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Domestic violence

Domestic violence, by barest definition, is violence within a home. Beyond this, the term has a range of definitions, some more and some less formal, which are frequently used with little awareness that a range of definitions exists.



The UK Home Office

In its annual UK Crime Survey [1], the British government defined domestic violence as:

Any violence between current or former partners in an intimate relationship, wherever and whenever the violence occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse.

For classification purposes it breaks the term down into sexual and non-sexual abuse, and each of these into further sub-categories illustrated by example:



  • Prevented you from having your fair share of the household money
  • Stopped you from seeing friends and relatives


  • Frightened you, by threatening to hurt you or someone close to you

Force - minor

  • Pushed you, held or pinned you down or slapped you

Force - major

  • Kicked you, bit you, or hit you with a fist or something else, or threw something at you that hurt you
  • Choked or tried to strangle you
  • Threatened you with a weapon, such as a stick or a knife
  • Threatened to kill you
  • Used a weapon against you, e.g. a knife, gun


Rape - 1994 definition

  • Penetration of the vagina or anus by the penis without consent
    • [Women only] Penetrated your vagina with a penis, even if only slightly
    • Penetrated your anus with a penis even if only slightly
    • [Women only] Attempted to penetrate your vagina with a penis, but did not succeed
    • Attempted to penetrate your anus with a penis but did not succeed

Rape - additional 2003 definition

  • In addition to the 1994 definition, penetration of the mouth by penis without consent:
    • Penetrated your mouth with a penis even if only slightly
    • Attempted to penetrate your mouth with a penis but did not succeed

Assault by penetration - 2003 (new offence)

  • Penetration of the vagina or anus by other body parts or objects
    • [Women only] Penetrated your vagina with an object (including fingers) even if only slightly
    • Penetrated your anus with an object (including fingers) even if only slightly
    • [Women only] Attempted to penetrate your vagina with an object (including fingers) but did not succeed
    • Attempted to penetrate your anus with an object (including fingers) but did not succeed


CAFCASS, whilst mentioning in its Domestic Violence Policy [2] that it uses the term ‘domestic violence’ to refer to a range of violent and abusive behaviours, defines it as:

  • Patterns of behaviour characterised by the misuse of power and control by one person over another who are or have been in an intimate relationship. It can occur in mixed gender relationships and same gender relationships and has profound consequences for the lives of children, individuals, families and communities. It may be physical, sexual, emotional and/or psychological. The latter may include intimidation, harassment, damage to property, threats and financial abuse.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 has extended the definition of harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989) to include harm suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another, such as harm caused by witnessing domestic violence.

Women's Aid

This woman's self-help group defines domestic violence [3] as:

Domestic violence is physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. Crime statistics and research both show that domestic violence is gender-specific - usually the perpetrator of a pattern of repeated assaults is a man.

The UK Home Office statistics indicate that male-on-female repeated assaults are about twice as common as female-on-male repeated assaults.Table 2.5

Other definitions



  • Physical violence
  • Mental/emotional violence
    • Verbal threats of physical violence to the victim, the self, or others including children, ranging from explicit, detailed and impending to implicit and vague as to both content and time frame
    • Verbal violence, including threats, insults, put-downs, attacks
    • Nonverbal threats, including gestures, facial expressions, body postures
  • Economic/social abuse
    • Controlling victim's money and other economic resources, preventing victim from seeing friends and relatives, actively sabotaging victim's social relationships and isolating victim from social contacts.

The term "domestic violence" replaced "wife beating" or "wife battering" which came before. In its turn, it has begun to be replaced with more descriptive terms such as "relationship violence", "domestic abuse", "violence against a spouse", "spousal abuse" and "family violence". The term has been defined legally in some jurisdictions, which can add further confusion when members of the justice system interact with domestic violence advocates.

Cycle of Violence

Frequently, domestic violence is used to describe specific violent and overtly abusive incidents, and legal definitions will tend to take this perspective. However, when violent and abusive behaviors happen within a relationship, the effects of those behaviors continue after these overt incidents are over. Advocates and counselors will refer to domestic violence as a pattern of behaviors, including those listed above.

