. For fifteen-year-old patients, physicians may screen potential victims by providing information on sexual abuse and date rape, then asking the patients whether they have ever experienced either.
A second strategy that physicians use to identify children who are victims of family...
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Perspective and Prospects (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Despite its frequency, family violence has not always been viewed as a problem. In the nineteenth century, it was legal in the United States for a husband to beat his wife, or for parents to use brutal physical punishment with their children. Although the formation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1874 signaled rising concern about child maltreatment, the extent of the problem was underestimated. As recently as 1960, family violence was viewed as a rare, aberrant phenomenon, and women who were victims of violence were often seen as partially responsible because of “masochistic tendencies.” Several factors combined to turn the tide during the next thirty years. Medical research published in the early 1960’s began documenting the severity of the problem of child abuse. By 1968, every state in the United States had passed a law requiring that physicians report suspected child abuse, and many states had established child protective services to investigate and protect vulnerable children.
Progress in the battle against partner violence was slower. The battered women’s movement brought new attention and a feminist understanding to the widespread and serious nature of partner violence. This growing awareness provided the impetus, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, for reform in the criminal justice system, scientific research, continued growth of women’s shelters, and the...
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For Further Information: (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Bancroft, Lundy, and Jay G. Silverman. The Batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2002. Examines how partner abuse affects each relationship in a family and explains how children’s emotional recovery is inextricably linked to the healing and empowerment of their mothers.
Barnett, Ola, Cindy L. Miller-Perrin, and Robin D. Perrin. Family Violence Across the Lifespan: An Introduction. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2005. Provides information about the different ways that domestic violence, and the warning signs associated with it, may be recognized at various stages in the life spans of individuals and families.
Dutton, Donald G. The Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships. 2d ed. New York: Guilford Press, 2007. Dutton, a psychologist, began as a disciple of social learning theory and eventually came to understand that theory alone was inadequate to explain the multifaceted origins of spousal abuse.
Island, David, and Patrick Letellier. Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them: Battered Gay Men and Domestic Violence. New York: Haworth Press, 1991. The first published book that addresses the issue of violence between gay partners. The authors write in a lively, straightforward manner that is easy to understand. Proposes novel ways of thinking about partner violence....
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Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Domestic violence is difficult to measure since there are no agreed-on standards as to what it is. In addition, most domestic violence occurs in private, and victims are reluctant to report it because of shame and fear of reprisal. Its scope is also difficult to determine, and society’s reluctance to acknowledge it results in only estimates of the number of rapes, robberies, and assaults committed by family members and other relatives, such as spouses, former spouses, children, parents, boyfriends, and girlfriends.
In the 1970’s, publicity about domestic violence, and more specifically wife abuse, made the public aware that many women did not live in peace and security in their own homes. Through the usage of the terms “abuse,” “woman abuse,” “battering,” “partner abuse,” “spouse abuse,” “intimate violence,” “family violence” and “relationship violence,” feminists made the public aware of the problem. As a result of the publicity, women were identified as the most likely victims of domestic violence.
The selection of a name for the behavior will have implications for treatment choices. In addition, the term “domestic violence” removes the issue from a societal perspective, which condones, reinforces, and perpetuates the problem. Domestic violence minimizes the role of gender and places the relationship in the dominant spot. As a result, the choice of a name offers varying...
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Possible Causes (Psychology and Mental Health)
Four theories, each of which has a psychological basis, attempt to explain wife abuse. Each of the theories has a unique perspective regarding the causes of wife abuse. The four theories are family systems theory, feminist psychological theory, learning theory, and psychoanalytic theory.
The first theory, family systems theory, includes the application of systems theory to all current family therapy approaches. Systems theory stresses mutual influences and reciprocal relationships between the individual members and the whole, as well as vice versa. In family systems theory, abuse is seen as a feature of the relationship between the abused wife and her husband. Underlying the abusive behavior, both the abused wife and her husband have a frail sense of self. When they marry or establish a relationship, a battering routine or system unfolds. Several factors lead the man to have a drive for power and control over the woman. These factors include social conditions, the need for control, intimacy fears, and lack of awareness of his own conflicts regarding dependency. The abused woman, in turn, has a limited range of coping behaviors, dependency conflicts, a history of childhood family violence, and other psychosocial traits that are similar to those of the man. Change is prevented from occurring, and the dysfunctional interpersonal behavior patterns continue as a result of the unwritten expectations that control these behaviors....
