CHAPTER TWO (part 1)
This section is a review of the partner abuse literature and
focuses on the issues examined in the research. Included is a discussion of the
prevalence of male and female perpetrated violence.
As well, an overview of theoretical perspectives that have been applied
in previous research, the risk factors included in this research, and a detailed
discussion of the model employed in this study are provided.
Partner Abuse Methodology
Family violence research is relatively new. The focus of much
of the family violence research from the 1970's onward has been on determining the
prevalence and incidence of violence within intimate relationships. Later investigations
have been on the correlates of domestic violence. Family violence, like many other
new research areas, is challenged by the need to develop effective methodologies.
In a review of literature on wife assault, Dutton (1988)
pointed to the difficulties associated with gathering data on its occurrence.
The challenge associated with breaking through the wall of privacy
surrounding events within the family has been a major impediment to accurate data
collection. According to Hotaling and Straus (1980), the normative kinship and
household structures appear to insulate the family from social controls and social
assistance in coping with intrafamilial conflict.
Dutton (1988) cited two widely used methods of estimating wife
assault. The first involves an actual estimate of the frequency and incidence of abuse
within the general population drawn from a representative sample. Examples of such
surveys are the National Crime Survey (U.S. Department of Justice, 1980), the National
Survey on Family Violence (Straus et al., 1980; Straus & Gelles, 1986) and the
Canadian Urban Victimization Survey (Solicitor General of Canada, 1985). Whereas the above
studies have focused on the occurrence of abuse nationally, other family violence studies
have had a more limited focus targeting cities and regions (Brinkerhoff & Lupri, 1988;
Schulman, 1981; Smith, 1987).
The second method of estimating partner abuse has been through
the examination of the clinically based data (Dutton, 1988) to determine what proportion
of this population engages in domestic assault. Studies of this nature target the
clientele of social services, hospitals, and the criminal justice system. Although one
would expect that the occurrence of abuse is higher among respondents in these groups, the
medical community in particular has been criticized for failing to recognize the role of
domestic abuse in patients presenting physical injuries (Johnson, 1988).
The use of convenience samples in gathering of data on partner
abuse represents, yet, a third popular method of estimating the occurrence of violence
within intimate relationships. The use of convenience samples has been useful in
targeting certain groups such as students (Makepeace, 1981), and provides a basis for
comparison with other populations (Johnson, 1988). Added benefits of this method are
time and cost effectiveness.
For the purposes of the discussion that follows, the above
typology of data collection methods will serve as a useful framework to aid in the
understanding of the occurrence of violent behaviour between intimate partners. To
facilitate appropriate comparisons, only studies utilizing the CTS (Straus, 1979) to
investigate the perpetration of abuse will be presented in the following section.
Finally, an attempt will be made to differentiate between prevalence
(i.e., abuse which has "ever" occurred) and incidence (i.e., abuse which has
occurred within a specific time-frame) rates of partner abuse.
Prevalence of Partner
General Population Based Surveys
Probably the most cited research estimating the occurrence of
several forms of family violence have been the surveys conducted by Straus et al. (1980)
and Straus and Gelles (1986). The former found that nearly half (49.5%) of all
married or cohabiting couples surveyed had experienced some form of violence during the
course of their relationship. In the 1975 survey (Straus et al., 1980), the overall
annual rate of husband-to-wife abuse was found to be 12.1 percent, while the 1985 resurvey
demonstrated a nonsignificant decline in the rate of the same form of abuse (11.3%).
Severe abuse perpetrated annually by males was 3.8 percent in the 1975 survey and 3.0
percent in the 1985 resurvey.
The annual rates for wife-to-husband abuse were similar to
those of males, although their patterns of occurrence were in the opposite
direction. However, no tests of significance were performed to establish sex
differences in the occurrence of partner abuse. For overall abuse, the 1975 findings
(Straus et al., 1980) indicated that 11.6 percent of females abused their male
partners, followed by a slight, but nonsignificant increase (12.1%) reported in the
1985 resurvey. Rates of severe annual abuse perpetrated by females were somewhat higher
than for males in both surveys (4.6% and 4.4%, respectively). Finally, estimates of
the occurrence of couple violence were also found to be similar during the two sampling
periods; showing a nonsignificant decline in both the annual rates of overall (16.0% and
15.8%, respectively) and severe abuse (6.1% and 5.8%, respectively).
