Factors contributing to the existence of Domestic Abuse and the difficulties faced in trying to prevent its occurrence in the UK.
Domestic abuse (DA), is a phenomenon which has remained an invisible crime in many a household for centuries (Summers & Hoffman, 2002, p25.), however, public awareness and acknowledgement of any level of abuse and violence committed, has increased over the years (Summers & Hoffman, 2002, p25). DA encompasses patterns of behaviours deemed as controlling, bullying, threatening or violent between individuals within a domestic setting (Walby, & Allen, 2004). The victims can include children, grandparents; elders, or a person involved in an intimate relationship with the perpetrator; also known as Intimate Partner Abuse (IPA) or Interpersonal Violence (IV) (Walby, & Allen, 2004; De Benedictus, & Jaffe 2004; Jogerst, et al., 2003; Stith, et al., 2004). Furthermore, DA can occur within any society regardless of race, social class, age or sexuality (Summers & Hoffman, 2002, p26.). Whilst men do experience DA, it is far less prevalent and more commonly associated with the male gender (Bewley, & Welch, 2014, p9.). Women, on the other hand, have been well known as the target for DA; especially under a patriarchal society (Summers & Hoffman, 2002, p26.).
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The frequent nature of DA and the extent to its severity is difficult to establish because not all cases are reported (Kenney, 2012, p14.), however, the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated 2.0 million adults; 1.3 million women and 695,000 men, aged between 16 to 59 years experienced DA in 2018 (The Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2018). In addition to this, Summers & Hoffman (2002, p26.) documented that one in three to four women in the UK experience DA at some point during their life, whilst a total of two women per week, are killed by their partners. This both demonstrates the potential severity of DA whilst highlighting its devastating consequences. From herein, this paper will critically discuss factors which contribute towards DA against women, such as the need for power and control, substance misuse, and economic factors. Furthermore, the difficulties faced when trying to prevent DA within the UK will also be discussed.
DA encompasses four different types of abuse; physical, sexual, psychological/emotional and financial (Walby, & Allen, 2004). Physical abuse; known as Domestic Violence (DV), includes abusive and violent assault, whereas, sexual abuse envelopes acts which are intended to degrade or humiliate the individual being abused such as rape or reproductive coercion (Kenney, 2012, p11). However, psychological/emotional abuse centres around, threats, verbal attacks and other tactics of control which encompass the threat of harm with the intent of maintaining the perpetrator’s dominance through fear (Kenney, 2012, p11). Financial abuse, however, consists of weakening the victim’s ability to support themselves, which therefore, renders the individual completely dependent on the abuser; which is an element that crosses over into many of the aforementioned categories, leaving the victim vulnerable. Overall, DA is a systematic method used by the perpetrator as a way to exert power and control over their victim (Lubker, 2004).
As previously mentioned, one of the main contributing factors encompassing DA is the need for power and control (Gondolf, 1995). Historically; especially within patriarchal societies and different cultures, physical and sexual abuse have been utilised as a technique to enforce and consolidate control and power over a women (Sugihara, & Warner, 2002). Evidence of this occurrence was provided by Dobash and Dobash (1984, as cited in Hamberger, et al., 1997). They documented, violence was used when the perpetrator felt their authority was being challenged. Akin to that, Cascardi and Vivian (1995) reported the men within their study also confessed to using violence to control their partners. A more recent study by Grose and Grabe, (2014) also identified power and control dynamics within an interpersonal relationship to be a predictor for IV which illustrates patriarchal beliefs and attitudes are still prevalent and a major trigger for DA.
Several studies have examined the association between substance abuse and abusive behaviour (Bennett, Tolman, Rogalski, & Srinivasaraghavan, 1994). Gondolf (1995), highlighted, one fourth to nearly one half of all serious assaults involved alcohol revealing quite high results, likewise, the Home Office (2003) documented alcohol was involved in 73% of reported cases involving domestic violence (Gilchrist, et al., 2003). Furthermore, Labell (1979, p. 264) claimed that alcohol is probably the largest contributing factor associated with DV. Alcohol is therefore, revealed here as a major element in DA cases.
In contrast to the above, however, Bennett, et al., (1994) investigated the effects of this substance on physical and non-physical abuse. Utilising a sample of sixty three male alcohol and drug addicts and thirty four female partners, it was reported that neither the quantity nor frequency of substance consummation directly related to DA. In addition to these finding, some scholars have debated the ideology that alcohol causes DA by stipulating the consumption of any sort of substance is used as an excuse to defend the perpetrators actions (Ganley, 1995; Walker, 1984, as cited in Bennett, et al., 1994), which infers alcohol cannot be the sole trigger, nor be the root cause of DA.
