Domestic violence is an epidemic that knows no boundaries and does not discriminate based upon religion, race, or even gender. Throughout the years scholars and practitioners have learned more about the epidemic and have become aware of some risk factors that may increase an individual’s chance of being a domestic violence victim. Recognizing the risk factors has become helpful in the attempt to identify those individuals who are more at risk than others. These factors are not intended to serve as a definition of who or what domestic violence victims can and cannot be. It is extremely important to keep in mind that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence regardless of whether or not she or he meets the characteristics identified as risk factors within this research paper.
Throughout the years researchers have made significant strides concerning domestic violence. They have studied many risk factors that practitioners can now use to successfully identify victims of domestic violence. The ability to recognize these factors has proven valuable to the many professionals who come into contact with victims of domestic violence because it helps them properly identify victims and provide them with the assistance they need. Studying risk factors also allows domestic violence experts to learn more about the phenomenon and develop better ways to address this problem. In addition to identifying risk factors, this research has helped identify protective factors associated with the prevention of domestic violence. The discovery of both risk and protective factors will lead to further research that will help professionals better understand this epidemic and find new ways of managing it.
One of the risk factors associated with domestic violence is being female. Research has indicated that females are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than males. This does not mean that men cannot be victims; it simply means that women are more often victims than men. Furthermore, much of the research conducted concerning domestic violence has focused on heterosexual couples, though domestic violence is something that can and does affect anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
Another risk factor associated with domestic violence is being a minority female. This does not mean that whites or minority males cannot be victims of domestic violence. The risk factor of race simply indicates that minority women are victimized at higher rates than their white counterparts.
A third risk factor associated with domestic violence is the discrepancy between education, income, or occupational status between partners. In 2003 a study conducted by T. Lane appeared in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health that determined that women have different risk factors for emotional and physical abuse. This study indicated that certain risk factors are linked to physical abuse, whereas others are linked to emotional or verbal abuse. Education was one of the risk factors linked with physical violence. This does not mean that the victim cannot experience both forms of abuse; it is just more likely that physical violence will occur when the education risk factor exists (Lane 2003).
This research paper will focus primarily on education as a risk factor associated with domestic violence. Education as a risk factor includes the lack of education of the victim, lack of education of the offender, or discrepancies between education levels, income, or occupational status between victims and their offenders. Sometimes the risk factors tend to be intertwined with one another, as in the case of education level, income, and status. Conversely, education has also been cited as being a protective factor.
Lack of Education
Most research concerning risk factors has indicated that lack of education is a risk factor for domestic violence. Lack of education is generally defined as having earned less than a high school diploma, although some studies include those with less than a college degree in their definition. It has been noted that women with less education experience domestic violence at higher rates than women who have achieved a higher level of education. In the simplest of terms, those individuals with less than a college education are at a higher risk of being victims of domestic violence than those with a college degree. This does not mean that people with higher levels of education cannot be victims of domestic violence; it simply means that the risk of being a victim of domestic violence is greater for those with less than a high school or college education. As previously stated, domestic violence does not discriminate when it comes to victims, and risk factors such as a victim’s education level merely act as tools to help practitioners identify those people who are more likely to be affected than others.
Lack of education is also a risk factor associated with perpetrators of domestic violence. Most research that has focused on education as a risk factor has indicated that males with lower levels of education than their partners are more likely to be domestic violence offenders than those with an equivalent level of education. Most research indicated that these offenders were primarily male, although females are certainly not exempt. The common belief is that communication skills are sharpened with added levels of education; those with lower levels of education may resort to violence due to the inability to properly communicate anger or frustration (Jeyaseelan et al. 2004).
The Threat of Education
Although lack of education is one of the risk factors associated with domestic violence, a difference in a couple’s education level is another. A difference in educational status can be defined as one partner having a higher level of education than the other. This disparity can exist on various levels. Most studies do not specify the amount of educational difference between partners, only that one exists. The educational discrepancy may be as minor as one partner having a high school education and the other not. This difference may also be wider, i.e., one partner has less than a high school education and the other has an advanced college degree.
Aperson’s education level is often associated with earning ability and status in society. For this reason an offender may perceive his partner’s educational achievement as a threat. This perception is often not valid, but the offender cannot be convinced otherwise. The abuser will often feel threatened by this discrepancy and will resort to perpetrating psychological and physical forms of domestic violence on his victim in order to regain control over her. If one partner tries to pursue a higher level of education, the other may feel threatened and try to prevent her success through various means. This difference in educational status may cause the abuser to feel threatened by the possibility that his partner will obtain a higher level of status within society than he could ever obtain.
