Spouse and Partner Abuse—Who, What, and When?

views updated

chapter 2

Although domestic violence has occurred for centuries, women have generally felt isolated, unsupported, and ashamed because of their victimization and frustrated in their attempts to deal with or escape the violence. The consciousness-raising groups that emerged during the rise of the second wave of U.S. feminism in the 1960s and 1970s provided small groups of women a place to discuss their problems as women. Their analysis of personal problems—including domestic violence—allowed them to understand women's collective oppression. This became the basis for feminist collective action.

Efforts to aid battered women arose out of this feminist consciousness. The first battered women's shelter was founded in 1971 by Erin Pizzey in London. Pizzey, the recognized founder of the modern women's shelter movement, published the first book on domestic violence, Scream Quietly, or the Neighbors Will Hear, in 1974. Authors in the United States followed suit. In 1975 Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will, a book about the politics and sociology of rape, was published, and in 1976, Del Martin's book Battered Wives appeared, focusing specifically on violence within marriage functioning as part of male dominance of women.

In the late twentieth century, domestic violence was the subject of countless books, films, and stage plays. Of these, one of the most memorable was The Burning Bed, based on the true story of Francine Hughes, an East Lansing, Michigan, woman. After having suffered seventeen years of abuse, she burned her abusive husband to death in 1977 as he slept. Hughes was acquitted of murder based on a defense of temporary insanity caused by years of physical and psychological abuse. Her case gave rise to the "battered woman's defense," which subsequently was widely used to defend abused women who killed their partners. A made-for-television movie based on Hughes's case aired in 1984 to an audience of seventy-five million, giving momentum to the battered women's movement and significantly influencing legislative reform.

In 1978, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a forum titled "Consultation on Battered Women" in Washington, D.C., considering violence against women as a civil rights issue. The testimony from that forum was published as Battered Women—Issues of Public Policy. The following year, the first Congressional hearings were held on the issue of domestic violence.

The subject dominated the media in 1995 with the highly publicized murder trial of O.J. Simpson, who was accused of the brutal slaying of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Simpson, a former football star and popular sports commentator, was acquitted of murder, but not until millions of Americans had heard a recording of Brown begging police for help and had seen a photo of her face, bruised and bloody from a beating, which was among the evidence presented at Simpson's trial.

Celebrities like O.J. Simpson from the sports and entertainment industries who have been convicted of domestic violence attract the media spotlight. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a national non-profit organization, when society continues to celebrate and reward actors and athletes who are violent to their partners, it not only condones their bad behavior, but also suggests that their abusive behavior is glamorous and desirable. The organization regularly updates a celebrity "Hall of Shame" on its Web site. As of September 2004, the Family Violence Prevention Fund's Hall of Shame listed almost one hundred celebrities, including:

  • James Brown. In February 2004, this singer was arrested for assaulting his wife. His lifetime achievement award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts had been protested in November 2003 by advocates for victims of domestic violence. They protested because Brown had been charged with assaulting his previous wife in 1988, and had settled several sexual harassment lawsuits against him since then.
  • Dwayne Carswell. In July 2003, the Denver Broncos football player was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend by picking her up by the neck and biting her. He had two previous arrests for assaulting other women.
  • Dale Ellis. In February 2002 the former SuperSonics basketball player pleaded guilty to domestic violence charges. He had been convicted 13 years earlier of assaulting his wife and resisting arrest.
  • Joe Frazier. The former heavyweight boxing champion was arrested in February 2004 for assaulting his girlfriend in front of their twelve-year-old son in their home.
  • Michael Peterson. In October 2003, the novelist was found guilty of murdering his wife, whom he claimed had fallen down a flight of stairs.
  • Charlie Sheen. In June 1997, the actor was given a oneyear suspended sentence, a two-year probation, and ordered to perform three hundred hours of community service for physically abusing a former girlfriend.

In the summer of 2002, the wives of four soldiers based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were murdered over the course of six weeks. In all four cases, their husbands were alleged to have committed the murder; in two cases the soldiers apparently committed suicide after killing their wives. This rash of murders once again focused public and media attention on the issue of spousal violence. Three of the four husbands were special operations soldiers who had been deployed to Afghanistan, and some news media reports speculated that the murders may have been caused by stress. In September 2002 the U.S. Army and Congress launched an investigation of the crimes to determine their causes and prevent similar tragedies. In September 2004, no report had thus far been made public.


Early definitions of domestic abuse focused exclusively on physical assault and bodily injury. For example, the Colorado Committee of the Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights offered this definition of a battered wife in The Silent Victims: Denver's Battered Women (Washington, DC: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1977): "a woman who has received deliberate, severe and repeated physical injury from her husband, the minimal injury being severe bruising." This definition excluded acts like pushing, slapping, pinching, or other violent acts perpetrated by husbands on their wives that produced no or minimal bruising, as well as threats of violence.

In their groundbreaking work based on the 1975 and 1985 National Family Violence Surveys (NFVS), Murray Straus and Richard Gelles defined "spousal violence" in specific actions, known as the Conflict Tactics Scale. That scale is now the measure most widely used to estimate the extent of spousal abuse. According to the scale, a spouse can be considered abusive if he or she:

  • Throws something at a partner
  • Pushes, grabs, or shoves
  • Slaps
  • Kicks, bites, or hits the partner with a fist
  • Hits or tries to hit the partner with an object
  • Beats up the partner
  • Threatens the partner with a knife or a gun
  • Uses a knife or fires a gun at the partner

Today, a broader interpretation is accepted and abuse is understood to include sexual and psychological actions and harm, such as marital rape and forced isolation. Feminist scholars and advocates have expanded the definition to encompass issues of intent, control, and power, conceptualizing the problem of violence against women as "coercive control" (Richard J. Gelles, "Estimating the Incidence and Prevalence of Violence against Women," Violence against Women, vol. 6, July 2000). The National Coalition against Domestic Violence defines battering as a pattern of behavior through which a person establishes power and control over another person by means of fear and intimidation. The incorrect belief that abusers are entitled to control their partners is a primary cause of aggression and abuse, according to the coalition.

The National Coalition against Domestic Violence also describes battering as emotional, economic, and sexual abuse, as well as using children, threats, male privilege, intimidation, isolation, and various other strategies to maintain power through fear and intimidation. The organization argues it is important to view all these behaviors as battering in order to understand how verbal threats, a single slap, or an insult can escalate to a life-threatening situation.

An international examination of violence by Lori Heise et al. in Violence against Women: The Hidden Health Burden (Washington, DC: World Bank, 1994) also defined abuse in terms broad enough to include the wide variety of abuses that occur throughout the world. Heise and colleagues observed that violence against women is tolerated partly because the victims are female. They distinguished between cultural customs and abuse intended to harm. Genital mutilation, for instance, is a ritual or tradition intended by its practitioners to guarantee marriage for the female victim, rather than abuse that is intended to harm. Still, whether it is considered custom or ritualized abuse, this practice can cause long-term physical and psychological harm, suffering, and even death. Table 2.1 shows definitions of violence against women developed by different organizations around the world.

