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Domestic Violence Perpetrated By Men Onto Women Criminology Essay

Feminist commentators such as Dobash & Dobash, (1992; 2000), view gender as “the most salient factor in explaining intimate partner violence”. Such a notion relies on the concept that the gendered nature of domestic violence as being a violence predominately perpetrated by men against women. An entirely different perspective is advocated by family conflict researchers such as Strauss and Gelles, (1986), and Strauss (1993). Their assumptions are that conflict is an inevitable part of all human interactions which includes within the family. Such different perspectives have produced contradictory findings on the extent and character of domestic abuse. During the 1970’s and 1980’s feminist scholars were determined to expose the extent to which women were victimised in the home. Central to the feminist analysis was the argument that it was necessary to understand the unequal power relations in the cultural, social, economic, and political sphere; the same being fundamental to understanding women’s unequal status and the differing social relations that contribute to men and women’s experience of violence. The proposed effect being to demonstrate the unequal status of women in society and in the family may contribute to support men’s use of violence against women.

Culturally, men hold a privileged position in society and the family serves to legitimise power and control over their spouses for example as being seen as head of the family. Hence “male violence is analysed as the means of social control within the patriarchal institution of marriage and wider patriarchal society” (Dobash & Dobash, 2000. p. 190). Within the feminist perspective males are often portrayed as the primary perpetrators of instrumental violence against their spouses. In cases “where a woman has responded to male violence with violence of her own, it is viewed as self-defence or retaliation due to a culmination of male abuse” (Dobash & Dobash, 2000. p. 194). Feminists often argue that men will excuse or justify their violence against women. Feminist commentators argue that previous patriarchal views of domestic violence have served to distort the official patterns of victimisation thereby affecting the response of the authorities. For example when domestic violence did come to the attention of the authorities, such as the police, the responses were less than satisfactory. The “police were often reluctant to treat a domestic incident as a serious assault and would categorise them as a family dispute resulting in an apathetic response or no action being taken” (Dobash & Dobash, 2000. p. 194).

It can be argued that Criminology has treated women's role in crime with a large measure of indifference. The intellectual tradition from which criminology derives its conception of the sexes maintains “esteem for men's autonomy, intelligence and force of character while disdaining women for their weaknesses of compliance and passivity”. Women who conform as pure and obedient “daughters, wives and mothers benefit men and society” (Feinman, 1994: 16). Those women who are non-conformist by questioning established beliefs or practices; who engage in activities associated with men or who commit a crime; “ are doubly damned and doubly deviant” (Bottoms, 1996: 1). They are “seen as 'mad' not 'bad'” (Lloyd, 1995: 36). Such behaviour frequently leads to interpretations of being mentally abnormal and unstable. Those doing the defining, by the very act, are never defined as 'other', than the norm. “As 'men' are the norm women are deviant; women being defined in reference to men” (Lloyd, 1995: xvii). In the words of Young (1990); “sexual difference is one of the ways in which normal is marked out from deviant” (Young, 1990: ix).

Up until the turn of the twentieth century, “women were primarily perceived as sexual objects and expected to remain within male dominated ideologies such as homemaker, carer and nurturer taking second place after men” (Oakley, 1985: 56). Women who strayed from the norm were severely punished, void of any opportunities to explain their actions.

The campaign by Elizabeth Fry in the early nineteenth century protesting for women to be housed in separate prisons from men and offered rehabilitation can be marked as the starting point for studies being conducted into the relationship between women and crime. The belief at that time was “that women must be protected from, rather than held accountable for their criminal action, such intervention only caused coaxing rather than coercion, that is, women became segregated even more as individual members of their community” (Bardsley, 1987: 37).

