Against Women is a global issue reaching across national boundaries as well as socio-economic, cultural, racial and class distinctions. It is a problem without frontiers. Not only is the problem widely dispersed geographically, but its incidence is also extensive, making it a typical and accepted behavior. Only recently, within the past twenty-five years, has the issue been “brought into the open as a field of concern and study” (Violence Against Women in the Family, page 38).
Domestic violence is not an isolated, individual event but rather a pattern of repeated behaviors that the abuser uses to gain power and control ver the victim. Unlike stranger-to-stranger violence, in domestic violence situations the same perpetrator repeatedly assaults the same victim. These assaults are often in the form of physical injury, but may also be in the form of sexual assault. However the abuse is not only physical and sexual, but also psychological. Psychological abuse means intense and repetitive humiliation, creating isolation, and controlling the actions of the victim through intimidation or manipulation.
Domestic violence tends to become more frequent and severe over time. Oftentimes the abuser is physically violent sporadically, ut uses other controlling tactics on a daily basis. All tactics have profound effects on the victim. Perpetrators of domestic violence can be found in all age, racial, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, linguistic, educational, occupational and religious groups. Domestic violence is found in all types of intimate relationships whether the individuals are of the same or opposite sex, are married or dating, or are in a current or past intimate relationship.
There are two essential elements in every domestic violence situation: the victim and abuser have been intimately involved at some point in time, and the abuser onsciously chooses to use violence and other abusive tactics to gain control over the victim. In some instances, the abuser may be female while the victim is male; domestic violence also occurs in gay and lesbian relationships. However, 95% of reported assaults on spouses or ex-spouses are committed by men against women (MTCAWA e-mail interview) “It is a terrible and recognizable fact that for many people, home is the least safe place” (Battered Dreams, 9).
Domestic violence is real violence, often resulting in permanent injuries or death. Battering is a widespread societal problem with consequences reaching far beyond individual families. It is conduct that has devastating effects for individual victims, their children and their communities. In addition to these immediate effects, there is growing evidence that violence within the “family becomes the breeding ground for other social problems such as substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, and violent crimes of all types” (MTCAWA e-mail interview).
Domestic violence against women is not merely a domestic issue; but, rather a complex socio-economical crisis that threatens the interconnected equilibrium of the entire social structure. Causes & Effects “Within the family there is a historical tradition condoning violence” Violence Against Women: The Missing Agenda, 29). Domestic violence against women accounts for approximately 40 to 70% of all violent crime in North America. However, the figures don’t tell the entire story; less than 10% of such instances are actually reported to police (The Living Family, 204).
The causes of domestic violence against women are numerous. Many claim stress is the substantial cause of domestic conflict resulting in violence. Though stress in the workplace is a contributing factor, it is by no means the substantial one. Many people suffer from stress disorders, but most don’t esort to violence as a means of release. It is apparent that the substantial causes have more to do with the conditioning of males culturally, and within the family of orientation than anything else.
Historically, women have been treated more as belongings than human beings; Old English Common Law permitted a man to abuse his wife and kids, as long as he didn’t use a stick thicker than the width of his thumb–“Rule of Thumb” (The Living Family, 201). Culturally, men have been conditioned to repress their feelings of emotion–always acting like the tough guy, the linebacker, the cowboy. But, when confronted with an emotionally difficult conflict, one which is impossible to shove down deep, they irrupt in volcanic proportions, often taking out years of repressed rage on those closest to them, in particular their own family.
However, what seems to be the most significant cause of the male tactic of violent conflict resolution is violence within the family of orientation. Statistics show that 73% of male abusers had grown up in a family where they saw their mother beaten, or experienced abuse themselves (MTCAWA e-mail interview). Using the (relatively accepted) Freudian model, which claims that ll mental illness stems from traumatic childhood trauma, one can see how there is a direct correlation between violence in the family of orientation and violence within the family of procreation.