Heise and colleagues cautioned against using the overly broad definitions of abuse proposed by some organizations,


Definitions of violence against women from around the world
source: Lori L. Heise, et al, "Appendix Box B. 1. Definitions of Violence against Women," in Violence against Women: The Hidden Health Burden, The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The World Bank, 1994
Behavior by the man, adopted to control his victim, which results in physical, sexual and/or psychological damage, forced isolation, or economic deprivation or behavior which leaves a woman living in fear. (Australia, 1991)
Any act involving use of force or coercion with an intent of perpetuating/promoting hierarchical gender relations. (Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, 1990)
Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. Violence against women shall be understood to encompass but not be limited to:
Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family and in the community, including battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence, violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the State. (UN Declaration against Violence against Women)
Any act, omission or conduct by means of which physical, sexual or mental suffering is inflicted, directly or indirectly, through deceit, seduction, threat, coercion or any other means, on any woman with the purpose or effect of intimidating, punishing or humiliating her or of maintaining her in sex-stereotyped roles or of denying her human dignity, sexual self-determination, physical, mental and moral integrity or of undermining the security of her person, her self-respect or her personality, or of diminishing her physical or mental capacities. (Draft Pan American Treaty against Violence against Women)
Any act or omission which prejudices the life, the physical or psychological integrity or the liberty of a person or which seriously harms the development of his or her personality. (Council of Europe, 1986)

which encompass gender inequalities such as unequal pay or lack of access to contraception or other health care services. They termed such inequalities "discrimination," rather than "abuse." Abuse against women, according to their study, is verbal or physical force, coercion, or deprivation directed against a woman or girl that causes physical or psychological harm, humiliation, loss of liberty, or other female subordination.


Because domestic violence is often unreported, it is impossible to be certain exactly how many domestic assaults occur each year. Variations in definitions of violence and abuse, the types of questions posed by researchers, and the context in which they are asked compound the difficulty. For example, when victims are questioned in the presence of their abusers, or even other family members, they are often more reluctant to report instances of violence. Studies on the subject are sometimes contradictory, but most show that domestic violence remains a growing concern. Many researchers fear that available data represent only the tip of the iceberg of a problem of glacial proportions.

To understand why there are so many varying estimates of domestic violence, it is necessary to consider the surveys, studies, and reports themselves. The source and purpose of the research, the definition of abuse used, the population surveyed, and the survey setting, as well as the political agendas of the surveyors and researchers, may elicit different data and varying interpretations of these data (Richard J. Gelles, "Estimating the Incidence and Prevalence of Violence against Women," Violence against Women, vol. 6, July 2000).

According to the World Health Organization, in countries where large-scale studies are conducted, between 10% and 50% of women report they have suffered physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner (intimates include spouses, former spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends). Populationbased estimates suggest that from 12% to 25% of women experience attempted or completed forced sex with an intimate partner or former partner during their lives. The World Health Organization also observed that prostitution and trafficking for sex, activities strongly linked to violence against women and girls, appeared to be on the rise during the late 1990s and early twenty-first century.

The National Family Violence Surveys are among the most analyzed and cited data in the literature about intimate partner violence. The strength of these surveys lies in their ability to measure violent behavior that respondents might not classify as criminal. Using data from the 1975 and 1985 NFVS, Straus and Gelles estimated that about 1.6 million women were severely beaten by their partners in 1985, down from 2.1 million in 1975 ("Societal Change and Change in Family Violence from 1975 to 1985 As Revealed by Two National Surveys," Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 48, August 1986).

Other national data are derived from national sample surveys, such as the National Crime Victimization Surveys (NCVS), which measure violent assaults by intimate partners, including rape and sexual assault, and the Uniform Crime Reports, which supplement NCVS data with information about homicides. One advantage of these surveys is that they enable researchers to observe trends in interpersonal violence. For example, NCVS data reveal a decline in intimate partner violent victimizations during the 1990s (except for a slight increase from 1997 to 1998).

A joint effort of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Violence against Women Survey (NVAWS) collected data about intimate and non-intimate partner violence during the 1990s. The NVAWS and NCVS are considered the most reliable sources of data about intimate partner violence even though their differing approaches make data comparisons difficult. For example, the NCVS is a survey about crime, and since some victims do not consider instances of intimate partner violence crimes, they may be less likely to disclose them in the NCVS.


Persons victimized by an intimate partner in lifetime and in previous 12 months, by type of victimization and gender, 1996
aBased on estimates of women and men 18 years of age and older: Wetrogen, S.I., Projections of the Population of States by Age, Sex, and Race: 1988 to 2010 , Current Population Reports, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1988: 25–1017.
bDifferences between women and men are statistically significant: X2, *p ≤ .0.5, **p ≤ .01, ***p ≤ .001.
cEstimates not calculated on fewer than five victims.
dBecause only three men reported being raped by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months, the percentage of men physically assaulted and physically assaulted and/or raped is the same.
source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 1. Persons Victimized by an Intimate Partner in Lifetime and in Previous 12 Months, by Type of Victimization and Gender", in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/181867.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
In lifetime
Type of victimizationWomen (n=8,000)Men (n=8,000)Women (100,697,000)Men (92,748,000)
Physical assaultb***22.17.422,254,0376,863,352
Rape and/or physical assaultb***24.87.624,972,8567,048,848
Total victimizedb***25.57.925,677,7357,327,092
In previous 12 months
Type of violenceWomen (n = 8,000)Men (n = 8,000)Women (100,697,000)Men (92,748,000)
Physical assaultb*1.30.91,309,061834,732
Rape and/or physical assaultb*1.50.9d1,510,455834,732
Total victimizedb***1.81.11,812,5461,020,228

The Bureau of Justice Statistics published results from the NCVS in Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2001 (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, February 2003). Researchers found that although the number of intimate violence victims decreased between 1993 and 2001, women still experienced about 588,490 nonfatal violent incidents at the hands of intimates in 2001, down from 1.1 million in 1993. More than 1,200 women were killed by an intimate partner in 2000.

The National Violence against Women Survey

The National Violence against Women Survey (NVAWS) collected information from interviews with eight thousand men and eight thousand women to assess their experiences as victims of various types of violence, including domestic violence. The NVAWS asked survey respondents about physical assaults and rape, but excluded other sexual assaults, murders, and robberies.

In Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Violence: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2000), researchers Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes found that intimate violence is pervasive in American society, with women suffering about three times as much of this violence as men. They estimated that 22.1% of women (twenty-two million) are physically assaulted by a loved one during the course of their lifetimes, while about 7.4% of men (seven million) were physically assaulted by intimates over their lifetimes (See Table 2.2.) Women were also more likely to become victims of rape, stalking, and physical assault by intimates than their male counterparts at some time during their lifetimes. Furthermore, women physically assaulted by their partners averaged nearly seven assaults by the same person, as opposed to men, who averaged 4.4 assaults.

