Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian PerspectiveChapter 8: Behind Closed Doors: Family Violence
CHAPTER 8: Behind Closed Doors: Family Violence
Behind Closed Doors:
1. Distinguish between the different types of family violence.
2. Explain the ecological model of family violence.
3. Outline how social learning theory has been used to explain intimate violence.
4. Describe the effectiveness of treatment programs for intimate violence.
5. Identify the short- and long-term consequences of child abuse.
6. Identify the victim and perpetrator risk factors for elder
Family violence can be classified into the following types: physical abuse, sexual
abuse, neglect, financial abuse, and emotional abuse. The prevalence rates of family
violence are difficult to estimate accurately since the abuse often occurs in private. In
addition, researchers do not agree on what should be included in the definition of
family violence. Researchers often study the prevalence and effects of specific types
The ecological model of family violence focuses on the relationship between multiple
levels of influence in understanding family violence, including individual, relationship,
community, and societal factors. Risk factors associated with each of these
levels have been identified for intimate violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.
The two prominent theories of intimate violence place emphasis on society versus
the individual. Patriarchal theory focuses on long-standing cultural beliefs and values
that support the male dominance of women. In contrast, social learning theory focuses
on the observational learning of new behaviours, different types of instigators, and
the regulators that increase or decrease the probability of intimate violence.
Typologies of male batterers have been proposed, with most identifying three main
types: family-only, generally violent/antisocial, and dysphoric/borderline. The two
most common treatments for male batterers are the Duluth model, which focuses on
power and control, and cognitive-behavioural treatments. Meta-analysis of male
batterer treatment programs have found no differences in the effectiveness across
treatment types and relatively small treatment effects.
The most common form of child abuse is neglect, although many children experience
multiple forms of abuse. Being abused or witnessing domestic violence results in a range
of short-term and long-term emotional, psychological, and behavioural consequences,
including an increased likelihood of the child abusing his or her own children.
Clinicians and researchers have paid relatively little attention to elder maltreatment.
With the increasing number of older people in Canada, there are concerns about the
prevalence of the abuse of older people. The most common perpetrators of elder
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abuse are the victim’s spouse or adult children. Because elders visit physicians
relatively frequently, primary care physicians are in a unique position to identify
maltreatment and to intervene. However, some physicians are reluctant to report
suspected elder maltreatment. Several screening instruments have been designed to
help professionals detect potential abuse.
Ideally, a family is a place where someone can feel loved, secure, and
Within some families, there is abuse, fear, and a lack of emotional bonds
that can lead to violence.
The occurrence and aftermath of this violence can have devastating short-
and long-term effects.
In some cases, children who experience abuse become abusers themselves
and the cycle passes from generation to generation.
it is not unusual that victims of abuse initially blame themselves.
Victims will often attempt to change their behaviour in order not to trigger
an abusive episode, but the abuse usually continues and even escalates.
1. is the most prevalent form of violence in society.
2. is distinct from other types of violence since the victims and
perpetrators know each other and there is often an ongoing
relationship prior to, during, and after the violent episode.
3. in contrast to other forms of violence, some forms of family violence
are sanctioned (e.g., physical punishment of children) or considered
normal (e.g., fighting among siblings) and therefore not considered
This chapter is divided into three parts - the first covers abuse within
intimate relationships; the second, child abuse; and the third discusses
Major themes in each are the prevalence of the abuse, its causes, and
Estimates of the magnitude of family violence vary depending on the
sample, type, and severity of violence and the method of data collection.
family violence is likely the most common form of criminal activity.
2. Violence within the Family: Background Issues:
Family violence is any violence occurring between members of a family.
For much of history, family violence had a quasi-legitimacy, due primarily
to cultural and religious attitudes that effectively placed women and
children in subservient roles within the family.
Only in the recent past have attitudes toward the issue changed.
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The women’s liberation movement and the growth of feminism led
women to question the long-standing acceptance of family violence.
Not until the 1980s did major changes take place in Canadian law dealing
with family violence.
Defining family violence is controversial.
no consensus exists for a definition, although most current definitions of
family violence include non-violent abuse (such as emotional or financial
Differential rates of abuse can be the result of differences in who is
sampled and what is counted
When examining the frequency of violence, it is important to clarify the
distinction between prevalence and incidence.
