Domestic violence is widely recognized as a serious social problem that jeopardizes the safety of millions of Americans (Lanier et al, 2003). Research studies estimate that a woman is beaten every seven seconds and 4 die each day. The cycle of violence is perpetrated by parental modeling of violence, society’s acceptance of battering, and by failures of healthcare systems and providers. Consistently seen with domestic violence are a behavior pattern of coercive control, isolation, intimidation, and physical, sexual, or psychological assaults. It is estimated that about 15% to 32% of abused women are seen in primary care clinics. This article will review barriers to screening, risk factors for violence against women, and offer practical strategies for uncovering the facts. According to Lee Jong-Wook, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), “This study shows that women are more at risk from violence at home than in the street” (WHO, 2005).
There is no longer any doubt that domestic violence has taken a great toll on the women and children of America. Each year, an estimated 1 million women and 1.4 million children are assaulted by members of their own families. Similar trauma occurs among men, those in gay or lesbian relationships, and among people of all ages and socioeconomic groups. The outcome of these assaults is deadly: 17% of all murder victims are killed by family members and more than 50% of all American women who are victims of homicide are murdered by a current or former partner (Lynch, 2008)
Current estimates that 3-4 million women are physically abused by a family member means that 1 woman is beaten every 7 seconds in the United States. Prevention and intervention of this problem have become a major public health priority. Domestic violence can be defined as any relationship of unequal power and control where there is coercion, threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying of freedoms, blaming, use of male privilege including spousal rape, or economic denial.
One in three women all over the world has been either beaten into sex or abused in her lifetime. The greatest risk of violence for women comes from the male family members or husbands. The global burden of health attributed to domestic violence and rape is 5% for women of reproductive age.
Domestic violence knows no bounds, with murder being its ugliest manifestation, as a former or current partner is responsible for half of all the women murdered in the United States (Shaikh, 2003).
Prior to 1970, the term “domestic violence” referred to ghetto riots and urban terrorism, not the abuse of women by their intimate partners. Today, of course, domestic violence is a household word. Nine years had passed since the revelation of football star O.J. Simpson’s history of battering purportedly sounded “a wake-up call for all of America,” nine years since Congress enacted legislation hailed as “a milestone
truly a turning point in the national effort to break the cycle (Domestic Violence and the Law: Theory, Policy & Practice [DVLTPP], 2003)” of violence, and almost twenty years since Farrah Fawcett’s portrayal of Francine Hughes in the movie The Burning Bed supposedly “left an indelible mark upon society’s collective consciousness (DVLTPP, 2003)”.
Despite these and numerous other “milestones” and “wake-up calls,” domestic violence continues to be a seemingly intractable problem in this country. Substantial numbers of women are still beaten by their husbands and boyfriends every day, and many of them die as a result. A much smaller number of women strike back and kill their abusers, but it is these cases – and the self-defense issues they raise – that seem to receive a disproportionate share of the attention.
According to Straus et al (2003, p. 3) drive down any street in America. More than one household in six has been the scene of a spouse striking his or her partner last year. Three American households in five (which have children living at home) have reverberated with the sounds of parents hitting their children. Where there is more than
one child in the home, three in five are the scenes of violence between siblings. Overall, every other house in America is the scene of family violence at least once a year.
The history of violence in America and the brief examination of current levels of violence clearly indicate that violence was a prominent feature in our past and continues to be a major social and political problem. Not only does violence in America continue to exist, but recent data show that rates of violence have increased dramatically.
Domestic violence is considerably more complex than “street” or political violence because the victim-offender relationship is different. Crimes committed by strangers do not entail the complications involved in the intimate relationship of people living in the same household. Domestic violence victims face conflicts they would not suffer in attacks from strangers. Because of intimate family relationships, victims experience not only fear and anger but also love loyalty, guilt, and shame in domestic violence. The home, which should be a haven of security and trust, becomes a place of danger.
Violence in the home takes place between husband and wife, mother and father, mother and child, father and child, elder parent and son or daughter, and brother and sister. Everyone and every role and position in the family can be involved in or affected by domestic violence. Consequently, domestic violence is a family problem rather than a problem that involves only individual family members.
Further discussion revealed that this is fueled in part by the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality conveniently allowed by domestic violence, whose victims often suffer silently and without conspicuous physical markings. When asked whether domestic violence qualifies more as a criminal issue or a health issue, women were more than four times as likely to say that domestic violence is a criminal issue.
