Domestic Violence Against Women
Molly Cutter and Sarah Hautzinger
Saint Mary’s College
Domestic Violence Against Women
As they grow up, most women are taught how to protect and defend themselves from assault or some other form of physical violence. Usually, these lessons remind them to be vigilant of one’s surroundings, carry pepper spray, and to always walk somewhere with a friend or group. However, these lessons do not prepare women to defend themselves against violence from their intimate partner. Nobody expects to be assaulted by someone close to them, whether it be a boyfriend, husband, or significant other. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 women in America have experienced physical violence by a intimate partner (NCADV, 2019). Domestic violence is a widespread issue, and it is important to consider who is affected by domestic violence and if there are adequate resources in place to provide support for women in violent relationships. It is necessary to consider the context in which domestic violence occurs, through the lenses of both intersectionality and transnationalism, in order to provide the most comprehensive services and support for survivors and their families.
Domestic violence can seem like a vague term that is used to encompass a number of abusive behaviors, so it is important to understand how it is defined. According to the Office on Women’s Health,
Domestic violence is sometimes called intimate partner violence. It includes physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as sexual coercion and stalking by a current or former intimate partner. An intimate partner is a person with whom you have or had a close personal or sexual relationship. (2018)
Despite there being a clear definition for domestic violence, it is important to realize that many myths exist surrounding the topic of domestic violence and that these myths can have important implications on how survivors are treated. While there are a number of domestic violence myths, some of the more popular ones include “ the ideas that domestic violence only involves physical abuse, battered women could easily leave if they wanted to, and victims are to blame for the violence” (Policastro & Payne, 2013, p. 330). Policastro and Payne (2013) set out to examine how domestic violence myth acceptance influences how victims are treated. They found that 51% of respondents believe that it is completely the woman’s choice to stay in an abusive relationship, and that around the same number of respondents did not understand why it was so difficult for a woman to leave a violent relationship (2013). These results have startling implications for how women in violent relationships are viewed and treated, as those who accept domestic violence myths are more likely to criminalize domestic violence survivors for not leaving the relationship. “Note that through the use of criminal prosecutions for exposing children to domestic violence and delayed police responses to domestic violence, victims are in fact relabeled offenders and treated as offenders through criminal justice interventions” (Policastro & Payne, 2013, p. 342). While domestic violence myths may seem harmless, they can have damaging effects on how survivors are treated not just by family, friends, and coworkers, but also by the criminal justice system.
Domestic violence can occur in a number of forms, but it has its roots in both the larger social structures of society and in the social construction of gender. While some believe domestic violence is carried out purely because of individual actions and decisions, it is necessary to consider the underlying social structures and institutions of American society and how those affect the individual decision to enact violence. Michalski (2004) explains that domestic violence occurs because of structural factors established in society that affect relationships. Some of these relationship factors can include a high degree of social isolation for the couple from other people, an absence of integrated networks, unequal access to resources between partners, a centralization of authority in one partner, and violent network exposure in one partner (Michalski, 2004). According to Michalski, the structural approach “presents a concise model that emphasizes the immediacy of relational variables and the social contexts within which domestic violence tends to occur rather than attributing ‘causality’ to the individual characteristics of perpetrators or survivors” (2004, p. 669). Because of this, Michalski suggests that the best way to reduce the risk of domestic violence in relationships is to change the culture of violence that develops in a society, rather than simply encouraging individuals to act in a nonviolent matter, as change will only come about at the structural level (2004). In this way, taking a sociological approach can help explain how and why domestic violence occurs. It is also important to consider how the social construction of gender has influenced the development of domestic violence.
The issue of domestic violence must also be understood in the context of social constructions of gender. Society has created social norms that reflect the way children are raised. Growing up, everyone does gender. The idea here is that this feeds into the high rates of domestic violence against women. Shaw and Lee (2015) state, “If boys are raised to hide emotion, see sensitivity as weakness, and view sexual potency as wound up with interpersonal power, and girls are raised to be dependent and support masculine entitlement, then interpersonal violence should be no surprise” (p. 542). The different ways that males and females are raised affect the way they behave later in life. Although it is unfortunate, it makes sense that boys who are raised to be tough and not cry grow up to be men who cannot control their anger.
It is important to understand there is no one universal experience of domestic violence, and as such, it must be considered both intersectionally and transnationally. Taking an intersectional approach means considering how multiple factors, such as gender, race, class, and religion, impact a woman’s experience in a relationship where she is experiencing domestic violence. Sokoloff and Dupont (2005) explain the importance of intersectionality and taking specific cultures into account when discussing domestic violence. “No dimension, such as gender inequality, is privileged in explaining domestic violence. Most important, gender inequality itself is modified by its intersection with other systems of power and oppression” (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005, p. 43). While many people think of gender as being the most important form of oppression in domestic violence, it is important to remember these “other oppressions,” such as race or class, that could affect how women are helped or viewed. For example, a poor woman of color in a violent relationship is facing multiple oppressions, not just the oppression of her gender, that are shaping her experiences. Sokoloff and Dupont also point out the advantages of taking an intersectional approach when discussing domestic violence, listing benefits such as the opportunity for marginalized women to have a voice about their experiences, the encouragement of activism among women at the margins, and the increased call for culturally competent help and services, such as services that are explicitly not homophobic for LGBTQ survivors, bilingual services for immigrant women, or special food preparation for some religious women (2005). While an intercultural approach may at times seem overwhelming, it is necessary in order to provide services that will accommodate all women, not just a select few.
