Understanding Domestic Violence
Domestic violence, or violence in the family unit, with women and children as primary victims, is a major public health problem.
Domestic violence constitutes a pattern of abusive behavior that includes the use or threat of violence and intimidation for the purpose of gaining power and control over another person. A violent event is seldomly an isolated incident, but part of a pattern which increases in both frequency and severity over time.
Abusive behavior can be defined as physical abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, sexual abuse or economic coercion.
- Physical Abuse—Any act of violence that is designed to control, hurt, harm or physically assault a partner. This includes pushing, punching, kicking, grabbing, pulling hair, choking, slapping, damaging property or valued items, the use of weapons and refusing to help a sick partner.
- Sexual Abuse—Any action forcing the partner to perform sexual acts against her or his will. This includes pursuing sexual activity with a partner that is not fully conscious, uninvited touching, unwanted sexual intercourse and coercing a partner to have sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
- Psychological or Emotional Abuse—Any action intended to degrade, humiliate or demean, both in public or private. This includes verbal threats, yelling, intimidation, harassment, criticism, lying, withholding information and isolation from family or friends. Psychological abuse may precede or accompany physical violence as a means of control.
- Economic Coercion—Any action forcing the partner to become dependent on the abuser for money and survival. This includes withholding money, a car or other resources; sabotaging attempts to make money independently; or controlling all family finances.
The Scope of the Problem
Domestic violence is a major worldwide epidemic. This section will focus on the scope of the problem in the United States.
Battering is the No. 1 cause of injuries to women—more common as a source of injury than rapes, muggings and automobile accidents combined. Although it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics concerning the incidence of domestic violence, it is estimated that at least 3 million to 4 million women are beaten by their husbands or partners annually.
A woman is more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed by a male partner than by any other type of assailant. About half of all marital relationships involve some form of domestic violence. Of males that beat their wives or partners, 47 percent do so three or more times a year. More than one-half of the female homicide victims in this country are killed by their male partners. In Massachusetts alone, a battered woman is killed once every nine days.
To put the information in perspective, during the Vietnam War, there were 58,000 American soldiers killed in Southeast Asia; during the same period of time, 51,000 women were murdered by their partners in America.