Why Do Women Stay in Abusive Relationships?

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 31
Words: 6426
Reading time:
25 min
Study level: Undergraduate


Domestic violence is not a new phenomenon it existed for centuries, it was not until recent times that violence and abuse in the context of adult intimate relationships were considered a social problem. The risk factors for domestic violence have been a concern from the beginning; discussions of intimate partner abuse have rarely included consideration of protective factors that may buffer those at risk from becoming violent or from becoming symptomatic as a result of victimization. This is a significant oversight insofar as a more complete understanding of protective factors as well as risk factors have implications for social policy, prevention, and treatment of partner abuse. Here we examine partner violence in intimate relationships, specifically how it is defined, its prevalence, associated and contributing factors, risk and protective factors, consequences, and services.

It is considered a social issue that cuts across all socio-economic, racial, ethnic, gender, and age boundaries. Abuse and neglect can be found in all types of families and interpersonal relationships, transcending the life span. It is a dynamic and complex phenomenon that violates the very nature of the human organization. Family structures exist in all cultures, with the main task of rearing and caring for both young and old alike. Even out-of-home care environments, such as nursing homes or residential treatment facilities, in which pseudo families are formed, are generally striving to improve the quality of life for residents. Public health, criminal justice, medicine, social work, mental health, education, and even veterinary science professionals have been confronted with the damaging consequences and have responded in a number of ways. Research has been conducted in a multitude of scholarly contexts, collectively addressing a wide range of issues including the efficacy of public policy; treatment effectiveness; predictive factors; physical, mental, and behavioral consequences; and family systems and has explored the core features of abusive relationships.

We begin with a discussion of how we use the words family and family violence. We frame the words we use throughout the text. We explore the importance of studying violence in the home, especially from a multidisciplinary perspective.

The traditional family, meaning married parents with their biological children, may arguably be the exception today, rather than the rule. Today, a variety of individuals are likely to live together in a household, including gay and lesbian partners, cohabiting adults, and nuclear, extended, step, adoptive, and intergenerational families. Family to many of us also means good times, celebrations, and traditions. We who view family in this way are the lucky ones. For numerous others, family means something much different. The words family and home represent feelings of fear, anger, disappointment, and danger. Unfortunately, for some, home may be a place in which they are regularly physically assaulted, neglected, or sexually molested.

Literature Review

Over the years researchers and scholars have developed a number of models and theories to explain abuse in families. Why are theories important? Theories help us explain aspects of our world. It is a means by which we attempt to make sense of the inexplicable. Whenever we attempt to explain why things happen a certain way, we are theorizing. Researchers and scholars in the family violence field do exactly the same thing. They, however, go about theorizing in a more formal way by testing their theories using scientific methods.

Theories of family violence were not formed until the middle of the nineteenth century. Prior to this time, violence within the family was not recognized as a social problem and thus was not of interest to scholars. Recognizing the social context in which families existed is important to our understanding of how family violence theory has evolved.

Marriage is coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions. (Schneider, 1994, p. 36).

Thus marriage was seen as a harmonious and intimate association between two people that should be left as such. It was not intended as a social project for outsiders to become involved in a union that could be subject to the political convictions of the day. Although policies are currently in place that allows interference in family affairs, the protection of privacy continues to be an important concept.

In order to fully understand this contradiction, we need to consider a variety of factors. First, the role children have played in society throughout time is important to our understanding of cultural norms of disciplining and caring for children. Second, how we define abuse and neglect depends on those cultural standards, as well as on the political, economic, and social conditions of the time. The long-term consequences of abuse and neglect provide the supporting documentation that this paradox continues to persist into the twenty-first century.

Related to learned helplessness and the cycle of violence is the concept of the battered woman syndrome. Lenore Walker (1979) theorized that some women remained in physically, sexually, or psychologically abusive relationships because of extreme fear and the belief that there is no escape. The victim also feels as though she has no choice but to remain with her abusive partner. This syndrome develops over time, as the cycle of violence occurs and the woman loses hope and feels unable to deal effectively with her situation.

Another theory of why women remain in relationships with their batterers is based on the Stockholm syndrome or hostage syndrome. Theorists have argued that battered women are analogous to hostages because of the physical and psychological threats made by the perpetrator. Such women feel as though there is no way out of this situation in which their intimate partners are in complete control. However, the battered woman experiences occasional kindness and support from her partner and, as a result of her isolation from outsiders, develops a bond with her captor (Graham & Rawlings, 1991).