Several regional and urban surveys have also been conducted in both the U.S. and Canada. Brinkerhoff and Lupri (1988) conducted face-to-face
interviews with 562 randomly selected couples in Calgary, Alberta during 1981. Their
findings indicated that 37.8 percent of the couples reported that they engaged in some
form of abuse tactics during the course of their relationship. For husband-to-wife
abuse, overall abuse during the past year was reported to occur among 10.3 percent of the
couples and severe abuse occurring during the past year was reported to occur among 4.8
percent of the couples. Alternatively, for wife-to-husband abuse, overall and severe
abuse during the past year was reported to occur among 13.2 percent and 10.7 percent of
the couples, respectively.
Finally, overall and severe mutual abuse occurring during the past year
was reported by 14.3 percent and 6.0 percent of couples, respectively.
The rates of both male and female perpetrated severe violence
reported by Brinkerhoff and Lupri (1988) are twice as high as those reported by Straus et
al. (1980) and Straus and Gelles (1986).
Furthermore, while the higher rates of female perpetrated violence are
consistent with the results of the National Survey on Family Violence, the rates of
overall and severe abuse reported in Brinkerhoff and Lupri (1988) are again higher.
The authors attributed this disparity in the reporting of abuse to the fact that both
partners were interviewed; lessening the likelihood of under-reporting. The authors
cited the higher crude divorce rates of Calgary residents (i.e., twice as high as
the national Canadian average), as well as the city's experience of an economic boom that
was followed by its crash, as factors possibly related to the rates of abuse reported.
In 1987, Kennedy and Dutton (1989) investigated the occurrence
of wife assault in a random sampling of two Canadian cities (Calgary and Edmonton,
Alberta) and rural residents in the Province of Alberta. Weighting procedures were
applied to ensure the proportionate reporting of results. The final weighted male
and female sample was as follows: Edmonton (n=254), Calgary (n=281) and rest of the
Unfortunately, the authors did not report a breakdown of abuse
by region. When the annual rates for abuse for overall (11.2%) and severe (2.3%) wife
assault are considered, it is noted that the former is almost identical to the rate
reported by Straus and Gelles (1986), whereas the latter is somewhat lower (i.e., 11.3%
and 3.0%, respectively). Rates for overall (15.5%) and severe (5.5%) couple violence
were also found to be similar to those of Straus and Gelles' (1986) survey (i.e., 15.8%
and 5.8%, respectively).
It is possible that the high rates of abuse reported in
Brinkerhoff and Lupri's (1988) study of Calgary residents were influenced by the reports
of abuse within the rural Alberta sub-sample. Another possibility may be that the dynamics
associated with the slump in that city's economy during 1981 were no longer relevant
during the time of data collection for this study seven years later. However,
because the authors failed to report the incidence of abuse by region, the above
assertions are strictly speculative.
In summary, the data from general population based studies
investigating the incidence of partner abuse seem to indicate that approximately one in
nine married or cohabiting men and women abuse their intimate partners annually each
year. The studies reviewed also indicate that mutual or couple violence is reported
to occur more frequently than either male or female perpetrated violence alone.
Clinically Based Data
Most of the partner abuse investigations have focused almost
exclusively on wife abuse and have been based upon data drawn from the reports of victims
of wife assault (Gondolf, 1988), women's shelter workers (Ontario Association of
Professional Social Workers, 1987), police and court records (Caputo, 1988) reports of
hospital staff (Stark, Flitcraft & Frazier, 1979) and data gathered from individuals
in treatment programs (Telch & Lindquist, 1984).Gondolf, Mulvey and Lidz (1990)
investigated the prevalence of wife assault among 389 males who visited the emergency room
in a psychiatric training and research hospital. Results indicated that 36
percent of the cases reviewed were identified as perpetrators of various forms of assault
occurring across time. Of those, 35 percent were identified as perpetrators of family
assault only, 12 percent as perpetrators of family and non-family assault, and the
remaining 53 percent as perpetrators of non-family assault only.
Jaffe, Wolfe, Telford and Austin's (1986) study reviewed 2003 assault occurrences causing bodily harm during a one year period. Of those,443 (22.1%)
were identified as assaultive incidents where there was an established male-female
relationship (married,/cohabiting) and the female was the victim of a physical attack or
was threatened with violence by a male (as determined by the CTS). Reports of assaults
perpetrated against males by females were not provided by their investigation.
While the first study reviewed demonstrates that types of
abuse other than wife assault are evident within clinical samples, the focus of research
has been primarily on wife abuse.
