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Domestic Violence

Types Of Violence, Incidence, Impact On Victims And Children, Causes Of Domestic Violence, Legislation And Support Services

In general, the term "domestic violence" refers to violence that occurs in the home. Although violence in the home can be directed toward children, the elderly, or other household members, most often this term is used to represent violence between adolescents and/or adults who are currently or were previously involved in a romantic or intimate relationship. Domestic violence occurs between spouses, ex-spouses, and couples who are dating or who dated previously. The violence between these individuals is not limited to the home setting and may occur in locations outside the home as well.

Family Structure

Another approach to understanding domestic violence moves attention away from the individual and focuses on the structure of the family. In this approach, it is believed that certain characteristics put a family or a couple at risk for violence. Individuals who have witnessed violence within their own family as a child may be more likely to imitate similar behavior in their relationships as adults. At the same time, conditions exist that produce stress and conflict on the family. Factors such as low socioeconomic status; low-income occupations, which may result in frequent unemployment; and little to no social support from family, friends, or the community create high levels of stress. It is hypothesized that individuals who have learned to resolve conflict with violence use violence as a method of coping with these types of stressors (Flowers 2000).

Societal Perspective

A third approach takes a broader perspective than the previous two and examines domestic violence in the context of society and societal values. Violence against women is considered to be accepted by society as it has been supported through law and religion since the beginning of recorded time. This approach examines the traditional dominance of men in society, which has condoned and even encouraged men to act violently toward women to maintain dominance and control over them. An unequal distribution of power in the relationships between men and women assigns women a lower status. From this position of subordination, women become dependent upon their spouses or partners and are subjected to the demands and abuse of their mates.

The societal perspective may help to explain the lack of public attention to problems of domestic violence and prosecution of abusers until the 1970s. Permission for violence by men against their wives has been reinforced through Western religion and law for centuries. Examples of spousal abuse can be found in the Bible and serve to justify a husband's right to control the behavior of his wife. During the Middle Ages, English common law allowed a husband to chastise his wife as long as he used a stick no larger than the width of his thumb, a concept commonly known as the "rule of thumb." Although legislation was enacted in the American colonies to outlaw domestic violence in 1641, with later laws originating in the late 1800s, the laws were not usually enforced and served only to curtail extreme cases of violence. It is purported that American society's apparent acceptance of domestic violence resulted from long-held beliefs in Western society that supported a husband's control of his wife and that discouraged intervention by the law.

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 3