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Domestic violence

Domestic Violence is, by barest definition, is violence within a home. Beyond this, the term has a range of definitions, some more and some less formal, which are frequently used with little awareness that a range of definitions exists. Those definitions basically include the following elements:


  • Family relationship, explicit and formal or informal, usually between adults of similar age, else it is labeled child abuse or child molestation[?] for children, and elder abuse[?] for older adults.
  • Romantic relationships including marriages, cohabitation, and dating relationships, sexual and nonsexual, exclusive or nonexclusive, heterosexual or homosexual.


  • Physical violence
    • Direct physical violence, ranging from murder and rape to unwanted physical contact.
    • Indirect physical violence, including destruction of objects, throwing objects near the victim, harm to animals
  • Mental/emotional violence
    • Verbal threats of physical violence to the victim, the self, or others including children, ranging from explicit, detailed and impending to implicit and vague as to both content and time frame
    • Verbal violence, including threats, insults, put-downs, attacks,
    • Nonverbal threats, including gestures, facial expressions, body postures
  • Economic/social abuse
    • Controlling victim's money and other economic resources, preventing victim from seeing friends and relatives, actively sabotaging victim's social relationships and isolating victim from social contacts.

The term "domestic violence" replaced "wife beating" or "wife battering" which came before. In its turn, is has begun to be replaced with more descriptive terms such as "relationship violence", "domestic abuse", and "violence against a spouse". The term has been defined legally in some jurisdictions, which can add further confusion when members of the justice system interact with domestic violence advocates.

Table of contents

Cycle of Violence

Frequently, the term is used to describe specific violent and overtly abusive incidents, and legal definitions will tend to take this perspective. However, when violent and abusive behaviors happen within a relationship, the effects of those behaviors continue after these overt incidents are over. Advocates and counselors will refer to domestic violence as a pattern of behaviors, including those listed above.

Lenore Walker[?] presented the model of a "Cycle of Violence" which consists of three basic phases:

Honeymoon Phase
Characterized by affection, apology, apparent end of violence.
Tension Building Phase
Characterized by poor communication, tension, fear of causing outbursts,
Acting-out Phase
Characterized by outbursts of violent, abusive incidents.

Although it is easy to see the outbursts of the Acting-out Phase as abuse, even the more pleasant behaviors of the Honeymoon Phase serve to perpetuate the abuse.


Domestic violence is caused specifically by the choice to engage in violent or abusive behavior against a partner. A variety of factors can lead to that choice, but only in the case of truly uncontrollabe compulsions can those factors eliminate the potential to choose nonviolent and nonabusive behaviors.


The purpose of domestic violence is not primarily to hurt or harm the victim. Rather, it is to gain or maintain power and control over the victim.


It is impossible to have a discussion of domestic violence that does not include a discussion of the role gender does or doesn't have to play in the problem. Sometimes, the discussion of gender can overwhelm any other topic, due to the degree of emotion with which the discussion of gender can attain.

Attention to domestic violence began in the women's movement as concern about wives being beaten by their husbands, and has remained a major focus in the modern feminist movement, particularly under the label "violence against women". The world's first domestic violence shelter was founded by Erin Pizzey, in Chisick, London, who has since expressed her dismay at how the issue has become a gender-political football, openly supporting the men's rights movement and their claim that domestic violence has nothing to do with patriarchy and is simply violence against vulnerable intimates. Political opposition to the feminist movement helped push interest in discussion of women who were violent with their husbands and partners.

Conflicts have erupted regarding whether men are more abusive than women, whether men's abuse of women is worse than women's abuse of men, how and whether resources for abused women should be made available to abused men, etc. Feminists involved in the movement have been resistant to discussing female initiated violence because they see such discussions as distracting from the greater problem of male violence, and because it can be used to rationalize male violence if women are "just as bad" as men, whilst diluting their anti-male message.

Studies have been carried out to explore these issues, and results have seemed somewhat contradictory. A problem in conducting such studies is the amount of silence, fear and shame that results from abuse within families and relationships. Another is that abusive patterns can tend to seem normal to those who have lived in them for a length of time. Similarly, subtle forms of abuse can be quite transparent even as they set the stage for further abuse seeming normal. Finally, inconsistent definition of what domestic violence is makes strong conclusions hard to reach when compiling the available studies. Both men and women have been arrested and convicted of assaulting their partners in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The bulk of these arrests has been men being arrested for assaulting women, but that has been shifting somewhat over time and clearly arrest records are not the whole story. Actual studies of behaviour show that whilst half of male/female intimate violence is best described as mutual brawling, a quarter is the male attacking the female and the remaining quarter being females attacking their male partner.