Data Gathered from Convenience Samples
The use of convenience samples enables the investigation of abusive behaviour within a segment of a "normal" population (i.e.,
non-clinical) without the need for rigorous sampling techniques.
Group designs utilizing comparative analyses provide researchers
with an opportunity to determine the extent to which the characteristics of a clinical
group (i.e., abusers in treatment) resemble those of a "normal" group derived
from convenience sampling.
Convenience sampling methodology in family violence research
has been variously applied. For example, convenience samples have been utilized in
studies that focus on courtship violence (eg., Barnes, Greenwood & Sommer, 1991;
Makepeace, 1986), as well as those that investigate methodological techniques (e.g.,
Szinovasz, 1983) such as longitudinal designs (eg., Malone et al., 1989) or group
comparisons (eg., Jouriles & O'Leary, 1985; Lloyd, 1990).
Research by Jouriles and O'Leary (1985) attests to the
versatility of convenience sampling because it allows researchers to compare the effects
of a particular dependent measure within two populations. They investigated the
interspousal reliability of retrospective reports of marital violence in a community
sample (n=37 couples) and a sample of couples involved in marital therapy (n=65
couples). The results demonstrated that 27 percent of males and 6 percent of females
within their community sample reported having perpetrated abuse against their partners,
while their clinical sample reported abuse by 37 percent of males and 23 percent of
Yet, when the reports of perpetrated and sustained abuse by males
and females were further examined, correlations derived were only low to
moderate. The authors concluded that clinic husbands tended to under-report their
own perpetration of abuse while the clinic wives tended to over-report their own
This latter finding brings to mind another important function
of convenience sampling; the validity of self reports of marital violence. Arias and
Beach's (1987) study investigated this issue in a sample of 82 married men and 90 married
women recruited through advertisements placed in local fliers. Descriptive analyses
conducted on the demographic data indicated that the sample could be characterized as
typically middle class (i.e., three years post secondary education, two children and a
median individual income for males of $25,000 per year and $7,000 per year for females).
Further analyses indicated that 32 percent of males and 39
percent of females reported perpetrating violence against their partner while 34 percent
of both males and females reported sustaining the same. Like the previous study,
this research also provides evidence for the differential reporting of husbands' and
wives' reports of enacted and sustained abuse. In explaining their findings, Arias and
Beach (1987) implicated the role of social desirability as a factor affecting the
accuracy with which the prevalence of abuse is estimated. Responses given may be guided by
the notion that the perpetration of abuse against women is less acceptable than abuse
directed toward men. The authors suggested the use of corroborative sources (i.e.,
police blotters and eye witness reports) would be useful in achieving more precise
estimates of abuse reports.
The discussion to this point has focused on the different sampling strategies employed to estimate the prevalence and incidence of domestic
violence. Regardless of the approach employed, it is clear that the experience of abuse
between intimate partners is not a "rare occurrence". This review also
indicates that being a victim of violence within an intimate relationship is not limited
to women alone. Women and men across relationship types engage in comparable rates
of domestic violence. This review provides support for Steinmetz's (1978) paper
describing the "battered husband syndrome" and challenges the remarks of her
critics (Pleck, Pleck, Grossman & Bart, 1978).