Lenore Walker presented the model of a "Cycle of Violence" which consists of three basic phases:

Honeymoon Phase
Characterized by affection, apology, apparent end of violence.
Tension Building Phase
Characterized by poor communication, tension, fear of causing outbursts,
Acting-out Phase
Characterized by outbursts of violent, abusive incidents.

Although it is easy to see the outbursts of the Acting-out Phase as abuse, even the more pleasant behaviors of the Honeymoon Phase serve to perpetuate the abuse. See also the cycle of abuse article.


Domestic violence is caused specifically by the choice to engage in violent or abusive behavior against a partner, sibling or child. A variety of factors can lead to that choice, but only in the case of truly uncontrollable compulsions can those factors eliminate the potential to choose nonviolent and nonabusive behaviors.


Whilst purposelessness might be a better heading for this section, a causalist view is that the purpose of domestic violence is not primarily to hurt or harm the victim. Rather, it is to gain or maintain power and control over the victim.

Note that power in a relationship is often a matter of perception. A person may perceive themselves to be put-upon when a less involved observer would disagree.


It is impossible to have a discussion of domestic violence that does not include a discussion of the role gender does or doesn't have to play in the problem. Sometimes, the discussion of gender can overwhelm any other topic, due to the degree of emotion with which the discussion of gender can attain. The topic is also itself emotive because of the revulsion that is evoked by the idea of vulnerable people powerless and hurt at the hands of a partner, spouse or other relative.

Attention to domestic violence began in the women's movement as concern about wives being beaten by their husbands, and has remained a major focus in the modern feminist movement, particularly under the label "violence against women". The world's first domestic violence shelter was founded by Erin Pizzey, in Chiswick, London, who has since expressed her dismay at how the issue has become a gender-political football, and expressed an unpopular view in her book Prone to Violence that some women in the refuge system had a predisposition to seek abusive relationships. She also expressed the view that domestic violence can occur against any vulnerable intimates, regardless of their sex. Given the violence that she herself experienced in the UK for voicing her views, one might be suspicious of some of those who opposed her views, which remain very relevant. Political balance in light of pressure from the feminist movement has been helped by noting that there are women who were violent with their husbands and partners, and with the realisation that where the prevailing culture ceases to be predominantly patriarchal there is no corresponding lessening in the incidence of domestic violence.

There continues to be discussion about whether men are more abusive than women, whether men's abuse of women is worse than women's abuse of men, how and whether resources for abused women should be made available to abused men, etc. The British Crime Survey for the year 2001-2 [4] reported, "There were an estimated 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence acts (nonsexual threats or force) against women [84%] and 2.5 million against men [16%] in England and Wales in the year prior to interview." The same report states, "Four per cent of women and two per cent of men were subject to domestic violence (non-sexual domestic threats or force) during the last year." Ahimsa [5], a UK based DV project, says: "Research findings consistently report that over 90% of domestic violence is perpetrated by men within heterosexual relationships.". Women's Aid (the UKs leading domestic violence charity) say "Crime statistics and research both show that domestic violence is gender specific - usually the perpetrator of a pattern of repeated assaults is a man. Women experience the most serious physical and repeated assaults." The Council of Europe found in a 1992 study that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetimes and between 6-10% of women suffer domestic violence in a given year. Every minute in the UK, the Police receive a call from the public for assistance for domestic violence. However, they estimate that only around 35% of dv is actually reported. A 2002 Women's Aid study found that 74% of separated women suffered from post-separation violence. 42% of all female homicide victims compared with 4% of male homicide victims, were killed by current or former partners in England and Wales in the year 2000-2001. This equates to 102 women, an average of 2 women each week (Home Office, 2001). When it comes to domestic violence towards children, research in the UK by the NSPCC indicated that "most violence occurred at home (78 per cent) with mothers being primarily responsible in 49 per cent of cases and fathers in 40 per cent of cases."[6]