During the twelve months that preceded the interview, women also reported higher rates of rape, stalking, and physical assault than did men. Tjaden and Thoennes estimated based on NVAWS data that about 1.5% of the surveyed women (more than 1.5 million) and 0.9% of the men (834,732) reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted by a partner in the twelve months preceding the survey. In other words, approximately 4.8 million women and 2.9 million men are assaulted every year.

The rates of violence between intimate partners varied by race. Asian/Pacific Islanders reported lower rates of violence than men and women from other minority groups, and African-American and American Indian/Alaska Natives reported higher rates. (See Table 2.3.)

Tjaden and Thoennes concluded that the majority of partner abuse and violence is not reported to the police.


Persons victimized by an intimate partner in lifetime, by victim gender, type of victimization, and victim race, 1996
Persons victimized in lifetime (%)
Victim gender/Type of victimizationWhiteAfrican-AmericanAsian Pacific IslanderAmerican Indian/Alaska NativeMixed Race
1Estimates for American Indian/Alaska Native women are significantly higher than those for white and African-American women: Tukey's B, p ≤ .05.
2Relative standard error exceeds 30 percent; estimates not included in statistical testing.
3Estimates for Asian/Pacific Islander women are significantly lower than those for African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, and mixed-race women: Tukey's B, p ≤ .05.
4Estimates for African-American women are significantly higher than those for white women: Tukey's B, p ≤ .05.
5Estimates not calculated on fewer than five victims.
source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 6. Persons Victimized by an Intimate Partner in Lifetime, by Victim Gender, Type of Victimization, and Victim Race," in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/181867.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
Women(n = 6,452)(n = 780)(n = 133)(n = 88)(n = 397)
Physical assault3,421.326.312.830.727.0
Total victimized324.829.115.037.530.2
Men(n = 6,424)(n = 659)(n = 165)(n = 105)(n = 406)
Physical assault7.210.8511.48.6
Total victimized7.512.03.0212.49.1

Women reported about one-fifth of rapes, one-quarter of physical assaults, and one-half of stalking incidents to police, while men who had been victimized reported abuse to police even less frequently. Table 2.4 shows the reasons victims did not report their abuse to the police. Many victims said they felt the police would not or could not do anything on their behalf. These expressions of helplessness and hopelessness—feeling that others in a position to assist would be unwilling or unable to do so—is a common characteristic shared by many victims of intimate partner violence.

statistics for violence in same-sex couples are problematic. The NVAWS also found that same-sex couples who lived together reported experiencing far more intimate violence in their lifetimes than heterosexual cohabitants. Among women, 39.2% of the same-sex cohabitants and 21.7% of the opposite-sex cohabitants reported being raped, physically assaulted, or stalked by a partner during their lifetimes. Among men, the comparative figures were 23.1% and 7.4%, respectively.

Although survey findings indicated that members of same-sex couples experience more intimate partner violence than do heterosexual couples, the reported violence does not necessarily occur within the same-sex relationship. When comparing intimate partner victimization rates among same-sex and opposite-sex cohabitants by the gender of the perpetrator, Tjaden and Thoennes found that 30.4% of the same-sex women cohabitants reported being victimized by a male partner sometime in their lifetimes, whereas 11.4% reported being victimized by a female partner. The researchers concluded that same-sex cohabiting women were three times more likely to report being victimized by a male partner than by a female partner. In comparison, women who lived with men were nearly twice as likely to report being victimized by a male than same-sex cohabiting women were to report being victimized by a female partner. (See Figure 2.1.)

Male same-sex partners reported more partner violence than men who lived with women. About 23% of men who lived with men said they had been raped, sexually assaulted, or stalked by a male cohabitant, as opposed to just 7.4% of men who reported comparable experiences with female cohabitants. This finding confirms the widely held observation that violence and abuse in intimate partner relationships is primarily inflicted by men, whether a partner is male or female.

In comparison with the research on intimate partner violence between men and women, the literature about same-sex violence is very sparse, in part because many respondents may consider disclosing same-sex relationships risky and revealing partner violence even more sensitive. Furthermore, not all persons who engage in same-sex relationships identify themselves as homosexual, leading to more questions about the quality of data gathered. The research that examines same-sex partner violence reveals that it is quite similar to heterosexual partner violence—abuse arises in the attempts of one partner to exert control over the other and it escalates throughout the course of the relationship.

The National Crime Victimization Surveys

The NCVS are ongoing federal surveys that interview eighty thousand persons from a representative sample of


Distribution of rape, physical assault, and stalking victims who did not report their victimization to the police, by reasons for not
Rape Victims (%)Physical assault victims (%)Stalking victims (%)
Reason for not reporting2Women (n = 311)Women (n = 2,062)Men (n = 468)Women (n = 165)Men (n = 30)
1Estimates are based on the most recent intimate partner victimization since age 18. Estimates not calculated for male rape victims because there were fewer than five victims when stratified by variables.
2Estimates exceed 100 percent because some victims gave multiple responses.
3Differences between women and men are statistically significant: x2, ***p ≤ .001, **p ≤ .05.
4Relative standard error exceeds 30 percent; statistical tests not performed.
5Estimates not calculated for fewer than five victims.
source: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, "Exhibit 17. Distribution of Rape, Physical Assault, and Stalking Victims Who Did Not Report Their Victimization to the Police, by Reasons for Not Reporting and Gender," in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/181867.pdf (accessed September 10, 2004)
Police couldn't do anything13.299.7100.0100.0100.0
Police wouldn't believe me7.161.33***
Fear of perpetrator21.211.731.9438.23***16.74
Minor, one-time incident20.337.93***58.533.936.74
Ashamed, wanted to keep incident private16.110.43***7.161.876.7
Wanted to handle it myself7.
Victim or attacker moved away52.4512.15
Attacker was a police officer54.73.87.95
Too young, a child3.52.21.5455
Reported to the military or someone else50.84555
Didn't want police, court involvement5.832.03***24.635.240.0
Wanted to protect attacker, relationship, or children8.734.83***29.545.543.3

households biannually to estimate the amount of crime committed against persons over age twelve in the United States. While the surveys cover all types of crime, they were extensively redesigned in 1992 to produce more accurate reports of rape, sexual assault, and other violent crimes committed by intimates or family members.

The 2003 report of NCVS trends found that the rate of violent crime fell by 54.7% from 1993 to 2003, although crime rates seem to have stabilized since 2001. Although the 2003 NCVS's criminal victimization estimates are among the lowest since the NCVS began in 1973, the numbers are still staggering: 5.4 million violent crimes were committed in 2003 (rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault). (See Figure 2.2.)

More than one in ten people (10.6%) who were victims of violent crimes in 2000 were victimized by intimate partners. Women were victimized by intimate partners at a greater rate than were men—19.9% of female victims named an intimate partner as the offender, compared with fewer than 2.5% of men. In sexual assault cases, 10.1% of women reported that the rapist was an intimate partner, 1.8% of female rape victims reported another relative was the perpetrator, and 57.3% reported a friend or acquaintance was the perpetrator. Among men, 52.2% of sexual assault/rape victims had been assaulted by a friend or acquaintance; no men reported having been assaulted or raped by an intimate or other family member. (See Table 2.5.)