Lombroso and Ferrero (1895) wrote, “The Female Offender”. The female criminal was perceived to have the criminal qualities of the male plus the worst characteristics of women. According to Lombroso and Ferrero (1895), these included “deceitfulness, cunning and spite” amongst others; traits which were not apparent among males. This appeared to indicate that female criminals were genetically more male than female, therefore biologically abnormal. The conclusion being that criminality in men was a common feature of their natural characteristics, whereas a woman’s biologically-determined nature was opposed to crime. Female social deviants or criminals “who did not act according to pre-defined standards were diagnosed as pathological and requiring treatment, they were to be 'cured' or 'removed'” (Lombroso and Ferrero, 1895: 43).

Other theorists such as Thomas (1907) and later, Pollack (1961), believe that criminality was pathologically and socially induced rather than biologically inherited. As Thomas (1967) notes, “the girl as a child does not know she has any particular value until she learns it from others” (Thomas, 1967: 68). Pollack (1961) follows this view, “it is the learned behaviour from a very young age that leads girls into a 'masked' character of female criminality”; this is how it was and still is concealed through under-reporting and low detection rates of female offenders. He further states; “in our male-dominated culture, women have always been considered strange, secretive and sometimes dangerous” (Pollack, 1961: 149).

Though it may be true that society has moved on since the days of Lombroso and Ferrero; theories which developed within a hegemonic society remain within today's criminal justice system. It should never be assumed that women and crime can be explained by any one theory. Whether male or female, no single theory can explain the complex nature of deviance or crime. Biologically and sociologically, people differ in many ways and as such gender-specific role-playing may continue, even unconsciously, within most families, thus reinforcing established group social views. As pointed to by Edwards (1984), “the enemy is within every woman, but it is not her reproductive biology; rather it is the habit regarding it into which she has been led by centuries of male domination” (Edwards, 1984: 91).

Most crime committed by female offenders constitute none violent offences, the type of crimes committed are generally of a less serious nature, such as shop-lifting, fraud etc. It has been argued that women receive more leniency than men, given to them from official officers of law enforcement such as traffic wardens, police officers and judges; “it may be true that many women use their 'femininity' to their advantage which makes it very difficult to argue equal rights for both sexes” (Lloyd, 1995: 56). “Crimes women commit are reflected to be outward manifestations of an inner medical imbalance or social instability. The punishment received by women appears to be aimed principally at treatment and re-socialisation” (Edwards, 1984: 216).

Within contemporary society, the evidence suggests that domestic homicide represents a serious social problem where predominantly the majority of victims are women. They are murdered by their male partners following years of cumulative violence within an abusive spousal relationship (Edwards 1989). The majority of these murdered women can be evidenced as having been subjected to various forms of physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse. Dobash and Dobash, further argue “it is impossible to use law and legal apparatus to confront patriarchal domination and oppression when language and procedures of those social processes and institutions (marriage) are saturated with patriarchal beliefs and structure” (1992:147).

It can be argued that the continued campaigning by feminists has had the greatest impact on public perceptions, policy and support initiatives. As the feminists continued to lament that the legal interventions into domestic violence were wholly inadequate, the government began to take it seriously and this meant arresting, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators.

The UK Government has over the past few years continued to take domestic violence seriously with proposals to protect and support victims of domestic violence. The recent introduction of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act (2004) “has given police more powers to arrest perpetrators, strengthened and increased court powers to enable restraining orders to be improved and assisted the civil laws to include co-habiting couples and same sex partners”. (Hoyle, 2007 p. 157) This legislation supports pro-active police policies, while at the same time the government has encouraged arrest by including arrest rates for domestic violence in the police performance targets. The police are less likely to take no action and arrest rates have dramatically increased.

However, feminists have argued that arresting the perpetrator may have some unintended consequences. For example, an arrest may not stop the violence and in some cases it may escalate the violence by way of reprisal. It may also “contribute to the increased arrest rates of women who were ‘fighting back’ thus raising the visibility of male victims” (Hoyle, 2007 p. 158)

This leads us to theorise that the justice system is gendered towards men and therefore biased against women, serving to favour men in legal defences against women who respond in violence to fight violence; ultimately this may end in women killing their partner. Such a consequence may be perceived as the only avenue open as a solution which enables women and their children to finally escape the torment of their abuser. Edwards (1989:13) argues “women’s needs for protection, women’s voices as victims of crime, and as victims of the law have been totally eclipsed”.

