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Domestic Violence

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Domestic Violence

One of the most complicated issues facing most health care professionals and governmental agencies today is that of domestic violence. Domestic violence encompasses any violence that is inflicted upon one family member by another family member. Thus, domestic violence can be described as spouse abuse, child abuse, sibling abuse, or elder abuse. Most authorities suggest that domestic violence is typically expressed in violence against women and children. Such acts of violence can involve health care professionals in the treatment of physical injuries, the psychological impact upon the victim, or the aggressive behavior of the abuser. Often governmental agencies are called upon to investigate such matters to ensure the safety of the victims or to determine appropriate punishment for the offender. However, given the importance of the bonds and rights of the family that our culture maintains, it is difficult to determine when the situation at home "is no one's business" and when it merits intervention from outside parties in order to protect the welfare of those involved. Despite these difficulties and complexities, domestic violence is considered to be a worldwide health problem necessitating urgent intervention ("A Priority Health," 1998). The purpose of this paper is to explore the incidence and treatment regarding domestic violence.


The occurrence of domestic violence appears to be a worldwide problem occurring in every nation on earth. The small island of Fiji reports incidents of husbands killing wives over marital disputes (Adinkrah, 1999). Japanese officials refer to domestic violence as a "hidden crime" (Mieko, 1999). One survey conducted by the local government of Tokyo indicated that: one-third of the women interviewed had suffered physical violence from their husbands, violence was repeatedly inflicted on almost seven percent of the women, and over three percent indicated that they had been beaten severely. The government of India suspects that at least five thousand women were burned to death in 1991 by their husbands over marital conflicts (Singh & Unnithan, 1999).

Although Sweden is generally considered a country sensitive to social and family issues, it is also plagued with incidents of domestic violence. Consequently, the Swedish government introduced a new offense in 1998 in order to discourage spouse abuse (Nylen, & Heimer, 1999). As such,

one part of the new offense, gross violation of a woman's integrity, covers repeated acts committed by men against women with whom they have a close relationship. Its companion offense, gross violation of integrity, protects children and other close relatives. The new offense means that if a man commits certain criminal acts (e.g., assault, unlawful threat or coercion, sexual or other molestation, or sexual exploitation) against a woman to whom he is or has been married or with whom he is or has been cohabiting and seriously damages her selfconfidence, the courts can sentence him for gross violation of the woman's integrity in addition to sentencing him on each traditional crime, such as aggravated assault. In this way, the new legislation allows the courts to take into account the entire situation of the abused woman and increase the offender's punishment to fit the severity and frequency of the acts. (p. 19)

Of course, the crime of domestic violence is also prevalent in the United States. In fact, in recent years, many famous individuals have been accused of abusing their wife. For example, film director John Singleton, former football player and actor Jim Brown, and rock musician Tommy Lee have all appeared in court to face charges of such crimes.

The most prominent forms of domestic violence are spouse abuse, particularly with the wife as target, and abuse of children. In some cases, both types are occurring simultaneously. In other situations, only one type of violence is occurring. Other forms of domestic violence such as sibling abuse and elder abuse are not as common. Violence against adult males is rare. Consequently, violence within a household is typically aimed at weaker members.

Spouse Abuse

For centuries, the abuse of wives by their husbands has been tolerated by most societies. In some cultures, it was considered to be a part of married life, a method of acceptable control. Since men were paid through dowries to take care of wives, the notion was that wives were considered property in much the same way that children were viewed (Kornblum & Julian, 1995). Consequently, authorities often believe that it is inappropriate to interfere in the relationship between a man and his wife or children. "There seems to be an implicit, taken-for-granted cultural norm which makes it legitimate for family members to hit each other. In respect to husbands and wives, in effect, this means that the marriage license is also a hitting license" (Straus, 1977, p. 444). Actually, there is no equality with regard to husbands and wives hitting one another.

Statistics regarding spouse abuse in the United States frequently cited are estimates at best. Many wives are fearful of retaliation by their husbands and are, therefore, reluctant to report the abuse. Some fail to report it because they are ashamed or feel that it is no one's business. Unfortunately, many times only when the abuse is so severe that the woman requires medical intervention are reports made to law enforcement agencies. In any case, the Justice Department estimates that more than two million women each year are abused by their husbands in domestic violence incidents (Reid, 1991). Almost four thousand women are brutally beaten to death by their husbands each year. One-fourth of all female suicides are committed by women who have a history of being beaten by significant men in their lives.

Many women do not leave the homes in which they are being abused for an assortment of reasons. The homes involved in domestic violence are complicated, with dysfunctional relationships and unhealthy dynamics. The abusive partner tends to display more than physical violence. He also inflicts emotional abuse that often shatters the self-esteem and independent thinking of the victim (Kornblum & Julian, 1995). In other words, there is "a complicated and cumulative cycle of tension, belittlement, violence, remorse, and reconciliation that can lead to a paralysis of will and extinction of self-respect" (Erlanger, 1987, p.1).

Child Abuse

Unfortunately, recent information seems to indicate that the likelihood of a relationship between spouse abuse and child abuse is high. Erlanger (1987) indicates that almost forty percent of men



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