Domestic violence is widespread and its effects are pervasive. Practice and research in domestic violence have resulted in a greater appreciation of the complexities in understanding the impacts of domestic violence on children and the ways in which it can be approached as child abuse. Research has indicated that the distinction between ‘witnessing’ and ‘experiencing’ direct abuse are inadequate, as even when children are not the intended targets of domestic violence they experience the impact of domestic violence.
To understand the dynamics of domestic violence, it is important to note that power and domination are at its core and that alienation and isolation of the survivors perpetuate this terrible and often hidden crime.
Systematic alienation and isolation is a common tactic amongst perpetrators of domestic violence and lays the foundation for other forms of abuse. This alienation of the survivor(s) is achieved and imposed through various strategies for systematic coercion and control, and contributes to other forms of abuse that permeate the lives of the survivors of domestic violence. This ‘web of control’ is often sustained by multiple barriers and ‘walls of exclusion’ represented by a combination of psychological, social, economic, physical, cultural, and other obstacles that are constructed as “formidable” and escape from which seems extremely difficult if not impossible.
These webs of correlated and interlocking practices, strategies, and tactics of violence and abuse form and sustain a loom upon which the fabric of lived experience of domestic violence are woven into the bodily, emotional, psychological and psychic existence of survivor(s). Pulled with the thread of time and sealed in privacy of intimate space(s) the piercing and omnipresent threat of further aggression, violence and abuse intimately pervade, dominate and condition the survivors reactions, beliefs, and relationship(s) with ‘self’ and the ‘Others’.
The systematic, repetitive and crushing patterns in which power and gender are enacted, and their discursive forms, seamlessly penetrate and permeate the deepest thoughts and experiences of the survivor(s) of domestic violence and perpetuate its’ debilitating web of entrapment.
This sense of entrapment is not a mere physical phenomenon, it is rather an all-invasive and omnipresent experience that encompasses most if not all aspects of the survivors lives and sense of ‘reality’. Through a combination of verbal and nonverbal messages, cues, threats, violent and manipulative strategies, actions and tactics the perpetrator’s voice, ‘truth’ and ‘presence’ pierce and dominate his/her survivors’ “reality”, and in a complex and interwoven, yet often intangible, manner seep into survivors’ minds and beings and condition their thinking and psyche.
Statistics, surveys and research indicate that men and women both perpetrate considerable amount of aggression. For instance, in UK, Women’s Aid asserts that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their life time, while data from USA indicates that nationally, four women, one man, and three children die as a result of domestic violence each day. Historically, aggression by women has remained a relatively underexplored area compared to that of men. However, in order to inform and design effective intervention and treatment programmes, specific research is needed to study the correlates of aggression perpetration by both men and women. Furthermore, it is necessary to have a clear understanding about the cross-sections of domestic violence with gender, age, race, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic class, and so on.
Some scholars, observers and commentators have noted the limitations within an undifferentiated approach to domestic violence. In fact, the conception of an ‘idealised victim may actually ‘tacitly …endorse similar stereotypical notions of the victim’ (Green, 2007:183) and this may lead to ‘a highly undifferentiated view of the victim’ (Walklate, 2006:279). Such an undifferentiated approach is a reductionism of the lived experience of domestic violence and pays little attention to the diversity of survivors, their characteristics and experiences, and instead ‘assumes a uniformity of characteristics among the victim population’ (Green, 2007:183).
Indeed, such undifferentiated treatment reflects the profound historical ambivalence toward survivors within the ‘philosophical and intellectual traditions’ (Dingan, 2005:105) and a conception of justice and rights founded on patriarchy. In this context, Walklate (2005) depicts three different conceptions of the survivor within restorative justice in UK, namely: ‘the structurally neutral victim’, ‘the socially inclusive community as victim’ and ‘the offender as victim’ (2006:273-85). All of which are clearly inequitable, inadequate and unacceptable.
Hence, notwithstanding the merits and importance of restorative justice, given the complexity of domestic violence, in recent years, legislation has taken a more assertive turn by mandating arrest of the perpetrator in cases of domestic violence. This has been hailed as a success by some scholars, observers, and feminists as it has shifted the arrest and prosecutorial decision(s) from the survivors to the state, with the objective of alleviating the pressures that survivors may face from their abusers to “drop” or “stop” criminal charges or civil proceedings (Leisenring, 2008; Miller, 2005). However, such measures have been contested by other researchers as disempowering the survivors of domestic violence (Dasgupta, 2003; Mills, 1998, 1999). Therefore, it is important that any such preventive measures are not be conceived as an end to themselves. To initiate lasting change it is important to re-establish the missing dialogue in domestic violence cases.
Analysing the Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey, in UK, the Guardian reports that 40% of domestic violence survivors are men:
“Data from the Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey indicate that in 2004-05 men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims each year between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the last year for which figures are available. In 2006-07 men made up 43.4% of all those who had suffered partner abuse in the previous year, which rose to 45.5% in 2007-08 but fell to 37.7% in 2008-09.
Similar or slightly larger numbers of men were subjected to severe force in an incident with their partner, according to the same documents. The figure stood at 48.6% in 2006-07, 48.3% the next year and 37.5% in 2008-09, Home Office statistics show.
The 2008-09 bulletin states: “More than one in four women (28%) and around one in six men (16%) had experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. These figures are equivalent to an estimated 4.5 million female victims of domestic abuse and 2.6 million male victims.”
In addition, “6% of women and 4% of men reported having experienced domestic abuse in the past year, equivalent to an estimated one million female victims of domestic abuse and 600,000 male victims”. (Source: The Guardian, Sunday, 5 September 2010)
Hence, given the inequitable reductionism and inefficacy of an undifferentiated treatment and/or gender-insensitive approaches to domestic violence experiences, in current socio-cultural context, it is particularly important to maintain a gender sensitive and gender-aware approach to domestic violence by adopting gender-specific interventions, programmes, treatments, and solutions to this complex and still too widespread problem.
Claudia Megele (@ClaudiaMegele) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire. She is also the Founder of @MHchat & @SWSCmedia and the Chair of Tower Hamlets Police & Community Safety Board.
Dasgupta, S. D. (2003). Safety and justice for all: Examining the relationship between the women’s anti-violence movement and the criminal legal system. New York: Ms. Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.ms.foundation.org/user-assets/PDF/Program/safety_justice.pdf
Dignan, J. (2005) Understanding Victims and Restorative Justice. Open University Press.
Green, S. (2007) ‘The Victims’ Movement and Restorative Justice’ in Johnstone G. & Van Ness D.W. (eds), Handbook of Restorative Justice. Willan Publishing.
Leisenring, A. (2008). Controversies surrounding mandatory arrest policies and the police response to intimate partner violence. Sociology Compass, 2, 451-466.
Miller, S. L. (2005). Victims as offenders: The paradox of women’s violence in relationships. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Mills, L. G. (1998). Mandatory arrest and prosecution policies for domestic violence: A critical literature review and the case for more research to test victim empowerment approaches. Criminal Justice & Behavior, 25, 306-318.
Mills, L. G. (1999). Killing her softly: Intimate abuse and the violence of state intervention. Harvard Law Review, 113, 550-614.
Walklate, S. (2006) ‘Changing Boundaries of the “Victim” in Restorative Justice: So Who is the Victim Now?’ in Sullivan D. & Tifft L. (eds), Handbook of Restorative Justice: A Global Perspective. Routledge.