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Etiology of intimate partner violence

Theories of Crime: "The etiology of intimate partner violence is complex and can be best explained from a multifactor theoretical perspective". Critically discuss this statement.

Intimate partner aggression (IPV) is physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse from one partner to another. The term "intimate" includes past or present couples whom maybe of the same gender. IPV is a frequently occurring crime where victims come from all social classes, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds. Despite the above definition, it is almost impossible to provide a single definition which all theoretical perspectives would accept. (Dixon & Graham- Kevan, in press). There are several explanations as to why IPV exists; consequently it is therefore viewed as a complex conception.

Different theoretical perspectives have been proposed to account for the etiology of IPV. Some explanations of IPV are illustrated as a single account such as minor biological explanations. The two main theoretical stances that dominate the topic of IPV are the sociological explanation; feminism and the theory opposing feminism; the gender inclusive approach. The biological theory loosely covers internal explanations such as the chromosome hypothesis in men, the sociological theory broadly covers external explanations such as the feminist viewpoint, and the gender inclusive theory proposes the belief that IPV is equal amongst both genders.

Although the biological explanation doesn't play a critical role in the etiology of IPV, it has been demonstrated that there has been a genetic and neurological basis of such behaviour (Gontkovsky, 2005). This theory emphasises the role of genetics and the XYY chromosome hypothesis in males suffering from Klinefelters syndrome. Such chromosome coordination exerts increased masculine characteristics and high levels of aggression. The biological theory emphasises genetic abnormalities as a cause of criminal behaviour. Scheff (2003) conducted a case study on a male aggressing against his female partner. Genetic coordination showed signs of the XYY chromosome syndrome as well as increased neuronal activity in the amygdala. Even though the explanation seems credible in the context of IPV, it has been argued that it is not present in all male perpetrators and fails to help us understand other consistent similar offenders. Tedeschi and Felson (1994) argued aggressive behaviour is not caused directly by genetics. Other environmental influences are crucial such as society's norms and values.

The feminist perspective has been very influential in understanding the etiology of IPV. Feminism continues to emphasise the importance of patriarchy in male to female IPV (Yllo, 2005; Hamberger & Guse, 2002). This viewpoint proposes the assumption that IPV is a common event, generated by social rules which support male dominance and female subordination (Dixon, in press).

Feminism was established by the women's movement in the late 20th Century and underlined violence against women as an important social problem. The feminist contribution allowed IPV to be put on the Western society political agenda. Shining light on such a political problem allowed the setting up of shelters for battered women in the 1970's, as well as the establishment of Women's Aid charity and educational campaigns. Laws, policies and society's perspective were altered to combat violence against women.

Typically, IPV is seen to be a non-gender inclusive conception, with the assumption that males abuse females at a higher rate than vice versa. Feminists believe that IPV is only carried out by men aggressing against his female partner in a bid to control or dominate her and therefore termination of these violent doings lie in the acts of fighting back. Noller and Robillard (2007) cites Dobash and Dobash' (1988) claim that "policy makers should pay little attention to violence perpetrated by females as such violence is seen as a lifesaving reaction of women abused by their male partners" (p126). From this perception, it is recognized that any retaliation by females is seen as self defence and that patriarchy is a direct cause of men's violence behaviour. Nevertheless, in order to tackle the conception of patriarchy, it is the foundation of the problem which needs to be changed; societies beliefs. The feminist theory has been criticised as an ideologically driven perspective (Dutton, 2007). The ability for the theory to fully understand IPV has been criticised as intervention programmes originating from this perspective do not consider any psychological, emotional or personality issues the perpetrator or victim may have.

Dutton (2007) argues that the research conducted favouring Feminism does not come from sound empirical evidence. Researchers investing IPV in couples have only used selected sampling methods which only draw attention to female victims. Interviews are carried out in shelters for battered women whilst crime statistics stem from only the reported crimes which tend to be females. Such methodology's emphasise female victimisation and male perpetration and ignore other risk factors other than patriarchy which have been associated with IPV (Coleman, 1994; Shupe, Stacey, & Hazlewood, 1987). Recently, evidence from almost 200 studies has questioned this typical feminist perspective allowing the notion of male to female violence to shift to some extent.

A Gender Inclusive approach contradicts the Feminist theory and considers the possibility that both genders are likely to be perpetrators of IPV. Research employing the gender inclusive approach shows that men and women take part in violent acts at approximately equal rates. The gender inclusive perspective seeks to engage in individual differences at a psychological level in comparison to the feminist perception of viewing IPV as a broader topic.

Research undertaking the gender inclusive approach commonly assesses IPV using the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) proposed by Straus (1979). The CTS allowed researchers to gain more insight and quantitative results. Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz (1975) used the CTS in the US National Family Violence Surveys and found 12% of males and females experience IPV within a 12 month period. Arguably, it was also discovered that statistical results for male and/or female perpetrators in IPV was balanced. Straus' (1979) proposal of the CTS opened many doors for large meta-analytical research which corroborate the gender inclusive perspective.