The general consensus seems to be that male on female domestic violence is more likely to result in serious injury and death. Men on average have more upper body strength and socialization that predisposes them to resort to violence more than women do, and that can give them a higher average lethality than women. However, women determined to cause harm to their male partners can use weapons to equalize whatever deficit in physical power which may be present, and can also use social constraints against men hitting women, even in self-defense, to provide them with sufficient lethality to be dangerous in conflict situations.

Publicly available resources for dealing with domestic violence are virtually entirely for women and children who are in relationships with or are leaving violent men. Most of the remainder are for men who have been arrested for assaulting women in their lives, and generally these are made available to the men for a fee (intentionally, as part of holding them accountable for their actions), where victims resources are usually offered free of charge. Whilst female murder rates against males have dropped since domestic violence has been taken seriously, the reverse cannot be said to be true, suggesting that if female on male domestic violence were taken more seriously more men would find means of release or escape other than explosive and lethal violence.

Gender roles and expectations can and do play a role in abusive situations, and exploring these roles and expectations can be helpful in addressing abusive situations, as do factors like race, class, religion, sexuality and philosophy. None of these factors cause one to abuse or another to be abused.

Domestic violence in homosexual relationships

Historically domestic violence has been seen as a family issue and little interest has been directed at violence in homosexual relationships. It hasn't been until recently, as gay rights movement has brought the issues of homosexual people in public attention, when research has been started to conduct on homosexual relationships. Several studies have indicated that partner abuse among homosexual couples (of both women and men) is relatively similar in both prevalence and and dynamics to that among heterosexual couples. Homosexuals, however, face special obstacles in dealing with the issues that some researchers have labelled "the double closet": not only are homosexuals often discriminated against and dissmissed by police and social services, they are also often met with lack of support from their peers who would rather keep quiet about the problem in order not to attract negative attention toward the homosexual community. Also, the supportive services are mostly designed for the needs of heterosexual women and do not always meet the needs of homosexuals.


It is estimated that every year in the United States, approximately 3 million women are assaulted by their partner. Many of these incidents go unreported to authorities due to the shame and fear associated with domestic violence. In 1998, of the approximately one million violent crimes committed between intimate partners, over 876,000 of the victims were women. Of the approximately 1,830 murders committed against intimate partners in 1998, 3 out of 4 of the victims were women. In homes where domestic violence occurs, children in the home are at a 300% greater risk of being abused. Between 3 and 5 billion dollars are spent annually for medical expenses related to domestic violence. Also, approximately 100 million dollars is lost by businesses annually though lost productivity, sick leave and absenteeism due to domestic violence.

Effects of Domestic Violence

More will be added in the space.

Response to Domestic Violence

The response to domestic violence is typically a combined effort between law enforcement agencies, the courts, social service agencies and corrections/probation agencies. The role of each has evolved as domestic violence has been brought more into public view. Historically, law enforcement agencies, the courts and corrections agencies treated domestic violence as a personal matter. For example, police officers were often reluctant to intervene by making an arrest, and often chose instead to simply counsel the couple and/or ask one of the parties to leave the residence for a period of time. The courts were reluctant to impose any significant sanctions on those convicted of domestic violence, largely because it was viewed as a misdemeanor offense. This mindset of treating family violence as a personal problem of minor consequence permeated the system's response, and potentially allowed the perpetrator to continue acting violently.

Activism, initiated by victim advocacy groups and feminist groups, has lead to a better understanding of the scope and effect of domestic violence on victims and families, and has brought about changes in the criminal justice system's response. In 1981, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[?] became the first multi-disciplinary program designed to address the issue of domestic violence. This experiment, conducted in Duluth, MN, frequently referred to as the "Duluth Project," involved coordinating the actions of a variety of agencies that deal with domestic situations. The policies and activities of diverse elements of the system, from police officers on the street, to shelters for battered women and probation officers supervising offenders, were coordinated with each other. This program has become a model for other jurisdictions seeking to deal more effectively with domestic violence. More and more jurisdictions are mandating that suspects in domestic violence incidents be arrested if there is probable cause to believe that an assault occurred. Victim advocates are intervening directly with victims by providing them with counseling about the court process, how to obtain and use restraining orders and how to forumulate and implement safety plans. Corrections/probation agencies in many areas are supervising domestic violence offenders more closely, and are also paying closer attention to the victim's needs and safety issues.

Well-known Individuals Involved in Documented Reports of Domestic Violence

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