Studies have been carried out to explore these issues, and results have seemed somewhat contradictory. A problem in conducting such studies is the amount of silence, fear and shame that results from abuse within families and relationships. Another is that abusive patterns can tend to seem normal to those who have lived in them for a length of time. Similarly, subtle forms of abuse can be quite transparent even as they set the stage for further abuse seeming normal. Finally, inconsistent definition of what domestic violence is makes strong conclusions hard to reach when compiling the available studies. Both men and women have been arrested and convicted of assaulting their partners in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The bulk of these arrests has been men being arrested for assaulting women, but that has been shifting somewhat over time and clearly arrest records are not the whole story. Actual studies of behaviour show that whilst half of male/female intimate violence is best described as mutual brawling, a quarter is the male attacking the female and the remaining quarter being females attacking their male partner. Determining how many instances of domestic violence actually involve male victims is difficult. Male domestic violence victims may be reluctant to get help for a number of reasons (see this article) (Article checked August 8, 2004.) A man who calls for help may even risk being arrested as the "perpetrator" even though he was the victim. Of course these points remain entirely speculative, and unsubstantiated by research evidence.

The general consensus seems to be that male on female domestic violence is more likely to result in serious injury or death, whereas female on male, which, under the definition used by the UK Government, includes preventing the father seeing the children, is more likely to result male suicide. Men on average have more upper body strength and socialization that predisposes them to resort to violence more than women do, and that can give them a higher average lethality than women. However, women determined to prevent injury at the hands of male partners can use weapons to equalize whatever deficit in physical power which may be present, and can also use social constraints against men hitting women, even in self-defense, to provide them with sufficient lethality to be dangerous in conflict situations. Women also are as well equipped to use psychological violence that forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour (to use the Women's Aid definition given above). Women are also equally capable of using a proxy, which could possibly further skew the results (since a proxy murder would not be seen as a form of domestic violence.)

Whilst female murder rates against males have dropped since domestic violence has been taken seriously, the reverse cannot be said to be true, suggesting that if female on male domestic violence were taken more seriously more men would find means of release or escape other than explosive and lethal violence.

Gender roles and expectations can and do play a role in abusive situations, and exploring these roles and expectations can be helpful in addressing abusive situations, as do factors like race, class, religion, sexuality and philosophy. None of these factors cause one to abuse or another to be abused.


Despite it being accepted that domestic violence goes both ways, literature on the subject from books to informational pamphlets, as well as public service announcements, still tend to be typecasted by gender. The victims are usually referred to as "she" and the perpetrator as "he". Men's groups consider that this sexist language undermines the male victims of domestic violence as well as inferring that men alone are inclined towards violence.

A recent Australian government funded campaign entitled 'To violence against women, Australia says NO' was criticised for implying that women were the only victims of domestic violence (or the only ones that count) and that innocent men who knew about or suspected violence in other's relationships and did nothing were somehow complicit in the crime.

Domestic violence in homosexual relationships

Historically domestic violence has been seen as a family issue and little interest has been directed at violence in homosexual relationships. It hasn't been until recently, as the gay rights movement has brought the issues of homosexual people into public attention, when research has been started to conduct on homosexual relationships. Several studies have indicated that partner abuse among homosexual couples (of both women and men) is relatively similar in both prevalence and dynamics to that among heterosexual couples. Homosexuals, however, face special obstacles in dealing with the issues that some researchers have labelled "the double closet": not only are homosexuals often discriminated against and dismissed by police and social services, they are also often met with lack of support from their peers who would rather keep quiet about the problem in order not to attract negative attention toward the homosexual community. Also, the supportive services are mostly designed for the needs of heterosexual women and do not always meet the needs of homosexuals.


It is estimated that every year in the United States, approximately 3 million women are assaulted by their partner. Many of these incidents go unreported to authorities due to the shame and fear associated with domestic violence. In 1998, of the approximately 1.5 million violent crimes committed between intimate partners, over 876,000 of the victims were women, and over 835,000 were men. Of the approximately 1,830 murders committed against intimate partners in 1998, 3 out of 4 of the victims were women. In homes where domestic violence occurs, children in the home are at a 300% greater risk of being abused. Between 3 and 5 billion dollars are spent annually for medical expenses related to domestic violence. Also, approximately 100 million dollars is lost by businesses annually though lost productivity, sick leave and absenteeism due to domestic violence.

Allegations of domestic violence

Allegations of domestic violence are frequent in post-divorce/separation situations. The consequences of such allegations can be serious for the alleged perpetrator since occupation of the home and custody of the children may be at stake. However, is is important to remember that less than 2% of reported domestic violence allegations are proved false.