The Importance of Education
Education is a very valuable tool in contemporary society. The amount of formal education a person receives will usually determine what type of lifestyle he or she will be able to lead and how much income he or she will be able to earn. Another common risk factor associated with domestic violence is income level, and it is easy to see how this goes hand in hand with the educational risk factor.
The less formal education a person has, the less likely he or she is to earn competitive wages. In an aggressive job market, those with more education and work-related experience will be employed first. Those with less formal education are subjected to lower-paying jobs or, even worse, unemployment. This may create a situation of dependency for those with less education if they are prone to earn less income and may not be able to support themselves or their children on their own. If abuse already exists in the relationship, the lack of education and strained income provides the abuser with an upper hand in feeding upon the victim’s vulnerability. This vulnerability is compounded when there are dependents involved. Many victims of domestic violence stay in their situations due to feelings of necessity. The victim has often been isolated from friends and family by the abuser, and this unequal financial arrangement further fuels her sense of dependency and reluctance to leave. The victim may be unable to seek employment that makes leaving the relationship financially feasible, or unable to seek any employment at all; a 2003 study of barriers to employment in metropolitan Detroit stated that domestic violence was one of those barriers (Allard et al. 2003). Domestic violence has been listed as a barrier not only to employment but also to education which may lead to employment, as discussed further on in this research paper.
Education provides one with opportunities to learn new things. Most colleges provide students with an opportunity to expand their knowledge in particular subject areas in order to pursue a career. Knowledge is not the only advantage to an increased educational level. Along with more knowledge on particular subjects comes expertise required by various professions. Education is an absolute requirement for those persons wanting to enter the medical field. There is specific knowledge that must be gained in order for a person to become a successful professional, such as a medical doctor, architect, or research scientist. Typically those with higher levels of education have more opportunities for advancement. An individual’s status in society is dependent on several factors, including professional status, income level, and educational level. The college experience also allows individuals the opportunity to meet new people and gain new perspectives on life. This includes gaining a new perspective on what is acceptable and unacceptable with regard to relationships. It is also believed that education provides an individual with an increased ability to rationalize in everyday life, resulting in the ability to make better life decisions. Those with more education are also believed to be able to communicate better, and this ability may serve as a protective factor against domestic violence (Jeyaseelan et al. 2004).
Barriers to Education
Some individuals simply do not have the desire to further their level of education. There are others who have experienced barriers that prevent them from pursuing a higher level of education. These barriers can include but are not limited to: not being able to afford tuition; not being able to afford child care services; not being able to juggle work and school; not being able to find an employer willing to work around their school schedule; having to care for siblings or other relatives following the death of a family member; or caring for a terminally ill family member. Often people who have experienced barriers become easily discouraged and believe that this is just something they must accept. Domestic violence is also a barrier to education.
One of the common themes that exist among victims of domestic abuse is isolation. This means that their abusers will try to keep them from having any outside contacts or support from outside sources—including preventing them from continuing their education. Isolating the victim gives the abuser power over her. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, not the least of which is through use of physical force. Often emotional abuse accompanies physical abuse, and the abuser may succeed in convincing the victim that she is not smart enough to succeed in school. The abuser may also prevent the victim from going to school through the control of available finances.
Conquering the Barriers to Education
Some of the barriers that prevent individuals from attaining higher levels of education can be overcome if a person genuinely desires to do so. The General Educational Development Diploma (GED) is available to those individuals who never completed high school. Most public libraries offer classes that will help people obtain their GED or can refer them to alternate resources that can also help them reach this goal. Those who wish to pursue a college education but feel that they cannot afford it should be referred to the U.S. Department of Education’s website to explore the different types of financial aid available. Most states have an agency designed to help parents complete their educational goals by defraying some child care expenses. Some colleges offer child care services for their students at reduced rates. Family housing is also available at some colleges and universities for students and their immediate family.
- Allard, Scott W., Richard M. Tolman, and Daniel Rosen. ‘‘The Geography of Need: Spatial Distribution of Barriers to Employment in Metropolitan Detroit.’’ Policy Studies Journal 31, no. 3 (2003): 293–307.
- Jeyaseelan, L., Laura S. Sadowski, Shuba Kumar, Fatma Hassan, Laurie Ramiro, and Beatriz Vizcarra. ‘‘World Studies of Abuse in the Family Environment: Risk Factors for Physical Intimate Partner Violence.’’ Injury Control and Safety Promotion 11, no. 2 (2004): 117–124.
- Lane, T. ‘‘Women Have Different Risk Factors for Verbal, Physical Partner Abuse.’’ Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 35, no. 2 (March/April 2003): 106–107.
- S. Department of Education website. http://www.ed.gov/.