Domestic Violence

III. Types of Abuse

The underlying commonality behind all types of abusive behaviors associated with domestic violence is the intent to gain power and control over one’s partner or ex-partner through patterns of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. As previously mentioned, physical, sexual, and psychological violence, stalking, and dating violence are different types of abuse experienced by victims of domestic violence on a daily basis. Each type of abuse is discussed below.

A. Physical Violence

Physical violence involves the use of force, possibly resulting in physical harm, disability, or death. Examples of physical abuse include hitting, scratching, shoving, grabbing, biting, throwing, choking, shaking, kicking, burning, physical restraint, use of a weapon, or otherwise causing intentional physical injury to the victim.

B. Sexual Violence

Sexual violence occurs when one forces or compels a person to engage in a sexual act or experiences sexual contact against his or her will. If a participant cannot communicate an understanding of and willingness to engage in a sexual act for any reason, including but not limited to disability, illness, and alcohol or drug intoxication, and the sex act is nonetheless attempted or completed by a perpetrator, an act of sexual violence transpires. In addition, sexual violence sometimes occurs within physically or emotionally abusive relationships where the victim agrees to sexual activity solely as a means to avoid additional abuse or intimidation. Examples of sexual violence include rape (including marital and date rape), attempted rape, inappropriate touching, unwanted voyeurism or exhibitionism, sexual harassment, or any other type of sexual activity to which one does not willingly agree.

C. Psychological Violence

Psychological violence is also commonly called emotional abuse and refers to behaviors of intimidation, control, or coercion resulting in emotional trauma. While a relationship does not need to include physical or sexual violence to be abusive, any prior acts or threats of physical or sexual violence do constitute psychological violence. Additional examples of psychological violence include stalking; limiting or controlling the victim’s activities or behaviors; isolating the victim from contact with friends or family; limiting or denying the victim’s access to basic or financial resources; destroying the victim’s personal property; abusive behavior toward a victim’s loved ones; verbal threats; humiliation; put-downs; and any other behaviors intended to cause emotional pain, embarrassment, diminishment, or powerlessness.

A relationship does not have to include all of the above behaviors in order to be considered abusive; a partner who attempts to wield dominance and control within a relationship through any threat or act of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse is committing an act of domestic violence. It is also important to note that while a few of the above behaviors are not necessarily prosecutable in criminal court, they nevertheless constitute abuse.

D. Stalking

As defined by the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC, 2008), stalking is “a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention, harassment, and contact.” Today, stalking is considered to be an example of abusive behavior within the framework of domestic violence because the dangers that victims face frequently continue even after they leave an abusive relationship. Research has indicated that many victims of domestic violence have experienced stalking behavior from a current or former intimate partner. Examples of stalking behaviors include following the victim, sending unwanted gifts and notes, repeated harassment such as phone calls or showing up at the victim’s place of work, and other behaviors that a stalker uses to inappropriately invade the victim’s life. These incursions may increase in frequency as a stalker tries to exert more control over a victim, sometimes in response to the loss of control he or she experienced at the end of the relationship. When stalking behaviors escalate, they may lead to outright threats or incidents of physical violence.

Nationally, all 50 of the United States have implemented anti-stalking laws and protective orders for victims. However, not all states treat the first offense of stalking as a felony; in most states, first-time offenders are charged with a misdemeanor. In some cases, a felony conviction occurs only after a third offense.

E. Dating Violence

Dating violence is a form of domestic violence that has been receiving much attention in recent years from the research and practice community (those who work with abuse victims). However, there are a few notable differences between dating violence within adolescent and young adult couples (high school and college age) and domestic violence within older couples who perhaps live together, have children in common, or are married. Many young people who are involved in dating relationships experience unhealthy and abusive behaviors, but the problem is often overlooked because the relationship is less likely to be viewed as long-term or dependent in nature. Young people in relationships today do not necessarily view their relationships as long-term, as relationships were once assumed to be. In addition, both men and women view relationships as being more casual in general today, compared to previous generations. Finally, changing women’s roles in society may have had an impact on how female adolescents conduct themselves in relationships today.

Statistics show that dating violence is a serious problem among youth. Research suggests that college students are highly vulnerable to dating violence because so many are involved in romantic relationships during these formative years. Dating violence research has produced interesting findings regarding the relationship between gender and victimization. Early research on adolescent dating violence suggested that females were more likely than males to be victimized by their dating partners (Roscoe & Kelsey, 1986). Some studies have reported similar dating violence victimization rates for males and females (Arriaga & Foshee, 2004). According to a recent study of approximately 2,500 college students attending two large southeastern U.S. universities, 24% of males perpetrated physical violence against a partner, 32% of females perpetrated physical violence against a partner, 57% of females perpetrated psychological abuse against a partner, and 50% of male respondents perpetrated psychological abuse against a partner (Gover, Kaukinen, & Fox, 2008). This is consistent with a Fact Sheet distributed by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV, 2008), which reports that 1 in 5 college students say they have experienced violence within a current dating relationship, about a third have experienced dating violence within a previous relationship, and over half of acquaintance rapes on college campuses occur within the context of a dating relationship. Overall, the relationship between gender and dating violence is one that needs to continue to be explored because there are many questions that current research is unable to answer. Specifically, while there are many studies that discuss the prevalence of different forms of dating violence, these studies very rarely also inquire as to the context in which this violence occurs. This makes it hard to understand the quantitative data, and it makes it difficult to move forward on the best way to educate the community and respond to the issue given the fact that nondating violence research indicates that women are significantly more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence compared to men.

In many states, the law simply overlooks victims of dating violence when it comes to protection. As reported by NCADV (2008), in many states the criminal and civil domestic violence laws only apply to victims who are married to, cohabitate with, or have a child in common with the perpetrator. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow victims of dating violence to apply for orders of protection against a perpetrator. Eleven states do not recognize dating violence in their statutes.

IV. Prevalence of Domestic Violence

The National Violence Against Women Survey indicates that 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime (Tjaden &Thoennes, 2000). In addition, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005, 2006) reports that females represent an overwhelming majority of family violence victims, spousal abuse victims, and dating violence victims, with women at the greatest risk for intimate partner violence between the ages of 20 and 24.

A few studies have reported that males are victims of domestic violence in similar numbers to women (Straus, 1999); however, it is often argued that domestic violence perpetrated by women toward male victims rarely result in injuries as serious as those experienced by female victims of male perpetrators (Stets & Straus, 1990). Many victim advocates suspect that the majority of violence committed by women in abusive relationships takes place for purposes of self-defense against an abusive male partner.

In September 2007, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV, 2007) conducted a 24-hour point-in-time survey known as the National Census of Domestic Violence Services. With participation by 69% of domestic violence programs across the United States, results indicated that 52,203 victims of domestic violence were served within one 24-hour period. Of those served, about half sought shelter. Also during that time, 20,582 domestic violence hotline calls were answered across the country. The report also found that 7,707 requests for services were unmet due to lack of space or resources. Clearly, the pervasiveness of domestic violence across the United States is overwhelming, with a tremendous need for services for victims and their children on a daily basis.

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