In 2003, women continued to identify offenders as an intimate, friend, other relative, or acquaintance in about two-thirds of violent crimes (67%), while more than half of male victims identified the offender as a stranger (54%). This difference is largely accounted for by the fact that only 3% of male victims of violent crime identified their offender as an intimate, compared with 19% of female victims. Women were also considerably more likely to report that their offender was another relative (10%) than men were (5%). (See Table 2.6.)

Although men continued to experience higher rates of violent victimizations than women, the rates for both genders declined from 1993 to 2003. (See Figure 2.3.) Rates among persons from most racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups also declined from 1993 to 2001. The most significant annual declines in violent crime rates were observed among males and African-Americans. (See Table 2.7.)

According to the NCVS, almost half of all violent victimizations were reported to the police in 2003 (47.5%)—38.5% of rape and sexual assaults, 59.4% of aggravated assaults, and 42.1% of simple assaults. Women reported violent offenses more often than men did (49.4% and 45.7%, respectively).

The 1985 National Family Violence Survey

The National Family Violence Survey, considered by many to be the source of the most important research on


family violence, was originally conducted in 1975 for the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, Durham. Ten years later, in a follow-up to the landmark study, Straus and Gelles found that the rate of assaults by husbands on wives had dropped slightly during the decade, from 121 instances per one thousand couples in 1975 to 113 instances per one thousand couples in 1985. The rate of severe violence, such as hitting, kicking, or using a weapon, however, had declined sharply, from thirty-eight to thirty per one thousand couples—a 21% drop.

The study's most controversial finding indicated that women were initiating domestic violence at a rate equal to men. The 1985 study reported that in half of the cases, the abuse was mutual. After reassessing their data in 1990 and again in 1993, Straus and Gelles concluded that although there were similar levels of abuse between men and women, men were six times more likely to inflict serious injury.

In a paper presented in 1994 to the World Congress of Sociology titled Changes in Spouse Assault Rates from 1975 to 1992: A Comparison of Three National Surveys in the United States, Murray Straus and Glenda Kaufman Kantor compared the rates of abuse from the 1975 and 1985 NFVS and a 1992 survey conducted by Kantor. When the researchers reclassified "minor assault" to include pushing, grabbing, shoving, and slapping, and "severe assault" to include behavior likely to cause serious injury, such as kicking, punching, beating, and threatening with a weapon, they found some startling results.

The rates of reclassified minor assaults, which were considered less likely to cause injuries requiring medical treatment, decreased for husbands between the 1975 and 1985 surveys, yet remained constant for wives. The researchers found the same trend held true for severe assaults by husbands versus those by wives. While the


rate of severe assaults by men against their wives declined 50% in the 17 years from 1975 to 1992, severe assaults by women remained fairly steady.

Straus and Kantor concluded that the reason for the decline in severe assaults by husbands was that over time men became increasingly aware that battering was a crime and grew reluctant to admit the abuse. At the same time, women had been encouraged not to tolerate abuse and to report it, accounting for an increase in the reporting of even minor instances of abuse.

When abuse was measured based on separate reports by men and women, Straus and Kantor found that minor assaults by husbands decreased from 1975 to 1985. Based on the husbands' reports, these rates continued to decline from 1985 to 1992, but wives reported an increase over the same period. Men also reported a decrease in the rate of severe abuse between 1975 and 1985, while women reported no change. In contrast, between 1985 and 1992 men reported a slight increase in the rate of severe abuse while women reported a sharp drop of 43%. These findings appeared to contradict Straus and Kantor's hypothesis that the rate change was a result of men's reluctance to report abuse and women's greater freedom to report it.

According to women, minor abuse perpetrated by wives against their husbands declined from 1975 to 1985, but increased substantially from 1985 to 1992. Men, however, said the rate of minor abuse by their wives increased over both periods. Women also reported that the rate of severe assaults against their husbands remained steady


during the first decade but increased between 1985 and 1992. Husbands reported a steady decrease in severe assaults by their wives during both periods.

drawing conclusions from the data. Straus and Kantor observed that the large decrease in severe assaults by husbands was supported by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics showing an 18% drop in the number of women killed by their husbands during that period. Straus and Kantor speculated that strides made over several years, such as justice system interventions to punish abusive husbands, along with the greater availability of shelters and restraining orders, played a role in the decline of severe abuse. The lack of change in minor assaults by husbands may reflect the emphasis that has been placed on severe assaults, which could allow men to mistakenly assume that an occasional slap or shove did not constitute abusive behavior.

To explain the increase in minor assaults by women, Straus and Kantor suggested that there had been no effort to condemn assaults by wives, and with increasing gender equality, women might feel entitled to hit as often as their male partners. The decrease in severe abuse by wives as reported by their husbands, which is inconsistent with the wives' responses, might have reflected men's reluctance to admit they have been victims of abuse.


The NFVS data on violence by women triggered a firestorm of protest from feminist academicians, scholars, and activists, who claimed the analysis of survey data not


Percent distribution of victimizations, by characteristics of victims, type of crime, and victim/offender relationship, 2000
Percent of all victimizations
CharacteristicTotal victimizationsTotalIntimateOther relativeFriend or acquaintanceStrangerDon't know relationship
Both genders
Crimes of Violence100%54.0%10.6%5.0%38.3%44.4%1.7%
Rape/sexual assault210067.18.811.6156.730.72.21
Crmies of Violence10042.62.53.536.656.11.3
Rape/sexual assult210052.210.010.0152.2147.810.01
Crimes of violence10067.119.96.940.330.92.0
Rape/sexual assault210069.210.111.8157.328.22.51
All races
Crimes of Violence10054.
Rape/sexual assault210067.18.811.6156.730.72.21
Crimes of violence10053.710.54.938.344.91.4
Rape/sexual assault210062.89.412.4151.135.91.31
Crimes of violence10056.310.15.840.340.53.21
Rape/sexual assault210078.80.010.0178.816.614.61
Crimes of violence10049.217.714.3127.250.80.01
Rape/sexual assault2100154.9154.90.010.0145.110.01
Crimes of violence10054.
Rape/sexual assault210067.18.811.6156.730.72.21
Crimes of violence10050.
Rape/sexual assault2100130.710.010.0130.7169.310.01

only ignored the context in which the violence occurred, but also failed to consider the fact that women often must resort to violence in self-defense. Other scholars supported the argument that domestic violence was usually mutual.

