Discussing The Debate On Domestic Violence Criminology Essay

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A topic that has attracted considerable academic interest and methodological debate is domestic violence. There has been a long-standing and acrimonious disagreement between different groups of researchers as to the nature of domestic violence. On the one hand, there is a group who argue that women are as likely as men to perpetrate violence against an intimate partner. On the other hand, there is another group who argue that it is overwhelmingly men who perpetrate violence against women.

It is very important that we investigate how the different methodological approaches adopted by different researchers have produced such different findings. We need to, as far as is possible, accurately identify the sorts of persons whom are affected by domestic violence and how they are affected in order to enable politicians and service providers to design and implement appropriate intervention strategies.

Family violence researchers [1] aim to identify the prevalence of domestic violence in society. FV researchers claim to have found that intimate partner violence is symmetrical, that is men and women are equally likely to be the perpetrator of violence against an intimate partner (Straus and Gelles, 1990).

FV researchers have, in the main, approached their research in the following manner. They have defined domestic violence as distinct physical acts, e.g. 'slap' or a 'punch'. They have conducted large-scale surveys consisting of a list of questions which are intended to measure conflict and violence. These lists are then translated into scales and scale scores are then used to assess individuals as violent and non-violent. These scores are then used to estimate the proportion of violent men and women in the general population. The most widely used example of this sort of approach is the Conflict Tactic Scales, associated with the National Family Violence Survey (Straus and Gelles 1990).

The ramifications of such findings appear quite serious. They potentially require politicians, charities and service providers to re-think social policy in relation to domestic violence. Existing legislation, government funding and intervention programmes is, after all, tailored to the experiences and needs of women. If FV research is considered valid, that is an accurate reflection of the phenomena in question, then their needs to be a shift where the experiences and needs of men are taken into account.

Some argue, however, that whilst FV research might be considered reliable, it lacks validity, that is it is not an accurate measure of the phenomenon in question. Violence Against Women researchers [2] , that is researchers who propose that domestic violence is asymmetrical, that it affects women to a far greater extent than men, argue that the FV research methodology is deeply flawed. They argue it is too narrow in scope, detail and depth.

One can argue that domestic violence is defined far too narrowly in FV research. If you restrict your line of enquiry simply to physical assaults, then you restrict the possibility of unearthing a whole host of other forms of abusive behaviour. Jayne Mooney, in her study, widened the definition of domestic violence to include mental cruelty, threats and rape (Mooney, 2000). In doing so, she found that women were far more likely than men to be the victim of a constellation of abuse.

One could also argue that FV research lacks detail. It fails to ask important questions such as whether there are any differences in the type of acts perpetrated by men and women and whether there is a difference in the physical, psychological and economic consequences. Research has shown that when we ask these questions, we enhance our understanding of the nature of domestic violence.

Rebecca and Russell Dobash, for instance, conducted a series of in-depth interviews with 95 couples (Dobash and Dobash, 2004). As part of their research, they sought to compare the different kinds of violent acts men and women engage in. They found that women were far more likely to be the victims of serious acts of violence. Whereas 48.4% of men reported choking their partners, only 1.1% of women did the same. Whereas 68.4% of men reported punching their partners, only 31.6% of women did the same. Whereas 54.7% of men reported kicking their partners, only 23.2% of women did the same. One could suggest that women, for fear of appearing unfeminine, did not disclose their more serious acts of violence. Dobash and Dobash catered for this possibility and thus asked men to report violent acts which they had been victim to. The only discrepancy lay in the case of kicking, with only 17.9% of men saying their partner had kicked them in the body.

Dobash and Dobash also sought to compare the physical consequences of acts of violence (Dobash and Dobash, 2004). They found that women were far more likely to suffer serious physical consequences. Whereas 87.4% of men reported bruising their partner, only 12.6% of men reported being bruised by their partner. Whereas 57.9% of men reported giving their partner a black eye, only 5.3% of men reported being given a black eye by their partner. Whereas 22.1% of men reported fracturing their partners teeth/bones, only 5.3% of men reported having such injuries inflicted upon them. One might suggest that men are unlikely to disclose the impact of such attacks for fear that it will undermine their masculinity. Dobash and Dobash catered for this possibility and thus asked women to report the physical impact their violence had had upon their partner. 13.7% of women admitted bruising their partner, 4.2% gave them a black eye, and 1.1% to fracturing teeth/bones. There thus appears very little difference in the accounts provided by the men and women.