Women are further victimized and blamed (Pahl 1985) for protecting themselves within the Criminal Justice System. Women can find themselves labelled double deviant, cold-blooded, calculated murderers, who face mandatory life sentences with limited prospect of judicial reprieve. In cases of murder defences of self-defence or provocation are commonly used and derive from men’s experiences and perspectives. Women are then denied the same agency; legal remedies. Women’s legal defences are reduced; an argument for self-defence is usually inadmissible unless evidenced by previous serious bodily harm at the hand of the deceased; and reduced to pleas of diminished responsibility (as a mitigating defence to murder) where the ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’ (Walker 1978) is sometimes successful. Feminists argue “this partial defence further serves to mediatise and stigmatise women, for ‘syndrome’ depicts the pathology of the “sick mode and mad woman”” Schneider (1986, p198) which categorizes all women universally, whilst denying autonomy, and instead shifts the focus of the man’s violence to the woman’s state of mind.

Theories of female criminality show gendered discrimination is perpetuated throughout; either as victims or offenders the treatment which women receive is dependent upon whether they conform or deviate from their assigned gender roles. The implication being that women are responsible for “provoking their own demise” (Edwards 1981) if considered sexually non-conforming/promiscuous or deviant. These beliefs are further endorsed within classical and criminological theories that seek to locate female criminality within a hegemonic context; where gendered assumptions locate women within essentialist biological determinism. According to Lombrosso and Ferro (1895)’s and Pollak’s (1950) ideologies of female criminality results from biological bodily processes, that is a hormonal imbalance. If female biology determines the intrinsic characteristics of a woman and as such, all female behaviour is perceived as homogenous then this reduces the factors such as class, status and power as unimportant and thereby stereotyping women into a category where they are deemed either criminal by nature or deviant (doubly deviant) because they deviate from their biologically determined gendered roles.

Pollak inferred that women were more capable of being criminal than men as women were devious and cruel, and hid behind their social roles to protect them from being classed as criminal deceivers. Asserting, that “women are treated more leniently by the legal and penal systems (chivalry theory) if women are seen not to blame (i.e. if they are faithful, committing offences only to protect their children). Since men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed” (1950:151); men feel dutiful to recompense women. Freud (1953) suggests that female victims of violence within the home are prone to exaggeration, since nagging wives are perceived as the cause of their own violence (victim blaming) therein nagging precipitates justified beatings. Given the criminal justice system represents a patriarchal hierarchical institution where predominantly the legal personnel are men, (judges, magistrates, lawyers), hence legal precedents, statutes and legislation are implemented to exclude, discriminate and bias women (Klein 1981).

The institution of marriage serves as the instrument of continued violence towards women, where marriage is the foundation of heteropatriarchy (Hanmer et.al. 1989) as Hanmer (1978) argues “force and its threat is never residual or secondary, rather it is the structural underpinning of hierarchal relations”’ (p229) where heterosexuality and violence co-exist. It is argued that, “‘the marriage licence’ has become a ‘hitting licence’” suggests Dobash and Dobash (1981:563-81) which legitimises and sanctions the murder of women. Engels (1972:p22) supports this view, he wrote “in order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity, and therefore the paternity of the children, she is delivered over unconditionally to the power of the husband, if he kills her; he is only exercising his right”.

When studying the differences between men and women who murder their partners or indeed their ex-partners then comparisons of the reasons behind their variable motivations and explanations require consideration. When men kill their spouses it is primarily because of their partner’s sexual infidelity or they argue that after years of nagging they “lost it”, this is compatible with the male view of the meaning of provocation and the resulting response. Consequently men may murder women in cold blood or with premeditation; whereas women kill in general as a last resort; as a response to defending themselves against direct or indirect violence such as receiving death threats.