There also appears to be some indication that the abuse
reported is likely to be bidirectional; that both partners participate actively in its
occurrence. Finally, this review indicates a need for methods that address issues such as
the context of abuse, its initiation and its resolution could also be addressed and be
Risk Factors in Partner Abuse
Socio-demographic Risk Factors
Sociologically based family violence research investigates the occurrence of relationship violence within the context of our social fabric. In
an effort to develop a socio-demographic profile of the abuser, researchers have therefore
focused on the interrelationship between age, marital status, education, employment
status, religion, race, and abuse within an intimate relationship. Sociologists have
extended their study of socio-demographics to include the investigation of life stressors
and violence within the family of origin as possible risk factors in partner
Much of the research attempting to develop a socio-demographic profile of the partner abuser has also focused on husband-to-wife abuse and has been
derived from data gathered from clinical and abuse samples. Furthermore, research of
this kind has relied upon the reports of victims of wife assault, the police, or women's
Whereas Finkelhor (1983) argued that all forms of family
violence are more common in the lower socioeconomic strata (in families who were experiencing
unemployment and economic deprivation), this contention has not received universal support
from all family violence researchers. Sommer (1990) suggested that the link between
low socio-economic status (SES) and partner abuse may be more related to this group's
inability to avoid being caught than their actual involvement in acts of violence against
family members. This follows Martin's (1985) and Weidman's (1986) suggestion that when
compared to middle and upper class persons, individuals coming from low SES
backgrounds are more visible to the criminal justice system, hospital emergency rooms, and
social programs where abuse is less likely to be hidden and more likely to be
documented. High SES persons on the other hand, have the opportunity to turn to
private clinicians for assistance where identification and documentation are less likely
The nature of the sampling base also plays an important role
in determining the relationship between low SES and partner abuse. When clinical samples
have been targeted, one finds support for the association between partner abuse and
SES. For example, Gondolf et al. (1990) found that of persons (n=221) who had
visited an emergency ward in a psychiatric research and training hospital, 64 percent of
the 139 perpetrators of recent assault (including family and non-family) were unemployed
and only 29 percent had achieved greater than a high school education. On the other
hand, research conducted by Stets and Straus (1989) examining abuse among dating,
cohabiting and married couples, drawn from a sample of college students and a national
probability sample, found no significant main effects for occupational status or
education. In this latter case, the association between low SES and abuse was not
When data from a sample of married or cohabiting Calgary
residents (derived from a systematic random telephone sampling technique) were analyzed,
violence was found to occur in couples from all socio-economic groups (Brinkerhoff &
Lupri, 1988). Similarly, Lisonoff and Bitman's (1978) study also failed to find a
relationship between low SES and spouse abuse. These findings challenge those of
Kantor and Straus (1987) in which abuse rates were found to be lower among white collar
workers when compared to blue collar workers.
Research conducted by Stewart, Senger, Kallen and Scheurger (1987) may provide the basis for yet another explanation for what appears to be an
over representation of abuse among the lower class. In a study of middle class college
students (n=570), they found that only six percent of students' fathers and three percent
of mothers physically beat each other. However, it was also found that 18 percent of
parents neglected each others' emotional needs. This study's findings support the
existence of differences in the types of abuse across socio-economic
groups. The authors suggested that while members of the lower class have been
socialized to express anger and frustration through physical means, those belonging to the
middle class have been socialized to inhibit displays of violence.
The dichotomy in the expression of abuse illustrated above attests to the lack of clarity in the relationship between SES and the perpetration of
partner abuse. In order to resolve the ambiguity surrounding the linkage between
these variables, general population based research using an objective partner abuse
measure such as the CTS that can assess both psychological and physical dimensions is
needed. As well, the manner in which SES is defined may also have some bearing on
the associations drawn. Like partner abuse, the manner in which SES is assessed must
also be clearly delineated so that comparisons with other studies can be appropriately
Unlike the research aimed at clarifying the link between
partner abuse and SES, studies investigating the relationship between age and the
occurrence of partner abuse provide a more consistent pattern of findings. In
general, a negative association between age and abuse has emerged in these studies.
Thus, according to the literature, perpetrators of domestic violence are most likely to be
young in age.
Relying upon the information gathered in interviews of 542
women seeking assistance at two women's shelters in Dallas, Texas between 1980 and 1982,
Stacey and Shupe (1983) reported that the mean age of the assaulting partner was 33 years.
Results of a follow-up study comparing data gathered from male batterers attending three
rehabilitative programs in Texas (Shupe & Stacey, 1987) with those of the earlier
study, revealed the age of the subjects to be somewhat lower (29 years).
As noted previously, much of the data on spousal violence has been drawn from the reports of battered women. Information gained from reports
of this kind has also been useful in providing insight into the nature of the abuser. If
one is to operate under the assumption that couples' ages are concordant, then Schulman's
(1981) finding that the highest rates of abuse occurred among women between the ages of 18
and 29 suggests that male perpetrators of violence are likely to fall into the same age
range. Likewise, Macleod (1987) reported that 70 percent of the women staying in
transition homes were under the age of 34 years perhaps also suggesting that their
partners might be of a similar age group.
For the most part, data gathered from large general population surveys support the negative association between age and domestic abuse. Straus
et al. (1980) and Kennedy and Dutton (1989) noted a decline in relationship violence with
age. Brinkerhoff and Lupri (1988) however, provided somewhat different
results. Whereas mutual violence was most common among the under 30 years of age
group, male perpetrated violence was most common among individuals between the ages of 30
to 45 years of age. In earlier research (Sommer, 1990), it was suggested that this
finding may be explained in terms of this middle age group's vulnerability being
associated with the collapse of the Calgary economy at the time of that study's data
As such, the ensuing stress may have manifested itself in men's maladaptive manner of conflict resolution within their intimate relationships.
