Spousal Abuse: A Global Problem

The "Crime of Secrecy"

Spousal abuse is considered a crime of secrecy because it often goes unreported. Experts say it's all about power and control. In fact, the definition of spousal abuse is the deliberate attempt by a partner in an intimate relationship to control or intimidate the other partner. The couple may be married, unmarried or the same sex! Who are the victims? According to those who counsel battered women, it is virtually impossible to come up with one single characteristic that is common to all potential victims of spousal abuse. According to Jacquelyn Campbell, Ph.D., R.N., "Across all studies, there is nothing about a woman's personality, about the way she was brought up or about her living conditions that makes one woman more likely than another to be abused or stay in an abusive relationship. . . The only consistent risk factor for being abused is gender. That is, being a woman" (McGuckin, 1998, p.56). Although it is difficult to determine who will become a target of violence, research suggests that women under 30 are at greatest risk. Since there isn't one consistent factor in determining who is at risk, it is essential that everyone be educated on spousal abuse.

According to Valerie Schremp of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "Domestic violence isn't just screams in the night. It isn't just something that happens in bad neighborhoods. Victims can be scout leaders, and abusers can be soccer coaches. Hot lines get calls from partners of prominent St. Louisans. Police answer calls to houses with two BMWs in the driveway" (Schremp, 2001). She goes on to say that domestic violence, in the form of spousal abuse is about power and control, then takes it further by saying it's "about breaking people down until they feel they are walking on eggshells and have no say. In whatever way domestic violence touches you, however slightly or severely, you're a victim". Reality is that even if you are not one of the women or men who have been a victim of spousal abuse, you may feel the sting of it any way. You may have a friend or a family member who has been a victim or come into contact with someone while performing your job. Schremp gives a perfect example of how its affects can spread like cancer through our society. She writes, "The class bully may pick on your kid on the playground. It might be that just the night before, the bully watched his dad throw his mother's college textbook into the fireplace. She had a big exam the next day, but he wanted to keep her from passing, from succeeding, in a twisted effort to keep her in his control" (Schremp, 2001).

Experts and victims alike agree that nothing short of a societal overhaul is going to eradicate this overwhelming problem. One thing is clear, if we want to stop spousal abuse we have to cut it off at the roots. That means starting education on what constitutes abuse early. We can't wait until people are already in abusive relationships, we have to teach them how to avoid abusive relationships. Clearly the first step that has to be taken if spousal abuse is going to be eliminated is to educate women in every culture.

Forms of Spousal Abuse:

Spousal abuse can occur in many different ways. You do not have to be beaten up to be abused. Forms of abuse are usually grouped into four categories: physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or financial abuse.

Physical Abuse:

Physical abuse is legally known as assault. A person commits assault when they intentionally use force or try to use force against a person without consent. Physical abuse can include hitting, punching, slapping, pushing, pinching, kicking, burning, shooting, stabbing or cutting.

According to a study done by Dr. Anne Flitcraft, codirector of the Domestic Violence Training Project of New Haven, Connecticut, women suffer more black eyes, split lips and other injuries resulting from violence inflicted upon them by boyfriends and husbands than from car accidents, muggings and rapes combined (McGuckin, 1998). Surveys estimate that every year at least two million women are abused by their partners.

Psychological or Emotional Abuse:

Psychological abuse can include threats, constant criticism and put downs, control of activities, humiliation, name calling, screaming at a person, ignoring a person, control of money (also considered financial abuse), stalking, damaging property, threatening to have someone deported, and reading another person's mail. Some aspects of psychological abuse are also crimes.

Sexual Abuse also referrd to as Marital Rape:

Wife rape is the term used to describe sexual acts committed without a person's consent and/ or against a person's will, when the perpetrator is the spouse or former spouse. The sexual acts may be accomplished against a person's will by physical force or by threats of force to themselves or a third person. Implied harm based on prior assaults which causes the victim to fear that physical force will be used if they resist is also considered sexual abuse. David Finkelhor, National Family Research Laboratory, New Hampshire states, "When you're raped by a stranger, you have to live with a frightening nightmare. When you're raped by your husband, you have to live with your rapist" (Begun, 2000, p.150).