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Diagnosing Domestic Violence (Psychology and Mental Health)
Six factors have been identified as increasing a woman’s chances of being in an abusive relationship: age, alcohol use, childhood experience with violence, race, relationship status, and socioeconomic factors.
A person’s risk of being abused or being an abuser increases among adolescents. Research has discovered high levels of abuse among dating couples. However, the rate of violence among dating couples falls below that of couples who are married or cohabitating if controlled for age.
Clinical samples in which women are asked to describe their husbands’ drinking patterns have provided the basis for the opinion that men beat their wives when they are drunk. Researchers have found that from 35 to 93 percent of abusers are problem drinkers. Better controlled studies have found that in only 25 percent of the cases was either partner drinking at the time of the abuse.
Individuals are more likely to be an abused woman or an abusive man if they were abused as a child. It is less clear that a relationship exists between witnessing wife abuse as a child and experiencing it as an adult. Researchers have found that men are more likely to become adult abusers if they observed domestic violence as boys. The data are inconclusive regarding a woman’s chance of being abused if she observes domestic violence as a child. Men who observed domestic violence between their parents are three times more likely to...
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The Abused Population (Psychology and Mental Health)
Male partners severely assault more than 1.5 million married and cohabitating women each year. Of women treated in hospital emergency rooms, 22 percent to 35 percent are there because of symptoms related to abuse. Approximately 20 percent to 25 percent of all women are abused at least once by a male partner. Victims of boyfriends tend to be young (sixteen to twenty-four years old), while victims of current or former spouses are likely to be older (twenty to thirty-four years old). Women in families with incomes over $50,000 are four times less likely to be abused than are women in families with annual incomes of less than $20,000.
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Treatment Options (Psychology and Mental Health)
The four theories of domestic abuse also provide several treatment options for the psychologist.
Family systems theory prescribes marital counseling to bring about change in the marital system and to identify dysfunctional patterns. Partners are each responsible for changing the way they relate to each other and for the specific behaviors that contribute to the violence.
Walker describes three levels of intervention in terms of feminist psychological theory. Primary prevention changes the social conditions that directly and indirectly contribute to the abuse of women. Examples would include eliminating rigid gender role socialization and reducing levels of violence in society. Secondary intervention encourages women to take control of their lives and to break the cycle of violence. Examples include crisis hot lines as well as financial and legal assistance. A shelter where the women will slowly regain their ability to make decisions for themselves and where they will be safe is an example of tertiary intervention. At this level, women have been totally victimized and are unable to act on their own.
Learning theory stresses that the partners be given opportunities to learn and be rewarded for a new range of actions and underlying beliefs. It is felt that intervention should teach the partners how they have learned and been rewarded for their present behaviors. As a result, the intervention moves beyond a...
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History of Treatment (Psychology and Mental Health)
Domination of women by men has a long history. Early Roman law gave men absolute power over their wives. However, it is not clear if they had the power to put their wives to death. Physical force was their chief means of control. As the Roman Empire declined, men’s right to control women continued to be supported by church doctrine.
The “rule of thumb” was born in English common law, which stated that men had the right to beat their wives as long as the weapon they used was “a rod no bigger than their thumb.” Early U.S. judicial decisions supported the right of men to beat their wives. The government’s hands-off policy and the legal sanction to a husband’s right to control the behavior of his wife were the two major impacts of the court rulings. The first wave of feminists in the nineteenth century briefly exposed the existence of wife abuse and made some efforts to criminalize it. This state of affairs continued until the 1970’s, when the second wave of feminism exposed the public to the abuse that many women experienced in their own homes. The battered women’s movement identified two key concerns: first, to create a society that no longer accepted domestic violence and, second, to provide safe, supportive shelter for all women who were abused.
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Abrahams, Hilary. Supporting Women After Domestic Violence: Loss, Trauma, and Recovery. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2007. A guide for helping women after they have left an abusive relationship. It explains why women feel grief, anger, and confusion in these circumstances and how they can regain a positive sense of self-esteem.
