There is no single causal factor related to domestic violence. Rather, scholars have concluded that there are numerous factors that contribute to domestic violence. Feminists found that women were beaten at the hands of their partners. Drawing on feminist theory, they helped explain the relationship between patriarchy and domestic violence. Researchers have examined other theoretical perspectives such as attachment theory, exchange theory, identity theory, the cycle of violence, social learning theory, and victim-blaming theory in explaining domestic violence.
Theories of Domestic Violence:
Attachment theory is a useful lens through which to understand perpetrator behavior. It explains how early childhood experiences have led to a particular way of experiencing close relationships. It also helps therapists to see how, depending on the attachment status of the client, interventions will need to be developed to address their specific needs and that cookie cutter approaches will not advance the profession. The attachment findings make it clear that domestic violence is not just a result of social conditioning; if anything, it is at least the interaction between psychological conditioning and the social context. Therefore, while social changes are necessary, violence will never stop as long as the psychological and biological factors are minimized or altogether ignored. Read more about Attachment Theory.
Cycle of Violence
Since the late 1970s, researchers and theorists have focused increased attention on the widespread problem of domestic violence in contemporary society. Research has shown that domestic violence cuts across racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic lines. In particular, researchers have sought to identify the factors associated with intimate violence in an effort to develop theories explaining the causes of battering. One of the most widely cited theories in the domestic violence literature is Lenore Walker’s cycle of violence. According to Walker, the cycle of violence is characterized by three distinct phases which are repeated over and over again in the abusive relationship. As a result, domestic abuse rarely involves a single isolated incident of violence. Rather, the abuse becomes a repetitive pattern in the relationship. Read more about Cycle of Violence.
As with the general exchange theory, the key assumption of an exchange theory of family violence is that human interaction is guided by the pursuit of rewards and the avoidance of punishment and costs. Simply stated, individuals will use force and violence in their relationships with intimates and family members if they believe that the rewards of force and violence outweigh the costs of such behavior. A second assumption is that a person who supplies reward services to another obliges the other to fulfill a reciprocal obligation; and thus, the second individual must furnish benefits to the first (Blau 1964). Blau (1964) explains that if reciprocal exchange occurs, the interaction continues. However, if reciprocity is not received, the interaction will be broken off. Of course, family relations, including partner relations, parent–child relations, and sibling relations, are more complex and have a unique social structure compared with the exchanges that typically exist outside of the family. Read more about Exchange Theory.
Identity theory provides an important avenue for theoretical development in domestic violence research because all behavior, including aggression, is rooted in issues of self and identity. To understand aggression, we need to understand the meanings individuals attribute to themselves in a situation, that is, their self-definitions or identities. In all interactions, the goal of individuals is to confirm their identities. When their identities are not confirmed, persons may control others in the situation to make them respond differently in order to confirm their identities. If control does not work, aggression may be used as a last resort to obtain control and, in turn, confirmation of identity. Thus, identity theory can help explain domestic violence by showing how a lack of identity confirmation at the individual level is tied to the control process and aggression at the interactive level. Read more about Identity Theory.
Social Learning Theory
Social learning theory is one of the most popular explanatory perspectives in the marital violence literature. Often conceptualized as the ‘‘cycle of violence’’ or ‘‘intergenerational transmission theory’’ when applied to the family, the theory states that people model behavior that they have been exposed to as children. Violence is learned through role models provided by the family (parents, siblings, relatives, and boyfriends/girlfriends), either directly or indirectly (i.e., witnessing violence), is reinforced in childhood, and continues in adulthood as a coping response to stress or as a method of conflict resolution. During childhood and adolescence, observations of how parents and significant others behave in intimate relationships provide an initial learning of behavioral alternatives which are ‘‘appropriate’’ for these relationships. Children infer rules or principles through repeated exposure to a particular style of parenting. If the family of origin handled stresses and frustrations with anger and aggression, the child who has grown up in such an environment is at greater risk for exhibiting those same behaviors, witnessed or experienced, as an adult. Gelles (1972) states that ‘‘not only does the family expose individuals to violence and techniques of violence, the family teaches approval for the use of violence.’’ Children learn that violence is acceptable within the home and is an effective method for solving problems or changing the behavior of others. Read more about Social Learning Theory.
Victim-blaming theory describes the practice of holding victims partly responsible for their misfortune. It represents the faulting of individuals who have endured the suffering of crimes, hardships, or other misfortunes with either part or whole responsibility for the event. Often, victim-blaming theories rely on the premise that individuals should recognize the dangers that exist in society and therefore should take the necessary precautions to maintain a certain level of safety. Those who do not take such precautions are perceived as blameworthy for their demise even if they have not acted carelessly. These perceptions in effect shift the culpability away from the perpetrator of the crime onto the victim. When discussing issues of family violence, violence against women, or sexual assault, one often hears victim-blaming statements such as, ‘‘Why didn’t she leave?’’ or ‘‘She was asking for it.’’ Within the context of family violence, victim blaming often includes condemnation of the victim for staying in an abusive relationship. Read more about Victim-Blaming Theory.