Smith and Hogan (1978:p308) also write “to taunt a man with his impotence or his wife’s adultery may be cruel and immoral, but it is not unlawful and may surely amount to provocation”. This theme is continued by Lord Justice Taylor (1986:1695) he notes “that were a woman’s adultery was involved “words alone” were sufficient to support a claim of provocation”. From 1871-1946 a number of cases upheld that “words alone” could provoke if those words confessed adultery.

Controversy continues to surround the legal defences to murder; legal legislation and policy further serves to benefit men whilst discriminating and restricting women. Currently in the United Kingdom the three most common defences to murder put forward by spouse killers are (i)self-defence, (ii) diminished responsibility and (iii)provocation (Birch 1993). If self-defence is successful then the result is an acquittal to murder and an alternative verdict to manslaughter endorsed. It is almost impossible for women to successfully substantiate, having been written within a gendered perspective which both excludes and denies women’s experiences and explanations. This is acutely demonstrated when the physical differences of the sexes is ignored. Consequently women often use objects such as knives to defend themselves, such an act hinders the defence argument in favour of self-defence and subsequently such a defence becomes unobtainable for women.

Provocation as a defence may also be unavailable to women because the standard test is defined by the judgement in the Duffy case (1949). The defendant was charged with the murder of her husband on the basis that she was acting in a vengeful manner following years of domestic violence. However the law does on provocation in accordance with Section 3 of the Homicide Act 1957, ‘is based upon the belief that a person will ‘cool off’ between and after assaults rather than slowly boil towards a loss of control’ (Birch 1993). This restricts the defence of provocation to ‘sudden loss of ‘self-control’ therein no other definitions are considered to incorporate slow-burn factors within this legal scope. Unfortunately women in abusive relationships do not kill instantly, that is within the moment of threat, but usually await an opportunity to unleash their anger when the abuser is incapacitated i.e. asleep, drunk etc. (Kiranjit Ahluwalia 1989).

Horder argues that “anger as outrage best encompasses women’s responses to domestic violence which allows for the concept of provocation as slow-burning” (1992:190).He suggests the reinstatement of the legal position through substitution of references to “provoked angry retaliation” in place of references to provoked loss of self-control. But in doing so, one could argue that the definition of what constitutes provocation is outside women’s control for justifiable anger is selectively applied (Lees 1994). Unfortunately men have the right to justifiable anger where women do not, for men have the right to react to provocation where women do not. Although there is no legally accepted definition of cumulative anger, the concept of cumulative provocation was suggested by Wasik (1982:29).

When considering the defence of diminished responsibility, (Section 2 of the 1957 Homicide Act) it appears to be the only viable defence available to women. The reasonably new condition which is used to support the partial defence to diminished responsibility which reduces the charge of murder to manslaughter, the ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’, has received mixed reviews.

In 1984 Dr Lenore Walker developed the ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’ which was first coined by Susan Steinmetz (1975) to explain why some woman stay in abusive relationships where they have already been subjected to or perceived danger; circumstances in which the passive spectator would have ended the relationship and left.

Walker developed two theories, firstly the theory of the cycle-of-violence where battering is neither random nor constant, but occurs in repeated cycles: the first stage is tension building, the second stage is the battering incident and the third stage consists of the ‘honeymoon period’ (Walker, 1978).

The theory of learned helplessness was further adapted by Walker to explain why women find it difficult to leave. She hypothesized that where woman experienced violence which they were unable to control then overtime this developed into a condition of “learned helplessness” which prevented them from acting on opportunities to escape the violence. Although concerns are expressed regarding its use, the concept of such a syndrome reduces the social problems of individual personality/psychology (Bowker 1983).