Some theorists have blamed domestic violence on intimate emotional bonding and unhealthy attachment (Bowlby, 1988; Dutton & Painter, 1993). Bowlby (1988) posits that sometimes partners have strong, but unhealthy, attachments to one another based on anxiousness and fear of abandonment. Each partner creates ways to control the other or to avoid being abandoned. In some cases, this includes violence. In addition, there is some evidence that women who had unhealthy attachments to their parents when they were younger (as a result of abuse or neglect) are more likely to develop unhealthy attachment styles as adults.

Traumatic bonding between partners may explain why abused women stay with, or return to, their abusive partners. Dutton and Painter (1993) argue that abusive relationships have the characteristics necessary for traumatic bonding strong emotional ties and intermittent abuse. After being physically or emotionally assaulted, the victim is in need of affection and is open to the claims of remorse and love made by her partner. The intermittent abuse resulted in vulnerability and the victim’s need for positive treatment by her partner. The kindness shown by her partner following an incident of abuse, however, reinforces her emotional bond to him.

While a number of theorists have attempted to explain why men batter and why battered women remain in an abusive relationship, no single-factor theory has effectively explained the phenomenon. For this reason, an integrated, “multifactor model” may be the best approach to understanding the complexities of domestic violence (Heise, 1998). This popular approach, called the ecological perspective, draws upon a number of earlier theories described previously. It “recognizes that people’s actions are determined by a variety of factors located within themselves, in their families of origin and procreation, in the social structure, and in the larger socio-cultural environment” (Carlson, 1997, p. 292). Theorists who advocate this approach believe that abusive situations may be the result of the interaction among personal, situational, social, political, and cultural factors (Heise, 1998).

What is Intimate abuse?

From the time that it first emerged as a social problem, defining and explaining violence against women has been surrounded by controversy. Although most commonly called domestic violence, violence toward female intimate partners has acquired a wide variety of other labels, including woman abuse, woman battering, wife battering or abuse, marital violence, and most recently intimate partner violence or abuse. Examination of these different terms reveals several sources of variation: whether it is called violence or abuse, whether it is seen exclusively as a woman’s problem, and whether it affects only married or heterosexual people As research has emerged identifying violence and abuse in the relationships of cohabiting and dating couples as early as junior high school (Burcky, Reuterman, and Kopsky 1988), scholars have been less inclined to label violence against women as marital violence or wife abuse unless they are referring to abuse in the context of marriage.

Feminists tend to believe strongly that intimate partner violence should be framed as a gender-related problem of women. Others prefer to frame it in more gender-neutral terms, noting that women not only are victims of violence and abuse but also can be its perpetrators. The argument that men can be victims and women can be perpetrators has been made perhaps most persuasively by gay men and lesbians committed to ameliorating violence and abuse in same-sex partnerships.

A wide range of potential behaviours have been classified as emotional or psychological abuse, such as ridicule; threats of violence; harming someone’s children, pets, or property; isolating an individual from loved ones; and so forth. A long-standing controversy has existed between advocates for abused women and scholars and researchers regarding the nature of intimate partner abuse, resulting in two different perspectives. The feminist perspective sees partner violence as a problem in which men victimize women in a pattern of escalating violence and abuse that will not stop on its own, having its origins in men’s need or desire to control their female partners. In contrast, the family violence perspective has described intimate violence as a behaviour that can be initiated by either men or women, not necessarily frequent or escalating in severity, and not always motivated by the desire to control. Johnson (1995) has attempted to resolve this debate by asserting that, these two different points of view are informed by two different bodies of literature and arrive at two different conclusions regarding the nature of intimate partner violence, largely because they are studying essentially different phenomena. He labels these two phenomena as patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence.

Patriarchal terrorism, a product of patriarchal traditions of men’s right to control “their” women, is a form of terroristic control of wives by their husbands that involves the systematic use of not only violence, but economic subordination, threats, isolation, and other control tactics.

