domestic violence

acts of violence against a person living in one's household, esp. a member of one's immediate family.

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▪ social and legal concept
      social and legal concept that, in the broadest sense, refers to any abuse that takes place among people living in the same household, although the term is often used specifically to refer to assaults upon women by their male partners. Estimated annual figures for the number of women in the United States who are subjected to psychological, verbal, emotional, or physical abuse by a male partner range from two to four million. Additional statistics indicate that domestic violence ranks as the leading cause of injury to women from age 15 to 44 and that one-third of the American women murdered in any given year are killed by current or former boyfriends or husbands.

      Perpetrators of domestic violence come from all socioeconomic, cultural, and educational backgrounds. The stresses of poverty contribute to violence and seem to make the problem more common among those at the bottom of the class structure, but nonetheless most poor people are not violent. Being reared in abusive circumstances makes men more likely to be abusers and women more likely to be victims, but most children reared under these conditions are neither abusers nor victims. In a few cases men are beaten by women, although rarely do men suffer serious physical injury.

      Frequently there is no workable solution for female victims of domestic violence. For some victims the unrelenting cycle of violence produces diminished self-esteem, helplessness, depression, and exaggerated feelings of imprisonment, even the belief that they deserve abuse. More material obstacles stand in the way of most victims. Many are financially dependent on their abusers, and, since many abuse victims are mothers, they particularly fear being unable to support their children if they leave a violent partner. Many fear reporting the crime because the police can offer no reliable protection against men's retaliation. One of the worst problems is that typical abusers often become most violent and vengeful precisely when women try to leave; numbers of women have been murdered by husbands literally inside courthouses as they try to press charges or to win orders of protection.

      In the early 1800s most legal systems implicitly accepted wife-beating as a husband's right, part of his entitlement to control over the resources and services of his wife. Feminist agitation in the 1800s produced a sea change in public opinion, and by the end of the 19th century most courts denied that husbands had any right to “chastise” their wives. But few women had realistic sources of help, and most police forces did nothing to protect women. The 1967 training manual for the International Association of Chiefs of Police stated that arrests in instances of domestic violence were to be made only as a “last resort.”

      The revived women's movement of the 1970s brought the issue of domestic violence into the open. Feminists encouraged battered women to speak up and to refuse to accept blame for their victimization. Women's organizations pressured police to treat domestic violence as they would treat any other assault, established battered women's shelters where victims and their children could find safety, help, counseling, and legal advice. The increased visibility of these campaigns raised public awareness of the issue and sympathy for victims. This sympathy has been reflected in courts' increased willingness to convict abusers and to allow women who have killed their abusers to use a self-defense plea when applicable. The antiviolence against women movement won some public funding for shelters and led to the formation of national advocacy groups such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In 1994 U.S. Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, and in 1995 President Bill Clinton established the Violence Against Women Office in the Department of Justice; this office attempts to aid and coordinate the work of federal, state, and local agencies on the issue of domestic violence.

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Universalium. 2010.

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