Despite the prevalence of marital rape, as a society we did not acknowledge that rape in marriage could even occur until the 1970's. According to research, "It appears that marital rape is most likely to occur in relationships characterized by other forms of violence. This has led some researchers to argue that marital rape is just one extension of domestic violence" (Johnson & Sigler, 1997, p.22).

Researchers generally categorize marital rape into three types:

Women are at high risk for being raped by their partners under the following circumstances (Russell, 1990):

Probably the most important thing that needs to be noted in this form of spousal abuse is that the wife, according to the law, does not need to be putting up a good fight for it to be rape.

Financial Abuse:

Financial abuse is also considered psychological abuse. It is considered financial abuse if one of the partners uses money to control the other partner or in an attempt to maintain power of them. It is also considered financial abuse if they damage any of the partners' property or threaten to damage their partners' property.

Some Facts about Spousal Abuse

The largest proportion of global violence is domestic. The family is the most victimized by domestic violence. If spousal abuse is going to be eradicated, long-term changes in the fabric of society is what's needed because violence begets violence.

Approximately ninety one percent to ninety five percent of all domestic violence victims are women abused by men. Only one to two percent of domestic violence victims are men abused by women and three to eight percent of domestic violence victims are in home-sexual relationships (Schremp, 2001).

In 1999, there were 41,215 incidents of domestic violence reported to police in Missouri. In Illinois, there were 126,192 cases (Schremp, 200l). If you take into account that national studies show that only about half of the incidents of spousal abuse are reported to the police, these numbers become even more terrifying. That's just one of the reasons spousal abuse is called a crime of secrecy.

Who's at Risk and How it Starts

Murray Straus, Ph.D., author of 'Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family', has conduct educational studies on domestic violence at the University of New Hampshire since the early 1970's, she says that the greatest single factor in predicting whether a person will become abused is age (McGuckin, 1998, p.55).

She states, "No one knows for sure why [young women are abused], but one possibility is that for the young, being violent is often viewed as a positive attribute, especially among boys, the image of masculinity is of someone who is ready to show he's a man, and that means ready to fight.

At the same time, a young woman who is getting into her first serious relationship may carry her own set of vulnerabilities. Young women sometimes have a very powerful sense of the romantic. They're very optimistic" (McGuckin, 1998, p.56).

It is not enough to know what spousal abuse is, we need to understand the characteristics of abusers, and have an understanding of whose likely to become a victim and understand how it starts.

Charcteristics of Abusers

In a book written by Donald G. Dutton entitled "The Batterer: A Psychological Profile" he suggests that women consider the following (Basic Books, New York, 1995):

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence "Predictors of Domestic Violence" are:

Who is Abused?

One factor that most experts agree will contribute to a woman's ending up in an abusive relationship is growing up with an abusive, violent father (McGuckin, 1998, p.57). Most studies however have found that abused women showed no specific personality traits and were no different from non abused women in terms of age, educational level, race, occupational status, length of time in the relationship, and number of children.

How does it start?

There are three primary sources where a child learns aggressive behavior. The family, interacting with peers and by observing symbolic models. This is why it is so important for children to receive education one what constitutes abuse when they are young.

The family has an impact on both the abuser and the victim. One of the things to look for in a future partner is, do they remember any physical violence directed at themselves or their mother. For the victim, most experts agree that growing up with an abusive father will contribute to a woman's ending up in an abusive relationship.

Interacting with peers start very young and so should education on abuse. According to Catherine Hodes, director of social services at a Brooklyn shelter for battered women, she often sees both boys and girls exhibiting very aggressive behavior. She says, "We assume that at some point, while the boys continue to be aggressive, the girls become socialized not to fight back. But as the way we socialize children changes, and as violence increases in our society, I think we are going to see a lot of girls holding on to their aggressive behavior" (McGuckin, 1998, p.57). If that happens, we may see an increase in women abusing men. Even more reason to try and stop the violence now.

The last area is observing symbolic models. For the young, being violent is often viewed as a positive attribute, especially among boys. According to Straus, in our society, "The image of masculinity is of someone who is ready to show he's a man, that means ready to fight" (McGuckin, 1998, 56).

