Rachel Pierre-Louis

Prof. Jacobs

Sociology  620

December 12, 2001

Domestic Violence and Women

Domestic violence has affected many families for several decades and it still dominates our society today. Each year, there is an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence, which is defined as “intentional hostile aggressive physical or psychological acts within a marital or intimate relationship in the house”(Dwyer, 1995) The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that a woman is beaten every nine seconds in the United States.

There are two theories that help to understand violence against women: the feminist theory and the interpersonal power theory.  Lenton (1995) analyzes these two theories and how they apply to the factors that are believed to be the cause of domestic violence. The interpersonal power theory involves the belief that a power imbalance creates violence in the family. The feminist theory emphasizes that abuse against women is the end result of a patriarchal society that encourages men to act violently toward women. Lenton put forth a broader picture of domestic violence and the contribution of both the feminist and the interpersonal theories to better understand violence against women. There are also two other factors that influence domestic violence as well-- the impact of racial stereotyping and alcohol consumption.

I-Literature on Domestic Violence

In the past decade, it appears that domestic violence among women has increased significantly, but the increase must be considered in the context of better reporting mechanisms. Women who are victims of physical and emotional abuse rarely report it to the police. They do not seek help because they believe that domestic violence should remain a private matter. Domestic violence is underreported because of this belief. Although, it is difficult to obtain an exact estimate of the number of domestic assaults per year because, “only about one third of the total number per year are actually reported” (Dwyer, 1995).

Violence between spouse and intimate partners is a serious social problem. The national family violence survey and the national victimization survey estimate that at least two million women are beaten by their partners each year (Kantor and Jasinski 1997).  

Many women finally decide to report abuse when their lives become unmanageable. According to Rybarik et al. (1995), women tend to endure approximately 35 beatings before they report an incident to the police. They realize that they cannot solve their own problem and they want the police to intervene. Report that, “ Battered women are often severely injured… twenty two to thirty five percent of women who visit medical emergency room are there for injuries related to ongoing partner abuse”(Adam, 1989, p. 34).

Abusive relationships are often due to power control and high status. Some evidence suggests that violence often occurs in couples where the husband has a much higher status than his wife (Hornung et al., 1981).  In other cases of domestic violence where the wife has a much higher status, the husband may feel threatened and use violence to restore his authority, and where the wife has a much lower status than that of her husband, he may use violence as a mechanism of control and dominance (Kantor and Jasinki, 1997). In the same tokens, feminist researchers argue that traditional research conclude that violent men are more likely to adhere to an ideology of family patriarchy (Dobash and Dobash 1979).  

  II- Theoretical Perspectives

Research into domestic violence is conflicting. Kristiansen and Giulietti (1990) suggest that men’s perceptions of wife abuse stem from their negative attitudes toward women, while women’s perceptions are due more to their need to gain control over their own possible victimization. With regard to gender differences, Harris and Cook (1994) find that women sympathize more with the victim, inespective of similarity between the victim and participant. Domestic violence is often influenced by ethnicity. Lockhart (1987) asserts that although the media and statistics may suggest that incidences of domestic violence are higher among African-Americans than European-Americans, the differing rates of violence are actually a function of socioeconomic status and cultural differences. Thus, domestic violence is due to stereotypes rather than to the actual rate of occurrence. Both the interpersonal power theory and the feminist theory suggest that stereotypes play a role in domestic violence. Interpersonal power is a theory that asserts that power imbalances within the family and stress produced by low income and unemployment are the primary contributors to wives abuse (Lenton, 1995a, 1995b). The feminist theory focuses on the context of the patriarchal society in which power-imbalanced families exist (Locke and Richman).

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Lenton (1997) in her article compares the feminist theory with the interpersonal theory. Interpersonal power theorists emphasizes that the structure of society is the primary problem in violence against women. The theorists view family as “the product of a system of relation” (Lenton, p. 308). Straus (1980) observes that conflict in the family tends to increase violence. He also believes that there is an increase of violence in families that have high levels of stress, i.e., where people have difficulty coping with the many strains in their lives. Women are seen as being unequal to men in a nonegalitarian society. ...

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