The overwhelming consensus showed that any woman could be a victim of abuse regardless of race, age, socio-economic status, or place of residence. Women are frequent targets of both physical and sexual assault by partners and acquaintances, as well as strangers.
Domestic violence during the last 20 years has been acknowledged as being a rapidly growing health concern in America’s communities, and as a result, communities around the country are working to develop strategies to stop the violence and provide more protective mechanisms for women and children who are battered (Domestic Violence Fact Sheet [DVFS], 2007).
One report estimates that more than 2.5 million females experience some form of violence each year. Further, almost 2 out of 3 females in this population have been attacked by a family member or a person with whom they are acquainted (DVFS, 2007).
Violence against women is a human rights scandal. At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. In the United States, a woman is raped every 6 minutes; a woman is battered every 15 seconds. Trafficking of women has become a global phenomenon where victims are sexually exploited, forced into labor, and subjected to abuse. Murders of women in other countries often go uninvestigated and unpunished. The experience or threat of violence affects the lives of women everywhere, cutting across boundaries of wealth, race and culture. In the home and in the community, in times of war and peace, women are beaten, raped, mutilated, and killed with impunity (DVFS, 2007).
- That active social support of victims reduces the risk of domestic violence and, if violence does occur, reduces the severity of the violence inflicted (Baumgartner, 1995).
Empirical studies tend to support these ethnographic findings, showing that when men are attached to and surrounded by family and friends who the men perceive would not tolerate their violence, and then men are significantly less violent (Lackey & Williams, 1995, p. 294).
In contrast, Smith (1991) found that men with friends who supported their use of violence were “significantly more likely than were husbands without such friends to have physically abused their wives at least once during the marriage” (Smith, 1991, p. 514).
Taken together, this literature seems to indicate that when victims receive strong social support then their batterers are less able to control them through the range of behaviors we label domestic violence. Conversely, if social support can be removed (for example through increased acceptance of victim-blaming beliefs) then domestic violence is more likely to be tolerated or even encouraged.
- The threat of violence affects the lives of women cutting across the boundaries of wealth, race, and culture (DVFS, 2007).
All over the world, women’s roles and positions within their societies are set and usually ruled, by men. And, for many, the rules are not just administered unfairly, but are enforced through a culture of intimidation, fear, and sometimes extreme violence.
The underlying cause of this is gender discrimination – the denial of women’s right to equality in all areas of life. It is often embedded in terms designed to sound as if they have the women’s best interests at heart – promoting chastity, purity, and honor as virtues – while really wielding these lofty principles as a means of power and control (Annan, 2003)
- Why a woman doesn’t leave? She must really like the violence or she wouldn’t stay.
Most victims who stay in a violent relationship recognize that if they take steps to leave, they risk the violence escalating. If your partner had threatened to kill you and your children, you would think very carefully before you put yourself or your family at greater risk. Most victims do not have enough support from outside the relationship to safely leave – and have suffered a serious loss of confidence and optimism about the future. Most women in seriously violent relationships eventually do leave but may take between five and eight years to get out, leaving and returning several times. We need to understand leaving as a process rather than a one-off event.
- Middle-class women are not the victims of violence as much as working-class women (Annan, 2003).
Violence occurs across all classes and socioeconomic groups. Wealthy abusers have more economic resources to control their families. Violence is reported less often among higher socio-economic groups, who have more to lose from a criminal record. The loss of ‘face’ or reputation, and possible economic deprivation, are issues for many.
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) gathers data about crimes using an ongoing, nationally representative sample of households in the United States. NCVS data include information about crime victims (age, gender, race-ethnicity, marital status, income, and educational level), criminal offenders (gender, race, approximate age, and victim-offender relationships), and the nature of the crime (for example, time and place of occurrence, use of weapons and nature of injury). NCVS victimization data include incidents reported and not reported to the police.
In 2005, 77,200 households and 134,000 individuals age 12 and older were interviewed. Between 1993 and 2005, response rates varied between 91% and 96% of eligible households and between 84% and 93% of eligible individuals. The survey relies on the victim’s ability to accurately recall the characteristics of each incident.
