Family or domestic violence is emotional, physical, or sexual abuse committed by a spouse, former spouse, partner, parent, roommate, or other person living in the home. Domestic violence also includes emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of children, abuse of parents or grandparents, violence toward a partner of the same sex, and even date violence and date rape. Family violence is a rapidly growing public health problem that affects more than 2.5 million Americans— mainly women and children—each year.
Many theories exist that attempt to explain why men use violence against their partner, including deficient communication skills, provocation by the partner, stress, and financial hardship. While these factors may provoke an isolated incident of violence, they do not adequately explain the man's motivation. The main reason why men commit violent acts within the family is because they see violence as the best way to gain and keep control over other people without experiencing negative consequences. Many violent men have firm and inflexible ideas about traditional male and female roles and hold a distorted concept of manhood.
Violent men typically have grown up in a violent family, in which they learned that violence is a "normal" response to solving problems. They may have been victims of violence as children or watched one parent beat the other. Violent men often have a quick temper and overreact to frustration. There is a strong link between violence and alcohol or other drug abuse. Poverty and lacking at least a high school education are contributing factors, although domestic violence appears in every social and economic group.
The effects of family violence extend far beyond the physical scars produced by the abuse. People who have been physically or sexually abused at home often experience long-lasting depression (see page 345), panic attacks, sleep or eating disorders, or sexual problems. They may begin abusing alcohol or other drugs, become aggressive or neglectful, or attempt suicide (see page 346). Children who witness or experience family violence are deeply affected and often grow up to become violent or aggressive themselves. Many people are afraid to leave their abuser because they fear what the abuser will do if they try to leave or think they may lose custody of their children. Others may have nowhere else to go or no money of their own.
Domestic violence—also known as battering, spouse abuse, or partner abuse— is a pattern of psychological, economic, or sexual force used by one person in a relationship against the other. It is characterized by recurrent verbal and physical assaults that tend to escalate over time and is the most common cause of injury to women who need emergency medical treatment. It is estimated that an act of domestic violence occurs every 15 seconds somewhere in the United States. This translates to more than 2.5 million victims of domestic violence each year. Domestic violence occurs in all ethnic, racial, educational, and socioeconomic groups.
The targets of domestic violence are usually women and their children. More than 90 percent of family violence cases in the United States involve women being abused by men. Six in every 10 women who are victims of homicide were murdered by someone they knew. About half of these women were murdered by a spouse or someone with whom they had been intimate. Men who commit domestic violence may be a spouse, a former spouse, a fiancé, or a boyfriend.
Children are involved in about 60 percent of domestic violence incidents. During assaults on their mothers, the children of battered women are at risk for injury themselves, either deliberate or incidental. One in 10 calls made to alert police to domestic abuse is placed by a child in the home. More than 53 percent of male abusers also beat their children. The self-perpetuating aspect of domestic violence can be seen in the fact that one of every three abused children becomes an adult abuser or victim.
Domestic violence has long-term effects on the lives of the victims as well as any children who live in the home. It may take years for the woman to become disentangled from the abusive relationship, during which time the level of abuse can increase. Attempts to escape often escalate the violence.
Domestic violence can take many forms. It usually falls into one or more of the following categories:
Emotional Health and Well-being
128 • Physical battering. The abuser's physical attacks or aggressive behavior can
Staying include grabbing, pinching, slapping, punching, hair-pulling, kicking, biting,
Healthy restraining, or choking; destroying furniture or personal possessions; injuring pets; and murder.
• Psychological battering. This type of violence can include cursing, shouting or verbal abuse, implicit or direct threats of bodily harm, uninvited visits, stalking, malicious telephone calls or letters, throwing things, blocking a doorway passage, cornering the victim during an argument, possessiveness, embarrassing the victim in public, restricting telephone use and isolating the victim from friends and family, forbidding use of the family car, withholding money or health insurance, refusing to pay bills, and sabotaging the victim's attempts to work or to go to school.
• Sexual abuse. Physical attacks by the abuser are often accompanied by, or culminate in, sexual violence in which the victim is forced to take part in a sexual activity.
Battering is viewed as a set of learned controlling behaviors and the feeling of being trapped in a relationship. The batterer may find that violence is an effective method for gaining and keeping control over another person, and he often does not experience adverse consequences as a result of his behavior. Historically, violence against women has often not been treated as a "real" crime. There is no distinct personality or socioeconomic profile for men who commit domestic violence. Many batterers have no history of a mental health condition or a criminal record. Batterers come from all groups and backgrounds and have different personality profiles.
Help Stop the Violence You can play an important role in helping to stop domestic violence in your community. Domestic violence is not an issue just for women. Family violence is everyone's concern. It's essential for men to get involved. Men are vital to violence-prevention efforts because men are more likely to open up to other men if they have a problem, and they are more likely to listen to advice from men. In addition, fathers have enormous influence over their children's developing attitudes and behavior.
There are many different ways, including the following, in which you can contribute to making your community a safe place to live:
• Speak out against domestic violence. Take a leadership role in community organizations such as sports clubs, churches, and neighborhood associations, and take a stand against domestic violence.
• Be a role model for other men. Reach out to men who are violent at home, and let them know that their behavior is not acceptable and that you want to help them break the pattern of abuse.
Be a role model for your son. Show kindness and respect to your partner and you will give your son an example of a healthy, nurturing relationship. Be a role model for a child who lacks a positive male figure in his life. A male mentor and friend can provide consistent, positive support to help ensure that a child does not grow up to be a batterer.
Reach out to a family that is involved in violence. Talk to family members about what is happening, and offer to help them. Follow through on your offer.
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