The common couple violence that is assessed by the large-scale random survey methodology is in fact gender balanced, and is a product of a violence prone culture and the privatized setting of most households. The patriarchal terrorism that is tapped in research with the families encountered by public agencies is a pattern perpetrated almost exclusively by men, and is rooted deeply in the patriarchal traditions of the Western family. (Johnson 1995:284, 286)

Intimate partner abuse is important because these definitions will communicate what we see as the nature of the problem, which is affected by it, and what we should do about it. To the extent that intimate partner abuse is framed as a problem of women, male victims cannot exist.

In terms of the nature of intimate violence, minor acts of violence are more prevalent than severe acts. To a large extent, it appears that physical violence is accompanied or preceded by verbal aggression or psychological/emotional abuse.

Finally, to a considerable extent, when violence occurs in an intimate relationship it tends not to be a onetime occurrence. A growing literature has examined intimate partner violence over time. For example, Aldarondo’s (1996) longitudinal analysis following violent men from the 1985 National Family Violence Survey found that almost half of the men violent in one year (18 percent of the sample) were also violent for two years (8 percent), and half of those were violent for all three years.

Some have speculated that rape of wives by their husbands may be the most common type of sexual assault (Russell 1990). Marital rape is said to occur in approximately one-third to one-half of all violent marriages, most commonly in severely violent relationships (Campbell 1989a). Men rape their wives for a variety of reasons such as the need to assert their power and feel a sense of ownership over their wives, a sense of entitlement to sex, or due to sexual jealousy (Bergen 1998). Survivors of marital rape have been described as using a variety of strategies to manage or cope with sexual assault by their husbands. Initially, some women fail to label their experiences as rape or tell themselves that what has occurred will never happen again. As time goes on, if the rapes continue, victims develop strategies to minimize their risk of sexual assault or injury through active resistance, by giving in to avoid injury, by avoiding their husbands altogether, or by placating their husbands. Emotional survival strategies included dissociating themselves from the experience or using cognitive distortions that help them minimize the severity of the experience or focus on better times (Bergen 1998). Studies suggest that marital rape is not less harmful to women than rape by a stranger.

The interpersonal violence in the context of intimate relationships has been defined in various ways, with the preferred current terminology being intimate partner abuse. This terminology encompasses violence against men as well as women in the context of a couple relationships, and abuse in dating and cohabiting as well as marital relationships.

Numerous studies have compared rates of intimate partner violence across ethnic groups, but there are no consistent conclusions regarding whether rates are higher, lower, or the same among people of colour as compared with whites.

Historical Perspective

Intimate relationships abuse has existed for centuries. In fact, the right of married men to chastise their wives physically is said to have been granted when the Romans passed the first laws governing marriage in 753 B.C. (Dobash and Dobash 1977–78). English common law, too, on which American legal traditions are based, gave men the right to beat their wives, although this right was regulated.

Although some level of violence was considered necessary, legislation was enacted to create boundaries for what was appropriate under the watchful eye of God. However, there is little evidence that many men were actually punished for such law violations notes that charges of domestic violence were often resolved with a visit from a minister. Additionally, the demonic beliefs of the time placed a great deal of social power in the hands of abusive men, who could easily explain battering as necessary to combat the practice of witchcraft.

Although their focus on battering was purely based on the relationship between drinking and violence, temperance advocates ultimately were successful in the development of divorce reform (Eigenberg, 2001). Women’s suffrage groups were also instrumental in eventually gaining women’s rights in a number of areas, including the rights to vote, to own property, and not to be considered the legal property of their husbands.

It was not until the 1970s that a renewed interest in domestic violence resurfaced. Several forces converged over the next several decades, facilitating vast changes in public policy and professional practice regarding domestic violence. Advocacy, research, and legal precedent connected to create what has been referred to as the “battered women’s movement” or the “domestic violence movement”. Although the movement began in Europe in the 1960s, it was only in the 1970s that feminist and grassroots groups began to develop in the United States to address the issue of battering (Pagelow, 1984).

The women’s movement of the 1970s also brought violence against women to the attention of public. Women’s-rights advocates rallied nationwide to educate the public about domestic violence and sexual assault. Advocates were relentless in their pursuit to develop specialized services for victims, to change the way in which the police and the courts dealt with battering, and to educate the public to the plight of abused women. Activists also called for scientific research. Proving the power of grassroots initiatives, the battered women’s movement was set in motion by the end of the 1970s, generating dialogue and much public debate.

