Victims of Domestic Violence

Initial research recognized wives as victims of domestic violence. Thereafter, it was acknowledged that unmarried women were also falling victim to violence at the hands of their boyfriends. Subsequently, the term ‘‘battered women’’ became synonymous with ‘‘battered wives.’’ Legitimizing female victimization served as the catalyst in introducing other types of intimate partner violence.

Research Topics on Victims of Domestic Violence:

Battered Husbands

The lens through which a society views itself plays a critical role in how it identifies, measures, and interprets a social problem, the mechanisms used to disseminate the findings, and the types of programs developed to address the problem. Acceptance of the status quo is jarred when isolated facts that are incongruent with a common view are identified as social problems and gain public attention. The public awareness of battered husbands went through such a transformation. Although most social services and law enforcement agencies were aware of instances of battered husbands, they tended to define the cases that they knew of as unique. It was only after the article on the battered husband syndrome (Steinmetz 1977–78) appeared and drew attention to this phenomenon that it began to be defined as a problem. However, considerable controversy continues to surround this topic, and as a result, services and programs for battered husbands are still very limited. Read more about battered husbands.

Battered Wives

Battered wives, also known as abused women, beaten women, victims of intimate partner violence, and victims of spousal or partner abuse, have existed for centuries. Historically, in Roman times as well as in the fourteenth through seventeenth centuries in European countries and North America, a wife was viewed as her husband’s property. Husbands were allowed to punish and discipline their wives through corporal punishment and other methods. By 1885 in the United States, one of the first official protective responses for women who were abused came about when the Chicago Protective Agency for Women was established to provide legal assistance for rape victims, and to advocate for and shelter women who were victims of physical abuse at the hands of their husbands. Read more about battered wives.

Battered Women Held in Captivity

From a sociological feminist perspective, a battering relationship is one of captivity, and battered women are survivors of terror. Battering is an obsessive campaign of coercion and intimidation designed by a man to dominate and control a woman, which occurs in the personal context of intimacy and thrives in the sociopolitical climate of patriarchy. For the woman it is a terrifying process of progressive entrapment into an intimate relationship of subjection that is promoted and preserved by a social order steeped in gender hierarchy— a social order in which mainstream ideology and social institutions and organizations, including the criminal justice system, the church, social service and medical institutions, the family, and the community, recognize male privilege and accordingly relegate a secondary status to women. Read more about battered women held in captivity.

Battered Women Who Kill

Battering is a difficult topic, because it exists in the privacy of the family home, grows in silence and shame, and has historically been acceptable and even expected from male heads of households. In reality, the very large majority of battered women do not resort to killing their abusers in order to survive. In fact, far more women are killed each year by their abusers. Most of these women suffer devastating injuries in silence and simply attempt to placate their abusers, hoping to reduce the amount and severity of the beatings. However, each year a small number of abused women do kill their abusers as a last resort. Most of these women have attempted to seek help from family, community, and criminal justice resources, with negative results. Oftentimes, the failure of these resources has the unintended effect of increasing the amount and severity of the violence. This leaves some women believing that they are alone in their situation and must decide between their survival and death. Women do not often kill; in fact, only about 10 percent of homicides in any given year are committed by women. When women kill, they most often kill intimates: husbands, lovers, or children. The large majority of these killings are actually battered women killing their abusers in order to survive. Read more about battered women who kill.

Cohabiting Violence

Cohabitation is steadily increasing in the United States, and will continue to increase as society redefines the concept of marriage. Unfortunately, women in cohabiting relationships are at a higher risk of violent victimization by their partners. This is particularly true for younger couples, low-income couples, and couples with low educational attainment. For unmarried cohabiting couples with children, the impacts of violence spill over into the next generation and can result in maladaptive child behaviors, as well as fuel the intergenerational transmission of violence. While public awareness and public policy have made great strides with legislative and community-level responses, the high rates of abuse in cohabiting and marital relationships continue to pose serious challenges for policymakers. Read more about cohabiting violence.

Date Rape

Date rape is the lay term that captures the phenomenon of rape perpetrated by an assailant who knows his victim. While legislators had never excluded such perpetrators, except for husbands, who were excluded in marital rape exemptions, from the legal definition of rape, appellate courts had demonstrated great difficulty in letting stand the rape convictions of men who had known their victims. Susan Estrich, a feminist jurisprudential scholar, assumed the task of analyzing case law to make transparent the legal reasoning appellate judges used to overturn the rape convictions of these men. In the 1970s, Estrich herself was raped when a stranger put an ice pick to her throat. She ultimately learned that she had been ‘‘really’’ raped because her assailant was a violent stranger. The experience of discussing the crime with police and prosecutors who would distinguish her ‘‘real rape’’ from the rapes of women who were ‘‘asking for it’’ led Estrich to begin researching the cases of ‘‘not real’’ rape. Read more about date rape.