The experiences and estimates of intimate partner violence reflect those of the individuals residing in households. It does not capture the experiences of homeless individuals or those living in institutional settings such as shelters for homeless or battered persons. A previous study showed all respondents admitted to ever verbally abusing their wives and over two-third admitted to ever engaging in non-consensual sex with their wives (Shaikh, 2003).
Proper documentation that includes questionnaires was given to victims of domestic violence, their families, and colleagues to substantiate claims of injuries. Client
outcomes are measured using the Global History Questionnaire (GHQ) in the areas of employment, education, transportation, housing, client and child health, child care, and safety (Coulter & Estefan, 2007).
A multistage probability sampling design was used to conduct separate face-to-face interviews in respondents’ homes. The full study methodology combines qualitative and quantitative research methods. The quantitative component consists of a household survey. Prevalence estimates for various forms of violence are obtained by asking respondents direct questions about their experiences of specific acts of violence in a highly sensitive and respectful fashion. Particular attention is paid to ethical and safety issues associated with research on intimate partner violence. Ensuring women’s safety is of paramount concern in the study (Considering doing research on domestic violence against women, 2004)
Wilt & Olson (1996, pp- 81-82) pointed out that systematic research in domestic violence is relatively new, and many of the studies reviewed here were done among “convenience” samples. Confidence intervals for prevalence estimates were generally not reported, and few studies used multivariate techniques. Nevertheless, the prevalence of domestic violence among intimate partners in America is quite high. Population-based studies report that 8% to 12% of women experience some form of domestic violence in a one-year period. Severe violence with the potential to cause injury is experienced by 2% to 4% in a year.
Survey results may underestimate the prevalence of violence, yet even at reported rates, there is no doubt that this is a serious and widespread public health problem. While the present situation in the United States is sometimes referred to as an epidemic of domestic violence, it would be more accurate to say that domestic violence is endemic, that it exists as a constant feature of American family life (p.82).
Domestic violence has an enormous impact on the healthcare system. Homicide, injury, mental illness, substance abuse, and the legacy of violence from generation to generation may all be related to domestic violence. The shame and fear surrounding domestic violence silence many victims. Violence and the injuries, arrests, and harassment that result can destroy health, family, and life itself (Family Violence Prevention Plan, 2001).
Directions for Future Research
An important question to be addressed by future research is whether there is any relationship between the severe violence that afflicts women at shelters and the more moderate violence reported by larger portions of the population. Longitudinal studies following couples over time are needed to evaluate the likelihood that moderate violence will escalate into serious violence or that new violence will begin (Wilt & Olson,
1996). Another issue for further research is the meaning of minor violence to participants and its association with marital satisfaction and with physical or mental health problems. Risk factors for worsening and new violence also need to be identified. Because of the relatively high prevalence of severe domestic violence and the associated risk of serious injury, a full range of medical and social services must be available to the victims (Wilt & Olson, 1996).
The challenge is in the provision of ongoing programs in order to address ongoing problems and to achieve longer-term goals. International studies on domestic violence also point to a need to:
- improve domestic violence data collection
- improve evaluations of intervention, public awareness, and education programs
- improve cost estimates, including incidental economic consequences such as loss of income, child care costs, housing costs, and legal or court costs
- include indirect and non-economic costs of domestic violence to the community, such as educational disruption, restriction of occupational attainment, the impact on individual self-esteem, and the long-term social, educational, and psychological impacts on women and children
- include intergenerational effects of domestic violence such as the development of life cycles of abuse from one generation to another
Volumes could be written about the prevalence, seriousness, demographics, intervention systems, implications, and many other topics about the issue. No matter which way you want to look at the issue, America has a very serious problem. There is no excuse for this social injustice–especially when you see domestic violence rates on the rise. It downright appalls almost everyone.
Traditionally in American society, they have had a patriarchal system. This social construction is a major underlying mechanism in provoking domestic violence. The patriarchal system relies on the presumption that the male is the head of the household; assertive and always right, unconditionally. The woman is the second-in-command; to take the place of the husband while he is away—but only when he is away. The woman is expected to fulfill the man’s needs and to support him in whatever he believes and does, unconditionally.
Today in modern America, however, you can see this system changing. Women’s rights are increasing constantly. Slowly America is becoming egalitarian. You still don’t see the domestic violence problem decreasing because of this social change; obviously, since it is on the rise according to statisticians. The egalitarian (dual-earner) state America is evolving in is creating more stress than ever for couples.
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