In spite of the limited research targeting females as
potential perpetrators of violence, there is some indication that being young in
age is also relevant to their involvement in abusive episodes.
For example, O'Leary, Barling, Arias and Rosenbaum (1989)
measured violence in couples at three separate time periods (i.e., one month prior
to marriage and 18 and 30 months thereafter). At the time of the first data
collection, the mean age of the females was 23.6 years (mean age for males was 25.3
years). The results of their analyses indicated that across all abuse tactics (and when
compared to males), the prevalence of abuse was highest for females in the premarriage
data collection period.
We need to consider whether the relationship between age and abuse is due to constitutional factors associated with young age (i.e., impulse
control, heightened aggression), or is associated with a young person's lack of experience
or with cohort differences (Egley, 1991). As yet, the nature of this relationship
has not been clearly discerned.
The high rates of violence reported by dating couples and
divorced people have prompted researchers to examine variations in abuse reporting across
marital status categories. It has been suggested that marital status and abuse may
be associated spuriously because age exerts an influence on both these variables (Stets
& Straus, 1989). In other words, dating partners may be more vulnerable for
perpetrating abuse, not so much because of their marital status, but instead due to their
young age. Such a position calls into question an earlier claim that "the
marriage license is a hitting license" (Stets & Straus, 1989).
Shield, McCall and Hanneke's (1988) study examining violence within both criminal and familial contexts found that violence in general was most
common among men who were married for a short period of time. Furthermore, Stets
(1990) suggested that verbal aggression experienced early in an intimate relationship
carries the seed of physical aggression later in a marriage. While these studies
support the contention that abuse is most common among married couples, the effects of age
as a covariate were not addressed by any of these authors.
One study that did attempt to discern the effects of marital status on abuse while controlling for a number of demographic variables found a
nonsignificant interaction effect for marital status and age (Stets & Straus, 1989).
Across age groups cohabiting couples had higher rates of partner abuse compared to either
dating or married couples. Severe abuse was also found to be more common among this
Research by Kalmuss and Seltzer (1986) examined differences in the incidence of spouse abuse reporting between first and second marriages. Their
findings indicated that spouse abuse is more likely when one or both spouses have been
divorced than in never-divorced families. This finding remained even after
controlling for exposure to family violence during one's childhood. This study
supports the notion that divorced adults transfer maladaptive conflict resolution
strategies from one relationship to another. Rather than age being an important
covariate in the relationship between marital status and partner abuse, perhaps the
influence of a long history of inappropriate communication and conflict resolving
strategies should instead be considered.
Similarly, Nisonhoff and Bitman (1978) found that divorced and separated persons were more likely to report being hit and to have hit their spouses
when compared to respondents from other marital status categories. Moreover, it was
also found that divorced and separated persons were significantly more likely to know at
least one other couple that had engaged in spouse abuse. The findings of both these
studies suggest, that divorced or separated are particularly vulnerable to the experience
of abuse not necessarily by virtue of their marital status, but through the persistence of
dysfunctional modes of conflict resolution that transcend relationships.
For those couples committed to notion of "marriage till
death do we part", there may be a reluctance to report abuse in their
relationship. It may be that these individuals fear that reporting their abuse may
threaten their relationship. Because of this, many ongoing cases of abuse remain
undisclosed. Reaching these couples is another challenge facing researchers.
The previous discussion has highlighted some of the
difficulties faced by family violence researchers concerned with the relationship between
marital status and the occurrence of partner abuse. Research indicating that partner
abuse seems to be an ongoing event first evidencing itself during courtship, and in many
cases continuing onto marriage (Flynn, 1987; Roscoe & Benaske, 1985), raises questions
about Stets and Straus's (1979) assertion that being involved in a married relationship
poses the most danger for individuals at risk for abuse.
Research investigating the association between religion and
the occurrence of violence within intimate relationships has been both limited and
problematic. First, very few studies have focused on the relationship between these
variables, and when attempts have been made, researchers have been faced with problems
associated with the manner in which religion should be measured.
Separating the effects of religious affiliation from those of religiosity seem to be a central importance in studies investigating the link between
partner abuse and religion.