Dobash and Dobash also sought to compare the psychological consequences of acts of violence (Dobash and Dobash 2004). Men and women were asked about their perceptions of the seriousness of their partner's violence to them. The majority of both men and women (66.1% and 82% respectively) described men's violence as either 'serious' or 'very serious', whereas only 28.5% of men and 36% of women describe women's violence similarly. [3] Men and women were also asked about their emotional reactions. Most women said they felt 'frightened' (79%), 'helpless' (60%), 'alone' (65%), 'trapped' (57%), 'abused' (65%). [4] In contrast, 26% of men said they were not bothered and 17% thought it humorous. [5] Only 6% said they felt 'victimised'. [6] The psychological consequences of male-to-female violence thus appear far greater.

Daniel Saunders has also sought to stress how the consequences of domestic violence differ for men and women insofar as their economic situations differ (Saunders, 2002). If a woman is financially dependent upon her partner, and lacks work experience, then she is likely to feel trapped and unable to leave the relationship.

One could also argue that FV research lacks depth. Its focus lies on quantifying the prevalence of domestic violence, rather than exploring the motivations of its perpetrators. In its desire to bring rigour and statistical precision to the study of social phenomena, it neglects to account for its cause.

VAW research, often conducted by means of in-depth interviews, has explored the motivations of male and female offenders and such research has yielded interesting results. Women are frequently found to have resorted to violence as a means of self-defence (Dobash and Dobash 2004). Other motives include retaliation for previous violence (Hamberger et al 1997 cited in Saunders, 2002), retaliation for emotional hurt and a bid to get their partner's attention (Dasgupta, 1999 cited in Saunders, 2002). Men's motives, in contrast, have been found to centre less around acts of retaliation and more acts of instigation. Motivations include a desire to intimidate (Makepeace, 1986 cited in Saunders, 2002), an attempt to show whose is boss (Barnett et al 1997 cited in Saunders, 2002), a means of coercion (Hamberger et al 1997 cited in Saunders, 2002) and a way to punish unwanted behaviour (Hamberger et al 1997 cited in Saunders, 2002).

Michael Johnson has argued that, if we really want to understand the nature of and causes of domestic violence, it is not sufficient to simply look at the motives relating to a specific incident (Johnson, 2008). We need to go further. We need to look at the general patterns of power and control at play.

Johnson distinguishes between four different kinds of intimate partner violence. Intimate terrorism is violence enacted in the service of taking general control over one's partner. Violent resistance is violence utilised in response to intimate terrorism in the attempt to take control. Mutual couple violence is where both members use violence as a means to gain control. Situational couple violence is violence which is not embedded in a general pattern of power and control but which is the result of an escalation of a specific conflict.

Johnson places particular stress on intimate terrorism as he believes it to be potentially the most physically and psychologically damaging. Intimate terrorism refers not just to physical violence, but a web of abuse involving surveillance, the removal of economic resources and the isolation of the individual. Johnson stresses how important it is that researchers recognise that they will only identify intimate terrorism (and in the process distinguish between different kinds of domestic violence) by asking respondents more general questions about their wider social existence.

The approach advocated by Johnson is both sensible and and potentially illuminating. If we distinguish between different kinds of domestic violence, then we are able to identify, as Johnson does, whether particular forms of violence are gendered. Johnson has found, from his own research, that situational couple violence (arguably the least serious kind) is gender symmetric, whereas intimate terrorism (the most serious kind) is asymmetrical. This knowledge allows us to acknowledge, rather than simply dismiss, the existence of female-to-male violence, but to justify the orientation of both academic interest and funding towards the experiences and interests of women on the basis that the sort of domestic violence they are suffering is of a more serious kind.

The debate that has raged as to the extent to which domestic violence is gendered is a clear example of how the methodological choices we make as researchers influences the findings we yield and the conclusions we draw. The claim, made by Straus and others, that domestic violence was gender symmetric was born from research that was too narrow in scope, detail and depth. It is less a case that they failed to ask the right questions, more that they failed to ask a sufficient number. Insufficient attention was given to issues such as the different type of acts perpetrated by men and women and the physical, psychological and economic consequences. It is less a case that they failed to ask the questions they did pose in an appropriate way, more that they failed to frame a variety of questions in a variety of ways. It is possible to engage an object of study in different ways. In doing so, we yield different forms of knowledge. In order to engage with the topic of domestic violence, in order to understand its causes and consequences, we need to draw upon both quantitative and qualitative research methods so that we can discover both levels of prevalence and incidence and also its interpretive meaning to those parties involved.