At the same time, crime victims’ rights advocates were demanding that the criminal justice system attend to the needs of crime victims. Although the crime victims’ movement is usually not credited as being influential to the early success of the domestic violence movement, we believe it is important to acknowledge the work of these advocates as well. Working parallel to the domestic violence movement, crime victims’ advocates were instrumental in getting the police, courts, and state legislatures to re-examine the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system.

Impact on Children and Women

The research just described that highlights the effects of battering on women and their children clearly makes the case for a comprehensive response to domestic violence. Such a response should include crisis intervention (including shelter and other protective services), as well as transitional programs and long-term treatment (e.g., housing assistance, vocational training, child care, transportation, psychological counselling for women and children, drug and alcohol treatment). The understanding that batterers’ and victims’ behaviour is the result of individual characteristics, family background, social structural factors, and societal cultural factors calls for interventions that take a multipronged approach (see Carlson, 1984). The extensive and varied effects of battering on women and children underscore the need for a coordinated system that includes legal, mental health, physical health, and financial (housing, education, vocational training, child care, etc.) services.

The aftermath of domestic violence assaults has a destructive impact on the battered woman and her children. Stark and Flitcraft (1988) have indicated that the battered woman syndrome results in subsequent high rates of medical problems, mental disorders, miscarriages, abortions, alcohol and drug abuse, rape, and suicide attempts. Carlson (1996) estimated that each year more than 10 million children witness woman battering in the privacy of their own homes. The impact of growing up in a violent home often results in an intergenerational cycle of violence.

Although most researchers and practitioners would agree that family violence occurs frequently, very few authorities mention the dearth of qualitative studies on battered women. For too long, researchers have examined woman battering as a lower-class and/or pathological phenomenon. There is no single characteristic that determines a woman’s potential for leaving her batterer (Roberts, 1996). Rather, a cluster of personal and situational characteristics taken together can provide significant predictors of whether a battered woman will stay in the relationship. The literature has neglected to measure these ecological factors and both the length of battering relationships and the chronicity of battering histories. After thoroughly reviewing the professional journal articles on woman battering, I realized that a new study was needed on specific types of battered women based on the duration and intensity of battering, the lethality of the worst battering incident, emergency room visits, police responses, depression or anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, alcohol or drug use by the victim, and coping methods. To fill this lacuna, I assembled a database on psychosocial variables, duration of battering, and levels of violence against battered women.

Child custody and visitation are emotionally charged issues. In all custody disputes, child well-being must be balanced against the rights of parents. Even in families where violence has not been an issue prior to separation or divorce, a pattern of vicious parental behaviour may surface as a result of custodial disputes. Turkat (1999) suggests an untested theory that a pattern of malicious behaviour develops with some individuals when faced with this issue; his term divorce-related malicious parent syndrome is based on anecdotal material and describes behaviour in which parents with no psychiatric history develop problematic malicious behaviour with their spouse, with potentially detrimental consequences for their children.

The profession of social work has a significant role to play in understanding how to best assess and intervene with exposed children. In the course of a professional day, it is likely that direct practice social workers will observe the immediate and long-term indicators of violence on children and families.

Consequently, most professionals employed in schools, hospitals, shelters for battered women, and children’s mental health settings, to name a few, will need to make informed decisions about their practice when confronted with exposed children. This chapter, therefore, will be divided into three main sections. First, a discussion on the estimates of exposure to violence will highlight the seriousness of this issue. This summary provides a basis for understanding the impact of such experiences and ultimately intervening. Second, a cursory review of the literature will be presented, including a focus on a number of impact, moderating or mediating, and resilience factors. This discussion will also include a summary of the more recent focus on the traumatic and posttraumatic indicators some children exhibit. Third, we present a summary of assessment and treatment protocols. Finally, a case illustration highlights the various assessment and treatment issues.

Reliable estimates of child exposure to domestic violence are critical to the social work profession for a number of reasons. Primarily, the recognition of child exposure is relatively new. Although the precise numbers of children exposed to domestic violence will likely never be known, some estimates have been commonly accepted in the field by researchers and policy makers alike. Such estimates have ranged from 3.3 million children (based on 2.2 children per family; Carlson, 1984, 1996) to 10 million children in the United States (Straus, 1991) and 500,000 children in Canada (McLeod, 1987).