In light of these difficulties, Straus et al. (1980) explored the question of whether or not the lack of religious preference influenced the level
of violence in families. According to their findings, the relationship between
religion and family violence varied for men and women when rates of perpetration and
victimization were compared. Women without a religious preference were found to be
more at risk for both the perpetration and victimization of abuse while men without a
religious preference were only at an increased risk for its perpetration.
Goldsmith (1984) reported the findings of a 1980 study
conducted in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Her findings suggested, that while rates of
violence among Jews were similar to those found in the general population, sixty-one
percent of those surveyed believed family violence was not a problem in the Jewish
community. This perception is better understood by considering Scarf's (1983)
suggestion, that within the context of Jewish socialization it is believed that Jewish men
do not beat their wives. In light of this idealized concept of Jewish family
life, women who are abused are prevented from seeking or accepting help. Moreover,
family-centred socialization characteristic of Jewish families encourages denial among
abused Jewish women while making them feel guilty and responsible for their husbands'
actions (Gibson & Wyden, 1969). In spite of the focus on Jewish women's
vulnerability toward abuse, Straus et al. (1980) found that the rate of abuse by
perpetrated by Jewish women was higher than that reported by Jewish men, and was
highest among all the other religious groups compared.
Straus et al. (1980) suggested that members of fundamentalist religious groups would be most likely to advocate and support certain types of family
violence. Research examining the conflict resolution strategies employed by Quaker
families provides an interesting test of this hypothesis (Brutz & Ingoldsby, 1984). In
general, findings indicated no significant differences in the rates of male and female
perpetrated violence when compared to Straus et al.'s (1980) national survey data.
However, differences were found in the pattern of violence (as indicated by the CTS) when
comparing the Quaker sample with the national sample. An examination of individual
CTS items and subscales suggested that Quakers are less violent than families
nationally. In other words, Quakers engage in similar rates of violence when
compared to the general population, but limit themselves to its milder forms.
Straus et al.'s (1980) earlier claim regarding the greater
risk of violence among fundamentalist religious groups, should be considered at the very
least tentative and subject to variations associated with other features of religious
groups. In the case of Quakers and other groups with similar philosophies, the
commitment to pacifism may have the greater influence on the occurrence of violence than
simply a membership in a fundamentalist religion.
The literature examining the relationship between race and the occurrence of relationship violence is also limited. Data collected in the U.S.
have focused primarily on comparing the rates of family violence among white, black, and
Hispanic people (Schulman, 1981; Straus et al., 1980). Research by Schulman (1981)
indicates that rates of male perpetrated partner abuse were higher among nonwhites. To
date, Canadian based research has failed to provide reliable data testing the relationship
between race and abuse.
Research conducted in the U.S. has attempted to gain a better understanding of the relationship between violence and race by exploring the trends in
abuse over time and by testing the contributions of other variables such as SES. In
a re-analysis of the National Family Violence Survey data, Hampton, Gelles and Harrop
(1989) found, while rates of abuse in general were higher among blacks when compared to
whites, further analyses revealed a different pattern of partner abuse for blacks than
those reported by Straus and Gelles (1986) for their entire national sample.
Whereas Straus and Gelles (1986) reported a stabilization and/or a decrease in male,
female and couple violence within their national sample, Hampton et al.(1989) found an
increase in female and couple violence, but a decrease in male perpetrated violence within
the black subsample of the same national sample with the latter reaching a level of
In an effort to explain this finding, the authors concurred
with Straus and Gelles's (1986) conclusion, that in general, the changes in the rates of
violence are reflective of an actual change in behaviour such as changes in family
structure and economics. For example, Hampton et al. (1989) found that between 1975
and 1985, black families experienced a $16,500 increase in median family income compared
to a $10,000 increase in median family income among white families. Based upon the
advances in black families' lifestyles together with lower inflation, Hampton et al.
(1989) speculated that the resulting greater economic prosperity may be
responsible for reducing the risk of domestic violence for this group of people.
This would explain the decline in violence found among black
males. They explained the substantive increase in the rate of wife to husband abuse among
black women on the other hand as occurring as a result of the increased status of black
These findings suggest that research investigating a link between race and partner abuse should consider the effects of social class.
Lockart's (1987) study comparing abuse among whites (n=152) and blacks (n=155) found that
while there was no significant difference in the proportion of black women (35.48%) and
white women (35.5%) who reported being victims of wife abuse during the previous year, a
larger proportion of middle class black women than middle class white women reported
victimization by a male partner.
