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Domestic violence ugly, can have uglier results

5/5/2014

This is the first in a series about domestic violence.

Q: What is domestic violence?

A: The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a publication from the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides basic and comprehensive information about domestic violence. It is the methodical and pervasive process of using intimidation, threats, manipulation and physical tactics in order to establish power and control over significant others or intimate partners. Abusers use tactics that instill dominance and fear over partners. Domestic violence is a health, social and economic problem that affects everyone in society.

Statistics reveal alarming patterns. Females account for 85 percent to 90 percent of domestic violence victims. Females most at risk are those 16 to 24 years of age. Approximately 39 percent of the emergency room visits of women are due to injuries related to violence.

Female high school and college students report 28 percent have experienced dating violence. Pregnant teenagers report a physical abuse rate of 26 percent. An average of three or more women are murdered daily by husbands or boyfriends in the United States.

An estimated 5 percent of domestic violence cases are male victims who are stalked, physically abused or killed by their wives, girlfriends or partners. Males are more likely to be victims at the hands of acquaintances or strangers rather than intimate partners or relatives.

Physical abuse includes shoving, restraining, slapping, biting, punching, kicking, strangling, suffocating, using weapons and kidnapping, and abusing or threatening children. Sexual abuse includes rape, forcing victims into unwanted sexual acts, forcing women into abortions or sabotaging birth-control measures, participating in extramarital or other sexual relationships and sexually assaulting children.

Emotional and psychological abuse means insults, criticisms, name calling, stonewalling, harassing, screaming, manipulating others into believing they are crazy, humiliating others, blaming victims for the abuse, controlling where victims go, whom they see, what they do, accusing victims of unfaithfulness, and denying abusive behaviors and physical aggression.

Additional threats and intimidation include breaking or smashing personal property of victims, glaring at victims to force compliance, using intimidating gestures, threatening to seek custody of the children, threatening homicide, suicide or injuries, harming pets and animals, stalking, displaying weapons, and making false allegations against victims to police or child welfare. Perpetrators also can coerce victims into performing illegal activities.

Economic abuse is preventing victims from working or attaining educations, withholding money and denying access to family incomes, making victims beg for money, stealing money from victims, refusing to help pay bills, putting victims on allowances, lying about assets and noncompliance with child-support orders. Male spouses and partners who are abusive also make all decisions, define the gender roles and treat victims like servants.

Domestic violence can be attributed to cultural, economic, social and psychological causes. Domestic violence behavior is learned several ways. First, children observe the behavior from the adults with whom they live. Secondly, the behavior is learned from the experience of victimization. Other learning experiences occur from violence in communities, schools or peer groups. An all-encompassing culture of violence teaches violence through video games, violent movies, and norms and cultural beliefs.

Perpetrators of domestic violence learn such behavior is tolerated, and therefore justified and acceptable. All levels of communities might minimize or ignore family violence and might fail to support and provide appropriate consequences. Communities include both formal and informal support systems. Formal systems are professionals and organizations, and informal support systems are families and friends.

Although the above causes are substantiated by research, there are additional social forces that influence the severity, frequency and characteristics of perpetrator behavior. These forces include mental illness, substance abuse, cultural practices, poverty, stress, anger and depression.

The ways society dealt with women in the past also are believed to be root causes of domestic violence. Until the 1970s, there were few agencies or programs for domestic violence victims. Institutions and society considered domestic violence private matters. A grassroots movement starting in the 1970s for the safety of women gave rise to shelters and crisis services.

Feminists, community survivors and activists had three goals: securing shelter houses and support services for victims and their families; improving criminal justice and legal responses to domestic violence; and changing the public's perception of domestic violence. This movement was called the Battered Women's Movement. Current domestic violence programs include advocacy for public awareness and education, promoting community collaboration and political lobbying for the safety of victimized women and their children.

Principles in the Battered Women's Movement:

* Safety for the victims of domestic violence and their children.

* The right of victims to self-determination, whether to stay or leave.

* Accountability for domestic violence perpetrators through criminal and social sanctions.

Societal changes to fight the social oppression of victimized women and to promote the rights of victims.

* Next week's article will continue with an overview of domestic violence.

Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.