It is important to look at the different attitudes towards domestic violence against women in various parts of the world. In some regions, domestic violence is highly acceptable and no one bats an eyelash. In other places, the thought of domestic violence is impermissible. According to a United Nations report gathering data from the Asia-Pacific region, the general attitude towards domestic violence against women is acceptable. The survey sent out by the United Nations asked teenage girls from different countries if husbands were justified in beating their wives. In many countries, the amount of young women who said the beating was justified was over 50%. Timor Leste was the leading country with 81% of women saying that the beating was justified (World Economic Forum, 2016). This shows that attitudes around the world differ significantly. The differing attitudes and levels of acceptance tie into the actual rates of domestic violence, leading some regions to normalize the idea of domestic violence.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. Women all around the world are directly affected by this issue, regardless of skin color, age, class, or religion. Since domestic violence presents itself in many forms, a wide array of resources are needed to combat domestic violence, help survivors, and change the narrative surrounding domestic violence. These are just some of the important job descriptions that existing organizations hold. Fortunately, there is a significant amount of resources available since domestic violence is such a rampant issue. While many essential organizations exist worldwide, it is important to highlight a few that are doing substantial work and helping change the lives of many women.
On the local level, we have St. Margaret’s House located in South Bend, Indiana. St. Margaret’s House serves women in the area who are in need. Their services focus on three specific areas of need. First and foremost, immediate needs such as food, toiletries, and laundry are taken care of when a woman enters St. Margaret’s House. Community is also provided to those who lack a sense of belonging and support. Finally, programming such as parenting and children’s programs, emotional health and wellbeing groups, and access to health services, is available at St. Margaret’s House. Their mission is “to improve the lives of women and children by providing individual attention to their immediate needs, breaking the bonds of isolation and helping them acquire skills to better their lives” (St. Margaret’s House, 2019). St. Margaret’s House is doing a considerable amount of work in order to change the lives of women affected by domestic violence in the South Bend area.
Many organizations exist on the national level as well. One organization that is working in many different areas to impact as many women as possible is the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. According to their website, they “collaborate with other national organizations to promote legislation and policies that serve and protect victims and survivors of domestic violence and work to change the narrative surrounding domestic violence” (NCADV, 2019). Another unique insight about this organization is that they rely on grassroots support which gets the community heavily involved in the process to make change regarding domestic violence. Through collaboration, member support, and advocacy, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence serves as the voice of both victims and survivors of domestic violence. They do this by looking at the root causes of domestic violence and finding ways to eliminate them. For example, they “support efforts that demand a change of conditions that lead to domestic violence such as patriarchy, privilege, racism, sexism, and classism” (NCADV, 2019). The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides survivors of domestic violence with not only resource, but a community and a voice.
Taking a transnational approach, since Canada does things differently and is in close proximity to the United States of America, it is important to look at an existing organization based in Canada. Introduced in June of 2017, Canada launched It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence. This organization is based on three pillars: prevention, support for survivors and their families, and the promotion of responsive legal systems. An important area of work that It’s Time is focusing on is an area that is often neglected. They work to “fill in the gaps for diverse populations,” such as LGBTQ members, people with disabilities, children and youth, and seniors (Status of Women Canada, 2018). Differing from the previous organizations mentioned in the United States, It’s Time works with several different agencies in Canada such as Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Status of Women Canada, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. Money has gone towards funding research, equipping health professionals, and more training for police officers.
Overall, a review of the literature surrounding domestic violence reveals that it is a highly complex topic. It is an issue that transcends borders, affecting women all around the world. Additionally, it must be approached from an intersectional point of view as one must consider how the various aspects of a person’s identity affects how they experience the world. Domestic violence has been created through the larger institutions and structures of society, as well as the harmful implications of the social construction of gender. There are differing attitudes around the world surrounding the topic of domestic violence, which affects the rates of domestic violence in various nations. However, there are a number of existing organizations that aim to provide support and services for survivors and their families. There is always hope for women in violent relationships.
Michalski, J.H. (2004). Making sociological sense out of trends in intimate partner violence: The social structure of violence against women. Violence Against Women, 10 652-675.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2019). Our work. Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/about-us
Office on Women’s Health. (2018). Domestic or intimate partner violence. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/domestic-violence
Policastro, C., & Payne, B. (2013). The blameworthy victim: Domestic violence myths and the criminalization of victimhood. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 22(4), 329–347.
Shaw, S. & Lee, J. (2015). Women’s voices, feminist visions. McGraw-Hill Education.
Sokoloff, N.J. & Dupont, I. (2005). Domestic violence at the intersection of race, class, and gender: Challenges and contribution to understanding violence against marginalized women in diverse communities. Violence Against Women, 11, 38-64.
Status of Women Canada. (2018). Strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence. Retrieved from https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/index-en.html
St. Margaret’s House. (2019). Services & programs. Retrieved from https://www.stmargaretshouse.org/services-n-programs
Thomson, S. (2016). 81% of girls in this country think domestic violence is justified. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/81-of-teenage-girls-in-this-country-think-domestic-violence-is-justified/