Domestic Violence: Breaking the
|An estimated six million
women are assaulted by a male partner each year and of these, 1.8 million
are severely assaulted. (Straus, 1993.)|
|In 1995, twenty-six percent
(26%) of all female murder victims were slain by their husbands or
boyfriends. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1996.)|
|In 1994, sixty-two percent
(62%) of the victimizations of females (2,981,479 victimizations) were
committed by persons they knew while sixty-three percent (63%) of the
victimizations of males (3,949,285) were by strangers. (Craven, 1997).|
|Of the National Women's
Study sample of 4,008 adult women, over one percent (1.2%) or an
estimated 1,155,600 adult American women, were forcibly raped one or more
times by their husbands. (National Center for Victims of Crime & Crime
Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1992.) |
spans all racial, socio-economic, and demographic boundaries. Domestic violence
takes many forms, ranging from battering, rape and homicide to threats of
violence, verbal assaults and other forms of intimidation.
Historically, the abuse of a wife by her husband not only was socially
acceptable, but often it was government sanctioned. Throughout medieval times, a
husband was able to discipline his wife by corporal punishment, and even as late
as the nineteenth century in England, husbands were not punished for murdering
their wives. The United States, following English law, allowed a husband in the
nineteenth century to physically discipline his wife without subjecting himself
to prosecution for assault and battery. Thus evolved the colloquial expression
"rule of thumb" whereby a husband could beat his wife with "a
stick no thicker than his thumb" (Attorney General's Family Violence Task
Force, Pennsylvania, 1989, p. 3). It was not until the twentieth century that
U.S. courts began to uphold laws that criminalized wife-beating. However, a
change in societal attitudes about domestic violence was slow to follow.
It has only been in the last twenty years that attitudes about wife and partner
beating have slowly begun to change. The re-emergence of the women's movement in
the 1970s brought the prevalence and severity of domestic violence to people's
attention; the demand for shelters and resources for women who were victims of
domestic violence followed. The first shelter for battered women opened in 1974.
Since then hundreds of other shelters have opened to provide shelter to abused
women and their children; however, they often operate at capacity (Attorney
General's Family Violence Task Force, Pennsylvania, 1989).
Society continues to struggle with conflicting attitudes about the rights of
husbands and wives. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system has often
substantiated the attitude that what happens between married couples or between
partners in romantic/intimate relationships is a private matter, and therefore,
should be resolved by the parties themselves without any governmental
The lack of a single accepted definition for domestic violence exemplifies the
misconceptions and conflicting ideas that exist. In relation to laws pertaining
to domestic violence, current definitions include assault, battery, homicide,
weapon use, kidnaping, unlawful imprisonment and trespassing (National Center
for Victims of Crime, Legislative Database). From a clinical perspective,
domestic violence can be defined as assaultive behavior involving persons in a
dating and/or intimate, sexual, theoretically peer and often co-habitating
relationship (Goolkasian, 1986).
According to the American Medical Association, the U.S. home is "more
dangerous to women than city streets" (American Medical Association, 1991,
p. 5). Domestic violence is a common presenting complaint among women seeking
emergency medical attention, although most women who are either abused or at
risk for abuse are not detected by physicians (Abbott, Johnson, Koziol-McLain
& Lowenstein, 1996). Approximately 17% of the 1.4 million people treated in
hospital emergency rooms for violence-related injuries were injured by intimates
(Rand, 1997). With the identification of domestic violence as a national
epidemic by physicians, public health experts and public policy leaders,
recommendations have come from the American Medical Association, the American
College of Emergency Physicians, the Emergency Nurses Association, and the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to improve methods of
detection, counseling, and referral for domestic violence in emergency treatment
settings (Marwick, 1994).
While domestic violence, including threats, physical assaults and homicide,
continues to be one of the most frequent crimes in our nation, it remains one of
the most under-reported. Too often in the past, when the victim did report, the
incident was not thoroughly investigated because a determination was made that
it was a "family" or "personal" matter, and thus, did not
warrant the urgency of other crimes (Goolkasian, 1986). Law enforcement has
greatly improved its response to domestic violence over the past decade, taking
a pro-active approach to the arrest of the batterer and the protection of the
victim. Yet, improvements still need to be made not only by law enforcement, but
by the entire criminal justice system, as such deficiencies may often deter
victims from reporting incidents and filing criminal charges.