Whilst these theories serve to construct gendered criminological ideologies of female criminality, they also serve to cast women within the domain of moral panic and hysteria, which consequently may have influenced both penal and legal policy makers alike to classify female criminality within biologically rooted ‘illness’ or ‘disorders’. Accordingly Walker (1973: 302) states “the labelling of deviancy as sickness treats female criminality as mentally abnormal”. For Smart (1976) this view begets the double standards of morality and gender stereotypes represented within the criminal law and the criminal justice system which results in discriminating against women both as victims and as offenders.

The feminist paradigm supports the notion that domestic abuse is primarily a male enterprise and that female violence is almost always defensive and reactive. The feminist sees patriarchy as the only explanation for domestic abuse. The public campaigning by the feminists has not only raised the profile of women’s victimisation and the governmental responses, it has also been successful in transforming society’s personal views and beliefs about violence. “It appears that domestic violence as a predominantly male perpetrated crime has entered public consciousness. In effect, a paradigm has developed, in which women are viewed as the exclusive victims and men the sole aggressors” (Dutton & Nicholls, 2005, p.682).

Yet there is an inherent problem with this assumption; the feminist perception is only one particular viewpoint. For example, Walkate, (2000, p.28) points out that “historical images of the victim, such as Von Hentig’s suggestion of a blameworthy victim, is an ideological reflection embedded in a male orientated view of victimisation”. The feminist paradigm appears to be constrained in a similar ideological straitjacket in that it views male violence as never justified and female violence as always justified. In addition, “it is not clear how men are to be held accountable for violence if patriarchy is to blame” (Dutton & Nicholls, 2005, p.682). For certain commentators the feminist view of domestic violence is therefore indicative of a dominant hegemony of matriarchy. (Strauss & Gelles, 1986; Strauss, 1993; Dutton & Nicholls, 2005)

In contrast, the family conflict paradigm presents an alternative perspective to feminism and is related to the work of Strauss and Gelles (1986) who promoted efforts to quantify the prevalence of family violence. They developed a Conflict Tactic Scale (CTS) as a quantitative measure of the controlling and abusive tactics couples use against each other. The result being that they uncovered similar levels of partner violence perpetrated by both males and females. According to Strauss and Gelles (1986, p.470) “women are about as violent within the family as men”. They concluded that their data indicates that women engage in minor assaults against their male partners at a slightly higher rate than their male counterparts. This seems to run counter to public and academic perceptions that assume victims of domestic abuse are disproportionately female. Thus the claim that both male and females are victimised equally deserves some further qualification which can be achieved by examining some of the findings from recent crime surveys.

The use of the self-completion questionnaires in the 1996 British Crime Survey (BCS) revealed considerably higher rates of domestic abuse than previous surveys. The survey revealed that of respondent’s aged between 16-59 years; “equating to 4.2 % of women and 4.2 % of men, reported they had been physically assaulted by a current or former partner” (Mirrlees-Black & Byron, 1999, p.1). Importantly it shows both males and females suffer from domestic abuse; yet the survey tends to down play the fact that men may equally victimised. According to the BCS authors “men were less frightened, injured less and less likely to seek medical attention or report the abuse to the authorities “(p.4). The report does acknowledge that “cultural gender differences may make men more reluctant to report their fears” (Mirrlees-Black & Byron,1999, p.3) the overall view of the report signposts that male abuse from female partners is somehow less serious, trivial and that it does not warrant involvement, irrespective of which it is still nonetheless victimisation.

According, to Mirrlees-Black (1999) men are much less upset by domestic violence than women. Yet, qualitative studies that have examined male victims of domestic abuse indicate that men’s experiences of abuse are far from trivial and the psychological impact is greater than the psychical impact. For example, Gadd, Farrall, Lombard, and Dallimore, (2002) reported on two qualitative studies of male victims conducted in the UK. In the first study all of the men in the sample reported physical abuse perpetrated by women partners. The reported abuse ranged from stabbings, teeth being knocked out, being beaten with objects, being scalded and attacks on their genitals. Men also reported verbal abuse and emotional abuse. The men claimed that their partners deliberately tried to make the injuries noticeable, which in turn made the men feel stigmatised and humiliated. It was also reported that the fear of further violence together with emotional abuse became harder to deal with than the psychical abuse. The men reported that some female partners had threatened to attack men in their sleep, falsely report self-inflicted injuries to the police as caused by their male partners, damaged clothes and threatened to take their children away (Stutt & Macklin,1995, cited in Gadd, et al. 2002. p.7).