In his book Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997), Philip W. Cook supported the mutual abuse argument. Using data from the 1985 NFVS and Murray Straus's 1993 work

Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
1Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
2Includes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
source: "Table 43a. Personal Crimes of Violence, 2002: Percent Distribution of Victimizations, by Characteristics of Victims, Type of Crime, and Victim/Offender Relationship," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2002 Statistical Tables, National Crime Victimization Survey, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2003, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cvus02.pdf (accessed September 21, 2004)
Crimes of violence10054.411.04.838.643.81.8
Rape/sexual assault210070.29.611.7158.927.42.41


Victim and offender relationship, 2003
Violent crimeRape/sexual assaultRobberyAggravated assaultSimple assault
Relationship with victimNumberPercentNumberPercentNumberPercentNumberPercentNumberPercent
Note: Percentages may not total to 100% because of rounding.
*Based on 10 or fewer sample cases.
source: Shannan M. Catalano, "Table 9. Victim and Offender Relationship, 2003," in Criminal Victimization, 2003, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, September 2004, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cv03.pdf (accessed September 19, 2004)
Male victims
Other relative138,310500*17,2505*12,4902*108,5706
Relationship unknown110,0504%00%*21,1806%*22,4203%*66,4503%
Female victims
Other relative230,8501013,9308*17,4308*40,32010159,18011
Relationship unknown37,6102%00%*16,2407%*6,4002%*14,9701%*

"Physical Assault by Wives: A Major Social Problem" (Current Controversies on Family Violence [Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993]), Cook concluded that, in most cases, men and women shared equally when engaging in domestic abuse. Cook also found that women are 11% more likely to hit first during an argument.

Straus arrived at a similar conclusion in "Physical Assault by Wives." He observed that the number of women who hit first was about the same as the number of men, regardless of how dangerous the assault was. Straus concluded that self-defense did not account for all the attacks by women, and that 25% to 30% of violence is attributable to physical aggression by the wife.

Abuse by Women

Demie Kurz and Kersti Yllöo presented a feminist perspective in Physical Assaults by Husbands: A Major Social Problem (1987). Kurz and Yllöo observed that gender strongly influences how society functions, and they were critical of research that categorized "spouse abuse" as just one of several types of abuse that include elder and child abuse. They contended that this categorization reduced women to simply one victimized group among many. Instead, feminists believe, wife abuse should be grouped with other criminal acts of male dominance, such as marital and other types of rape, sexual harassment, and incest.


Violent victimization rates of selected demographic categories, 1993–2003
Number of violent crimes per 1,000 persons age 12 or older
Demographic category of victim19931994199519961997199819992000200120022003percent change, 1993–2003
Note: Annual rates are based on interviews conducted during the calendar year. For 2003 the racial categories are white/black/other "only" and "two or more races." The collection of racial and ethnic categories in 2003 changed from that of previous years; however, because about 0.9% of survey respondents identified two or more races, the impact on the victimization rates for each race is small. The population estimates for 2003 incorporate controls based on the 2000 decennial Census.
—Not available.
source: Shannan M. Catalano, "Table 4. Violent Victimization Rates of Selected Demographic Categories, 1993–2003," in Criminal Victimization, 2003, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, September 2004, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cv03.pdf (accessed September 19,2004)
Other race39.849.941.933.228.027.624.520.718.214.716.0−59.8
Two or more races67.7
Hispanic origin
Annual household income
Less than $7,50084.786.077.865.371.063.857.560.346.645.549.9−41.1%
$75,000 or more41.339.537.330.530.733.122.922.318.519.017.5−57.6

For these and many other feminists, violence is an issue of power, and in both society and marriage, power is held almost exclusively by men. They caution that approaching the issue of spousal abuse using a family violence model may have negative repercussions for women, because this model reinforces the notion that women become victims of abuse by provoking their partners. They also argue that research and analyses based on the family violence model often lead to policy decisions that are harmful to women, such as reduced funding for women's shelters or testimony against battered women in court. Furthermore, they argue that the family violence model encourages mental health workers and counselors to propose interventions and actions that focus on a client's personal problems without identifying the social, political, and economic inequalities between men and women that feminists contend form the basis for battering.

a critique of the conflict tactics scale. Kurz and Yllöo observed that when women were asked about the context of their use of violence, most reported that they used violence in self-defense. Other feminist scholars contend that researchers exclude the context of the situation when they ask who initiated the violence, and fail to take into account that violence is often preceded by name-calling and other psychological abuse. Women's advocates argue that women, viewing these behaviors as early warning signs of future violence, may hit first in the hope of preventing physical abuse. Even when women initiate violence, they conclude, it may very well be an act of self-defense. Research revealing that wives often report their use of violence as self-defense or retaliation supports this theory. Violent men, on the other hand, attribute their aggression to external causes.

Michael S. Kimmel has criticized the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), a measure that is widely used in surveys of domestic violence ("'Gender Symmetry' in Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review," Violence against Women, vol. 8, November 2002). He questions whether violence can or should be measured as a conflict tactic, arguing that "such framing assumes that domestic violence … has more to do with being tired or in a bad mood than it does with an effort to control another person." He also argues that the CTS needs to take into account the context of violence. The fact that it does not evaluate context leads to a skewing of results. "Thus," he wrote, "if she pushes him back after being severely beaten, it would be scored one conflict tactic for each. And if she punches him to get him to stop beating their children or pushes him away after he has sexually assaulted her, it would count as one for her and none for him."

Russell P. Dobash and colleagues also question the findings that result from use of the Conflict Tactics Scale. In "Separate and Intersecting Realities: A Comparison of Men's and Women's Accounts of Violence against Women" (Violence against Women, vol. 4, no. 4, August 1998), the researchers disputed the assumption that the CTS accounts of violence, whether from men or women, are unbiased and reliable. Comparing men's accounts of their violence with accounts given by women, Dobash et al. found an overall pattern of inconsistency between the reports of men and women. An even greater discrepancy was seen in the reported frequency of violent acts.

causes and prevention of abuse by women. The difficulty with these feminist viewpoints, Straus and Gelles argue, is that they explain wife abuse in terms of patriarchy, which focuses on the power and control men exert over women and overlooks other important variables. Furthermore, patriarchy does not explain many other types of domestic violence, such as child abuse, sibling abuse, elder abuse, and violence by women.

Straus and Gelles claim that in some cases data on assaults by women have intentionally been suppressed. The Survey of Spousal Violence against Women in Kentucky by Mark A. Schulman (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979) was one of the first issue-defining studies, yet it did not publish the data gathered on violence committed by women. When other researchers obtained the survey data set, they reported that among violent couples, 38% of attacks were committed by women who had not been attacked first by their male partners.

Straus and Gelles do believe that the generally greater size, strength, and aggressiveness of men means that the same action taken by a man is likely to inflict more pain or injury than a comparable act committed by a woman. They also allow that some violence inflicted by women against men is in retaliation or self-defense. Still, they argue, violence by women cannot be ignored, and efforts to prevent it are needed for several reasons. A fundamental reason is the intrinsic moral incorrectness of attacking a spouse, whether woman or man. Other reasons to prevent female-initiated or -instigated abuse include the danger of escalation, the model of violence as perceived by children, and the validation of any type of violence between spouses. When women hit, they legitimize the abuse they receive from men. If a woman slaps her partner, she gives him justification to hit her when he does not like her behavior.

