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Women's Health and Education Center (WHEC)

Violence Against Women

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Walk In Her Shoes

Domestic Violence is characterized as a pattern of coercive behaviors that may include repeated battering & injury, psychological abuse, sexual assault, progressive social isolation, deprivation and intimidation. Someone who is or was involved in an intimate relationship, with the victim, perpetrates these behaviors.

Data from law enforcement and medical settings indicate that gender plays an important role in dynamics of abuse. Over 85% of reported victims of domestic violence are women and most perpetrators are men. The term "domestic violence," "spouse abuse," or "partner violence" reflect awareness that men may be abused in intimate relationships. It is important to remain sensitive to the experience of these men as well as to the risk of violence within gay and lesbian relationships. It is a pattern of intimidating behavior that can include physical assault, sexual abuse, threats against person, children or loved ones, destruction of home or personal property.

...A leading cause of injury to women of all ages and the leading cause of violent injury to pregnant women & women between 18 and 44 years of age.

Common myths about domestic violence:

  • It is confined to particular economic and cultural groups
  • It is a "marital" problem
  • Battered women are reluctant to talk about the violence they face
  • It is associated with alcohol & drug abuse
  • Violence is handed down from one generation to the next

Research indicates that violence may be a learned behavior, particularly from observation, however all men who are violent do not have histories of violence in childhood. Unmarried partners and those who are separated or divorced have rates of abuse that are higher than those who are married. Rate of domestic violence vary little between economic and/or cultural groups. Studies have shown that (alcohol & drug) addiction and violence frequently coexist but that the violent behavior will not end unless interventions address both problems... the substance abuse and the violence.

Dynamics of abusive relationships:

Many battered women stay in the relations for a period of time after partners become abusive. The reasons include economics, fear, the degree of control the batterer has over their lives, a desire to make the relationship work, pressure from family or peers, concerns for children and naivete about what will happen if they stay. Women try a variety of means to stop, minimize or escape from the violence and they will change their strategies as their options change.

In general, battering relationships pass through phases marked by increasing fear, isolation and control often accompanied by increasingly complex psychological and psychosocial adaptations. Many victims believe, falsely, that if they change their behavior, the violence will stop. The response to her situation alternates between hope (that things will improve, he will change, the violence will end, that she will escape) and fears that she or the children will be hurt or killed or she will not be able to survive on her own. She may have little self-confidence as a mother, be suspicious and on her guard, and have little sense of control over her environment.

Research shows that battered women typically develop addictive and other psychosocial problems only after the onset of abuse, indicating the etiological importance of violence in women's lives. The batterer's threats and intimidation frequently extend to the medical setting, where restrain may be manifest as intrusive control over medical decisions.

The Battering Syndrome:

Surveys reveal that the incidence of woman abuse in the general population is many times higher than indicated by the medical records and mental health visits. One abused woman in 20 who seeks medical services is properly identified. By assessing the probability that injuries recorded on women's medical charts are deliberately inflicted, we can estimate the prevalence of abuse in clinical settings, identify its most salient psychosocial dimension, and assess the professional response.

Although we tend to view battering as a physical emergency involving primarily severe injury, its prevalence and duration make it an ongoing facet of women's ordinary help seeking. Its psychosocial dimensions are just as important. Compared to non-battered women, abused women are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide; 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol; 9 times more likely to abuse drugs; 6 times more likely to report child abuse; and 3 times more likely to be diagnosed as "depressed" or psychotic. Survey shows 19% of all battered women attempt suicide at least once, 38% are diagnosed as depressed and 10% become psychotic. The resulting impact on mental health is enormous.

Frequent suicide attempts by abused women suggest that some turn anger inward. But a substantial number are outwardly aggressive, independent or overtly hostile to their assailants.

Published: 14 October 2009

Women's Health & Education Center
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