There are several theories associated with domestic violence — social learning theory, stress theory, and exchange theory. Social learning theory supports the idea that individuals are involved in family violence because they have either experienced violence themselves or are aware of others that have participated in violence within their social community. The stress theory states that though most people experience some level of stress, those individuals that lack resources and stable supports are more likely to turn to violence. Finally, the exchange theory notes that the potential punishment for engaging in family violence does not supercede the rewards of such actions, such as control over the victim. Thio (2010) notes that many law enforcement officers do not become highly involved in resolving domestic issues due to the personal nature of the family structure. (p. 129)
Domestic violence is an ever-growing health concern among women. Approximately 20 – 25% of abused woman are not willing to discuss or disclose their situation, therefore, studies that have been conducted can provide pertinent information to substantiate a concern for this epidemic, but do not accurately convey the actual number of domestic violence cases. “Domestic violence has been called a national epidemic by physicians, public health experts, and political leaders. One common assertion is that 22% to 35% of women who seek care in emergency departments are there because of domestic violence and that physicians detect only 5% of all cases. Unfortunately the domestic violence literature has several methodologic problems. Studies do not define domestic violence uniformly, some do not distinguish between acute episodes and past exposures, and some have selection bias introduced by reviewing only patients presenting with injuries.” (Domestic Violence, 1995)
According to one study, domestic violence was defined as an injury of hitting, punching, slapping, or other trauma or stress such as threats or violent behavior inflicted by a husband or a boyfriend. Of the women interviewed, “nearly half were nonwhite, one third had less than a high school education, and half had household incomes of less than $10,000 per year.” (Domestic Violence, 1995) It was also noted that domestic violence can appear as homicide, rape, battering, threats of violence, verbal assaults, and general intimidation. (Domestic Violence, 1995) This study concluded that one in nine women were seeking health care due to severe domestic violence. Of the women interviewed, “54.2% of women had been assaulted, threatened, or made to feel afraid by partners at some time in their lives. Twelve percent of the entire sample, including some women who did not report having a current partner, had experienced domestic violence in the preceding month.” (Domestic Violence, 1995) This particular study found that there was not distinct correlation between domestic violence and uneducated or minority women.
Family violence was existent in all social status homes with various ethnic backgrounds.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005, the total number of homicide victims was 874. Age ranges with percentages were documented as follows: 5.9% were under age 14; 3.8% were ages 14 to 17; 27.5% were ages 18 to 24; 26.6% were ages 25 to 34; 22.1% were ages 35 to 49; 8.8% were ages 50 to 64; and 3.8% were age 65 and above. Other notable statistics include: 27.4% white males; 13.9% white females; 48.3% black males; 8.4% black females; 0% other male; and .1% other female. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005) With this information in mind, it is shown that actual homicide percentages are not biased towards race, yet males appear to comprise to majority of the data. With regard to age group, the highest rate was represented in the late adolescent to early adulthood stages.
In another study, the “Battering Syndrome”: Prevalence and Clinical Characteristics of Domestic Violence in Primary Care Internal Medicine Practices, “1 of every 20 women had experienced domestic violence in the previous year; 1of every 5 had experienced violence in their adult life; and 1of every 3 experienced violence as either a child or an adult. Current domestic violence is associated with single or separated status, socioeconomic status, substance abuse, specific psychological symptoms, specific physical symptoms, and the total number of physical symptoms.” (2004) Fear, danger, isolation, and entrapment were common among the women studied and psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts are also associated with family violence.
Though modern day society has attempted to acknowledge and assist with issues of domestic violence by establishing programs of intervention such as safe houses and counseling and reforming laws to provide consequences for perpetrators, most cases are not recognized due to withheld information from the victim or inaccurate screening processes. Psychological damage caused by such violence as noted previously can determine a victims unwillingness to disclose truthful information for fear of continued abuse against them. Though the statistics provided do not consider violence against men or same sex relationships along with other limitations in the collection, they are astounding nevertheless. There did not appear to be a distinct connection with domestic violence and low economic status as the stress theory would suggest. This theory explains the lack of resources as being the main contributor to family violence, though the studies show that violence is not prejudice against the middle to upper class. The exchange theory also indicates a justification in violent behavior in families due to the desire to overpower and control the victim outweighing the punishment or negative consequences. This particular theory may be prevalent among families of every social status as the control factor can exist among many. The social learning theory, which states that people learn from the behavior they witness and therefore are more likely to exhibit that behavior later, is not supported in the relevant studies. There was not substantial evidence that victims of family violence will necessarily perpetrate similar acts.
With regards to distinguished groups such as age, class, gender, stress and isolation, Thio (2010) states, “Young husbands and parents, particularly those under age 30, are more likely than older ones to assault wives and abuse children.” (p. 126) Though violence occurs among all classes of people, it exists quite often in lower income families. The lower income population does not usually have outside instances to display order and control, and therefore, tend to become violent in the home. Thus the exchange theory comes into perspective. The text also notes that “men are more likely than women to inflict serious injury on their victim, but women are as likely as, or more likely than, men to abuse their spouse without seriously harming the victim.” (Thio, p. 127) Social isolation is another considered contributing factor. Individuals with supports such as friends and family can contact these supports for help when needed. (Thio, p. 127)
In conclusion, the studies that are done on domestic violence provide just a small portion of potential victims to this ongoing epidemic. Because studies are limited to question types, willingness to participate and types of individuals interviewed, they provide a basis to learn more about violence. This deviant behavior can go undetected and therefore becomes untreatable. For those who have sought help, society has made steps towards providing support in an attempt to alleviate the long term consequences, such as next generation repetition of violent acts or psychological deficiencies caused by family violence.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2005). Retrieved from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov.
Domestic Violence Against Women. (1995). Incidence and Prevalence in an Emergency Department Population. Retrieved from http://www.jama.ama-assn.org.
The “Battering Syndrome”. (2004). Prevalence and Clinical Characteristics of Domestic Violence in Primary Care Internal Medicine Practices. Retrieved from http://www.annals.org/content/123/10/737.short.
Thio, Alex. (2010). Deviant Behavior. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.