Straus offers three reasons why injury should not be used as a criterion for defining abuse in "Conceptualization and Measurement of Battering: Implications for Public Policy" (Women Battering: Policy Responses, Michael Steinman, ed. [Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing, 1991]). First, the effect on legislation would be detrimental to women who must rely on police ability and authority to make arrests without visible evidence of injury. Second, injury-based rates would eliminate from the data 97% of assaults by men that did not result in injury but are still serious and harmful. Finally, focusing exclusively on injury rates would make it easier to ignore the abuse by women because physical violence inflicted by women frequently does not result in significant injury.

Violence Reexamined

The National Youth Survey, a self-reported longitudinal study following selected participants over time, measured problem behavior in a national sample of young people. It began in 1976 when the respondents were eleven to seventeen years old and followed the participants for sixteen years into adulthood in 1992, when they were twenty-seven to thirty-three years old. Analyzing data from the 1983, 1986, 1989, and 1992 surveys, researcher Barbara Morse determined the level of violence between married or cohabiting partners and described her conclusions in "Beyond the Conflict Tactics Scale: Assessing Gender Differences in Partner Violence" (Violence and Victims, vol. 10, Winter 1995).

The surveys found high levels of violence in many relationships—54.5% of partners reported some violence in 1983, declining to 32.4% by 1992. About one-quarter reported severe violence in the first survey, compared to 15.8% in 1992. These high rates, three to four times the rate reported by Straus, were attributed to the youth of the National Youth Survey respondents.

About 10% of the couples reported at least one incidence of severe male-to-female violence in the year that preceded both the 1983 and 1989 surveys; however, the rate dropped to 5.7% in 1992. The youth survey rates of female-to-male violence were remarkably high. About 48% of youth survey respondents reported one or more female-to-male assaults in their relationships in 1983. The rate declined sharply to 27.9% in 1992, but was still higher than rates reported by other researchers.

who was responsible? Morse conceded that the National Youth Survey rates were higher than rates found in most other studies and that they contradict common beliefs as well as police and hospital records. One explanation of the contradictory findings may be that men tend to underreport violence while women are more likely to be accurate reporters. Morse, however, found that both genders underreported violence when their accounts were compared to their partners' reports.

Morse found that women were significantly more likely than men to slap or throw something at their partners, as well as to kick, bite, or hit their partners with a fist or an object. On the other hand, males were much more likely than females to "beat up" their partners. Among men who beat their partners, the reported frequency of battering averaged three to four times per year. That was at least three times as often as women who engaged in similar behavior.


Percent of all murders by intimates by age, 1976–2002
Male victimsFemale victims
source: James Alan Fox and Marianne W. Zawitz, "Percent of All Murders by Intimates, 1976–2002," in Homicide Trends in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, September 28, 2004, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/intimates.htm (accessed December 9, 2004)
Under 181%6%

Morse also found that the violence was mutual in about half the cases. In the remaining half, women accounted for about two-thirds of the nonreciprocal violence. This finding was supported by reports from both men and women. When asked who started the fight that led to the violence, men claimed that both parties were responsible 44% of the time, that 26% of the time they started it, and that 30% of the time their partners initiated it. In comparison, women blamed their partners 46% of the time, took equal responsibility 36% of the time, and took full blame 18% of the time.

Women were also more likely to receive medical treatment for their injuries. About 20% of the female respondents in each survey reported that the violence led to personal injury. In contrast, only 10% of the men reported injuries in 1989 and 14% in 1992.


According to the FBI, between 1976 and 2000, 11% of homicide victims had been killed by intimates. In 2000, 26.1% of the 1,700 victims were men. James Alan Fox and Marianne W. Zawitz reported their findings in Homicide Trends in the United States (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, September, 2004.)

Although these statistics sound alarming, they reflect a positive trend in domestic homicides. Since 1976, when the FBI first began keeping statistics on intimate murders, the number of men and women killed by an intimate partner has dropped significantly. The number of men killed by an intimate declined by 67.6% between 1976 and 2000, and the number of women killed was stable until 1993 when it began to decline. The peak for intimate murders occurred in 1976, when 2,957 men and women were killed.

Although the number of white females killed by an intimate increased during the 1980s, it declined after


Homicides by relationship and weapon type, 1990–2002
Relationship of Blunt Other victim to offenderTotalGunKnifeBlunt objectForceOther weapon
source: James Alan Fox and Marianne W. Zawitz, "Homicides by Relationship and Weapon Type, 1990–2002," in Homicide Trends in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, September 28, 2004, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/homicide/intimates.htm (accessed December 9, 2004)

1987. In 1997, it reached its lowest point in two decades. Nevertheless, in 2000 the percentage of all female homicide victims killed by an intimate was roughly comparable with rates reported twenty-five years earlier.

According to the same research, the number of intimate homicides for all other race and gender groups declined over the same period, with a drop of 77.3% for black males killed by an intimate and a 53.4% decrease for black females. The number of white males killed by an intimate declined 53.5% during the same span of time.

Women of every age are substantially more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men. (See Table 2.8.) Every year, about one-third of all females murdered in the United States are killed by an intimate (33.5% in 2000). In comparison, only 3.7% of all male murder victims were killed by an intimate in 2000.

Women are also more likely to be killed by their spouses, although this rate has declined substantially in the years since the survey was first conducted. The intimate homicide rate declined for blacks of both genders in every relationship category but was actually higher for white girlfriends in 2000 than it had been in 1976. (See Figure 2.4.)

Of all intimate homicides committed during this period, guns were used in a majority of the murders, although such other weapons as knives were also used. In the period between 1990 and 2000, more than two-thirds of all victims of murder at the hands of spouses and former spouses were killed by guns. However, almost half of the boyfriends murdered by their partners (45%) and one in five of the girlfriends murdered by their partners (19%) were killed with knives. Intimate homicides were more likely to involve knives than murders by nonintimates. (See Figure 2.5 and Table 2.9.)

One researcher has investigated what factors present in abusive relationships might indicate a threat of the violence escalating to homicide. Carolyn Rebecca Block found that certain types of past violence directed against


female intimates indicate an increased risk of homicide, especially choking ("How Can Practitioners Help an Abused Woman Lower Her Risk of Death?" National Institute of Justice Journal, no. 250, November 2003). She also found that recently abused women were more likely to be killed—half of women who were killed by their partners had experienced violence in the previous thirty days. She also found that increasingly frequent violent incidents posed a higher risk of homicide.


One aspect of domestic abuse that often has been overlooked is violence between men or women in same-sex


relationships. There are few published studies about this subject, but investigator Vernon R. Wiehe in Understanding Family Violence (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998) finds that comparable forms of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse occur between partners in same-sex relationships as heterosexual partners with one difference: emotional abuse may also include threats to disclose a partner's homosexuality.

Researchers have difficulty comparing the prevalence of partner abuse in same-sex relationships to abuse rates in heterosexual relationships because they must rely on nonrandom, self-selected samples. These studies consider persons who identify themselves as homosexuals and agree to participate in a research study as opposed to randomly selected persons representative of the population to be studied. As with other forms of abuse, same-sex partners may underreport violence in their relationships. Most of the published studies examining same-sex domestic violence indicate that abuse rates are about the same as for male and female same-sex couples. including one by Michelle Aulivola titled "Outing Domestic Violence: Affording Appropriate Protections to Gay and Lesbian Victims" (Family Court Review, vol. 42, January 2004).