Based on these findings, the authors agreed with Staple's
(1976) conclusion that blacks are not inherently more violent in their intimate
relationships than whites. Rather, higher levels of domestic violence found among
blacks are thought to be the result of the particular social predicament in which blacks
find themselves in American society. Lockart (1987) suggested, that the higher
incidence of violence found among black middle class couples compared to white middle
class couples, may be explained in terms of an adaptation process associated with blacks'
newly acquired middle class status.
In a reanalysis of these data, Lockart and White (1989)
focused on a subsample of black women to examine the effects of SES. This time,
they found that women from lower class households were most likely to experience more
conflicts and more conflicts leading to violence when compared to middle and upper class
women. The authors stated that this finding is consistent with social exchange
theory that proposes regardless of race, lower class individuals who seek to control a
relationship, but lack legitimate resources, may tend to use violence to enforce
Women from middle class black families were most at risk for being perpetrators of violence. Consistent with the explanation provided by
Hampton et al. (1989) and Lockhart (1987), Lockhart and White (1989) suggested that the
vulnerability of black women to perpetrate abuse may be related to women movement toward
economic equality. Due to the lack of an appropriate model for black women's
economic equality, violence was therefore explained as a form of adjustment to the
relatively new male/female power structure.
The studies reviewed suggest the need for more research
investigating the relationship between race and domestic violence that includes the
influences of other variables. These studies also support the important role of
social class in determining the nature of this relationship. Another area of inquiry
involves investigating the possibility that the race/class and domestic violence
relationship may be further affected by regional and cultural differences.
Family of Origin
Of the many socio-demographic risk factors investigated by
family violence researchers, that which focuses on examining the influence of an
individual's early exposure to violence within one's family of origin has been shown to be
a salient factor in its occurrence. A review of case comparison studies drawn from
400 empirical reports (Hotaling & Sugarman, 1986) on husband to wife abuse attests to
the relevance of this variable. Their results indicated that of the 42 risk markers
analyzed for female victims of violence, witnessing violence between parents/caregivers
while growing up was the only consistent risk. When risk factors for male perpetrators of
violence were examined, witnessing violence as a child or adolescent was one of nine
consistent risk markers among a total of 38 analyzed.
In a review of 16 studies implicating the relationship between the occurrence of spousal violence and violence in the family of origin, Tolman and
Bennett (1990) determined that the incidence figures ranged from 24 percent to 81.1
percent. They provided evidence that violence within the family of origin
discriminates among many types of relationship violence (i.e., severe v. minor forms of
violence) and violence prone relationships (alcoholic v. nonalcoholic, wife
abusers v. generally assaultive men, and recidivate v. nonrecidivate batterers).
A major concern raised by researchers centres on the issue of, whether it is the child's experience of abuse at the hands of one's parents, or his or
her observation of parents' violence that is most important in predicting later violence
within an intimate relationship. In general, when spouse abusers are compared to nonabusers, violence within intimate relationships seems to be related to both direct
(i.e., parent to child abuse) and indirect (observation of parental abuse) forms
of violence within the family of origin. Barnett, Fagan and Booker (1991) argued
that, "violent individuals have experienced types and levels of childhood abuse by
their parents, and have observed forms and levels of parental violence, which are in sharp
contrast with the experiences of nonviolent individuals" (p. 235).
Based on data gathered by the 1976 National Survey of Family Violence (Straus & Gelles, 1986), Kalmuss (1984) and Seltzer and Kalmuss
(1988) examined the effects of both direct and indirect forms of violence within the
family as reported by adults (n=2143 and n=1436, respectively). The results
indicated that, while both forms of violence in the family of origin were found to be
predictive of abuse, the perpetration of spouse abuse was more strongly related to
observing parental violence than by parent-child hitting. Separate analyses were not
conducted for male and female respondents, and only the perpetration of male to female
abuse was examined.
Gaining an understanding the link between violence in the
family of origin and current partner abuse implicates the influence of gender (O'Leary
& Curley, 1986). O'Leary and Curley's (1986) findings demonstrated that men's
accounts of spousal violence were related to both observing marital violence and being
abused as a child. Analyses of female data focused on being a victim of spouse abuse
and failed to link it to either form of exposure to violence within the family of origin.
The sex difference reported by O'Leary and Curley (1986)
contradict earlier findings by Kalmuss (1984) suggesting that the transmission of family
violence across generations, while not sex specific (i.e., observing father hit mother
increases the likelihood that both sons and daughters will be victims as well as
perpetrators of marital aggression), tends to be role specific (i.e., the observation
of violence between parents teaches children the appropriateness of such behaviour).