The Victim and Abuser
The violent behavior of the batterer has often been explained by the
characteristics of the victim. Many studies have been done on battered women's
personalities, mental health, and self-esteem, questioning "What makes a
woman susceptible to abuse?" and "Why are some women abused?"
These questions in and of themselves place a certain amount of blame on the
woman, giving her responsibility for what has happened to her. It would be
better to focus on the characteristics of the abuser.
Male batterers, while exhibiting many different personalities, do share some
characteristics. Many batterers show a higher level of dependence on their wives
than non-battering men. Their dependence conflicts with a fear of intimacy and
loss of control. Batterers also exhibit higher levels of suspicion and paranoia,
according to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Batterers often
will isolate their wives and are jealous to the point of suspicion of any
interactions with other men, thus creating suspicions of infidelity. In
addition, batterers have been observed to have an excessive need for control in
the relationship. High levels of hostility, depression and anxiety have also
been noted. Batterers tend to deny responsibility for their actions, blaming the
victim for provoking them, or ignoring the violent incident altogether (Vaselle-Augenstein
& Ehrlich, 1992).
While many factors may contribute to abuse, it is difficult to attribute a
direct causal relationship to any one factor. Some batterers lack the ability to
control their actions and do not know how to react appropriately and
nonviolently to stress and dissatisfaction. A need for power and control, an
abusive family background, feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and stress may all
contribute to the abusive behavior.
Why Victims Stay
Often the beginnings of abuse are subtle. It may start with verbal put-downs and
anger directed at objects breaking and throwing things. As it builds in severity
and frequency, the victim is gradually conditioned to the situation.
Women often are brought up being taught that dependence on a male and
affiliation with a family is the expected, preferred and most rewarding way of
life for them. Once in an abusive relationship, a woman may not leave because
she hopes or believes that the abuser will change. Many women will return to an
abusive relationship as soon as their partner starts counseling, without waiting
for a change in behavior patterns. Then when the abuser gradually stops
counseling and the abuse continues, the woman finds herself in the same
situation as before she left, and perhaps in even a worse situation.
Other reasons that domestic violence victims may stay in abusive relationships
|A belief in commitment;|
|A desire not to hurt their
|Their fear of being seen as
|The need to protect
children and parents;|
Religious convictions are
often an important factor in many victims' decisions to stay or leave the
relationship. One research study showed that clergy were the second most often
sought source for help after the police following the first battering incident.
However, this study also found that of the women who contacted the clergy, most
later identified women's groups and social services as most helpful, and none
identified the clergy as most helpful. Another study claims that while the
church is the institution most often contacted by battered women, clergy also
had the highest negative influence compared to women's groups, psychologists,
police, relatives, lawyers, and friends (Barnett and LaViolette, 1993).
Battered women are tied to their husbands by more than just emotional and moral
obligations; many are economically dependent upon their husbands as well.
Leaving their husbands and trying to support both themselves and their children
can prove to be too intimidating a prospect for many victims. With no way to
support themselves, battered women are reluctant to leave their situation.
Another factor in the decision to leave is the severity of the abuse. As
reviewed in Barnett and LaViolette (1993), studies indicate that the more severe
the abuse, the longer the battered woman took to decide to leave the
relationship, but once she had left, she was less likely to return. Women in
relationships of minor violence were likely to leave, but also likely to return
to the relationship.
The Pattern of
Battering is not usually an isolated incident, but rather it tends to be a cycle
that increases in frequency and severity over time. This cycle of violence is
usually broken down into three phases. The first phase is a tension building
phase where anger builds and minor incidences of violence occur. It may
include verbal abuse, threats, and breaking things. This phase lasts
indefinitely but eventually builds to an acute battering incident --
the phase in which the actual violence occurs.
The level of violence of a
particular battering depends upon many variables, including the level of
violence previously evident in the relationship, the level of substance abuse,
the state of mind of the abuser and other factors. Usually the batterer will
blame the use of force on the victim. Regardless of the level of force actually
used, the use of violence in the context of an intimate relationship is always
The acute battering incident
is followed by a third phase, usually referred to as the honeymoon phase,
where the batterer is remorseful or fearful of losing his partner, begging
forgiveness and trying to make amends. Some abusers, however, may show little or
no remorse during this phase. Often the honeymoon phase is only a short-lived
period of no violence.