Dating Violence

When considered within the context of initial intimate relationship formation, the adolescent years become the focus of the rituals and practices associated with initial courtship and dating. Dating also sets the stage for formation of social and interpersonal skills such as exploring intimate social interactions, male/female roles, communication styles, and problem-solving skills. However, coupled with immaturity and inexperience, adolescents are also more apt to use less than prosocial strategies for dealing with relational conflict such as verbal put-downs or physical aggression. Furthermore, such early unhealthy dating relationships have far-reaching consequences. Adolescent girls who disclosed being physically or sexually abused by a boyfriend were twice as likely to smoke, drink, use illegal drugs, and engage in behavior indicative of an eating disorder (e.g., binging and purging). Consequently, how dating partners are viewed and treated forms the backdrop to developmental, social, and cultural forces associated with the incidence and patterns of dating violence. Clearly, violence during dating represents a significant contemporary issue with historical overtones and a social problem that warrants study separate from domestic violence. Read more about dating violence.

Domestic Violence in the Workplace

All too often the media does not cover incidents in which domestic violence spills over into the workplace; hence the public and policymakers are unaware of the numerous acts of domestic violence that are committed in workplaces. Furthermore, work colleagues, and even employers, are rarely aware of the many ways domestic violence impacts their workplaces. Bruises perpetrated by a partner are hidden under long sleeves and masked by a forced smile, low morale and self-esteem are recorded as poor job performance, and the use of company resources to deliver verbal and written threats or stalk are examples of the many faces of domestic violence in the workplace. While there is no precise estimate of how much domestic violence occurs at work, it clearly represents a daunting challenge to both safety and productivity, affecting a sizable proportion of the approximately 140 million employees in the United States. Several national-level data sources shed some light on the extent of workplace domestic violence. Read more about domestic violence in the workplace.

Forms of Intimate Partner Violence

From a criminal justice perspective, intimate partner violence is an altercation of sufficient severity to justify law enforcement intervention. Although spouse abuse is the most frequently cited form of domestic violence that involves police action, most intimate partner violence is never reported to the police. Noncriminal emotional abuse and neglect will also come to the attention of law enforcement officers. Numerous forms of abuse are socially unacceptable and are present in a violent relationship but do not rise to the level of criminal violations. From a social perspective, intimate partner violence is a pattern of violent or coercive behaviors with which one intimate partner attempts to control the other. Multiple forms of violence frequently exist within dysfunctional homes through the efforts of a dominant figure to maintain power and control of family members. Response strategies differ significantly, depending on whether the intimate partner violence is identified as a criminal act versus a social wrongdoing. Read more about forms of intimate partner violence.

Intimate Partner Homicide

Femicide, the homicide of women, is a leading cause of premature death in the United States for women. Femicide rates are highest among women aged 20–49, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Justice. National statistics indicate that women are killed by intimate or ex–intimate partners more often than by any other category of perpetrator, and the majority of intimate partner (IP) femicides are perpetrated by male intimate partners (husbands, boyfriends, ex-husbands, exboyfriends). A current or former intimate partner is the perpetrator in approximately one in three femicides nationally, but a relatively small proportion of male homicides (5 percent) are perpetrated by a female intimate or ex–intimate partner. As of this writing (2006) there are approximately four women killed by their male intimate partners for each male killed by a female intimate partner. Read more about intimate partner homicide.

Male Victims of Domestic Violence

Men represent half of all domestic violence victims (Archer 2000; Straus and Gelles 1990) and incur between 21 percent and 40 percent of physical injuries resulting from domestic violence (Archer 2000; Straus 2004; Tjaden and Thoennes 1998); the combined impact of physical and psychological abuse is comparable across genders (Pimlott-Kubiak and Cortina 2003). Children who witness their mothers assault their father are at risk for emotional distress (Mahoney et al. 2003), and for perpetrating relationship violence in adolescence (Foshee, Bauman, and Linder 1999; Moretti et al. in press) and adulthood (Kaura and Allen 2004; Langhinrichsen- Rohling, Neidig, and Thorn 1995; Straus 1992). Clearly, the problem of abused males is a serious one. And yet, male victims often remain in abusive relationships and do not get the help they need. Some of the reasons for staying are similar to those given by female victims, while others are particular to men. Read more about male victims of domestic violence.