Ammerman, Robert T., and Michel Hersen, eds. Assessment of Family Violence: A Clinical and Legal Sourcebook. 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. Leading figures in the field of family violence review the research and examine strategies and measures relevant to assessment of the problem. They also comment on treatment planning and legal requirements. Other areas of concern include epidemological models, intervention planning, and standards of practice.
Browne, Angela. When Battered Women Kill. New York: Free Press, 1989. A study based on interviews with 250 physically abused women, forty-two of whom had killed their batterers, shows how “romantic idealism” drives the early stages of the abusive relationship. Obsessive “love” continues along with the abuser’s need to physically control the woman. In addition, coping and survival strategies of the battered women are presented.
Buttell, Frederick P. “Moral Development Among Court-Ordered Batterers: Evaluating the Impact of Treatment.” Research on Social Work Practice 11, no. 1...
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Domestic Violence (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Any abusive, violent, coercive, forceful, or threatening act or word inflicted by one member of a family or household on another can constitute domestic violence.
Domestic violence, once considered one of the most underreported crimes, became more widely recognized during the 1980s and 1990s.
Various individuals and groups have defined domestic violence to include everything from saying unkind or demeaning words, to grabbing a person's arm, to hitting, kicking, choking, or even murdering. Domestic violence most often refers to violence between married or cohabiting couples, although it sometimes refers to violence against other members of a household, such as children or elderly relatives. It occurs in every racial, socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious group, although conditions such as poverty, drug or alcohol abuse, and mental illness increase its likelihood. Studies indicate that the incidence of domestic violence among homosexual couples is approximately equivalent to that found among heterosexual couples.
Domestic violence involving married or cohabiting couples received vast media attention during the 1990s. The highly publicized 1995 trial of former professional football player and movie actor O.J. (Orenthal James) Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman thrust it onto the front pages of...
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Domestic Violence (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Societies have made important gains in addressing the problem of domestic violence, particularly in the area of service delivery to its victims. However, millions of women are battered by their intimate partners every year in countries around the globe.
HISTORY AND OUTRAGE
During the 1960s, the women's liberation movement began drawing attention to violence committed against women, and the battered women's movement began to form. At its core was the outrage of women who argued that individual cases of violence against women in the home added up to an enormous and unacceptable social problem. By the end of the 1970s, statistics proved that isolated cases of abuse were part of a shocking national problem. Victims became more visible; so, too, did the inadequacy of society's response. The battered women's movement emerged, becoming one of the most powerful social justice and service movements in United States history.
Shelters and hotlines began to spring up around the country. What began as a social, service-based response to crisis began to take on political urgency. The staggering numbers of women and children turning to shelters perpetually outpaced the growth of the movement. The shelter work uncovered endless horror stories: law enforcement officials who mislabeled domestic disturbances, judges who ruled in favor of perpetrators, and health care providers who mishandled violence-related injuries. At every turn, women seeking help could expect indifference, hostility, and endangerment. It became clear that helping women in crisis required more than front-line emergency services. It required changing the established social institutions and creating or changing the laws that affected them. During the 1980s, a vibrant network of nearly two thousand domestic violence programs in the United States organized into state coalitions, formed to take on the challenge of pressuring social institutions to adequately respond to victims.
The 1990s proved to be a watershed decade. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA, 1994) was passed, a major federal bill that provided more than $1 billion to assist shelters, train law enforcement personnel and judges, and support other crime-prevention efforts addressing violence against women. The decade also saw, via live television, the trial of football legend O. J. Simpson for allegedly murdering his former wife, Nicole, and her friend. Though he was eventually acquitted of criminal charges, Simpson's case prompted unprecedented media coverage of the issue of domestic violence.
DILEMMAS AND OPPORTUNITIES
The domestic violence movement clearly has a rich history of achievement. The critical front-line service provision crisis response, while central to saving some women's and children's lives, can never realize its mission: to reach out to all victims. Despite its rapid growth, the service system is unable to keep pace with widespread need. Prevalence statistics and anecdotal evidence all point to the epidemic nature of domestic violence: Nearly one-third of American women (31%) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. Yet only a small fraction of abused women ever go to a shelter.