Douglas and Strauss (2003) performed a cross cultural analysis on IPV using CTS and found females in New Zealand, Scotland and Singapore were more likely to inflict brutal physical violence against men causing severe injury. Similarly, Archer (2000) conducted a meta-analysis on 82 single studies comparing rates of perpetration by both genders. Findings portrayed females were more prone to injury when experiencing IPV; however they were also more likely to use physical aggression as well as weapons against their partner. Morse (1995) initiated the belief that women are inferior in comparison to their male partner; consequently they result in using weapons of various types to make up for their defencelessness. Evidence deriving from the gender inclusive approach demonstrates how females undergo higher rates of injury than men; yet they still participate in equal rates of perpetration as men.

In summary, the methodology employed typically come from large national representative surveys asking both men and women about their victimisation and perpetration in their relationship. It helps in stressing the idea that both genders can both be aggressors and victims. It is clear that the approach taken and the methods used can affect how individuals view and understand IPV, however with the feminist and gender inclusive methods, it can be critically argued that it disregards the risk factors engaged in IPV.

Some theories will be more appropriate in explaining some more crimes more than others, for example the feminism for IPV, and biological theory for serial killers. It can be argued that, one theory is not adequate in explaining the etiology of IPV; therefore many can contribute in finding a suitable explanation. Consequently, a multifactor explanation should be considered in the etiology of IPV.

Dutton (2007) established a multifactor theory called Nested Ecological Theory (NET). NET is used to see which main risk factors at different levels escalate the possibility of violence occurring in relationships. This model aims to seek the understanding of how an individual's social environment interconnects with their internal characteristics to shape their development and behaviour (Dixon, in press). The NET is made up of four social and psychological characteristics which each play a role in the risk of IPV occurring.

The Macrosystem level deals with society's broad cultural values and beliefs that influence the ontogenic and the micro and exosystem development. For example, society's view on patriarchy might influence individual expectations about is what is deemed an appropriate authoritative hierarchy in a male-female relationship and the impact family plays on social interaction (Dutton, 2007).

The Exosystem level refers to the formal and informal social situations that have an effect on the immediate setting in which an individual finds themselves in. For example, unemployment and work stress are exosystem factors which can influence the existence of IPV in a relationship (Dutton, 2007).

The Microsystem level refers to the immediate context in which IPV occurs. This includes the attachment patterns of couples, the conflicting issues affecting them and their background and feelings after assault occurred. This would represent the microsystem level in NET (Dutton, 2007).

Lastly, the Ontogenic level refers to individual developments and how they are associated with this three-level social context. This includes factors such as personality disorder, childhood experiences, and emotions. From identifying ontogenic level with the social context feature, behaviour patterns such as aggression can be predicted (Dutton, 2007).

The NET is a versatile model as it accounts for individuals who come from similar social environments but do not all participate in IPV. It emphasises the significance of individual differences playing a major role in the etiology of IPV (Dutton, 2007). NET highlights the need of understanding social interaction at all levels whilst allowing sociological, biological and psychological involvement. Ontogenic level accommodates biological theories such as brain damage correlating with perpetration in IPV (Rosenbaum, 1994). Psychological theories such as Social Cognitive theory (SCT) is also an example which constitutes the ontogenic level. Individual who are exposed to parental violence/ child abuse are more likely to be perpetrators.

The NET stems from the notion of "nested" whereby all levels can be incorporated with one another. For example, two men are likely to be raised with same societal beliefs and culture (macrosystem), they may also work for the same company and have the similar friends (exosystem), and face the same amount of arguments in their home environment (microsystem); nonetheless despite experiencing similar social contexts, one male results in violence while the other does not. This difference in reaction is due to their dissimilar learning experiences and personality factors (ontogenic). Likewise, even if two individuals grow up to be similar at an ontogenic level, it is likely that their behaviour would be different from one another at a macro, exo- and microsystem level. It is within this that the theory is said to be "nested" within one another stressing the importance of integration (Dutton, 2007).

Stith et al (2004) conducted a meta-analysis modelling the NET on physical IPV. Stith and colleagues researched 85 studies examining risk factors for male and female perpetration and female victimisation. They only used studies which matched with their criteria and studies with multiple risk factors involved in physical male perpetration and physical female victimisation. Results showed risk factors associated with male perpetration included career/life stress, marital satisfaction, history of IPV, traditional gender role ideology, alcohol use, depression and anger. Marital satisfaction was the only one risk factor associated with female perpetration. For female victimisation, risk factors included depression and fear of future abuse. The aim of this study was to emphasise the importance of risk factors associated with female perpetration along with the etiology of IPV.

Similar to Dutton's (2007) NET, other areas of crime have also adopted a similar multifactor stance to understanding etiology. For example, Finkelhor's Precondition theory (1984) aids in understanding the steps taken for a person to offend. Similarly, Marshal and Barbarees' Integrated Theory (1990) takes into account biological, socio-cultural and situational factors and childhood experiences.

Taking both singular and multifactor perspectives into account, studies illustrated highlight the complex problem of IPV and its etiology. The type of theoretical perspectives and the methods used can greatly affect the explanation of IPV. The single perspectives have been criticised for their methods ignoring risk factors which the multifactor theories emphasise. From observing the reviewed literature from the singular perspectives, it is easy to state which gender experiences abuse more than the other, however to ignore individual differences, changes ones assumption. Consequently, it is from a narrow focus that professionals ignore the complexities, therefore taking a multifactor perspective and applying it to the etiology of IPV facilitates professionals to understand an offender's violent behaviour in IPV.


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