And, indeed, abusers are mentally ill, though the illness tends to be more subtle than others: many abusers display a Jekyll&Hyde personality, where they are nothing like their domestic selves outside the home. In most cases the cycle of violence starts slowly; it usually consists of a slap in the face or a hard shove. But the frequency and degree of violence escalates with time. The abuser will justify the abuse by pointing out his ife’s inadequacies and faults. But, no matter how wrong the wife is, there is little, if no, justification for spousel abuse within a civil society.
The real issue at hand is the neurosis within the male psyche. Just as in rape, the key issue is control. Male abusers are laden with fear about losing power. They inflict physical abuse on their spouse to prove that they have, still have, and will have control over their spouses (and/or children. ) They won’t stop there either. The pattern of abuse involves severe mental torture and humiliation–blaming, threatening, ignoring, isolating, forcing sex, onitoring phone calls, and restricting any form of social life. It is a vicious cycle of abuse, where the wife is almost literally chained to the husband.
Her self-esteem has been obliterated. She is financially, emotionally, and functionally helpless. She is incapable of reaching out for help for herself or for her children. At this point the abuse gets more routine; the abuser sites his partner’s pathetic state as more reason to beat her. And the victim sinks deeper, and more beatings ensue. She has been infected with psychological-AIDS; she has no defense (“immune system”) to combat the disease of abuse. For women, escaping an abusive relationship is VERY difficult. And the abuse usually doesn’t stop at the discretion of the male.
An in-depth study of all one-on-one murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases in Canada from 1980 to 1984 found that 62% of female victims were killed by a male partner (Violence Against Women Homepage). It is painfully clear that victims have little but two choices: leave or die. Sadly, the latter is the easier one. Domestic Violence as a Health Issue The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or nfirmity” (In the Health of Women: A Global Perspective, 78). Based on this, domestic violence against women is clearly a health problem.
In 1984, the U. S. Surgeon General declared domestic violence against women as the number ONE health problem (Violence Against Women Homepage). Physical violence is the most basic form of domestic violence, leading to extensive injury, unsuccessful pregnancies and even murder. As mentioned above, in Canada 62% of women murdered were killed by an intimate male partner. These are deaths caused by a preventable social problem.
Actual or threatened physical violence, psychological violence and the enial of physical and economic resources all have an enormous impact on women’s mental health. A history of victimization is seen as a strong risk factor for the development of mental health problems” (MTCAWA e-mail interview). These problems take many forms, all affecting women’s ability to attain a basic quality of life for herself and her family. Abuse is strongly associated with alcoholism and drug use in women (Facts About Domestic Violence). It also can lead to “fatigue and passivity coupled with an extreme sense of worthlessness” (Violence Against Women in the Family, 78 ). These symptoms together remove any nitiative and decision making ability from the victim.
This lethargy, coupled with economic barriers, makes escape from the situation very difficult. The lack of initiative also thwarts women’s abilities to participate in activities outside of the home. High levels of stress and depression are also extremely common mental health problems for victims of family violence, often leading to suicide (Facts About Domestic Violence). In the United States, one quarter of suicide attempts by white women and one half of attempts by African American women are preceded by abuse (In the Health of Women: A Global Perspective, 128).
The World Bank’s analysis found domestic violence to be a major cause of disability and death among women; the burden of family violence is comparable to that of HIV, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease or cancer (Domestic Violence Against Women: A Global Issue, 29). In industrialized nations one in five healthy days of life are lost to women age 15 to 44 due to domestic violence (Fact Sheet About Domestic Violence) Domestic violence “diverts the scarce resources of national health care systems to the treatment of a preventable social ill” (Violence Against Women in the Family, 87).
Medical costs for the treatment of abused women total at least 3 to 5 billion dollars annually in the United States. Battered women in the United States are four to five times more likely than non-battered women to require psychiatric treatment, and over one million women in the U. S. use emergency medical services for injuries related to battering each year. Finally, families in the United States in which domestic violence occurs use doctors eight times more often, visit the emergency room six times more often and use six times more prescription drugs than the general population (Facts About Domestic Violence. )