The domestic violence movement's agenda remains predominantly shaped by the quest to improve services for, and to make laws accountable to, domestic violence victims. As a result, the notion of domestic violence prevention in North America and most of Europe relies heavily on punitive criminal intervention. Although the movement has consistently educated policymakers and other institutions, the advocacy community has not focused collective attention on developing an agenda for preventing domestic violence at its earliest stages.
The criminalization of domestic violence and the sensitizing of criminal justice agents should by no means be abandoned. However, emphasis must also be given to other sectors of society, including communities of faith, health delivery systems, and workplaces. Preachers, doctors, employers, coworkers, friends, and family members are all in a prime position to reach out to help women facing abuse, as well as to let batterers knowerhaps for the first timehat their behavior is simply unacceptable. Evidence suggests that many battered women are actually more comfortable talking with friends and family members about the violence in their lives than with trained domestic violence professionals whom they do not know. Developing leadership within each of these arenas, then, represents a huge potential for disseminating more broadly messages that can begin to change the social norms.
Unfortunately, pervasive cultural acceptance of domestic violence at all levels of society helps to explain how the justice system has historically responded to domestic violence. Typically, police have not taken the problem seriously, rarely arresting perpetrators. When battered women persevered and tried to press charges, district attorneys often refused to support their cases, and the cases that did make it to court were likely to be dismissed.
While laws have strengthened the ability to respond to domestic violence cases, covert attitudes that condone battering explain why inaction is the norm rather than the exception. According to a 1996 public opinion survey, almost half of Americans (47%) currently believe that men sometimes physically abuse women because they are stressed out or drunk, not because they intend to hurt them. Clearly the domestic violence movement has yet to cultivate widespread attitudes that condemn violent abuse of women.
RECREATING A SENSE OF OUTRAGE
One of the greatest challenges facing the domestic violence movement is the widespread perception that spousal abuse is a "private matter." Domestic violence is often perceived as private business between two individuals that requires therapy rather than intervention. Creative approaches are needed in order to move a private matter into the sphere of public concern and to translate that public concern into a widespread social consensus for action. A successful strategy would include the following: a comprehensible institutional change approach to empower individuals to make contributions through the institutional structures that touch their daily lives; an emphasis on prevention that is partnered with an ongoing commitment to victims; a multifaceted media campaign that begins to change the collective social consciousness; and a reigniting of the community-based, political activism that spawned the movement in the first place.
For example, in the early 1990s, The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) began to explore ways to strategically inject the politics of outrage back into the domestic violence movement in the United States, combining media and community-based activism into an overall approach. In 1994, the FVPF launched a nationwide media and grassroots organizing campaign called "There's No Excuse for Domestic Violence." It targets the friends, family, and coworkers of victims of abuse who sanction the violence with their silence and whose actions can help change social norms. The campaign includes public service announcements that trumpet the campaign's key messages that "domestic violence is everybody's business" and "there's no excuse for it." In one powerful print ad, viewers are confronted with the image of a man brutally beating his cowering wife, under the words: "If the noise coming from next door were loud music, you'd do something about it." These public service announcements provide a toll-free number individuals can call for a free action kit, which details concrete ways people can address abuse in their workplaces and communities.
These and other programs that generate and communicate this kind of collective sense of indignation about the problem of domestic violence work toward a broader, more comprehensive approach that involves ever more components of society. Their aim is to proactively affect public policy and wide-ranging institutional policies, community responsibility, and individual action, and to move a "private issue" into a public space in which domestic violence is forbidden.
(SEE ALSO: Alcohol Use and Abuse; Antisocial Behavior; Gun Control; Homicide; Violence)
The Commonwealth Fund (1999). Health Concerns across a Woman's Lifespan: The Commonwealth Fund 1998 Survey of Women's Health. http://www.cmwf.org/programs/women/ksc_whsurvey99_332.asp.
National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control (1998). Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey.
Straus, M. A., and Gelles, R. J. (1990). Physical Violence in American Families. Somerset, NJ: Transaction.
U.S. Department of Education (1998). Violence and Discipline Problems in Public Schools: 1996997. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Department of Justice (1998). Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends. Washington, DC: Author.
(1997). Violence-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments. Washington, DC: Author.