The second UK based study examined male victim perceptions of abuse in Northern Ireland (Brogden & Harkin, 2000, cited in Gadd et al. 2002, p.9) reporting similar behaviours of female partners.

In both of these studies the men reported that they felt too embarrassed to tell their peers or the authorities of the abuse for fear of disbelief. As a result of the under-reporting, the consequence was that the men had limited access to support services.

Gadd, et al. (2002, p.72) reported that police officers and other statutory service providers expressed some concerns about limited support available for male victims. Police officers identified that “there was a need to publicise existing support agencies such a Victim Support to men. However, for those men who do not wish their partners to be arrested access to Victim Support may be problematic as users of this service are primarily referred by the police after an arrest has been made”. Nonetheless, Victim Support (2006, p.11) has acknowledged these limitations and identified that in some areas male victims have successfully been supported. This was attributed to the development of multi-agency domestic abuse partnerships. Still only 38% of Victim Support Areas offered the choice of a male or female supporter. This stands in stark contrast to the “availability of women’s refuges which can provide for 18,000 women and 23,000 children” (Walkate, 2007, p.138).

The Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act (2004) acknowledges the existence of male victims but inexplicably it appears to be legislation still dominated by domestic violence in terms of violence against women. This may leave men feeling disenfranchised and unable or unwilling to report their situations. Family conflict researchers argue that legal and social changes to support services are based on the belief that a large number of women suffer chronic severe abuse. They assert that “services do little to support a much larger majority of men, women and children who suffer from frequent, yet less severe, attacks, of common couple violence”. (Dutton & Nicholls, 2005, p. 683) In contrast, some feminists have expressed concern about potential political implications of demonstrating that family violence is symmetrical. For example, it may lead to a reduction in essential services for women. Furthermore, public responses to women who suffer abuse may change and they may be viewed as undeserving victims and partly responsible for their predicament.

Feminist scholars argue that family conflict researchers who use the CTS do not consider the context and neglect the far reaching consequences of violence on women (Dobash, Dobash, Wilson & Daly. 1992). Further, “they argue that researchers and policy makers should pay little attention to violence perpetrated by women as it is usually as a lifesaving reaction to a previous culmination of male violence”, though it should be noted that the data is derived from shelter samples of battered women (Johnson, 1995. p.284). Johnson points out the samples used by differing theorist differ quite dramatically. In contrast, feminist researchers typically sample from high levels of violence populations such as women from refuges and men on treatment programmes. These two populations clearly differ in their experiences of domestic abuse and this could account for the disparity of the findings. Arguably different populations and different levels of measure will produce different results. Johnson concludes that the different researchers are probably analysing different phenomena (Johnson, 1995. p.284).

A greater understanding of the impact of victimisation in the previously ‘hidden’ sphere of domestic violence has led to an increased awareness of the plight of women who are abused. Feminism has highlighted that domestic violence is a gendered phenomenon based in male coercion and control. The feminist paradigm has successfully highlighted that domestic violence is not just an individual problem, but a social and political one (Dobash & Dobash, 2000). Feminism has had a substantial impact on policy developments both at a state level and in terms of the voluntary sector. Support services for female victims of domestic violence continue to receive government and private funding.

Men also suffer violence and domestic abuse although the feminists, governments, services and society would appear to be reluctant to admit that females maybe equal perpetrators. Services that provide support for male victims lack in funding and acknowledgement. Women as victims are much more likely to be physically, psychologically and economically injured. Nonetheless, the evidence suggests that violence perpetrated by women against men does occur.

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