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Violence against women is an intimate topic that has been studied across the world in various ways. The ideology of a nuclear family and the romanticized versions of marriage has lead women to internalize gender roles and blame themselves for imperfections experienced within this realm (Davies, Ford-Gilboe & Hammerton, 2009). Today's gender norms have created a society which can foster the acceptability of man's dominance and control over women, which sets a premise for intimate partner violence (Davies et. al., 2009). Intimate partner violence has many negative effects on women in our society. In my paper I will discuss the correlation of violence in relationships and rates of substance abuse in women. It appears that women who have experienced higher exposure to violence seem to have higher rates of substance abuse.
Intimate partner violence is often experienced as a pattern, but sometimes it is possible to narrow down a progressing pattern of victimization. In 2006, Bowlus and Seitz determined two main factors in following the patterns of behaviour in abusive relationships, regardless of marriage status. First, the pattern of violence is cyclical, beginning with the stressor, an act of violence which is followed by repentance. Second, the women is characterized as becoming helpless. She is afraid to leave, becomes accustom to the violence, and finally too helpless to leave at all (Bowlus & Seitz, 2006).
It is apparent that domestic violence is not always spontaneous, as signs can appear in childhood, magnify in dating relationships, and have the strongest prevalence in marriage (Connors, Ford-Gilboe, Lent, Merritt-Gray, Varcoe & Wuest, 2007). Freud's theory of battered women was a common explanation for this pattern of abuse prior to the 1970's. Freud's justification for this pattern was that battered women were believed to harbour a conscious or unconscious need for punishment (Anderson & Saunders, 2003). In 1985, Benaske and Roscoe did a study of 82 women in shelters. They concluded that 29% of married victims of abuse were physically abused as a child, and 46% indicated experiencing some form of family violence in their life. This study also showed that an increasing amount of married women (49%) were also abused in their dating relationships. According to Bandura's social learning theory, violence can be a pattern learned by children. Aggression and stress in the home is internalized and repeated in a child's actions causing beliefs that violence is a part of family life (Berman, Guruge, Hyman, Kanagaratnam, Manual & Mason, 2008). Although these observations are dated, the findings prove the ongoing pattern of violence experienced by women, and therefore cannot be ignored.
The most common form of intimate partner violence is physical violence which causes bodily harm. Therefore a woman's physical health can be at risk, but that is only one side of the experience. Maxwell, Mezey & Post, (2002) explain non-physical violence as a means of power and control leading to the internalization of violence and humiliation, in turn causing a progressive pattern of violence. As the age of a woman increases, the amount of physical violence decreases, but the amount of verbal/sexual violence increases (Maxwell et al. 2002). It is also evident that the amount of violence, both physical and non-physical increases with the length and commitment of a relationship. Piispa (2002), states that in abusive relationships under four years, there is typically less injury than in relationships of five to ten years which are often more serious and can include sexual violence.
Women who have been victims of violence for a long period of time are likely to abuse substances such as alcohol, over the counter medications and illegal drugs. In a study of 309 women with a history of intimate partner violence, 90% of the women used prescriptions or over the counter medications (Connor et al., 2007). There is also evidence that women "who have experienced childhood abuse, especially child sexual molestation, are more likely to abuse substances later in life" (Bassuk, Huntington & Salomon, 2002). There are many underlying factors and lurking variables when studying patterns of substance abuse, such as race, social status and education. When comparing women who are victimized by abuse versus their non-victimized counterparts, results show that there is a strong relationship between domestic violence and the use of addictive substances. Findings show that women who are victims of intimate partner violence are three times more likely to use illegal drugs, 20% more likely to abuse over the counter medication, and 10% more likely to abuse alcohol (Bassuk et al, 2002).
Another indicator of increased substance abuse in women who leave an abusive relationship is their access to available resources, both internal and external. The availability of social programs, financial support and the protection of women who leave abusive relationships can lead to an increase or decrease in substance abuse, regardless of the extent of violence they were exposed to. The choice of leaving a relationship which is shrouded in violence can be affected by many factors; the frequency and severity of the violence, the woman's history of abuse, learned coping techniques, children, job commitments, social support, and the availability of external resources ( Anderson et al., 2003). Although in some cases, no matter how many external resources there are available to an abused woman, the threat of hurting or taking her children away from her, is usually the strongest barrier to overcome (Davies et al., 2009).
Independent from their partners, single mothers are more likely to face the reality of relative deprivation in society, which adds to the feminization of poverty (Davies et al., 2009). Based on inequalities in today's society, women are more likely than men to experience deprivation after leaving their partner. "Evidence that [a] woman's average income after separation drops significantly, while [a] man's average income is minimally affected" (Davies et al., 2009). "Six out of ten women on social assistance have experienced partner violence at some point in their lives" (Bassuk et al., 2002) showing that the deterioration of a woman's social status is potentially affected by intimate partner violence. For single mothers this can mean economic deprivation, health risks, psychological disorders, loss of child custody and illegal involvement as a means of survival (Bassuk et al., 2002). Under these terms, substance abuse by women in poverty has become very prevalent, so much that the number of incarcerated women "has nearly tripled" and 70% were due to drug related crimes (Bassuk et al., 2002).
There are many other barriers such as health, age, race and class that can prevent a woman from seeking the help that she needs (Anderson and Saunders, 2003). It is clear that economic status is a strong determinant in the process of leaving a violent relationship, as Anderson et al. states, "material necessities are crucial for a woman to establish a life independent from her former partner." This suggests that having a concrete job as well as a high economic status, after leaving, is vital to her survival. Contradicting studies have shown that women with higher economic status, are actually more susceptible to continued violence after leaving compared to those with a lower status (Davies,et al., 2009). Although women with higher socioeconomic status have more ability to create a life independently with the aid of external resources, the amount of continued abuse was over 30% higher than the amount experienced by women at low socioeconomic status. This puts them at an equal disadvantage to women in worse financial conditions, because they are continuously affected by the threat that their abusive counterparts may still have control and persuasion over their financial resources. Therefore, economic status turns out to be an insignificant variable as women with high external resource availability and higher economic status are still susceptible to poor living standards after leaving an abusive relationship. This can lead to patterns of abuse and the increase of substance use and potentially substance abuse. Along with economic status, commitment to the relationship and the involvement of children are factors that can lead to power and control that an abusive partner can hold over a woman. Therefore a pattern can be seen as the longer the relationship, the more commitment involved, the more likely children are present, and the more abuse will prevail over time.
There are many different underlying variables, specific situations, and lifestyle factors that can be considered when comparing victims and studying effects on society. Race, education, class and age aside, 30 out of 3000 women are known to be severely, physically abused by a male partner, and numerous amounts of other victims are still unknown (Patzel, 2001). Intimate partner violence is a sad reality that has many detrimental effects on not only the health and safety of women, but also the social well being of our society. Unfortunately, many cases of violence against women go unnoticed, and studies can only show facts about women who have reported abuse, or left abusive relationships (Connors et al. 2007). Many safety precautions must be taken in preforming these intimate studies, to obtain useful and honest information, without putting the woman's safety at risk. It is easier now to understand the detrimental effect that violence against women has on our society. Through my findings, it appears that there is such a close correlation between substance abuse and intimate partner violence, leading to financial inequalities and higher crime rates, which supports my hypothesis. Through varied evidence, we have seen that increased violence in the lives of women has lead to higher rates of substance abuse. Although there are many other predominating factors, such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, socioeconomic status, etc, studies have shown that these factors are mostly insignificant or inconclusive. The direct effect of intimate partner violence however, does directly influence the extent of substance abuse by an individual.