Prevalence refers to the total number of people who have experienced
violence in a specified time period, whereas incidence is the number of
new cases identified or reported at a given point in time, usually one year.
When reporting on the estimates of family violence, many factors will
influence the prevalence and incidence figures.
Most researchers have focused on one specific type of family violence, but
there is evidence of considerable overlap in the risk factors and causes of
Research is needed to integrate different theories, understand the impact of
multiple forms of violence on the victims, and focus on prevention of all
forms of violence.
Types of Violence
Some forms of abuse are more common than others - neglect is the most
common form of abuse in both children and the elderly.
Psychological abuse is often described by individuals as one of the most
hurtful types of abuse.
Financial abuse is most often studied in the context of elder abuse but can
also occur within intimate relationships.
Ecological Model of Family Violence
The ecological model of family violence provides a useful way to
conceptualize the interaction among factors related to violence in intimate
relationships, child abuse, and elder abuse.
the model focuses on the relationship between multiple levels of influence
in understanding family violence, including individual, relationship,
community, and societal factors.
At the individual level, biological, and personal history characteristics of
the abuser and victim need to be considered.
Such factors often include age, substance use, and history of abuse.
At the relationship level, a person’s closest social circle of peers, partners,
and family members may contribute to an increased risk.
Important factors may include level of stress or exposure to violence.
The community level incorporates places such as schools and
neighbourhoods that are associated with becoming a victim or perpetrator
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of family violence, as well as factors such as poverty, social isolation, and
The societal level includes broad societal factors in which violence is
supported or discouraged, including social norms, cultural beliefs, and
police and government policies.
3. Intimate Partner Violence:
Intimate partner violence, (also called spousal violence,) occurs between
intimate partners who are living together or separated.
Varying in type and severity, it includes physical (e.g., hitting, punching,
stabbing, burning), sexual, financial (e.g., restricting access to personal
funds, forcing complete financial responsibility, theft of pay-cheques), and
emotional abuse (e.g., verbal attacks, degradation, threats to hurt pets or
family members, isolation from family members, unwarranted accusations
Although both men and women experienced violence, women reported
experiencing more severe forms of violence (i.e., being choked, sexually
assaulted, or threatened by a partner using a knife or gun).
Violence against women was more likely to be reported to the police (36
percent) than was violence against men (17 percent )
Although abuse against women occurs at all socio-demographic levels,
one recent study found much higher rates of abuse in women living in
Ontario public housing compared to rates reported in the 2004 national
19 percent of women reported have been physical assaulted in the past
year, over eight times the average reported in the national survey.
The World Health Organization has studied the lifetime and past-year
prevalence of physical and sexual violence in intimate relationships across
Wide variations of prevalence rates were found.
Lifetime rates of physical violence ranged from 13 percent in Japan to 61
percent in Peru and sexual violence from 6 percent in Japan and Serbia to
59 percent in Ethiopia.
Physical and sexual violence were experienced more often by women in
rural as compared to urban settings.
The International Dating Violence Study used the Conflict Tactics Scale–2
to examine the prevalence of dating violence in university students across
the partner, used a knife or gun on my partner) over the previous 12
months in selected countries.
Rates of being a victim of sexual coercion in selected countries were
Sexual coercion included both minor acts (e.g., made my partner
have sex without a condom, insisted on sex when my partner did not
want to) to more severe acts (e.g., used force to make my partner
have oral or anal sex, used threats to make my partner have sex).
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Although there were substantial variations across nations, even in the
country with the lowest rate, Israel, 14 percent of students had been
physically assaulted by a dating partner within the previous 12
In comparison to other countries, Canadian dating violence rates
were in the lower half of the nations surveyed;
about one in five Canadian university students reported have
experienced physical assault by their dating partners in the previous
the United States and Canada had relatively high rates of sexual
coercion as compared to other countries.
Recently, Statistics Canada provided information on the number of police-
reported spousal violence incidents across Canada.
A total of 38 000 incidents were reported in 2006 (15 percent of all
violence reported to police).
