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Domestic violence (also domestic abuse) is physical, sexual, economic, or psychological abuse directed towards one’s spouse, partner, or other family member within the household. Domestic violence occurs in all cultures; people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and social classes can be perpetrators of domestic violence. Domestic violence is perpetrated by, and on, both men and women, and occurs in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
Occurring within the home, the place where people naturally expect to feel safe and loved, perpetrated by those who are part of one's family and thus the closest in heart, domestic violence is painful not just to the body and mind of the victim, but to their spirit, the very essence of their being. It violates the relationships of trust that are the foundation of human life, changing the family from the "school of love" to one teaching violence and abuse of others. Thus, it shakes the foundation of human society. A society of harmony, peace, and prosperity for all cannot include domestic violence.
Domestic violence has a number of dimensions:
- mode—physical, psychological, sexual and/or social
- frequency—on/off, occasional, chronic
- severity—in terms of both psychological or physical harm and the need for treatment—transitory or permanent injury—mild, moderate, severe up to homicide
Physical violence is the intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing injury, harm, disability, or death. Examples of such force include hitting, shoving, biting, restraint, kicking, or use of a weapon.
Sexual violence and incest
Sexual violence and incest are divided into three categories:
- Use of physical force to compel a person to engage in a sexual act against their will, whether or not the act is completed
- 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, such as in cases of of illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or because of intimidation or pressure
- Abusive sexual contact
Psychological or emotional violence involves violence to the victim caused by acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics. Threats may refer to physical, psychological or sexual, or social violence that use words, gestures, or weapons to communicate the intent to cause death, disability, injury, physical, or psychological harm. Psychological or emotional abuse can include, but is not limited to, humiliating the victim, 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, and denying the victim access to money or other basic resources.
It is considered psychological violence when there has been prior physical or sexual violence or prior threat of physical or sexual violence. Perpetrators of this form of domestic aggression can be both users and abuser, both female and male:
The abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbors, the media, teachers in short, third parties to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target."
Relational aggression is a form of psychological social aggression that uses various forms of falsehood, secrecy, and gossip to commit covert violence. It is often a spectacularly successful tactic because so few people know how to detect it. It is often used because it is covert, leaves no visible scars, and can be done with a smile. It destroys or damages the target's reputation and ruins the target's relationships:
It is the outcome of fear. Fear of violence, fear of the unknown, fear of the unpredictable, the capricious, and the arbitrary. It is perpetrated by dropping subtle hints, by disorienting, by constant and unnecessary lying, by persistent doubting and demeaning, and by inspiring an air of unmitigated gloom and doom.
Parental alienation is another form of covert violence where children are used as a weapon of war by one parent to alienate the other parent. This covert form of domestic violence is used in high-conflict marriages. It is often devastating to the alienated spouse/parent and to the children caught in the middle. Misdiagnoses of Parental Alienation can also be devastating—this time to the parent accurately describing abuse and to the child that is placed with the abusive parent. In effect, it uses innocent, unwitting children to commit relational aggression by one parent against the other:
The abuser often recruits his children to do his bidding. He uses them to tempt, convince, communicate, threaten, and otherwise manipulate his target, the children's other parent or a devoted relative (for example, grandparents). He controls his—often gullible and unsuspecting—offspring exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done—which causes tremendous (and, typically, irreversible) emotional hurt.
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.
Stalking is often included among the types of Intimate Partner Violence. Stalking generally refers to repeated behavior that causes victims to feel a high level of fear. However, psychiatrist William Glasser has stated that fear and other emotions in such situations are self-caused, as evidenced by the wide range of emotions two different subjects might have in response to the same incident.
Spiritual abuse includes using the spouse’s or intimate partner’s religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate them, preventing the partner from practicing their religious or spiritual beliefs, or ridiculing the other person’s religious or spiritual beliefs.
In the United States, 20 percent of all violent crime experienced by women are cases of intimate partner violence, compared to 3 percent of violent crime experienced by men. While women are often thought of as the victims of domestic violence, both children and men can also be victimized by abuse.
Violence against women
Women are more likely to be victimized by someone that they are intimate with, commonly called "Intimate Partner Violence" or (IPV). The impact of domestic violence in the sphere of total violence against women can be understood through the example that 40-70 percent of murders of women are committed by their husband or boyfriend. Studies have shown that violence is not always perpetrated as a form of physical violence but can also be psychological and verbal. In unmarried relationships this is commonly called dating violence, whereas in the context of marriage it is called domestic violence. Instances of IPV tend not to be reported to police and thus many experts believe that the true magnitude of the problem is hard to estimate.
Violence against children
When it comes to domestic violence towards children involving physical abuse, research in the UK by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) indicated that "most violence occurred at home (78 percent) 40-60 percent of men and women who abuse other men or women also abuse their children. Girls whose father/mother batter their mothers/fathers are 6.5 times more likely to be sexually abused by their fathers/mothers than are girls from non-violent homes.
Violence against men
Violence against men is violence that is committed against men by the man's intimate partner.
