Sociology 2235 Chapter Notes - Chapter 13: Domestic Violence, Conflict Tactics Scale, Dating Abuse
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Chapter 13 Review: Family Violence, Abuse, and Neglect
Sibling violence and peer abuse are the most common types of maltreatment. In 2001, family violence in general
constituted one-quarter of all violent crimes reported to the police. Not everyone in our society is equally vulnerable
to being an abuser and/or a victim: social inequalities by class, race/ethnicity, marital status, and especially gender and
age come to the fore. Females of all ages are more likely to be abused. Hence, feminist theories are particularly
Dating and Courtship Violence
For a substantial segment of Canadian youths, dating is a fertile ground upon which to continue their aggressive
behaviours toward their peers. For others, particularly among males, it is an opportunity to discover a new arena in
which to exercise power. Statistics Canada (2010) has found that, between 2004 and 2008, police-reported dating
violence has increased by over 40%, with 8 out of 10 victims being women. The highest rate of reported dating
violence involved women in the 30-34 age bracket. Many youths actually consider acts of violence a normal part of
the “excitement” of the dating process. Indeed, dating violence predicts domestic abuse later on, whether it occurs in
cohabitation or marriage. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of courtship violence, as is the case for spousal abuse, is
that both men and women are involved in inflicting harm, often within a same couple, especially among younger
partners. However, women sustain most of the injuries. In contrast, men are more likely to use violence as an exercise
of power or as an attempt to regain control.
Date Rape and Sources of Dating Violence
In Canada, DeKeseredy and Kelly (1993) found a 28% sexual abuse rate among female university students, albeit
within a broad definition. Here as well, most of these student victims never report anything to authorities.
The situation of date and even acquaintance rape become more complex in the 1990s with the arrival of readily
available chemicals that, when dropped in a woman’s drink, secure her full “cooperation”. Gape rape is the ultimate in
terms of a “power trip” and male dominance. These instances well illustrate young males’ readiness to circumvent
decency and legality in order to secure their own sexual gratification and to be able to justify their acts.
The sources of dating violence are still debated. Most studies have turned to psychological and familial explanations
while excluding extra-familial and cultural influences. This omission of influential factors at the sociocultural level
distorts reality and prevents us from acquiring a full understanding of how particular behaviours emerge. A feminist
perspective indicates that, among heterosexual couples, the overall gender stratification provides an open-door policy
for violence against women.
Studies on childhood exposure to interparental violence as the key factor in the origins of dating violence are
inconclusive: some find a relationship between the two but others do not. The least that can be said is that exposure to
parental violence during adolescence and young adulthood certainly constitutes a risk factor. So does prior abuse in
childhood. Furthermore, on average, males who engage in dating violence were more aggressive as boys and more
likely to have committed delinquent acts and used drugs than other males. Many exhibited behavioural problems as
children and may still be out of control; the same pattern occurs among some abusive females.
Verbal and Psychological Abuse of Partners
Verbal abuse consists of repeatedly addressing one’s partner with epithets, foul language, using berating and
demeaning put-downs, and threatening and criticizing, even in public. Its purpose is to dominate, to exercise power,
and to show who is “the boss”. It is also used to rationalize or excuse one’s bad behavior by demeaning the other.
Verbal abuse marks the erosion of civility and sets a precedent upon which physical abuse can be added in the
relationship. Males particularly tend to practice both types of abuse in severe cases of psychological and physical
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Verbal abuse is nearly always directed against women because, in a subtle way, culture defines women as legitimate
targets of male violence. It is not unusual to hear young couples calling each other foul and demeaning names; such
insults were rarely overheard just decades ago. These exchanges represent a dangerous escalation, a lack of civility,
part of what Garbarino (1995) refers to as the “toxic” environment surrounding families raising children.
Psychological abuse is often reciprocal, underreported, and its effects on the parties are underestimated. Renzetti
(1997) has discovered among same-sex couples that this type of abuse is often tailored to fit a partner’s
vulnerabilities. Coercive control can occur without physical violence with damaging consequences. Ex-spouses,
particularly ex-wives, frequently mentioned that such verbal violence had been a pattern in their past marriage. Verbal
abuse can also take the form of threats and become a form of psychological blackmail. Psychological abuse can turn
into physical abuse and even life threatening situations. Emotionally abusive relationships often lead to physical
Verbal and psychological abuse is an issue that is particularly important among adolescents who begin dating at an
early age. Thus, the dating process may have negative effects on the personal development of some teenagers and on
the dynamics of their intimate relationships.
Spousal and Partner Physical Abuse
Spousal or partner physical abuse covers quite a range of acts, so that one has to exercise caution when interpreting
statistics. The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) devised by Straus (1979) is commonly used. However, this and similar
scales have several drawbacks. For instance, it is not a valid instrument for determining whether an act is committed
in self-defense or what its consequences are. Most acts of violence committed by intimate partners tend to be at the
less severe end of the scale.
In a 2004 survey, 7% of Canadian women and 6% of men reported that they had experienced spousal abuse in the past
5 years, with a higher proportion for previous than current unions. In contrast, 21% of Aboriginal persons in Nunavut
and the Northwest Territories reported spousal abuse. As well, approximately 75% of spouses who report having been
a victim of violence also admit to having been an offender. Data from the 1999 and 2004 General Social Survey also
show a decline in the overall rate of self-reported spousal victimization.