The data likely reflect an underestimate of the amount of violent offences,
since most victims do not call the police.
police data only include forms of spousal abuse that are chargeable under
the Canadian Criminal Code (most forms of psychological and financial
abuse are excluded).
As a proportion to other violent incidents, spousal violence is most
common in Nunavut, PEI, Quebec, and Alberta, with the lowest rates in
B.C., New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
These differences may be due to the differing number of risk factors
across the provinces and territories: social isolation, younger couples,
higher levels of unemployment, higher rates of alcohol consumption, more
common-law marriages, and the proportion of Aboriginals
Females are the most likely victims of police-reported spousal violence
across all provinces and territories, with 83 percent of the victims being
Charges were laid in 77 percent of the incidents against female victims.
Whether a charge is laid depends on the province, with police charges
most prevalent in Manitoba (92 percent) and Ontario (90 percent) and
least prevalent in Newfoundland (56 percent) and New Brunswick (57
It is not clear why differences exist across provinces for police charges in
response to spousal violence.
Some positive news can be found in the midst of these findings: there was
a steady decline in police-reported spousal violence between 1998 and
Police forces recognize that spousal abuse is a continuing problem that
requires a serious response.
Unfortunately, the majority of women who are abused by their partner do
not call the police.
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A recent study, using data from the Canadian General Social Survey from
1999, examined which demographic and incidence-related variables were
related to police-reporting decisions:
Married women were less likely to report violence to the police.
This finding may be due to the stronger financial and emotional ties
a married woman has toward her spouse.
In contrast, women with children living at home who witness their
abuse were more likely to contact the police.
Minority women were more likely than Caucasian women to report
The likelihood of reporting increases with age, but in older samples
this effect is reduced.
Women were also more likely to call the police if they were injured
or if a weapon was involved.
If the abuser was drinking during the incident or if he also destroyed
property, the victim was more likely to report the abuse.
Police officers responding to calls of domestic violence need to be
aware of who is likely to contact them (and, potentially, who is not
likely to contact them, despite the presence of abuse).
Knowing this information, they can respond with sensitivity and
Triggers for Violence
What triggers a man to engage in physical violence? (The question is
framed in terms of male violence against a female partner because much
of the research has focused on male-initiated violence.)
When battered women are asked about what triggers violent incidents,
their answers have included:
1. Not obeying or arguing with the man
2. Not having food ready on time
3. Not caring adequately for the children or home
4. Questioning the man about money or girlfriends
5. Going somewhere without the man’s permission
6. The man suspecting the woman of infidelity
7. Refusing the man sex
Certainly none of the above are acceptable reasons for anyone to use
Nonetheless, it is important to understand what constitutes a trigger in
order to challenge these beliefs in treatment programs.
In some countries, men perceive themselves as “owners” of their wives
and children and feel that it is justified to use force in certain
in Egypt, 57 percent of urban women and 81 percent of rural women
agree that a man is justified in beating his wife if she refuses to have
sex with him.
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In New Zealand, the majority of men believe that under no
circumstances should you physically abuse a women, although 5
percent agree that physical force would be justified if the man came
home and found his wife in bed with another man.
The World Health Organization (2005) study cited earlier asked women
under which circumstances a man would be justified in beating his wife.
The reasons most commonly given were not completing housework,
refusing to have sex, disobeying her husband, or being unfaithful.
Across all countries, the most widely accepted justification for
violence was female infidelity, ranging from 6 percent in Serbia to
80 percent in Ethiopia.
Woman were also asked if they believe a woman has the right to
refuse sex if she is ill, if her husband is drunk, if her husband is
mistreating her, or if she does not want to have sex.
The most acceptable reason to refuse sex was illness, and the least
acceptable reason was if she did not want to have sex.
In some countries, such as Ethiopia and Tanzania, about 20 percent
of women felt they did not have the right to refuse sex under any
In a large survey in the United States (2001), it was found that 98 percent
of men did not think it was “ok to hit your wife to keep her in line”;
participants were more accepting of women hitting men as compared to
men hitting women.
To date there have been no published studies measuring Canadian beliefs
about intimate partner violence.
Theories of Intimate Violence
Several theories have been proposed to account for intimate violence and
include patriarchal theory and social learning theory.