Research Findings

In research done by Hotaling and Sugarman, they found that the only factor that differentiated abused wives from non-abused wives was the level of marital conflict. The more conflict the greater the likelihood if the individuals lacked the skills to negotiate their way through disagreements that the conflict would resort to violence (Begun, 2000, p.155). If we begin teaching children conflict resolution skills then they will be able to negotiate their way through disagreements in relationships, thus reducing the likelihood that the disagreements will turn violent. They also found that Four factors were most often associated with abuse: marital conflict, the frequency of a husband's drinking, differing expectations about the division of labor in the relationship, and some level of educational incompatibility (Begun, 2000, p.155).

Additional studies have been done that indicate children who have experienced high degrees of punishment are rated higher in aggression by their peers. Studies have found that those children who are aggressive show higher degrees of aggression as adults.

Additionally, studies have found that men and women frequently read sexual cues and form sexual expectations differently. There is even more chance for confusion when alcohol and drugs are involved. All of these studies can be used to educate our youth.

Research done by P. Mahoney and L. Williams found that approximately twelve percent of married women or unmarried women who live with a man will be raped by their partners at least once. Their research also found that as many as one-third to one-half of such women are raped more than 20 times, and some report that they have been raped so often that they have lost count. They also found that most victims, who have been raped by their partner once, will be raped again. They also found that there is no evidence that rapes by husbands or partners is any less serious or painful than rapes by strangers, but rapes by partners cause as much or more physical and psychological suffering. In fact, they found that marital rape my be even more traumatic than rape by a stranger because the victim may be in constant fear of another attack, thus having to be on guard both day and night (Mahoney & Williams, 1998).

In an article entitled "Bullying or Peer Abuse at School"; Dan Olweus suggests implementation of several basic principles as an intervention program for youth. If this kind of program were introduced as a primary intervention, it may reduce the need for secondary intervention. He states, "It is important to try to create a school (and, ideally, also home) environment characterized by warmth, positive interest, and involvement from adults, on one hand, and firm limits to unacceptable behavior, on the other. Also, when limits and rules are violated, non hostile, nonphysical sanctions should be applied consistentlyŠA certain degree of monitoring and surveillance of the students' activities in and out of school" (Olweus, 1995, p.185).

What the Law Says About Spousal Abuse

The Violence Against Women Act, (VAWA; PL 103-322), passed in 1994, categorizes rape as a gender-based hate crime, punishable under federal civil rights laws, as well as state criminal statutes. The act increases penalties for violence against women and provides funding to police, prosecutors, and the courts to help protect women from violence.

On July 5, 1993, marital rape became a crime in all 50 states, under at least one section of the sexual offense codes. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, there are no exemptions from rape prosecution granted to husbands. In 33 states there are still some exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution. The legal definition for marital rape varies within the United States, but it can be defined as any unwanted intercourse or penetration (vaginal, anal, or oral) obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent. Globally, spousal abuse is even more of problem because it is not illegal. In many countries women are considered property and therefore have no rights. In order to understand what is often perceived as global acceptance of spousal abuse it is necessary to look at the basic framework of society.

Sociocultural Influences on Male Dominance in Societies

Most women today live in patriarchal societies. Quite simply this means most women today live in societies where men have both higher status and power over them. If women are aware of this, the question is why do we allow it to continue? To answer that question it is necessary to realize that societies do not become patriarchal over night. By looking at sociocultural explanations we can see how our culture, influences and reinforces male dominance in societies. Three major Sociocultural explanations are historic creation of male dominance, the teaching of male dominance and female submission by our culture, and gender roles and stereotypes that reinforce male dominance.

First we will look at the historical creation of male dominance. In the text book, "Women Across Cultures", Burns states, "Patriarchy is a historic creation that took over 2,500 years to develop. As she puts it, male dominance is a historic phenomenon in that it arose out of a biologically determined situation and became a culturally created, and enforced structure over time" (Burn, 2000, p.41). According to (Burn, 2000), "Sociocultural explanations emphasize how gendered power relations are embedded in culture and passed on socially" (Burn, 2000, p. 38). She goes on to state, "Almost every culture has legends, stories, and songs attesting to the different expectations for male and female behavior" (Burn, 2000, p.39).