Further support for the former study and opinions was provided by MacAndrew and Edgerton (1969, as cited in Critchlow, 1986) who conducted a cross-cultural review which investigated drunken behaviour and its consequences. The conclusion they drew was that although substances may lessen an individual’s inhibitions, it cannot account for the transformation in their social behaviour, therefore, any violent outcomes should be considered as the result of learned tendencies; which is in accordance with The Social Learning Theory (SLT). The SLT suggests an individual models their behaviour on what they have been exposed to as a child. Therefore, any violent tendencies displayed have been learned and reinforced; either directly or indirectly in childhood, through certain role models or family members (Bevan & Higgins, 2002). Nevertheless, although, it is apparent that there is a link between substance use and DA, identifying the extent to which it contributes to the occurrence is very questionable. The impact of severe poverty and unemployment, on the other hand, have been shown to have a clear cause and effect relationship with DA (Bates & Marks, 2013).
Studies, both internationally and in the UK, have consistently demonstrated the link between DA; especially DV, and low income families (Bates & Marks, 2013; Fahmy, Williamson, & Pantazis, 2016). Poverty can dramatically intensify the level of tension within a domestic setting which consequently causes conflict within the household and can result in an increase of behaviours that encourage violence (Bates & Marks, 2013; Fox & Benson, 2006). Furthermore, the unemployed domestic victims have a general lack of means to support themselves in dealing with the problem, and as a result the abused individual is compelled to remain in the relationship and allow the patterns of abuse to continue (Bates & Marks, 2013).
Evidence supporting the impact of lower socio-economic status was seen in the Walby & Allen (2004) study. Using data from a nationally representative sample of 22,463 women and men; aged between 16 and 59, it was reported that, the women who lived in poorer households with an income of less than £1000 were subjected to more DA compared to those with an income of over £20,000. Similarly, Fahmy, Williamson & Pantazis (2016) reviewed 80 empirical based studies, and documented that their findings also indicated poverty had a significant association with DA. Furthermore, Fox & Benson (2006) also found trends of IV were higher amongst families with lower socio-economic status and unemployed. It is important to acknowledge, however, contributing factors such as wealth and employment must also be considered in their individual right, separate to the issue of abuse, without doing so, rectifying the cause of separate problems only compound and do not clarify the reasons for the abuse in the first place (Lubker, 2004).
Research has also identified pregnancy to be a factor (Bewley & Welch, 2014, p9.). This is due to the increased vulnerability of the victim and decreased sexual availability (Stewart & Cecutti, 1993). According to Bewley & Welch, 2014) a third of women will first experience DA once they are expecting a child, furthermore, if a woman has a child before they reach the age of 21, the risk of abuse increases compared those who have children later on in life because young parents are less likely to be educated, which consequently results in the abuser being less likely to have the socialised skills required to help identify abuse (Bates & Marks, 2013). This may also mean the victim does not understand the abuse which they are receiving and that it is not ‘normal’ nor should it be tolerated.
Additionally, males who become fathers at a young age (21 or before) are more than three times likely to become abusers, compared to those who become fathers at a later age; this may be due again to a lack of education and support, a poor social or financial upbringing and a lacking in skills to deal with the emotions they are dealing with (Bates & Marks, 2013). Boys unlike girls, tend to utilise aggression when dealing with emotional problems whereas girls, although often seen as the more openly communicative sex, will internalise and harbour feelings; both of these coping mechanisms can stem from shame or guilt and a lack of someone to turn to in times of upset or conflict. The aforementioned characteristics are present, in many demographics of abuse victims, as well as the very real fear of repercussions and in some instances the possibility of death (Lubker, 2004).
Preventing DA is a very difficult task, the type of abuse which has been discussed creates a long-lasting fear, whereby, the victim actually believes the threats the abuser has been saying (Pain& Aid, 2012), as a result a lot of victims are fearful of any violent repercussions which may occur should they leave or report the incident to the police (ref). Furthermore, as research has indicated an abuser ensures his victim is isolated therefore, they believe there isn’t anyone to turn to, and in some cases when abused individual finally decides to leave they are advised to return the abuser for the sake of the children, religion or community (McCue, 2012). Additionally, a lot of victims feel ashamed or even embarrassed (Summers & Hoffman, 2002), therefore they will not reach out for help, which is another reason why preventing DA is so difficult.
The factors discussed within this paper all have an association and contribute to the occurrence of DA,
Often abuse is solely looked at from a woman’s perspective particularly due to the amount who are victims which prevents the resolving of abuse in general because abuse is not looked at from a sole perpetrator’s perspective, therefore alienating women as abusers and therefore a solution to the problem as a whole. If women are not considered in overall statistics then aspects attributing to women as a gender are forgotten and remove research which should be considered amongst the steps towards a societal solution (Lubker, 2004).
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