The victim may often become
very protective of her batterer during the honeymoon phase -- believing that she
has overreacted to his violence -- and she begins to have hope that their
relationship will be restored and the abuse will never happen again. The cycle
gradually returns to the tension building phase, however, as the batterer places
all the blame for his actions on others and the victim internalizes all the
blame on herself.
These different phases and
types of violence and reactions combine to create what is known as the
"cycle of violence." This cyclical theory was first set forth by
domestic violence expert, Lenore Walker (1979), to describe the battered
woman's syndrome, which occurs as a response to a series of severe and
frequent assaults and encompasses the severe stress reactions and the fear,
anxiety, depression, guilt, confusion, passivity and low self-esteem that
accompanies it. Most battered women are blamed over and over by their batterers
for the abuse; gradually, the battered woman begins to take responsibility for
the beatings and learns that she is unable to stop or avoid them. This results
in frustration, confusion and a reduction in her ability to effectively solve
Her situation and resulting mental attitude causes her to become more able to
survive in the relationship and less able to escape. Much like the war victim or
prisoner of war who is under constant stress and subjected to arbitrary and
intermittent violence, the battered woman learns to feel that she is helpless
and that the violence is unavoidable. She loses the ability to learn new
avoidance techniques, thus making her situation more dangerous and more
difficult to leave.
Domestic violence affects every member of the family -- even if they are not the
ones being directly abused. Research has provided evidence that children who
observe domestic violence may grow to accept it as a natural part of adult,
especially intimate, relationships and may grow-up to become offenders or
victims themselves. Children who witness violence learn that violence is an
acceptable way of coping with anger and frustration.
Additional findings indicate that children of battered women may sustain some
developmental delays as a result of observing abuse and battering (Widom, 1989).
They also suffer feelings of loss, anger, fear, sadness, confusion, and guilt as
a result of witnessing violence at home, disruption of normal coping patterns,
difficult living conditions, and the emotional unavailability of their mother (Peled
& Edleson, 1994).
Trying to Leave
Leaving an abusive relationship is not always the safest solution for the
victim. Many domestic assaults occur as or after the victim tries to leave the
relationship. A person who is being abused should consider the options available
and work to find a way to end the violence as safely as possible. This may mean
waiting to end the relationship, or it may mean getting out as quickly as
possible. Only the abused person can truly judge what will be the safest and
best option for them.
Once a person has decided to leave an abusive relationship, a plan should be
made. The person should know where to go, how to leave, and how and if the
children will leave with them. Before leaving it is good to pack a suitcase of
necessities and put it in a safe place that is not in the home, but is readily
available for quick pick-up. Include in this emergency suitcase:
|A change of clothes;|
|Money -- whatever is
|Copies of essential legal
|Phone numbers; and|
|Other important personal
A trusted neighbor or friend
should be told about the situation, and a separate plan should be made with them
in the event that the abused person needs assistance (i.e., decide on a
visual signal to indicate the neighbor should call the police immediately).
(If you are currently in an abusive relationship, see FYI,
No. 15, "Suggested Safety Plan Guidelines for Victims of Domestic
Violence" for more information and suggestions.
Support networks exist in many communities. There are hotlines, counseling
services, support groups, legal resources, and shelters which provide support,
advice, financial assistance, counseling and legal help. There are also
batterers' programs in almost every community which assist abusive partners in
learning how to control themselves. Referrals for these programs can be obtained
through the county's Family Court Division, and are often a court-mandated
condition of sentences when batterers are convicted on domestic violence
Restraining order application forms can be obtained from the local police
department, county Family Court Division and/or local domestic violence programs
or shelters. There are several forms of restraining orders. Some states have an
emergency restraining order that a police officer can issue when responding to a
domestic violence call. This is usually good until the end of the next business
day and allows the victim time to apply for a more permanent order. Other
restraining orders last from 30 days to a few years and can be indefinitely
renewed. Each jurisdiction and community may differ in the type of restraining
orders available and the process for application and issuance of orders.
The realities of restraining orders, however, are that they are not always
effective. They are not always enforced, and it is sometimes difficult to catch
a person in the process of breaking the order -- which is a requirement in many
jurisdictions before the police can enforce the order. A person with a
restraining order should keep a copy in a safe place and file another with their
local law enforcement.
