Families and Domestic Violence

Module Sections:

Types of Domestic Violence

As noted in the previous section, domestic violence occurs between family members or relational intimates within the family. There are many types of domestic violence; however, this module will focus on these four: intimate partner violence, child abuse, dating violence, violence between same sex couples.

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is the most common type of domestic violence and many studies describe it as any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm (Hegarty, Taft, & Feder, 2008).

  • Socio Cultural Perspective of Intimate Partner Violence:

The definition and interpretation of intimate partner violence is characterized by a social context that has been shaped by diverse dimensions such as gender, class and culture (Connell, 1987). It is therefore uncommon for victims of intimate partner abuse to perceive the abuse from one of these dimensions which reinforce power inequities between men and women (Yick, 2007). For instance, in certain cultures, husbands are legally permitted to beat or kill their wives in response to infidelity (Connell, 1987), whereas social norms in other cultures perceive intimate partner abuse as a personal and private issue which must be dealt with by the partners involved in the violence.

Socioeconomic status also plays a role in understanding intimate partner violence. By contrast, women who are economically independent have more options and are freer to see certain situations as intolerable than those living in poverty (Liang, Goodman, Tummala-Narra & Weintraub, 2005). A vignette from, Liang, Goodman, Tummala-Narra & Weintraub, (2005) will be presented in a subsequent section to illustrate how culture, class, gender and other sociocultural dimensions of women’s experiences influence their decisions to seek help.

Child Abuse

The definition of child abuse has been debated over for the past four decades, reflecting different perspectives and opinion on the acts of abuse. One of the early definitions includes any nonaccidental injury to a child resulting from actions (or non-actions) of the parents (Helfer & Kempe, 1974 as cited in Frieze, 2005). Other scholars such as Garbarino (1989) have argued that for an action to be labeled as abuse, the parent must intentionally harm the child physically, emotionally, or by neglect. Child abuse also includes all the types of domestic violence that will be discussed in later sections. Studies show that physical abuse toward children is often associated with more general patterns of violence within couples (Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000). Thus men who batter their wives may also abuse their children in one way or another. The victims (women) can also take out their frustrations by using violence against their children (Perilla, Frndak, Lillard, & East, 2003).

Dating Violence

Miller and Knudsen (2007) define dating as “the formation of intimate and exclusive relationships that launch the process of courtship which is intended to culminate in marriage or cohabitation”. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that dating violence generally leads to marital violence. Thirty-one percent of teen girls who report being forced to have sex identify their boyfriends as perpetrators (APA, 2004 as cited in Miller & Knudsen (2007). Dating violence includes all forms of domestic violence such as acts of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that occur when couples begin going out. . The following points emphasized by Miller and Knudsen (2007) are worth noting:

  • Girls and young women tend to be the victims of the more serious forms of physical violence and sexual violence. Boys and young men are as likely as girls and young women to experience verbal and emotional or psychological abuse within dating relationships.
  • Substance abuse increases the likelihood of perpetrating dating violence.
  • Balance of power within the relationship can affect the risk of experiencing dating violence.
  • Social, structural and cultural factors, such as the concentration of poverty in urban neighborhoods and the acculturation of ethnic group members, are better predictors of dating violence than are personal characteristics.

Violence Between Same Sex Couples

Because same sex relationships are less common than heterosexual relationships, there are fewer data on violence in these relationships. However McClennen, Summers, & Daley (2002) estimate that there is violence in 25% to 50% of lesbian couples. Many couples in same-sex relationships admit they remain in their relationship with the hope that their violent partners will change, similar to couples in heterosexual relationships. A study by Tjaden, Theones, and Allison (1999 cited in Frieze, 2005), compared same sex couples with heterosexual couples and found that men living with a same sex partner were more likely to have been assaulted by their partners than were men living with women (15% versus 8%). For women, 11% of those living with a same sex partner were assaulted by their partners as compared to 20% of those living with men. Thus, gay partners may experience more violence than lesbian couples.

Audio Companion: Families and Domestic Violence