Very little is known about the actual number of men who are in a domestic relationship in which they are abused or treated violently by their male or female partners. Few incidents are reported to police, and data is limited. Richard J. Gelles contends that while "men's rights groups and some scholars" believe that "battered men are indeed a social problem worthy of attention" and that "there are as many male victims of violence as female," he has stated that such beliefs are "a significant distortion of well-grounded research data." In addition, researchers Tjaden and Thoennes found that "men living with male intimate partners experience more intimate partner violence than do men who live with female intimate partners. 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."
There are many different theories as to the causes of domestic violence. As with many phenomena regarding human experience, no single approach appears to cover all cases.
Many experts, including Lundy Bancroft and Susan Weitzman, have contended that abuse in poor families is more likely to be reported to hospital staff, police, and social services by victims and bystanders. Also, low-income perpetrators are more likely to be arrested and serve time in jail than are their wealthier counterparts, who have the social and financial wherewithal to evade public exposure.
The degree to which abuse correlates with poverty and the extent to which poverty causes abuse or abuse causes poverty are ambiguous. To date, more data on abuse has been collected from low-income than middle and upper income families. This does not necessarily confirm that domestic violence is more prevalent among poor families than wealthier ones, only that the population most readily available for study is predominantly low-income.
Power and control
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.
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 behaviors 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.
Modes of abuse are thought by some to be gendered, females tending to use more psychological and men more physical forms. 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.
There are women and men who seek to put forward the idea that abusive men are attractive. This can be shown in the media with the genre of bad boy romance novels. This promotes a culture of supporting abusive men, and of even seeing non-abusive men as somehow missing something for not being abusive.
Unless 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.
Men or women as violent
As mentioned above, there are differences in the way domestic violence is committed by and against men and women. 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 years of advocacy, money-raising, and funding has gained for women victims.
Erin Pizzey, the founder of an early women's shelter in Chiswick, London, 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 sex. In the same book, Erin Pizzey stated that, of the first 100 women to enter the refuge, 62 were as violent, or more violent, than the men they were, allegedly, running away from.
The statistics cited by Women's Aid and Ahimsa are that violence by women against men is a tiny proportion of all domestic violence is rejected by advocates for male victims of domestic violence. They claim that this finding is based in the situation that many studies report only male-on-female violence because that is all they ask about, those studies that do examine prevalence in both directions overwhelmingly find little difference by gender.
Martin S. Fiebert of the Department of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach, has provided an analysis of 195 scholarly investigations: 152 empirical studies and 43 analyses, which he believes demonstrate women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men. The aggregate sample size exceeds 175,700.
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, but that has been shifting somewhat over time. Actual studies of behavior show that whilst half of male/female intimate violence is best described as mutual brawling, a quarter is the male attacking the female and the remaining quarter being females attacking their male partner. 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. A man who calls for help may even risk being arrested as the "perpetrator" even though he was the victim.
The U.S. National Family Violence Survey has consistently indicated, in repeated surveys over more than 30 years, that women are more than twice as likely as men to initiate domestic assault, and more than twice as likely to use weapons. Other studies have demonstrated a high degree of acceptance by women of aggression against men.
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.
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.
The available data indicate that:
- 3.2 million men experience "minor" abuse (such as "pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting") per year.
- In the United States, approximately 800,000 men per year (3.2 percent) are raped or physically assaulted by their partner.
- At least 371,000 men are stalked annually.
- 3 percent of nonfatal violence against men stems from domestic violence.
- In 2002, men comprised 24 percent of domestic violence homicide victims.
- Over 20 years, the instances of homicide from domestic violence against men decreased by approximately 67 percent.
- Approximately 22 percent of men have experienced physical, sexual, or psychological intimate partner violence during their life.
There are many reasons why there is not more information about domestic abuse and violence against men. A major reason is the reluctance of men to report incidents to the police, unless there are substantial injuries. Data indicate that although mutual violent behavior is quite common in intimate relationships, men are rarely seriously harmed.
Domestic violence in same-sex relationships
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. Gays and lesbians, however, face special obstacles in dealing with the issues that some researchers have labeled "the double closet:" Not only do gay and lesbian people often feel that they are discriminated against and dismissed by police and social services, they are also often met with lack of support from their peers who would rather keep quiet about the problem in order not to attract negative attention toward the gay community. Also, the supportive services are mostly designed for the needs of heterosexual women and do not always meet the needs of other groups.
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. Historically, law enforcement agencies, the courts and corrections agencies treated domestic violence as a personal matter. For example, 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. This mindset of treating family violence as a personal problem of minor consequence permeated the system's response, and potentially allowed the perpetrator to continue acting violently. Another response, while infrequent and ill regarded, is the homicide of the abuser by the abused, where the abused is usually a woman. The mindset of treating domestic violence as a family issue is brought into this aspect of domestic violence as well, ensuring that the women who kill their husbands/boyfriends/abusers are marginalized in society and usually thrown in prison for homicide or manslaughter.
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.
Treatment and support
Publicly available resources for dealing with domestic violence have tended to be almost exclusively geared towards supporting women and children who are in relationships with or who are leaving violent men, rather than for survivors of domestic violence per se. This has been due to the purported numeric preponderance of female victims and the perception that domestic violence only affected women. Resources to help men who have been using violence take responsibility for and stop their use of violence, such as Men's Behaviour Change Programs or anger management training, are available, though attendees are ordered to pay for their own course in order that they should remain accountable for their actions.
