Domestic Violence Overview
The Women’s Aid Federation (2008) defines domestic violence as:
‘physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. It may involve partners, ex-partners, household members or other relatives.’
A common view of domestic violence is that it is the behaviour of a few disturbed or ‘sick’ individuals, and that its causes are psychological rather than social. However, sociologists have challenged this view.
* Domestic violence is far too widespread to be simply the work of a few individuals. According to the British Crime Survey (2007), ...view middle of the document...
They argue that marriage legitimates violence against women by conferring power and authority on husbands and dependency on wives.
Official Statistics and Others at Risk
Official statistics on domestic violence understate the true extent of the problem for two main reasons. Firstly, victims may be unwilling to report it to the police. Stephanie Yearnshire (1997) found that on average a woman suffers 35 assaults before making a report. Domestic Violence is the violent crime least likely to be reported.
Secondly, police and prosecutors may be reluctant to record, investigate or prosecute those cases that are reported to them. According to David Cheal (1991), this reluctance is due to the fact that police and other state agencies are not prepared to become involved in the family. They make three assumptions about family life:
* That the family is a private sphere, so access to it by state agencies should be limited.
* That the family is a good thing and so agencies tend to neglect the ‘darker’ side of family life.
* That individuals are free agents, so it is assumed that if a woman is experiencing abuse she is free to leave. However, this is not true. Male violence is often coupled with male economic power: abused women are often financially dependent on their husbands and unable to leave.
Sociologists have identified other patterns of domestic violence in addition to male violence against women. According to Mirrlees-Black, social groups at greater risk of domestic violence include:
* Children and young people
* Those in the lowest social class
* Those who live in rented accommodation
* Those on low incomes or in financial difficulties
* Those with high levels of alcohol consumption and users of illegal drugs. According to the British Crime Survey (2007), the offender was under the influence of alcohol in 39% of cases
Some of these groups overlap. For example, statistics show that children from lower social classes appear at higher risk of abuse and violence.
Although women appear to be the main victims of domestic violence, more recent figures from the home office (2010) show that men make up around 37% of the victims of reported domestic violence. This is no small number, but the campaign group Parity suggest that deeply ingrained gender roles often prevent male victims from admitting to being victims, fearing mockery and the questioning of their masculinity. This illustrates how official statistics on domestic violence can be criticised, as the real figure for male victims may in fact be much larger than the figure of those who actually report it. Official statistics only show the crimes that have been reported, so they are not always very useful for studying issues such as domestic violence.
The Radical Feminist Explanation
Radical feminists interpret findings such as those of Dobash and Dobash as evidence of patriarchy. For example, Kate Millett (1970) and Shulamith Firestone (1970) argue that all...