How Abusive Are Women in Same-Sex Relationships?

There are some survey data about women in same-sex relationships that indicate that lesbians endure considerable levels of physical and sexual violence. Linda A. Bernhard, in "Physical and Sexual Violence Experienced by Lesbian and Heterosexual Women" (Violence against Women, vol. 6, no. 1, January 2000), observes that while lesbians, like other women, are at risk of abuse from past and present male partners, they also risk being victimized by their female partners. In addition, because lesbians are also at greater risk for hate crimes than their heterosexual counterparts, they may experience more violence than heterosexual women.

Based on the limited research done on lesbian violence, it appears the risk factors for abuse are similar to those of heterosexual women. Dependency and jealousy, both of which may precipitate abuse in heterosexual relationships, have been identified as the main contributors of lesbian battering. The literature about this subject also contains clinical case studies and anecdotal reports indicating that lesbian batterers may also abuse alcohol or drugs, feel powerless, and suffer from low self-esteem.

Battered lesbians are among the most underserved population of battered women, often facing denial from other lesbians and homophobia from health and social service providers. Many states have narrow definitions of family that deny gay and lesbian victims of domestic violence the possibility of seeking family court orders of protection or other civil redress. Complicating the issue are the myths that same-sex violence is mutual and the abuse is not as dangerous or destructive as heterosexual abuse. In fact, according to health care providers, the abuse is rarely mutual and can be just as harmful as abuse in heterosexual relationships.

Gender Issues in Same-Sex Relationships

In a study of gender issues in male and female same-sex relationships, Linda M. Waldner-Haugrud and colleagues interviewed 165 gays and 118 lesbians, all of them white and highly educated. In "Victimization and Perpetration Rates of Violence in Gay and Lesbian Relationships: Gender Issues Explored" (Violence and Victims, vol. 12, no. 2, 1997), Waldner-Haugrud et al. found that 47.5% of lesbians and 29.7% of gay men reported being involved in violent relationships at some point in their lives. Pushing and threatening were the most frequent methods of abuse, while use of a weapon ranked lowest.

Among lesbian respondents, 38% reported perpetrating the violence, primarily by pushing, slapping, or threatening. Victimization and perpetration rates were higher for lesbians than for gay men, with the exception of violence inflicted with a weapon. Lesbians were far more likely to report pushing or being pushed than were gay men.

Waldner-Haugrud et al. concluded that several factors may increase the likelihood of violence in lesbian couples. Among these factors are "prejudice-encouraged" social isolation, overdependency of one partner on the other, the tendency of lesbians to create "closed" relationships, and sexual-orientation identity issues. The researchers acknowledged it was probable that gay men underreported partner abuse. They also noted the limitations of findings from an exclusive, nonrepresentative sample such as theirs. Still, the implications of the findings may indicate a need to move beyond theories that use gender to define victim and perpetrator.


Most definitions of abuse focus on situations where physical violence was either threatened or used. Official definitions used by the courts and police do not include emotional or psychological abuse, although it can cause as much long-term damage as acts of physical violence.

Emotional and psychological abuse is usually harder to define than physical abuse, where bruises and scars are clearly evident. Almost all couples scream and shout at one another at some point. But abuse is distinguished from the heated arguments that may ensue in the course of otherwise healthy relationships because the abuser uses words to project power over a mate in a demeaning way. This can produce serious and often debilitating emotional or psychological consequences.

Some domestic violence researchers and counselors equate emotional abuse with the Amnesty International definition of psychological torture, which includes verbal degradation, denial of power, isolation, monopolizing perceptions, and threats to kill. Health and social service workers who counsel victims cite emotional violence as one of several factors that may paralyze women, preventing them from fleeing dangerous and abusive relationships.

Table 2.10 is a checklist prepared by the National Coalition against Domestic Violence to help identify characteristics and patterns of emotional abuse. The coalition and many researchers believe that early identification of and effective intervention to end emotional abuse may prevent this emotional violence from escalating to physical abuse. Table 2.11 is a list of characteristics, attitudes, and actions presented by the coalition in the form of ten questions that may help predict whether a partner will become violent.

A Landmark Study of Verbal Aggression

Renowned researchers Murray Straus and Stephen Sweet returned to the 1985 National Family Violence Surveys

TABLE 2.10

Abusive relationship checklist
source: "Checklist," The Problem, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, http://www.ncadv.org/problem/checklist.htm (accessed September 19, 2004)
Look over the following questions. Think about how you are being treated and how you treat your partner. Remember, when one person scares, hurts or continually puts down the other person, it's abuse.
Does your partner…
—— Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
—— Put down your accomplishments or goals?
—— Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
—— Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
—— Tell you that you are nothing without them?
—— Treat you roughly—grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
—— Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
—— Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
—— Blame you for how they feel or act?
—— Pressure you sexually for things you aren't ready for?
—— Make you feel like there "is no way out" of the relationship?
—— Prevent you from doing things you want—like spending time with your friends or family?
—— Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to "teach you a lesson"?
Do you…
—— Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
—— Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner's behavior?
—— Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
—— Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
—— Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
—— Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
—— Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?
If any of these are happening in your relationship, talk to someone. Without some help, the abuse will continue.

data to examine verbal aggression in their study "Verbal/Symbolic Aggression in Couples: Incidence Rates and Relationships to Personal Characteristics" (Journal of Marriage and the Family, vol. 54, 1992). Straus and Sweet found no significant differences between man-to-woman and woman-to-man verbal aggression. They also found that when one partner engaged in verbal aggression, the other responded in similar fashion. Women reported more abuse regardless of who initiated the aggression, but the researchers were unable to determine whether men minimized the incidence of verbal abuse or women exaggerated it.

Straus and Sweet's study found no correlation between race or socioeconomic status and verbal aggression, although other studies have reported increased frequency of verbal aggression among black couples. They did find, however, a link between age and levels of abuse, indicating that verbal aggression declines with age regardless of how much conflict there is in a relationship. Straus and Sweet's analysis also revealed a direct connection between alcohol consumption and verbal aggression—the more often men drank excessively, the more likely they were to be verbally abusive. Similarly, the more women used drugs, the greater the probability of verbal abuse. For men, however, drug use did not significantly affect the use of verbal abuse. Straus and Sweet cautioned that their research reveals a correlation between these two variables, but not causation—in other words, it demonstrated a relationship between alcohol consumption and abuse, but did not show whether men and women drink to provide themselves with excuses for abusive behavior or whether drinking causes their aggression.


Luke J. Larsen reported in "The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2003" that the total foreign-born population in March 2003 was 33.5 million people, or 11.7% of the U.S. population (Current Population Reports [Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004]). Abuse of immigrant women remains a problem in the United States. Immigrant women may be at increased risk for various reasons, including a cultural background that teaches them to defer to their husbands. Many foreign-born women cannot speak English and do not know their rights in the United States. Others fear they will be deported or have no resources or support systems to turn to for help.