Patriarchal theory assumes a long-standing set of cultural beliefs and
values that support the idea that the male dominance of women contributes
to the domestic assault of women by men
Often associated with sociology and feminism, the theory was first
described in the 1970s.
“the seeds of wife beating lie in the subordination of females and in their
subjection to male authority and control”
Patriarchal theory is somewhat challenging to evaluate directly because it
is hard to show a causal link between patriarchal attitudes and intimate
violence: one study found that the degree of patriarchal attitude was
positively correlated with rate of intimate violence; States with higher
levels of patriarchal attitudes (as measured by male-dominant norms) had
much higher rates of spousal assault than states with less patriarchal
Patriarchal theory has been criticized because it provides an incomplete
explanation of intimate violence and cannot predict which individuals will
engage in it.
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one expert argues that additional variables are necessary to account for
intimate violence, including community (e.g., work, peers), family (e.g.,
communication level between couple), and individual characteristics (e.g.,
coping skills, empathy).
social learning theory proposed by Bandura (1973) to explain aggression
has three major elements related to aggression: origins, instigators, and
A key feature of social learning theory is how individuals acquire new
behaviours, especially aggression.
A prominent mechanism for learning new behaviours is observational
learning, in which an individual models a behaviour that they observe.
Bandura (1973) proposed that observational learning could occur in three
contexts: family of origin, the subculture in which a person lives, and the
media. Consistent with social learning theory, men who engage in intimate
violence are more likely to have witnessed parental violence than men
who do not engage in intimate violence
not all behaviour that is observed will be repeated by the observer.
Bandura (1973) argues that for a behaviour to be acquired, it must have
functional value for the observer.
Like operant conditioning, behaviour that is rewarded increases the
likelihood that it will be repeated, whereas behaviour that is punished
decreases its likelihood of being repeated.
Social learning also states that learning also states that acquired
behaviours are only manifested if an appropriate event in the environment,
called an instigator, acts as a stimulus.
three categories of instigators in intimate violence: aversive instigators,
incentive instigators, and delusional instigators.
Aversive instigators are stimuli that the individual attempts to avoid.
They produce emotional arousal, and how a person labels that
emotional arousal will affect how they react.
Male batterers have a predisposition to interpret a wide variety of
emotional states as anger (described as the “emotional funnel
Incentive instigators are stimuli that are perceived as rewards for engaging
When individuals believe they can satisfy their needs by using
aggression, they may decide to be violent.
Delusional instigators are associated with bizarre belief systems, such as
delusional jealousy, in which an individual erroneously believes their
partner to be unfaithful, potentially resulting in aggression.
An additional concept in social learning theory includes the assumption
that behaviour is regulated by the outcomes it generates (similar to the
concept of reinforcement that underlies operant conditioning).
Regulators include external punishment and self-punishment.
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External punishments are exogenous forms of punishment, such as when a
person is arrested for engaging in violence.
Self-punishment is an internal reaction to the consequences of one’s
behaviour that is akin to “having a conscience,” such as when a person
feels remorse for engaging in violent behaviour.
According to social learning theory, the likelihood of intimate violence
should be reduced if the consequences for violence are exceeded by
incentives for engaging in non-violent behaviour and if alternatives are
provided to attenuate the effect of any instigators.
Male Victims of Intimate Violence
Historically, domestic violence has been conceptualized as male violence
against female partners, and this form of violence has been the focus of
research and public policy.
However, intimate violence is not solely the province of men acting
Women also initiate violence and, according to some studies, engage in
more minor violence than men
In a large study in 2005 it was found that the most frequently occurring
type of violence was mutual and mild violence followed by mutual severe
This pattern indicates that, at least for some forms of intimate violence, the
long-held belief that males are the primary instigators is false; Recent
evidence indicates that it is possible to identify personality and
behavioural features in 15-year-old girls that will predict their use of
violence in dating relationships at age 21 regardless of whether their male
partner uses violence
Mutuality of violence is also found in dating relationships: In a large
international study of dating violence among university students in 32
countries it was reported that a slightly higher percentage of women
engage in minor violence (e.g., slapping, throwing something at a partner
that could hurt) and that equal rates of serious violence occur for men and
Gender biases in which men are disadvantaged exist in several other
A long-standing belief associated with intimate violence is that due
to differences in physical size and strength, women are most likely to
suffer serious injuries compared to men.
