Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, and intimate partner violence (IPV), is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, or cohabitation.
Adult-generated research-based papers about children living in situations where their mothers were being abused had appeared in te USA and Canada in the 1980s, leading to the first book on the subject, Children of Battered Women (Jaffe et al., 1990). This highlighted that living with violence could adversely affect children's behavioural and emotional adjustment and cognitive development and argued, consequently, that responses and intervention with children in all settings should routinely include an assessment of exposure to violence.
The Mental Health Journal says: "The precise incidence of domestic violence in America is difficult to determine for several reasons: It often goes unreported, even on surveys; there is no nationwide organisation that gathers information from local police departments about the number of substantiated reports and calls; and there is disagreement about what should be included in the definition of domestic violence."
Using a different methodology (counting separately multiple incidents perpetrated on the same woman), a report titled "Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey", compiled by Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes for the National Institute of Justice and the Centres for Disease Control and published in 1998, came up with a figure of 5.9 million physical assaults against 1.5 million targets in the USA annually.
With woman battery, the very name of the issue became gender-neutral in the 1970s: domestic violence. The province of social service agencies and police, domestic violence was a problem that was addressed through family services, not through attacking gender inequality.
Research from the USA was some of the first to suggest that abuse of children was likely to take place in circumstances of domestic violence and that domestic violence might thus be an indicator of child abuse. The studies have been carried out in very different ways and using different types of samples, which makes it harder to make direct comparisons. Even so, the studies provide clear indications of a link between the direct abuse of children and living in a context where there is domestic violence to mothers.
In the USA, however, the dominant academic discourse has been influenced by the widespread use of the Conflict Tactic Scales, a methodology which has produced what look to be scientifically robust data showing that wives are about as violent as husbands, and even that husbands are more likely than wives to be victims of acts of severe violence (see Dobash et al. 1992: 72-3). However, 'evidence from police and court records, and national crime surveys and victim surveys continue to confirm the asymmetrical pattern of domestic violence' as being predominantly men's violence against women (Dobash and Dobash, Chapter 11).
Kurz (1987, pp. 69-70), writing in the American context, refers to the profile of woman abuse being raised amongst health and related professions by conferences, publications, the development of information systems for use by health care personnel, training initiatives, mandatory reporting of statistics on woman abuse in some States, and a continuing debate about the best means of producing change. This led to the launching, in 1991, of a major campaign by the American Medical Association to educate the public and health care professionals about domestic violence (Health Gain Commissioning Team on Domestic Violence, 1995, p.1). The Joint Commission on Hospital Accreditation in the USA also issued new standards requiring comprehensive training and protocols (codes of practice) on response to all forms of abuse which, in turn, led to many more women being identified as having experienced it (ibid).
Before we answer the question of whether the victims of domestic violence are to blame, we must first understand that domestic violence ranks as one of the serious problems that confront our society. In the week of the Brame murder-suicide, there were at least 21 deadly reported acts of violence from all over America committed by intimate partners, (Bennet). In the sane year, 40% of all homicides in Pierce County, Washington, were related to domestic violence (Mulick B7). Domestic violence against women is a widespread problem in different parts of the world, particularly here in the United States.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines domestic violence as: Actual or threatened physical or sexual violence, or psychological/emotional abuse by a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend, or date. Some of the common terms that are used to describe intimate partner violence are domestic abuse, spouse abuse, domestic violence, courtship violence, battering, marital rape and date rape. Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive and threatening behaviors that may include physical, emotional, economic, and sexual violence as well as intimidation, isolation, and coercion.
'Violence' itself though is a multi-faceted term with little consensus about its meaning. Barnett and colleagues cite research in the USA (Adams 1986) which indicates clearly that: the battering of women is not just perpetration of a list of physically abusive behaviours. Instead true battering includes the instilment of fear, oppression, control of the victim and assault. (Barnett, Miller-Perrin and Perrin 2005: 252) The phrases 'domestic violence,' 'domestic abuse' (R.E. Dobash and Dobash 1984) and 'woman abuse' (Mullender and Morley 2001) are used more frequently in the UK and Europe (Borg 2003), while 'family violence' and, more recently, 'intimate partner violence' (IPV) are used more in the USA (e.g. R.C. Klein 1998; Barnett et al. 2005; Loseke et al. 2005).
Although some studies have indicated that the rates of violence committed by men and women against their partners are similar (e.g., Gelles and Straus 1988; Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz 1980), critics have noted that such findings do not consider important elements of the violence, such as intent (e.g., self-defense, control, retaliation) and consequences (see Straus and Gelles 1988). For example, it is now widely acknowledged that men's partner violence, as compared to women's partner violence, is often more severe and more likely to result in physical injuries and psychological difficulties (Cantos, Neidig and O'Leary 1994; Cascardi and Vivian 1995; Cascardi, Langhinrichsen and Vivian 1992; Christian, O'Leary and Vivian 1994; Dobash et al. 1992; Holtzworth-Munroe, Smutzler and Bates 1997; Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Neidig and Thorn 1995; Stets and Straus 1990; Vivian and Langhinrichsen-Rohling 1994). The deleterious consequences of male partner violence (referred to hereafter as 'husband violence' or 'wife abuse') for many women include injuries and other physical health problems, social isolation, homelessness and psychological symptoms and distress.