Intimate relationships affect us in our very homes, our “havens in a heartless world” (to recycle a contemporary cliché), 3 the places where we are supposed to be safe, nurtured, and protected. In intimate relationships, we expose our bodies and bare our souls, making ourselves vulnerable at the very core of our beings. When one’s haven is a heartless world, there is no further place of refuge, no sanctuary in which one can rest secure from the violence that threatens one’s exposed and vulnerable core self.

Abuse by an intimate partner can include: (1) physical battering, ranging from shoving and hitting to attacks with lethal weapons; (2) emotional and psychological abuse, such as humiliation, isolation, threats to take the children away, or the killing of beloved pets; (3) financial control, such as withholding support money or stealing the abused person’s own money; and (4) sexual abuse, such as rape or other forced sex acts.

Autonomy, to reiterate, involves reflecting on one’s deeper values and concerns and acting in accordance with them. It involves some capacity to persist in acting according to one’s deeper concerns in the face of a minimum of opposition by others. One’s reflections should, furthermore, have been made without undue manipulation or coercion.

Intimate partner abuse undermines autonomy in at least three related ways. First, intimate partner abuse is coercive; it threatens an abused woman’s survival and safety. Intimate partner abuse denies to the abused person, in her very home life and her intimate bodily existence, the safety and security she needs to try to live her life as she thinks she ought to do. Instead of being able to live according to her values and commitments, an abused woman is reduced to seeking bare survival and security. Some philosophers have argued that a person cannot live an autonomous life unless she lives under circumstances that afford her a plurality of acceptable options and do not reduce her to the level of being governed by her basic needs, such as those of survival or security. 5 Basic survival and security are not commitments or self-conceptions that define us as particular persons; they are universal needs of all living beings. Merely to survive, even against great odds, is not (yet) to exemplify self-determination in any significant sense. I argued in chapter 1 that someone could still exemplify autonomy, when facing dangerous or tragic circumstances, by nevertheless acting, admittedly at great risk to herself, to preserve and protect what she cares about. Autonomy is thus not eliminated by dangers such as domestic abuse. It is certainly, however, much more difficult to achieve under those conditions and is, in that sense, undermined.

Intimate partner abuse undermines autonomy in a second way as a consequence of the threat it poses to an abused person’s survival. This threat focuses an abused woman’s attention constantly on the desires and demands of her abuser. An abused woman tends to develop a heightened awareness of what her partner wants and needs as she tries to accommodate his wishes and whims, all this as a way to minimize his violent reactions. 6 Such focused attention on what another person wants distracts someone from the task of understanding herself or being guided by her own self-defining concerns. 7 Her goals are survival and security, which are not, as such, autonomy-conferring goals. And her means of pursuing those goals involve mere deferential or heteronymous reactions to the abuser’s actual or anticipated desires or moods.

Third, abusers are people who attempt in general to exercise inordinate control over their intimate partners. One significance of autonomy is that of not being consistently or deeply subjected to the will of other persons. Chronic abuse, however, is precisely a form of wilful control by another person. 8 According to Angela Browne, the “early warning signs” of an abusive personality include possessiveness, excessive jealousy, quickness to anger, an insistence on knowing a woman’s whereabouts and activities at all times, and a tendency to discourage the woman from maintaining relationships with others. It is much harder for a woman to avoid subjection to the will of another if that other is an intimate partner with substantial access to her at private and vulnerable moments who tries continually to exert control over her.

Over the past several decades, professional caregivers and feminist activists have worked hard to reform the legal system and social support services so that these agencies will help abused women more effectively to avoid or end abuse. Studies of the effectiveness of these programs suggest some degree of success, but the studies have been criticized for methodological weaknesses. In the absence of programs with conformably high or widespread success rates at rehabilitating abusers, much effort continues to be directed toward empowering abused women so that they can improve their own lives. Some studies suggest that the only sure way for most women to stop being abused is to end their relationships with their abusers. What professional caregivers and legal personnel often find, however, is that some women keep returning to their abusive relationships even after receiving the support of social services and finding out about opportunities to leave their relationships with relative safety.

Why do women stay in abusive relationships?

The question of how best to respond to abused women arises most acutely in such cases. To answer the question carefully, we need to know why some women stay in abusive relationships.

Some social theorists have argued that we should stop asking why women stay in abusive relationships. This question seems to blame the victim for the abuse she experiences and perhaps even to excuse the abuser. Instead of this question, it is argued, we should ask, “Why do men abuse women?”