However, several have shown that while it is true that women are
more likely to be injured than men as a consequence of intimate
violence, the incidence of men being injured by women is
A gender bias is also present in police responses to domestic
violence; when the female partner was injured, the male was charged
in 91 percent of the cases; however, when the male was injured, the
female was charged only 60 percent of the time. When no injury
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occurred, the female was charged in 13 percent of cases as compared
to 52 percent of the time for males.
The way courts treat men and women charged with domestic
violence also differs: Charges against women are more likely to be
dropped by prosecutors and, if charged, women are less likely to be
found guilty; in severe injury cases, 71 percent of men and 22
percent of women defendants were found guilty; A major factor for
why such a low percentage of women are found guilty was that the
male victim was not willing to testify.
gender bias even extends to psychologists: Results showed that the
same behaviour was rated more abusive and severe when it was
carried out by a male than when carried out by a female.
Almost all prevention and intervention programs target men who
abuse their partners.
It is essential that violence by women be recognized and that robust
efforts are implemented to end assaults by women.
Typologies of Male Batterers
In order to better understand the motivations and characteristics of men
who engage in intimate violence and to develop more targeted
interventions, researchers have developed typologies or categories of male
The typology that has received the most attention identifies three types of
male batterers based on the severity and frequency of violence, generality
of violence, and psychopathological features.
The family-only batterer type displays the following characteristics:
1. Engages in the lowest levels of intimate violence
2. Is infrequently violent outside the home and rarely engages in other
3. Does not show much psychopathology
4. Has few risk factors (i.e., witnessing violence as a child, poor
5. Aggression is triggered by stress
The generally violent/antisocial batterer type has the following features:
1. Engages in moderate to high levels of intimate violence
2. Is frequently violent outside the home and engages in other criminal
3. Has antisocial and psychopathic personality features
4. Has substance abuse problems
5. Has problems with impulsivity and many violence-supportive beliefs
6. Attachment style best described as dismissive
The dysphoric-borderline batterer type is characterized by:
1. Engages in moderate to severe levels of intimate violence
2. Usually focuses violence on female partners
3. High rates of mood disorders
4. Has borderline personality features such as instability, jealously, and
fear of rejection
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5. Experienced childhood abuse
6. Attachment style best described as preoccupied
Several other typologies of male batterers have been proposed that focus
on behavioural, psychological, or physiological characteristics.
Other alternative typologies:
1. a three-tier typology based on the severity and generalizability of
violence: The Type I or sociopath (accounting for about 10 percent
of batterers) engages in the most severe levels of violence in and
outside the home. Type II or antisocial (accounting for about 30 to
40 percent of batterers) is primarily violent within the home and is
less likely to have a criminal record. The Type III or typical
(accounting for 50 to 60 percent of batterers) engages in less severe
violence, engages in violence within the home, and is least likely to
have a criminal record.
2. Using a psychological perspective, three types of male batterers were
identified: the low-risk non-pathological, who engages in family-
only violence; the passive aggressive–dependent type with
attachment and psychopathological problems; and the antisocial
type, who engages in high levels of violence in and outside the
3. Working from a physiological perspective, using heart rate of male
batterers at rest and during conflict to categorize batterers into
groups: Type 1 abusers or the “cobra group” (accounting for 20
percent of the sample) showed a decreased heart rate as they became
verbally abusive. Type 1 abusers engaged in high rates of severe
violence in and outside the home. Type II or the “pitbull group”
(accounting for 80 percent of the sample) showed an increased heart
rate as they became verbally abusive. Type II abusers were more
insecure and emotionally dependent, and primarily engaged in
violence inside the home.
4. evidence for five types of batterers: pathological batterers, sexually
violent batterers, generally violent batterers, psychologically violent
batterers, and family-only batterers.
The plethora of typologies has led to criticism of the methodology used in this
In a recent critique of the male batterer literature, experts point out the
methodological deficits of the existing research, including a lack of control
groups, inconsistent terminology, and poor measurement of constructs.
