Domestic violence

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Domestic Violence
(sometimes referred to as domestic abuse, spousal abuse or violence within the family) 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, occurring in both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.[1]

There are several aspects that must be taken into consideration when analyzing domestic violence. The nature of domestic violence could be physical, psychological, sexual and/or social. In addition, the frequency (occasional or chronic) and severity (required treatment, transitory or permanent injury which is defined as either mild, moderate, severe or homicide) are relative factors when categorizing domestic violence.

Recent attention to domestic violence began in the women's movement 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. In other places with less attention and less support, reported cases would be still lower. 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.[2]

Popular emphasis has tended to be on women as the victims of domestic violence although with the rise of the men's movement, and particularly men's rights, there is now some advocacy for men as victims, although the statistics concerning the number of male victims given by them are strongly contested by many groups active in research on or working in the field of domestic violence and "violence against men".


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. 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. 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.

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. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, economic, or and/or psychological abuse.[3]

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.[1]

In Spain, the introduction of the organic law 1/2004, in December 2004 redefined domestic violence as "a violence originating from the position of power of men over women". Men have been specifically excluded from the definition on the basis that government figures show that around 88-90% of victims are women. The new law, which changes a number of other laws and sentencing, provides instant protection to all women, eviction of men from their family homes prior to trial, and a suspension of the presumption of innocence. The new courts in Spain are called "Courts of violence against Women".[4]

Forms of abuse

Domestic violence can take the form of physical violence, including direct physical violence ranging from unwanted haptics to Spousal 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 victim's money and other economic resources, preventing victim from seeing friends and relatives, actively sabotaging victim's social relationships and isolating victim from social contacts. Spiritual abuse is another form of abuse that may occur.

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 and incest

Sexual violence and incest are divided into three categories:

  1. use of physical force to compel a person to engage in a sexual act against their 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, because of intimidation or pressure, or because of seduction and submission (as in female forms of sexual aggression); and
  3. abusive sexual contact.

Psychological abuse

Psychological/emotional abuse can include, 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.

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.


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.[5] However, psychiatrist William Glasser states that fear and all other emotions are self-caused as evidenced by the wide range of emotions two different subjects might have in response to the same incident.Citation needed ]


Violence against women

See Violence against women

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.Citation needed ]

During pregnancy

Domestic violence during pregnancy is relatively common, and can be missed by medical professionals because it often presents in non-specific ways.

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, Sexually transmitted diseases; and miscarriage.

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

  • Pre-birth: prematurity, Premature rupture of membranes, IUD
  • Psychosocial: interference in relationship, witnessing of violence, Eating and sleeping disorders, emotional neediness, withdrawn, over-compliant, clingy, aggressive, problems at school, suicidal ideation
  • Legal: child protection issues, overlap with child abuse
  • Long-term chronic ill-healthCitation needed ]

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 2005 was 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 from 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.[6]

The Co-Occurrence of Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment

Recent research has shown that 50% of men who frequently abuse their wives, also abuse their children.[7] In approximately half of child abuse cases, a mother is also being battered.[8] Even in families with domestic violence but no child physical abuse, children who witness the abuse between their parents frequently suffer behavioral and emotional problems such as aggression towards others, withdrawal, low self-esteem, self-blame and lower school achievement.[9] The research calls for a new way to approach the two problems, by seeing that the two problems co-occur in many households and require joint interventions.

As a result of these research findings, the United States government launched the Greenbook Project to provide interventions in cases where families suffered from both domestic violence and child maltreatment. United States government recommendations were published under the title, Effective Interventions in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice. The report had a green cover, and therefore became referred to as the “Greenbook.”[8]

The United States federal government funded six communities to implement policy recommendations from the Greenbook. One of those projects was in Santa Clara County, California. The focus of the Greenbook effort in Santa Clara County was to improve interventions and coordination between child protective services (CPS), domestic violence agencies, the juvenile dependency court (the courts that oversee child abuse and neglect cases), and law enforcement. In Santa Clara County, there were seven different projects that focused on different systems including: 1. Training for domestic violence advocates about co-occurrence, 2. Cross-training of staff in all agencies impacted by domestic violence and child maltreatment, 3. Interventions for the batterer, 4. A new police protocol to respond to the domestic violence victim 5. Changing Child Protective Services practices to assess for domestic violence, 6. Integration of the courts, and 7. A culturally competent community engagement effort.[10]

Violence against men

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 female or male 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 states that such beliefs are "a significant distortion of well-grounded research data."Citation needed ] 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."[5]