In 2007 alone, there were 40,165 incidents of spousal violence reported to the police – which probably represents only
about a third of actual occurrences. These numbers have been declining since 1998 but are still extremely high in the
Northwest Territories and Nunavut, followed by Saskatchewan (because of the elevated Aboriginal rates), and lowers
in the Maritimes. Over 80% of victims are women. Although rare in Canada, nearly half of all family homicides are
spousal. However, spousal homicides have declined since 1978 by more than half. The victims were women in 80%
of the cases. Common-law partners, both men and women, were more likely to be victims than married partners.
Johnson distinguished between two types of inter-partner violence. The first is a matter of self-regulation and is
situational or reactive. The second pertains to power and control; it is what Johnson called intimate terrorism. This
type of violence, generally against women, is less frequent but predominates among victims who seek refuge in
shelters. This is a reflection of a patriarchal ideology concerning intimate relations and abuse of women.
Men who lack the material and status ability of expressing and maintaining power within their intimate relationships
may engage in violence as a means of reestablishing their domestic position. Furthermore, among some groups with
different cultural backgrounds, the prerogatives of patriarchy include violence against female kin – in order to keep
them “in line” and to save the family’s honour. This may include murder or honour killings.
Many batterers are actually quite pathological. But here as well, one had to consider that pathology is culturally
influenced or even created. In our society as in many others, pathology can lead to interpersonal violence or abuse. As
was the case for dating, both men and women who engage in spousal violence are more likely than nonviolent spouses
to have been involved in delinquency and to have been considered troublemakers when adolescents. University-
educated women are often victims of spousal abuse for a longer period because they do not report it out of shame.
Often, once a wife becomes a target of abuse, she is at risk of becoming a repeated victim – about three times each
year. This is particularly the case when physical injury results. Women are even attacked during pregnancy, which, of
course, does not show in the CTS.
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The face that wives also commit acts of violence does not mean that they are more violent than or even as violent as
husbands or dates. Women who are truly and forcefully violence and abuse their male partners are still the exception.
The results of their aggressiveness are generally inconsequential physically and their partners may not even take these
Rape is another aspect of spousal violence. Men who are very violent toward their wives often combine physical
battering with sexual assault. Women whose partners are sexually aggressive are also at a higher risk of suffering
more severe physical aggression than women with male partners who are physically but not sexually violent.
Factors Related to Spousal Abuse
Spousal abuse, as with dating abuse, is facilitated by our culture of violence and particularly by ideologies of
masculine dominance over women. A proportion of dating and domestic violence is committed under the influence of
alcohol or other substances. This is reported by one-half of Aboriginal victims of spousal violence compared with
one-third in the rest of the victimized Canadian population. Many batterers and even their victims construct alcohol as
a socially acceptable excuse for violence. It is part of the social construction of masculinity. The belief that men
batter because drinking “pushes” them into it is so well ingrained in the collective mentality that cases have even been
thrown out of course because “he was so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing”. In other cases, alcohol use
follows a battering incident rather that precedes it.
Cohabiting couples have the highest rate of partner violence and cohabitating women often suffer more severe abuse.
Both in Quebec and the rest of Canada, even men have a much higher risk of being victimized in cohabitations than in
marriages. Magdol et al. (1998) have reported that, in a group of 21-year-olds, cohabitants were even more likely than
daters to be abusive. We do not know what causes the relationships between abuse and cohabitation.
Very low-income couples and women with relatively little schooling are at an increased risk for partner violence. A
lack of social control may in part explain the following: poor couples who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods
are more at risk of spousal abuse (and child abuse) than similar couples who live in economically secure
environments. The presence of social problems in some neighbourhoods and lack of an effective community are
highly applicable to partner violence. In contrast, the absence of visible violence in relatively comfortable areas may
act as a deterrent against domestic abuse. In fact, poor neighbourhoods exhibit higher rates of violence of all sorts, and
this includes spousal abuse. Children in low-income households witness physical violence twice as often as others.
Domestic violence among oppressed minorities may have sources compounding those among whites. For instance,
blacks are differentially located in society because of their devalued colour. Prejudice and discrimination may be
internalized among a segment of black males, who then demean black women and express their general rage toward
them rather than projecting it elsewhere. In some countries with a more rigid patriarchal structure, women as a group
are more likely to be abused – and this pattern is pursued once they settle in Canada.
Aboriginal spousal violence deserves special mention. The consensus of the sparse research on this topic is that it is
extremely high. However, as pointed out in the 2006 Department of Justice report, no one knows how high.
Complicating the issue of gather information is the fact that under-reporting is even more widespread among
Aboriginals than among other Canadians because more Aboriginals are victims of someone they know. Therefore,
fear of reprisals and ostracism within the community is widespread as well as a lack of hope that anyone can do
anything to prevent it. This results in what is called the “normalization of violence”.
In turn, the high rates of Aboriginal spousal violence are related to widespread childhood and youth abuse, including
sexual victimization. Most of this violence occurs at the hand of other Aboriginals. Thus, overall, females have
extremely high rates of victimization along with youth. These forms of brutalization as well as high criminal rates are
interrelated and result from past colonization of Aboriginals and their culture. In turn, this becomes a form if internal
The Effect of Spousal Violence on Children
Some effects are immediate; others are delayed until certain life transitions occur; and many are long lasting. One
immediate effect is fear, an urge to run away or to help the victimized parent. Children may throw themselves
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