Further research is needed to determine how different types of male batterers
respond to different types of treatment, what risk factors are associated with
each type, and whether different causal mechanisms exist for each type.
Victims’ Response to Abuse
The options available to a person determine how they respond to an
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One person might leave immediately, whereas another might stay in an
abusive relationship - while one person will tell others about the abuse,
another will remain silent.
In most cases, leaving an abusive relationship is an extended process, with
many women leaving then returning several times before deciding to
permanently end the relationship
victims often seek help from a variety of sources—both legal and extra-
legal, in their effort to address the violence in their lives
Researchers have found that the following factors can keep an abused
women in a relationship:
1. Fear of retribution
2. Lack of economic support
3. Concern for the children
4. Emotional dependence
5. Lack of support from friends and family
6. Hope that the man will change
7. Fear of being socially ostracized (in developing countries)
Abuse does not necessarily end when the abusive relationship ends.
Ending a relationship may subsequently initiate unwanted behaviour by
the ex-partner, such as stalking, in a bid to re-start the relationship using
This type of behaviour can lead to tragic consequences.
A significant portion of intimate partner homicides occur when the woman
makes the decision to leave her abusive mate.
Between 1997 and 2006 in Canada, there were 766 spousal homicides,
with 616 being female and 150 being men (Li 2008).
Sixteen percent of the female homicides occurred when the woman was
separated from her partner
Most clinicians and researchers agree that seeking help will lessen the
long-term impact of battering
Most battered women seek help first from friends and family and some
may then seek help from more formal supports (e.g., police, domestic
In a study assessing the help-seeking behaviour of women who had
experienced violence (92 percent had experienced intimate partner
violence), found that the options women used were not necessarily what
they considered the most helpful.
The top five resources used were emotional support from friends or
family, professional counselling, medication for emotional problems,
welfare, and support group or self-help
Women also indicated the barriers to using resources, categorizing the top
five as: “I wanted to handle the problem myself” , “I thought the problem
would go away”, “I was unsure about where to go or whom to see”, “I
didn’t think treatment would work”, and “I was concerned about how
much money it would cost”.
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This study suggests that although battered women need emotional support,
they also need more tangible support (e.g., housing, financial, child care)
that will provide them with the resources necessary to obtain self-
Typologies of Female Victims
Little research has been done to develop typologies of battered women.
Recently, a typology was developed that classified victims into five types
based on duration and severity of abuse
The features of the Level 1 or short-term group include:
Mild to moderate intensity violence
One to three violent incidents
Less than one year in the dating relationship
Leaving the relationship shortly after the onset of violence
Middle class with secondary or higher education
Presence of caring support system
The features of the Level 2 or intermediate group include:
Moderate to severe intensity violence
Three to fifteen incidents
Cohabitating or recently married for several months to two years
Leaves when the violence escalates
Presence of caring support system
The features of the Level 3 or intermittent long-term group include:
Severe intensity violence with long periods without violence
Four to thirty incidents
Married with children
Leaves when children are grown up
Middle to upper class, reliant on husband’s resources
No alternative support systems
The features of the Level 4 or chronic and predictable include:
Severe and frequent violence including use of weapons, forced
sexual acts, and death threats; serious injuries sustained
Several hundred violent acts
Married with children
Violence precipitated by substance abuse
Abuse continues until husband is arrested, hospitalized, or dies
Lower to middle class
The features of the Level 5 or homicidal group include:
Severe and frequent violence
Hundreds of severe violent acts
Long-term marriage or separated
Lower class with limited education
Abuse ends when woman kills her partner
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Suffers from depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress
disorder, and battered woman’s syndrome
this typology provides an initial step toward understanding types of
additional research is needed to replicate this typology.
Categorizing women this way serves more than an academic purpose.
Intervention can be geared toward different types of battered women based
on typology: Level 1 or Level 2 women may benefit from crisis
intervention, brief psychotherapy, support groups, and restraining orders;
Level 3 and Level 4 types who have experienced more severe violence
over longer periods will likely need more intensive psychotherapy.
Intimate Violence: What are the Risk Factors?
Like all violence, a combination of individu