VII. Marital Violence
The first national survey of family violence was conducted by Murray Straus and his colleagues (Straus, 1974). Sixteen percent of married couples reported a violent incident in the preceding year, and 30% reported at least one incident at some point during the course of the marriage. Slightly more than 6% indicated that there had been an incident of severe violence. To the surprise of almost everyone, the data indicated that wives hit their husbands slightly more often than husbands hit their wives. This pattern has since been corroborated by many studies.
Although this is interesting, it should not be taken as an indication that husband abuse is a serious social problem comparable to wife abuse. This female-to-male pattern is typically confined to fairly minor acts of violence, such as slapping or shoving, and it is unlikely to involve injury. Police records, emergency room data, and criminal victimization surveys indicate that women are far more likely to sustain serious injury at the hands of men. Eighty percent of the partner assaults reported to the National Crime Victimization Survey involved men attacking women (Felson, 2002). Men and women vary tremendously in terms of size and strength, ability to deliver forceful blows, and capacity to defend or escape. Studies that have examined injury rather than just number of incidents conclude that men are much more violent toward their partners than women are.
Researchers have made distinctions between two types of intimate partner violence (Johnson & Ferraro, 2000). The first type, called common couple violence, occurs infrequently, does not escalate over time, and rarely results in physical injury or psychological trauma. This is not the type of violence that most human service workers, policymakers, or everyday citizens have in mind when they refer to spouse abuse or battering. Instead, it is the phenomenon called intimate terrorism that concerns society. This type of violence is frequent, persistent, and severe, and it results in physical injury and emotional trauma. It is in response to this social problem that people have established shelters, strengthened restraining orders, instituted mandatory arrest policies, and implemented treatment programs. This assaultive behavior is relatively rare and is usually committed by a man against a woman.
Past research indicates that two types of men tend to engage in intimate terrorism. The first group consists of men who engage in a wide variety of antisocial behaviors besides spouse abuse. For these individuals, severe partner abuse is an expression of a more general antisocial orientation. Their antisocial behavior appears to be, in large measure, a consequence of having grown up in a disorganized, violent family. In contrast, the second category of batterers displays the characteristics of borderline personality disorder and engages in little antisocial behavior outside of the couple relationship. Their intimate violence appears to be an expression of fear and anger regarding rejection instead of a component of a more general antisocial orientation. Some evidence suggests that these abusers often have grown up in a family characterized by emotional and physical abuse. Apparently, the parents of these individuals set rules and engage in the consistent discipline necessary to otherwise produce a basically conventional lifestyle. The rejection and abuse, however, result in a violent, turbulent approach to intimate relationships.
There is still much to be learned about the types of men who engage in severe partner abuse and the childhood factors that give rise to such behavior. Given the low base rate of intimate terrorism, it is difficult to generate samples of participants. As a result, most studies have focused on common couple violence. Thus, we know much more about minor acts of partner violence than we do about more extreme forms of assault.