We should certainly ask why some men batter and abuse women, and we should continue to support the important research addressing this question. At the same time, there is value in asking the question why women stay—provided it is asked in the right way. The question is ambiguous in its presuppositions. It could be meant as a rhetorical question intended to blame an abused woman for the abuse she suffers. On this mistaken view, the abused woman’s action of staying in the relationship is what enables the abuser to continue abusing her, and, for that reason, she is somehow morally responsible for the abuse.

The questions “Why do women stay?” or “Why does she stay?” could be meant, on the other hand, as sincere attempts to understand women’s motivations. We assume, with good reason, that human beings tend to be self-protective. When someone defends herself against attack, this is understandable on the face of it. It requires no further explanation. Against this background expectation, it is reasonable to be perplexed when a competent adult seems to take no action to protect herself against attack and even knowingly remains in a situation that exposes herself to further danger. Such behaviour does not make sense in those terms. Some further explanation is needed: more information, perhaps, about the behaviour in question or the conditions under which it occurs.

It seems furthermore that there is indeed something wrong with the choice to stay in an abusive relationship. Exactly what kind of wrong is involved, however, must be specified precisely. Staying in an abusive relationship is not a moral wrong—unless it is morally wrong to endure mistreatment. This notion would require a self-regarding morality, a morality of duties to oneself. Even in the context of a self-regarding morality, it is not obvious that enduring mistreatment would be as wrong as inflicting mistreatment or that it would deserve the same degree of reproach. Without the backing of a self-regarding morality, we should say only that staying in an abusive relationship is at most a prudential mistake. It would be, furthermore, only a prima facie prudential mistake; the action in question could be justified if there were good enough reasons for it. The assumption, to which we are entitled, then, in the absence of a self-regarding morality, is that a woman who stays in an abusive relationship that she could have safely left is imprudent if she thereby knowingly risks future abuse for no good reason.

Taking responsibility for one’s own well-being does not mean never being dependent on others. Indeed, in a world of scarce resources and human limitations, one’s well-being requires depending on others for at least some things most of the time. Depending on others, however, should not lead someone who could defend herself to become utterly defenceless in her own right. There is something amiss about a person who could act to protect herself from a harm she is suffering but fails to do so. Such a failure calls for some explanation.

There might, furthermore, be value in a culture wide expectation that women as women, so far as they are able, should try to protect themselves against foreseeable and unnecessary dangers. According to traditional gender norms, women are relatively weak and defenceless and need men to protect them. Expecting or encouraging this dependence in women is part of the same gender role framework that celebrates dominant and controlling tendencies in men, the very tendencies that are at the root of most intimate partner abuse. When we assume that women should try to protect themselves to the best of their abilities, and when we go on to raise our daughters to do so, we are helping in part to reverse the very gender traditions that give rise in the first place to the problem of intimate partner abuse. 16

Years ago, some psychoanalysts and psychological theorists argued that women stayed in abusive relationships because they were masochists. They enjoyed the abuse. This explanation has, thankfully, lost credibility in recent years due to mounting contradictory evidence. 17 Women rarely submit to abuse as something desired for its own sake. Nor are women typically mere passive victims of abuse. In general, they try to resist in some way. Even Lenore Walker’s famous thesis of the early 1980s that abused women suffer from “learned helplessness” 18 has come under recent criticism. Edward W. Gondolf and Ellen R. Fisher, among others, argue that battered women are not passive or helpless and should not even be thought of as victims. Instead, they should be regarded as survivors, as people who try to resist abuse but encounter obstacles when doing so. Studies show, for example, that many abused women contact professional services for help in coping with their abuser but find these services to be either unresponsive or ineffective. Gondolf and Fisher suggest that professional caregivers may be the ones suffering from learned helplessness!

Finally, some abusers threaten to retaliate violently against their female partners for leaving. Sociologist Martha Mahoney calls this sort of abuse “separation assault. ” Separation assault consists of threats and violence that a batterer inflicts on his partner when she tries to leave, precisely in order to intimidate her into staying.