Marital Rape

It is clear that rape in marriage is a prevalent and serious problem in contemporary society. While there have been many challenges to the historical existence of a husband’s ‘‘license to rape,’’ rape in marriage is still treated as a lesser crime in the majority of states. For many, rape in marriage is not perceived as ‘‘real rape.’’ However, research indicates that marital rape survivors often suffer serious consequences as a result of the violence that they have experienced at the hands of their husbands. There are a variety of service providers, including law enforcement officials, advocates for battered women and rape victims, health care professionals, mental health care providers, and religious leaders, who routinely come into contact with survivors of marital rape and are important sources of support for women who have been raped by their husbands. Read more about marital rape.

Mutual Battering

In research on domestic violence, mutual battering seems to be synonymous with female aggression in intimate relationships. There do not seem to be any studies devoted to cases of mutual combat where both partners engaged equally in abusive behaviors. Is there competition between partners within these relationships for power and control? Does this competition sometimes result in violence within the household? Does the outcome of these fights result in a ‘‘draw’’ between partners, and if so, does the mutual battering recur? Future research on the social problem of domestic violence is needed in order to address more seriously the issue of mutual battering. The gap in the existing literature shows the need to definitively prove the existence of mutual battering as a legitimate form of domestic violence and to more concretely debunk the myth that it does not exist. Read more about mutual battering.


Parricide technically refers to the killing of a close relative. Since the 1980s, the term has become increasingly identified by the public as the killing of parents. Widespread interest in the phenomenon of youths killing their parents was generated by media coverage of several cases in the United States in the 1980s in which sons and daughters had acted alone or with others to kill parents who allegedly abused them. In one of these cases, sixteen-year-old Richard Jahnke and his seventeen-year-old sister gunned down their father in 1982 to end the man’s physical abuse of Jahnke and his mother, his sexual abuse of the sister, and his verbal and psychological abuse of the entire family. Interest in parricide cases has transcended the United States in recent years. A review of online media sources revealed that cases of sons and daughters involved in matricide (the killing of a mother) or patricide (the killing of a father) make headline news around the globe, particularly when the cases involve juveniles (children under eighteen, also referred to as minors) or are particularly heinous or atrocious. Read more about parricide.

Spousal Prostitution

Prostitution is commonly referred to as the ‘‘world’s oldest profession’’ and has been documented to exist even before biblical writings. Considering that historically prostitutes were forbidden the privilege of marriage (Rathus 1983), the phrase spousal prostitution appears to be an oxymoron; however, spousal prostitution is a very real phenomenon in contemporary American society, as husbands, in exchange for money, provide sex with their wives as a service to others. For clarity of definitions, prostitution is defined as the granting of nonmarital sexual access, by mutual agreement, between the prostitute or her employer and her client, for remuneration (Siegel 1998). As the term ‘‘prostitution’’ is not specific to gender, the prostitute may be either male or female and either heterosexual or homosexual; however, most literature on the topic of prostitution addresses only the female prostitute. When the term ‘‘spousal’’ is added to the term ‘‘prostitution,’’ this is often indicative of the existence of a division of power and labor between the two married individuals. This division of power reveals itself as one individual prostitutes (or grants sexual access to) the other. In most cases, the husband, in exchange for either money or drugs, prostitutes his wife. Read more about spousal prostitution.


All fifty states and the District of Columbia have statutes concerning the crime of stalking. In addition there are federal and tribal stalking statutes. The first state to pass anti-stalking legislation was California in 1990 (Snow 1998). There were several tragic cases in California that led to this legislation. The best-known of these cases is that of Rebecca Schaeffer, a young actress who was murdered at her door by a stalker in 1989. In the following year, four more women were killed by stalkers in Orange County in California. Several years before these murders, another actress, Theresa Saldana, had been stabbed and slashed several times by a stalker but survived because her screams were heard by a delivery man. Other states followed California, and by 1993 all the states had passed legislation making stalking a crime. Stalking can be a dangerous crime that affects every aspect of victims’ lives. Stalkers vary in terms of why they stalk, whom they stalk, and the danger they represent to their victims. They will use different methods to stalk, and most will not be deterred by attempts at intervention, even by the criminal justice system. Therefore, those in the criminal justice system, as well as mental health professionals, need to understand these criminals and the effect they can have on their victims. Read more about stalking.