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Domestic Violence


Domestic Violence 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

over 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,

but 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

consciously 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


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

resort 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

all 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

wife’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,

monitoring 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

infirmity” (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

denial 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

initiative 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.)

A Socio-Economic Crisis

Domestic violence against women is not an individual or family problem.

It is an important social issue. Using the Systems Theory as a theoretical

framework helps show the resonating effect of such violence. The family unit

is one of many sub-systems. Together, all these different sub-systems make up

the one big system (i.e., society). The human body serves as a good example:

when one organ (sub-system) is malfunctioning, all other organs are effected

(other sub-systems). This will have an effect on the whole body itself

(society). Although the family unit is only one among the many sub-systems, it

is considered to be the most important of them all–the heart, if you will.

Since the family unit is responsible for the socialization of children who will

later go on to participate in other sub-systems, than it is logical to assume

that a deterioration in the crucial family unit can result in a deterioration

within other sub-systems, and of course, the entire system itself.

As mentioned above, the sub-system of health care is feeling the

pressure. Something as preventable as domestic violence against women is

diverting funds from an already under-funded health care system. There are

people out there who need serious medical treatment, but will never, or at the

very most, will get insufficient treatment. In the U.S., domestic violence

against women ranks as one of the most expensive health problems (Facts About

Domestic Violence). Monies allocated to the medical treatment of abused women (3

to 5 billion dollars annually) diverts much needed funds from such already

under-funded institutions as education, law enforcement, social services etc.

Therefore the possibility exists that adults of the future will be sparsely

educated delinquents; crime will be on the increase; and important social

services won’t be able to look out for the welfare of the people–such as

shelters for abused women. The result is long term decay within the entire

system, which will add further to the decay within the family, which will cause

the entire vicious cycle to continue.

As previously mentioned, 73% of male abusers were abused, or saw abuse

as children. Thus an epidemic of violence within the family of orientation is a

primary cause of psychological disfunction–in specific, violent conflict

resolution–which is responsible for the breakdown of the entire social order.

U.S. Justice Department statistics show that at least 80% of men in prison grew

up in violent homes (Facts About Domestic Violence.) And in at least half of

the wife abusing families, the children were battered as well. And 63% of boys

ages 11 to 20 who commit homicide, murder the man who was abusing their mother.

As mentioned initially, violence within the family “family becomes the

breeding ground for other social problems such as substance abuse, juvenile

delinquency, and violent crimes of all types.” The all important family unit is

the centre of social universe. All other institutions revolve around it. If

the sun were to blow up the entire galaxy would go with it.


Domestic violence against women must be perceived as a socio-economical

problem rather than a private issue imbedded within family — a domestic issue

which can be easily ignored. It must receive appropriate attention from the

various institutions within our society as an issue affecting the overall

standard of living. It is not only a women’s issue, but also a problem that

threatens the harmony within our communities.


1. Carrillo, Roxanna, Battered Dreams, UNIFEM, 1992

2. Connors, Jane Francis, Violence Against Women in the Family, Toronto, 1989

3. Facts About Domestic Violence, “http://gladstone.uoregon.edu.violence.html”

4. Jarman, F.E., et al, The Living Family: a Canadian Perspective, J.

Wiley&Sons, Toronto,


5. Kantor, Paula, Domestic Violence Against Women: A Global Issue, UNC Press,


6. Ed. by: Koblinsky, Marge, et al, In the Health of Women: A Global Perspective,

Westview Press, 1993

7. Ed. by: Koblinsky, Marge, et al, Violence Against Women: The Missing Agenda,

Westview Press, 1993

8. Metro Toronto Committee Against Wife Assault (MTCAWA), E-mail interview w/

Morag Perkens (Thurs, Nov, 15/96), mtcawa@web.apc.org

9. Violence Against Women Home Page, “http://www.usdoj.gov/vawo”

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