A person with a restraining
order should keep a copy in a safe place and file another copy with their local
law enforcement. Neighbors should also be alerted of the situation and informed
of the abuser's identity. If it becomes necessary to call the police, the
restraining order should be shown to the officers immediately upon their
(For more information regarding restraining orders in your jurisdiction,
please contact your local law enforcement, your county Family Court Division,
your local domestic violence programs, or the victim assistance program in your
local county or city prosecutor's office.)
What can I do about this problem?
If you know someone who is being abused, support them in their efforts to end
the violence. Don't blame them for the abuse. Give them the strength and
emotional support to leave if they need it, but do not force them to leave .
Support them in their decision to stay or leave.
Teach young people that violence is not acceptable. Support your local program
for battered women, sharing time and resources. Encourage training in
non-violent conflict resolution in the schools -- at every grade-level -- and
curricula in social studies classes on domestic violence.
Victims of domestic violence, as well as batterers, need help and supportive
services. An understanding of the violence in American homes and an
acknowledgment of the severity and criminality of these offenses by local and
national law enforcement, medical service providers and social service agencies
may provide a foundation for breaking the vicious cycle of domestic violence.
Abbott, Jean, Robin Johnson, Jane Koziol-McLain and Steven Lowenstein. (1995).
"Domestic Violence Against Women: Incidence and Prevalence in an Emergency
Department Population," Journal of the American Medical Association,
American Medical Association. (1991). "Domestic Violence: No Longer a
Family Secret." Five Issues in American Health. Chicago, IL:
American Medical Association.
Attorney General's Family Violence Task Force, Pennsylvania. (1989). Domestic
Violence: A Model Protocol For Police Response. Harrisburg, PA.
Barnett, Ola and Alyce LaViolette. (1993). It Could Happen To Anyone: Why
Battered Women Stay. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Craven, Diane. (1997). Sex
Differences in Violent Victimization, 1994. Washington, DC: Bureau of
Justice Statistics, US Dept of Justice.
Federal Bureau of
Investigation. (1996). Crime in the United States, 1995. Washington,
Goolkasian, Gail. (1986). Confronting
Domestic Violence: A Guide For Criminal Justice Agencies. Washington, DC:
U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.
National Center for Victims of
Crime and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. (1992). Rape in
America: A Report to the Nation. Arlington, VA: National Center for Victims
of Crime and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.
Peled, Einat and Jeffrey Edleson. (1994). "Process and Outcome in Small
Groups for Children of Battered Women," in Einat Peled, Peter Jaffe, and
Jeffrey Edleson, eds. Ending the Cycle of Violence. Newbury Park, CA:
Rand, Michael. (1997). Violence-Related
Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Straus, Murry. (1993).
"Physical Assaults by Wives: A Major Social Problem," in Richard
Gelles and Donileen Loseke, eds. Current Controversies on Family Violence.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Vaselle-Augenstein, Renata and Annette Ehrlich. (1993). "Male Batterers:
Evidence for Psychopathology," in Viano, Emilio, ed. Intimate Violence:
Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Washington, DC: Hemisphere Publishing
Walker, Lenore. (1979). The
Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row.
Widom, Cathy Spatz. (1992). The
Cycle of Violence. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, National
Institute of Justice.
For additional information, please contact:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 787-3224 (TDD)
Family Violence &
Sexual Assault Institute
1121 East Southeast Loop 323, Suite 130
Tyler, TX 75701
Michigan Coalition Against Domestic Violence
3893 Okemos Road, Suite B2
Okemos, MI 48864
(517) 347-7000 (24-Hour)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
P.O. Box 34103
Washington, DC 20043-4103
P.O. Box 18749
Denver, CO 80218
(303) 839 - 1852
National Council on
Child Abuse & Family Violence
1155 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
6400 Flank Drive, Suite 1300
Harrisburg, PA 17112
Violence Against Women Office
Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 5302
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Your state Attorney
General, county/city prosecutor, or county/city law enforcement:
Check in the Blue Pages of your local phone book under the appropriate section
heading of either "Local Governments," "County Governments,"
or "State Government."
FYI: A Program of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1997 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This
information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of
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