Domestic violence against women is a serious and widespread problem that is just not confined to the United States. Gelles states that between 20 and 50 percent of women in most countries experience spousal abuse at least once in their life (Gelles, Loeske 1993). Domestic abuse is known by many different names such as, spousal abuse, domestic abuse, domestic assault, battering and wife beating. Whatever the name used to refer to it domestic violence is a very grave and difficult problem faced by women in the United States.
Domestic violence is defined as actual or threatened violence or harassment between married or de facto partners living in the same household or who have lived together. The commonly accepted definition among legal professionals according to Johnson is the emotional, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse perpetrated against a person by that person’s spouse former spouse, partner, former partner or by the other parent of a minor child (Johnson 1995).
Domestic violence is not a new phenomenon. For years domestic violence was often viewed as par to of the family dynamic. Moreover, our cultural traditions historically have encouraged women to put up with abuse. English Common Law, the basis of the American legal structure, asserted that a husband had the right to physically chastise an errant wife.
This was a legal norm still prevalent in the nineteenth century (Straus and Gelles 1986). The “rule of thumb” states that as long as the stick with which you beat your wife was no wider that your thumb it was permissible and legal. Even though the legal right to physically abuse women has long since disappeared in our society, our cultural heritage continues to influence the attitudes that suggest violence against women is acceptable (Torr and Swisher 1999).
Studies have suggested that husbands who beat their wives are attempting to compensate for general feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy. This type of domestic violence is referred to as patriarchal terrorism (Johnson 1995). Husbands may use physical aggression to compensate for their lack of occupational success, prestige, or satisfaction (Anderson 1997). Moreover, men may also use violence to attempt to maintain control over wives or partners trying to assert some independence (Dutton and Browning 1988).
According to Gelles there are several risk factors for men who abuse women; men between the ages of 18 and 20, users of illicit drugs, or abusers of alcohol, and high school dropouts (Gelles 1994, 1997). These men often have few legitimate avenues of personal and social power over their victims (Pyke 1997). As a result they resort to coercive power over their victims.
Domestic violence exists in all social classes. However, domestic violence is reported more often in blue collar and lower class families (Buchman and Salzman 1995). The fact that blue-collar families report more domestic violence does not mean that there is less violence at the upper and middle classes. Lower numbers among the higher classes can be attributed to the fact that middle class families have greater privacy than lower socio-economic families (Funeman and Mykitiuk 1994). In addition, upper and middle class families have recourse to friends and professional counselors to help deal them deal with their violent situations. This allows them to avoid reporting the violence and the police (Buzawa and Buzawa 1990).
Domestic violence occurs in a three-phase cycle. The first phase is tension building. It usually results from a minor altercation like dinner not being on time, this tension may continue to build over time. Second, the situation escalates, eventually exploding in another more violent episode. The third phase is often called the honeymoon phase. During this phase the husband becomes genuinely contrite, treating his wife very lovingly and being very apologetic. This is a repeating cycle, with the violence worsening if nothing is done to change things (Sonkin, Martin, and Walker 1985).
The Department of Justice notes that violence between intimates is difficult to measure because it mostly occurs in private. Moreover, usually reluctant victims must report the incidents. Victims are reluctant to report their abuses because of shame and fear of reprisal (Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz 1980). The National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) reported 960,000 nonfatal domestic violence victimizations between 1992 and 1996. The NCVS estimates 1326 intimate homicides in 1996. Of these 75 percent were women. Among African Americans, more husbands were killed by wives than vice versa in 1977. However, in 1992 the opposite was true. Among White wives the opposite was true. White wives have consistently out numbered husbands as victims of intimate murder (U.S. Department of Justice 1994, 1998).
The effects of domestic violence do not stop when the cuts and bruises heal. The psychological affects of domestic violence can be seen long after the violence has stopped. Many of the inmates in prisons blame their violent acts on the violence that they were victims of when they were children. Research suggests that people who experience violence in their parent’s home while growing up may regard beatings as part normal married life (Torr and Swisher 1999).
The most serious of affects are the physical injuries sustained by the victims of domestic violence. Injuries range from swollen eyes to broken ribs and limbs. Some victims report being burned and beaten with various objects ranging from belts to baseball bats (Kurtz 1993).
In conclusion it is important to mention that due to such high profile murders like that of Nicole Brown Simpson domestic violence has gotten more attention than in past years. This attention has facilitated stricter domestic violence laws being passed. In addition the attention has also resulted in the mandatory training of law enforcement officials, which in turn has resulted in more arrest being made in domestic violence cases. While domestic violence is still a prevalent problem in our society-we can see definite signs of positive change.
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