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. Each year there are over 3.2 million cases of men being assaulted by their intimate partner. Advocates have theorized that the increase could be due, in part, to the profession of the male victim. For example, many men work for the federal government, police agencies, military, or other jobs that may require some kind of security clearance. Due to the sensitive nature of the jobs, perhaps they are afraid that protecting themselves physical or legally could cause the loss of their jobs. Male victims are often ashamed that others will perceive them as weak or less of a man. There is also a belief that the police will not take the allegation seriously or that they (the man) will be arrested because "only men" are the abusers. In male/male relationships there may be some shame because of the nature of the relationship (i.e. homosexual).Citation needed ]


Domestic violence occurs across the world, in various cultures, and affects people across society, irrespective of economic status. In the United States, women are six times as likely as men to experience intimate partner violence. 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%).[11] Some surveys in specific places report figures as high as 50-70% of women surveyed who were ever physically assaulted by an intimate partner. Others, including surveys in the Philippines and Paraguay, report figures as low as 10%. The rate of intimate partner violence in the U.S. has declined since 1993.[3] Almost always, surveys will undercount actual numbers. 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 of victims to admit that they have been abused and other factors.

The 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 behaviors, 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.

Many domestic violence advocates believe that the cycle of violence is somewhat outdated and that it does not reflect the realities of many men and women experiencing domestic violence. [1]

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. 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.

Trainer and municipal court judge Richard Russell was quoted in New Jersey Law Journal on April 24, 1995: "when you say to me, am I doing something wrong telling these judges they have to ignore the constitutional protections most people have, I don't think so. The Legislature described the problem and how to address it, [and] I am doing my job properly by teaching other judges to follow the legislative mandate.....Your job is not to become concerned about all the constitutional rights of the man that you're violating as you grant a restraining order. Throw him out on the street, give him the clothes on his back and tell him, 'See ya' around.' " Moreover, Russell says there is nothing wrong with the teaching approach. Abuse victims, he says, may apply and relinquish TROs repeatedly before they finally do something about breaking away. Once they do so, he says, the Legislature's prevention goal has been met.[12]

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."[13]

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.

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.Citation needed ]

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:

  • Is 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.Citation needed ]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Legal Profession Assistance Conference. (2010). Intimate Partner Violence. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from The Canadian Bar Association
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Intimate Partner Violence Prevention. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Center For Disease Control and Prevention:
  3. 3.0 3.1 Office on Violence Against Women. (2010). Office on Violence Against Women: About Domestic Violence. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from United States Department of Justice:
  4. Information Point Centre. (2008, October 3). Court for Violence Against Women. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Team People:
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. Washington D.C.: U.S. Dept of Justice.
  6. World Health Organization. (2005). WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence Against Women. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from World Health Organization:
  7. Peled, E., Jaffe P.G. and Edleson, J.L. (Eds.)(1995). Ending the cycle of violence: Community responses to children of battered women. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Greenbook Initiative. (2008, July 1). Greenbook: The Initiative. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from
  9. Kolbo, J. (1996). Risk and Resilience Among Children Exposed to Family Violence. Violence and Victims , 11 (2), 113-128.
  10. Applied Survey Research. (2006). Toward a More Coordinated, Country-wide Response to Family Violence. Santa Clara County Greenbook Initiative.
  11. Heise, L., Ellsberg, M. and Gottemoeller, M. Ending Violence Against Women. Population Reports, Series L, No. 11. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Population Information Program, December 1999.
  12. Bleemer, R. N.J. judges told to ignore rights in abuse TROs. New Jersey Law Journal. April 24, 1995.
  13. The Hope Card Project. (2007). The Hope Card Project: FAQ. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from The Hope Card Project:

See also

Other Sources

  • Wallace, Harvey (2004), Family Violence: Legal, Medical, and Social Perspectives, Allyn & Bacon,isbn=0205418228
  • Mayhew, P., Mirlees-Black, C. and Percy, A. (1996), The 1996 British Crime Survey England & Wales, Home Office
  • Watts, C. and C. Zimmerman (2002), Violence against women: global scope and magnitude, The Lancet, 359(9313), pp.1232-1237
  • Waits (1985), The Criminal Justice System's Response to Battering: Understanding the Problem, Forging the Solutions, Washington Law Review, 60, pp. 267-330
  • Dutton, D.G. & T.L. Nicholls, The gender paradigm in domestic violence research and theory: Part 1—The conflict of theory and data [Review article]. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal, 2005. 10(6): p. 680-714.
  • Carney, M., F. Buttell, and D. Dutton, Women who perpetrate intimate partner violence: A review of the literature with recommendations for treatment [Review article]. Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal, 2007. 12(1): p. 108-115.
  • |Criminalization of Domestic Violence: Promises and Limits , Fagan, Jeffrey,Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation
  • Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV)
  • Men's Health: Battered Men

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