Some women who leave violent men are pursued and harassed for months or even years afterward. Some abusive men murder their ex-partners. The first few months after leaving are especially dangerous. An abusive man may stalk his former partner, telephoning her family and friends repeatedly, showing up at her place of employment, hanging out at playgrounds and other places that she frequents. Some women who leave such vindictive men go into hiding, but the women’s anxieties continue. They may worry constantly, afraid to enter their apartments, afraid to approach their own cars in parking lots, afraid of headlights that pull up behind them at night. These women sometimes report that living or hiding in fear of reprisal or death seems worse than remaining with the abuser. Some women report that their abusers attempted to maintain a coercive tie for years after the actual relationship ended.

Lack of financial means, worries about children’s welfare, and fear of separation assault all provide indisputably legitimate, prima facie reasons for someone to stay in an abusive relationship. A woman who stays under such conditions has good reason to do so. She may have no better alternative.


As stated earlier, the purpose of this study was to examine the similarities and differences between a group of battered women who had killed their partners and a community group of battered women who had not killed their partners. The findings highlight several key points. The majority of battered women who killed their abusive partners were much more likely than the nonhomicide group to have dropped out of high school, to have erratic work histories of several unskilled jobs (e.g., part-time painter or cleaning lady), to be cohabiting with their partners, to misuse drugs, to have attempted suicide by overdosing on drugs, to have received emergency medical treatment for battering-related injuries, and to have had access to the batterers’ guns. In contrast with the homicide group, the battered women in the community sample were much less likely to be alcoholics or drug addicts, have experienced alcohol-related blackouts and/or seizures, have received psychiatric treatment, have attempted suicide, and/or have access to a gun. In conclusion, the major findings support the idea that once a battered woman fears she cannot escape successfully because of receiving a death threat and has failed in her attempt to “drown her sorrows” in alcohol or drugs or to commit suicide, she is at higher risk of killing her batterer.

It is important for health care and mental health professionals and criminal justice practitioners to document the duration and intensity of battering histories among clients in order to provide the best possible care and effective intervention strategies. The prediction of both the duration and the severity of woman battering is one of the most complex issues in forensics and the social sciences. Nevertheless, the courts, mental health centres, family counselling centres, intensive outpatient clinics, day treatment and residential programs, public mental hospitals, and private psychiatric facilities rely on clinicians to advise judges in civil commitment and criminal court cases. This chapter provides a new framework or continuum for evaluating battered women and improving risk assessments of dangerousness. The authors’ findings regarding the duration and chronicity of battering can be used to facilitate court decisions on whether battered women are at low, moderate, or high risk of continued battering and/or homicide.

Because of both cultural and contextual factors, domestic violence against women in Asian communities is largely an ignored, invisible, but important problem. Domestic violence against women is a multifaceted problem that has significance at both the individual or family and the community level. Besides providing culturally sensitive and competent counselling and support services to Asian battered women and their families, community education regarding services for victims and legal consequences of domestic violence for offenders serves an important preventive function. More important, combating domestic violence involves coordinated efforts from a multitude of service providers, including professionals at women’s shelters, mental health centres, social service agencies, and police departments and in the legal/justice arena. Despite having good intentions to assist Asian battered women, these professionals may find it difficult to reach out to them because of cultural and/or language barriers, as well as a lack of knowledge about Asian communities. Some effective ways that have been used by ethno-specific service organizations to build bridges and improve networking and coordination are providing consultations and cultural competence training to mainstream organizations, providing interpreter services for clients who have language difficulties, conducting studies on Asian battered women, and organizing conferences around issues of Asian battered women to raise awareness. There is no quick and easy solution to stop violence in intimate relationships. The ultimate well-being of Asian battered women and their children, however, depends on how well the legal, criminal, mainstream, and ethno-specific service systems coordinate with each other to serve in their best interests.


All forms of domestic violence are difficult to address. Elder abuse is an exceptionally complex social problem because of the diversity of older adults, in terms of financial, health, and mental health status, family and partner relations, cultural traditions, and living arrangements. While mandatory reporting laws in most states are based on a perceived parallel between child and elder abuse, legal distinctions between the status of children and adults in society call into question the application of a mandatory reporting system based solely on the age of the adult.

Intermittent reinforcement and traumatic bonding (e.g., the development of strong emotional attachments between intimate partners when the abusive partner is intermittently kind, loving, and apologetic for past violent episodes and promises that it will never happen again, interspersed with beatings and degrading insults)

Learned helplessness (e.g., when someone learns from repeated, unpleasant, and painful experiences that he or she is unable to control the aversive environment or escape, that person will gradually lose the motivation to change the situation)


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