Men's organizations, such as ManKind in the UK, often see this approach as one-sided; as Report 191 by the British Home Office shows that men and women are equally culpable, they believe that there should be anger management courses for women also. They accuse organizations such as Women's Aid of bias in this respect saying that they spend millions of pounds on helping female victims of domestic violence and yet nothing on female perpetrators. These same men's organizations claim that before such help is given to female perpetrators, Women's Aid would have to admit that women are violent in the home.
Inherent in anger management only approaches is the assumption that the violence is a result of a loss of control over one's anger. While there is little doubt that some domestic violence is about the loss of control, the choice of the target of that violence may be of greater significance. Anger management might be appropriate for the individual who lashes out indiscriminately when angry towards co-workers, supervisors, or family. In most cases, however, the domestic violence perpetrator lashes out only at their intimate partner or relatively defenseless child, which suggests an element of choice or selection that, in turn, suggests a different or additional motivation beyond simple anger.
Men's behavior change programs, although differing throughout the world, tend to focus on the prevention of further violence within the family and the safety of women and children. Often they abide by various standards of practice that includes "partner contact" where the participants female partner is contacted by the program and informed about the course, checked about her level of safety and support and offered support services for herself if she requires them.
From the perspective of the police, who are often the first to investigate domestic violence incidents, one of the problems is that the definitions of domestic violence include acts that are not themselves crimes. The London Metropolitan Police has nevertheless compiled a list of the crimes which typically can occur when domestic violence occurs. They are:
- Murder/attempted murder
- Indecent assault
- Grievous bodily harm/wounding
- Actual bodily harm
- Common assault
- Threats to kill
- Threatening behavior
- False imprisonment
- Criminal damage
- Malicious communications
- Witness intimidation
- Obstruction of justice
- Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice
The UK Crown Prosecution Service publishes guidance for prosecution in cases of alleged domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a significant problem. Measures of the incidence of violence in intimate relationships can differ markedly in their findings depending on the measures used. Survey approaches tend to show parity in the use of violence by both men and women against partners than do approaches using data from reports of domestic violence that tends to show women experiencing violence from male partners as the majority of cases (over 80 percent).
Research based on reported domestic violence or on police records show men to be responsible for the majority of domestic violence and the high frequency of women as victims. The problem of under-reporting is believed to be substantial.
Recent findings—2006—from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey show that overall, more males than females are victims of physical assault (10.8 percent vs 5.8 percent). However, women are most at risk of assault in the home and from men they know, while men are most at risk of assault in public spaces and from men they don’t know. Among the large numbers of men physically assaulted each year, close to 70 percent were assaulted by strangers. Less than five per cent were assaulted by a female partner or ex-partner. In contrast, among the female victims of physical assault, 31 percent were assaulted by a male partner or ex-partner. Thirty percent of people who had experienced violence by a current partner since the age of 15 were male, while 70 percent were female.
Men's rights activists and others supporting male victims argue that there is a range of socialization-related factors that would lead to very high levels of under-reporting by male victims. They also argue that until recently, very few studies asked about female-on-male (or female-on-female) domestic violence; so while these figures are appallingly high, the prevalence of violence against men is typically not included in the figures.
In the European Union (EU), one in five women suffer some form of domestic violence. Ninety-five percent of this violence occurs in the home.
The British Crime Survey for the year 2001-2002 reported, "There were an estimated 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence acts (nonsexual threats or force) against women [84 percent] and 2.5 million against men [16 percent] in England and Wales in the year prior to interview." The same report stated, "Four per cent of women and two per cent of men were subject to domestic violence (non-sexual domestic threats or force) during the last year."
- Women are just as likely as men to engage in partner aggression (Kelly 2003)
- Men experience over one-third of domestic violence-related injuries (Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 126, No. 5, pages 651-680)
- Men are far less likely to report domestic violence incidents than women (Stets and Straus, 1990)
- The myths about domestic violence are numerous (Gelles 1995)
- Many of these myths are based on domestic violence studies that use biased survey methods (Arriaga and Oskamp 1999)
According to a report produced by Southern Connecticut State University:
In 95% of family violence cases the victims are women beaten by male partners. In 1% of the cases the reverse is true. There are an estimated 28 million battered women in the U.S., more than half of all married women in the country. In the U.S., one woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 9 seconds. Battering is the single major cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the U.S.; more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. 70% of the assault victims seen in the emergency room of Boston City Hospital are women who have been attacked in their own homes. 3 out of 5 women in the U.S. will be battered in their lifetime.
Eight-five percent of these orders are issued against men.
Research published in the Journal of Family Psychology says that contrary to media and public opinion women commit more acts of violence than men in eleven categories: Throw something, push, grab, shove, slap, kick, bite, hit or threaten a partner with a knife or gun. The study, which is based on interviews with 1,615 married or cohabiting couples and extrapolated nationally using census data, found that 21 percent of couples reported domestic violence.
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