In March 2003, Asian immigrants accounted for 25% of all immigrants in the United States. Along with other immigrant groups, the Asian immigrant community has become increasingly aware of domestic abuse. Some Asian women have been sent to this country as the result of arranged marriages to live with men they barely know. In some cases, the husband takes his immigrant bride's money, jewelry, and passport, leaving her completely dependent on him. The abusive husband often tells his immigrant wife that if she leaves him, she will be deported. For some abused immigrant women, it would be worse to return home and bring shame on their family than to stay with the abusive partner. In some cultures, divorced women are outcasts with no place in society.

U.S. immigration laws have unintentionally contributed to the problem of abuse among immigrant

TABLE 2.11

Predictors of domestic violence
source: "Predictors of Domestic Violence," The Problem, National Coalition against Domestic Violence, http://www.ncadv.org/problem/predictors.htm (accessed September 19, 2004)
The following signs often occur before actual abuse and may serve as clues to potential abuse:
1. Did he grow up in a violent family? People who grow up in families where they have been abused as children, or where one parent beats the other, have grown up learning that violence is normal behavior.
2. Does he tend to use force or violence to "solve" his problems? A young man who has a criminal record for violence, who gets into fights, or who likes to act tough is likely to act the same way with his wife and children. Does he have a quick temper? Does he over-react to little problems and frustration? Is he cruel to animals? Does he punch walls or throw things when he's upset? Any of these behaviors may be a sign of a person who will work out bad feelings with violence.
3. Does he abuse alcohol or other drugs? There is a strong link between violence and problems with drugs and alcohol. Be alert to his possible drinking/drug problems, particulary if he refuses to admit that he has a problem, or refuses to get help. Do not think that you can change him.
4. Does he have strong traditional ideas about what a man should be and what a woman should be? Does he think a woman should stay at home, take care of her husband, and follow his wishes and orders?
5. Is he jealous of your other relationships—not just with other men that you may know—but also with your women friends and your family? Does he keep tabs on you? Does he want to know where you are at all times? Does he want you with him all of the time?
6. Does he have access to guns, knives, or other lethal instruments? Does he talk of using them against people, or threaten to use them to get even?
7. Does he expect you to follow his orders or advice? Does he become angry if you do not fulfill his wishes or if you cannot anticipate what he wants?
8. Does he go through extreme highs and lows, almost as though he is two different people? Is he extremely kind one time, and extremely cruel at another time?
9. When he gets angry, do you fear him? Do you find that not making him angry has become a major part of your life? Do you do what he wants you to do, rather than what you want to do?
10. Does he treat you roughly? Does he physically force you to do what you do not want to do?

women. The Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments were passed in 1986 in an attempt to prevent immigrants from illegally obtaining resident status through a sham marriage to a U.S. citizen. The amendments require that spouses, usually husbands, petition for conditional resident status for an undocumented mate. Conditional status lasts a minimum of two years during which time the couple must remain married. If the marriage dissolves, the immigrant loses conditional status and may be deported. As a result, some wives become prisoners of abusive husbands for as long as the husbands control their conditional resident status.

The law was amended under the Immigration Act of 1990 to permit a waiver of conditional status if the immigrant could prove battery or extreme cruelty. While the new law attempts to provide relief for battered brides, the initial filing for conditional status is still in the hands of the husband; if the abuse begins before he chooses to file the petition, the woman has no legal recourse.

In addition, a proposed implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, an aid package meant to defray the costs of providing health care to immigrants, will harm battered immigrant women, according to a Family Violence Prevention Fund "Newsflash" online article, "Hospital Regulation Would Threaten Battered Immigrant Women, Experts Warn" (http://endabuse.org, September 1, 2004). Under the proposal, hospitals wanting aid will be required ask uninsured patients intimidating questions about their immigration status. These regulations may keep battered women from seeking medical care.

The Diversity of Different Cultures

Many immigrants come from cultures that are radically different from the predominant American society. Among the Asian-American community, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Koreans, Thai, and Cambodians, there is widespread acceptance of male dominance and a belief that the community and the family take priority over the individual. Asian women are generally raised to accept their husbands' dominance and are more reluctant to complain or to leave than their American counterparts. Complicating the problem of domestic abuse in this community are strong family ties, economic dependency, the stigma of divorce, and fear of bringing shame to the family.

Still, researchers have found that rates of domestic abuse in immigrant communities are no higher than among the native population. Cecilia Menjivar and Olivia Salcido wrote, "the experiences of immigrant women in domestic violence situations are often exacerbated by their specific position as immigrants, including limited host-language skills, lack of access to dignified jobs, uncertain legal statuses, and experiences in their home countries, and thus their alternatives to living with their abusers are very limited" ("Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence: Common Experiences in Different Countries," Gender & Society, vol. 16, December 2002).

There is documented evidence of abuse in practically every immigrant community in the United States. For example, research conducted during the 1990s by the Immigrant Woman's Task Force of the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights found that 34% of Latinas and 25% of Filipinas surveyed had experienced domestic violence. Findings were reported by Deena L. Jang et al. in Domestic Violence in Immigrant and Refugee Communities: Asserting the Rights of Battered Women (San Francisco: Family Violence Prevention Fund, 1997).

The report by Jang et al. also noted that language barriers compound immigrant women's problem, often making it difficult for women to seek and obtain help. Women who do not speak English generally do not know how to find help, have difficulties in availing themselves of the help that does exist, and do not know their rights in the United States. Social workers report that interpreters, often male, do not always translate correctly, preferring to maintain community values rather than support the battered wife. In addition, many Asian women do not know the law and are misinformed by their husbands that they will be deported or lose their children if they report the abuse.

Figure 2.6 shows some of the distinctive ways that battered immigrant women are abused. Threatening to report a woman to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, have her deported, or to withdraw her petition to legalize her immigration status are among the actions an abusive husband may take to control his immigrant wife.

In September 1994 President Bill Clinton signed the Violence against Women Act as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The Violence against Women Act permitted undocumented battered women to obtain lawful permanent resident status by petitioning for that status or through the suspension of deportation. In order to take advantage of this law, however, immigrant women must hire a lawyer and enter a system many of them misunderstand and mistrust.

New policies and programs for recent immigrant victims have emerged across the country, especially in cities with large immigrant populations. To improve the communication between immigrants and the criminal justice system, authorities have made special efforts to reach immigrant victims by hiring multicultural criminal justice staffs and providing informational materials in a variety of languages. Police representatives also attend meetings of immigrant groups, and members of the immigrant community are encouraged to serve as representatives on citizen police committees.

The most effective programs to assist immigrant women acknowledge the multiple pressures these women face during their efforts to become oriented and to assimilate themselves into American culture and society. Along with cultural shock and language barriers, many immigrant women confront racism, class prejudice, and sexism. Fear of authority and the absence of social networks and support services compound the problem. Finally, recognizing that many women are brought to the United States in circumstances that increase the likelihood of victimization—as mail-order brides, child-care workers, or prostitutes—is an important step in stemming the crisis and addressing the crime of domestic violence.