In the text book, "Human Adjustment" (Halonen, Santrock, 1997), they give the definition of culture as, "Culture refers to the behavior patterns, beliefs, and other products of a particular group of people- including their values, work patterns, music, dress, diet, and ceremonies- that are passed on from generation to generation" (Halonen, Santrock, 1997, p.7). Since we know we live in a patriarchal society, it becomes apparent that our past history was patriarchal and that our culture has continued to influence male dominance over females. Thus we see why in many cultures spousal abuse is not only accepted, it is embedded in their culture. The statement, "Children learn what they live", seems especially appropriate here.

The next sociocultural explanation to why spousal abuse is a global problem is that cultures teach male dominance and female submission. I stated earlier that gender power relations are embedded in culture and passed on socially (Burn, 2000). Social approval or disapproval is expressed if we do not conform to cultural norms. Because being socially excepted plays a large role in most peoples lives, it is important to note that social approval or disapproval can be a powerful motivator. Burns states, "In most cultures, there is teasing, ridicule, shunning, and even physical punishment for those who deviate from their gender roles" (Burn, 2000, p. 38). This backs up the idea that spousal abuse is "A crime of secrecy", and offers a good explanation as to why it is.

She goes on to state that historically, in most cultures, females and males have different jobs. She sees this as an important communicator as to what a culture expects based on gender (Burn, 2000, p. 39). "According to the UN, women worldwide are almost always in less prestigious and lower paid jobs than men (Burn, 2000, p. 13). This often translates into, women are also economically dependent on men. The United Nations issued a report in 1995 that shows, "Poverty has a woman's face. Of the 1.3 billion people in poverty, 70 percent are women" (Burn, 2000, p. 12). In a report issued by Feminist Studies, Inc., we get an idea of why that may be so. They state that, "The significance of gender in social policy under twenty years ago, have come to an increasingly nuanced understanding of how gender-based power helps create state policies and determine their effects" (Feminist Studies, 1996, p. 193+). In other words, men have the power; they create the state policies and determine their effects. The result, they are not going to create laws that take power and control away from them, and spousal abuse is all about power and control.

The last area of sociocultural influence we will look at is gender roles and stereotypes. The definition of gender according to the text, "Human Adjustment" is, "The Sociocultural dimension of being female or male, emphasizing how we learn to think and behave as females and males" (Halonen, Santrock, p. 7).

In a cross-culture study done by psychologists John Williams and Deborah Best, "Their findings suggest that men are perceived to be autocratic, independent, aggressive, dominant, active, adventurous, courageous, unemotional, rude, progressive, and wise. In contrast, women are perceived to be dependent, submissive, fearful, weak, emotional, sensitive, affectionate, dreamy, and superstitious" (Burn, 2000, p.39).

There is no doubt where the power lies in a patriarchal society. As women continue to fight for equal status and laws to protect them, it is important to note that we need to take a hard look at our culture behavior patterns, beliefs, values, music, dress, rituals, and other cultural products that reinforce male dominance. Perhaps, if we continue to change gender roles, stereotypes will begin to change and in the future, male dominance will not be so embedded in our culture. In this way, if we teach our children, and they teach their children, then one day when their children study women in society, perhaps, males will not have dominance over females any more.

Education and Intervention

Early intervention is essential if behaviors that lead to spousal abuse are going to be modified. Peer's, teachers, counselors, cafeteria workers, and anyone else who may be able to identify children at risk need to be called into action. Once these children are identified they need to receive counseling on behavior modification and an increased amount of conflict resolution training. This is important because research indicates children that have been exposed to aggression on a regular basis are at risk for increased aggressive behavior. As I stated earlier, if we want to eliminate spousal abuse then we need to be cut if off at its roots.

According to learning principles, three conditions must be present for punishment to reduce aggression. Punishment must be prompt, it has to be strong enough to get their attention, and it need to be consistent. Right now these principles are not being applied effectively in the area of spousal abuse.

Studies have provided us with a lot of information on what causes spousal abuse, it's time to implement those findings into working systems that come to the aid of those in danger of becoming victims. We need to stop the violence before it starts! "This is a crime of secrecy. When it's out in the light, it cannot live anymore." Quote by Geri Redden.

Works Cited

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