The idea that children model specific violent behaviours of parents in their own intimate
relationships was supported in research by Bernard and Bernard (1983) indicating that
individuals "indulge in the same forms of abuse as they experienced or observed in
their families of origin" (p. 286).
Cappell and Heiner (1990) added further insight by examining
how levels of violence in the respondent's current family were associated with the
presence or absence of violence in the respondent's family of origin. According to
the authors, a vulnerability toward interpersonal family violence (through the observation
of parents' marital violence) for both males and females may instead be transmitted rather
than a transference of specific roles in networks of aggressive relations.
Finally, the influence of personality on the partner
abuse/violence in the family of origin linkage has also been noted. In examining
differences in personality and family of origin among alcoholic and nonalcoholic agency
identified batterers, community identified batterers and a nonviolent comparison group,
Hamberger and Hastings (1991) found that alcoholic batterers were most likely to report
having witnessed parental violence and having been abused as a child. This
finding is consistent with that of Jaffe, Babour and Fishbein (1988) who found that early
experiences of aggression were the best predictor of drinking related aggression
(including spouse abuse) later in life.
The studies reviewed in this section highlight some of the
general trends in research concerned with violence in the family of origin and its effects
on later interpersonal violence. There is little dispute as to whether a
relationship exists between these variables. However as noted, researchers
remain unclear about the nature of the linkage of these variables. For
example, Seltzer and Kalmuss (1988) pointed out that many adults who perpetrate abuse
against their partners come from homes that have not experienced violence while others
exposed to violent behaviour in their childhood families fail to carry this mode of
conflict resolution into later relationships. According to the authors, these
discrepancies in the transmission of marital violence do not negate the effects of social
learning theory, but simply implicate the influence of other important modelling agents
outside the family such as peers and the media (Check & Malamuth, 1985;
Gwartney-Gibbs, Stockard & Bohmer, 1987; Williams, 1990).
Stress has been variously defined by family violence writers
(Farrington, 1986; Porter, 1985; Schinke, Schilling, Barth, Gilchrist & Maxwell,
1986). Yet in spite of minor differences in interpretation, these definitions have
shared in common the idea that, when environmental demands exceed the capabilities of
people, the resulting response can be described as stressful.
Stressors or life stress events have been identified as both positive and negative events such as unemployment, mobility, marriage, birth of
children, divorce, aging, and death (Makepeace, 1983). There is general agreement
among writers and practitioners in the area that a relationship exists between the
occurrence of violence between intimate partners and the experience of life stress
events. However, as with the other risk factors addressed, the relationship of
stress and violence between intimates is complex and as a result, not completely
The experience of stress has been measured in a number of
ways. Researchers have often relied upon validated scales appropriate for their sample or
have developed their own measures. Because of this, variability in the measurement
of stress has been common throughout the partner abuse literature.
Neidig, Friedman and Collins (1985) examined the relationship between male perpetrated spouse abuse and stress using the Social Readjustment Rating
Scale developed by Holmes and Rahe (1967). Their findings indicated that this measure
differentiated batterers from nonbatterers with the former scoring higher. Seltzer and
Kalmuss's (1988) analysis of Straus and Gelles' national survey data extended these
findings. Using a subset of eleven items taken from the same scale, they reported
that the joint effects of early exposure to family violence and recent stressful
experiences on spouse abuse were additive rather than interactive. In other words,
adults who had been exposed to violence in their families of origin as well as to recent
stressful experiences and chronic economic strain were more likely to exhibit violence
against their partners than individuals exposed to fewer factors.
The research described above supports peoples' experiences of
stress as being idiosyncratic in nature. Consistent with the comments of Seltzer and
Kalmuss (1988), it appears that an individual's subjective perception of events may in
part determine his/her experience of stress. Just as the degree of violence
perpetrated and experienced varies in terms of frequency and severity across subjects, so
does the experience of stress. The development of measures for use with particular
populations (Makepeace, 1983; Marshall and Rose, 1990) indicates an initial attempt by
researchers in acknowledging the uniqueness of peoples' experiences. However, in
order to establish a clear relationship between stress and the perpetration of violence,
researchers need to:
consider both positive and negative life
stressors as possible predictors of partner abuse, and
distinguish between the effects of using
different instruments and the actual correlates of stress and partner abuse.