Response to Domestic Violence

The response to domestic violence is typically a combined effort between law enforcement agencies, the courts, social service agencies and corrections/probation agencies. The role of each has evolved as domestic violence has been brought more into public view. Historically, law enforcement agencies, the courts and corrections agencies treated domestic violence as a personal matter. For example, police officers were often reluctant to intervene by making an arrest, and often chose instead to simply counsel the couple and/or ask one of the parties to leave the residence for a period of time. The courts were reluctant to impose any significant sanctions on those convicted of domestic violence, largely because it was viewed as a misdemeanor offense. This mindset of treating family violence as a personal problem of minor consequence permeated the system's response, and potentially allowed the perpetrator to continue acting violently.

Activism, initiated by victim advocacy groups and feminist groups, has led to a better understanding of the scope and effect of domestic violence on victims and families, and has brought about changes in the criminal justice system's response.


In 1981, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project became the first multi-disciplinary program designed to address the issue of domestic violence. This experiment, conducted in Duluth, MN, frequently referred to as the "Duluth Project," involved coordinating the actions of a variety of agencies that deal with domestic situations. The policies and activities of diverse elements of the system, from police officers on the street, to shelters for battered women and probation officers supervising offenders, were coordinated with each other. This program has become a model for other jurisdictions seeking to deal more effectively with domestic violence. More and more jurisdictions are mandating that suspects in domestic violence incidents be arrested if there is probable cause to believe that an assault occurred. Victim advocates are intervening directly with victims by providing them with counseling about the court process, how to obtain and use restraining orders and how to forumulate and implement safety plans. Corrections/probation agencies in many areas are supervising domestic violence offenders more closely, and are also paying closer attention to the victim's needs and safety issues.

Treatment and Support

Publicly available resources for dealing with domestic violence have tended to be almost exclusively geared towards supporting women and children who are in relationships with or who are leaving violent men, rather than for survivors of domestic violence per se. This has been due to the numeric preponderance of female victims and the perception that domestic violence only affected women. Resources to help men who have been using violence take responsibility for and stop their use of violence, such as Men's Behaviour Change Programs or anger management training, are available, though attendees are ordered to pay for their own course in order that they should remain accountable for their actions.

One of the challenges for lay observers, victims, perpetrators and treatment providers is demonstrated by the tendency to describe perpetrator treatment as men's "anger management." groups.

Comprehensive and accountable behaviour change programs are seen as far more appropriate and effective interventions in male violence in the home than anger management groups.

Inherent in anger management only appoarches is the assumption that the violence is a result of a loss of control over one's anger. While there is little doubt that some domestic violence is about the loss of control, the choice of the target of that violence may be of greater significance. Anger management might be appropriate for the individual who lashes out indiscriminately when angry towards coworkers, supervisors or family. In most cases, however, the domestic violence perpetrator lashes out only at their intimate partner or relatively defenseless child, which suggests an element of choice or selection that, in turn, suggests a different or additional motivation beyond simple anger. Most experienced treatment providers have probably observed that for various reasons, many of which may be cultural, the perpetrator has a sense of entitlement, sometimes conscious, sometimes not, that leads directly to their choice of target.

Men's behaviour change programs, although differing throuhout the world, tend to focus on the prevention of further violence within the family and the safety of women and children. Often they obide by various standards of practise that includes 'partner contact' where the participants female partner is contacted by the program and informed about the course, checked about her level of safety and support and offered support services for herself if she requires them. Many of these programs have both a male and female facilitator and follow a program designed to highlight the impact of his behaviour, examine the attitudes, values and behaviours that lead to his choice to use violence and aim to support and challenge the man to take responsibility for his use of violence.

Work with men who use violence and abuse toward family members can be seen in Victoria, Australia where a unique combination of voluntary and mandated (court or police referred) programs exist as well as a statewide telephone counselling, information and referral service for men exists. see: No To Violence (NTV) the Male Family Violence Prevention Association. [7]


From the perspective of the police, who are often the first to investigate domestic violence incidents, one of the problems is that the definitions of domestic violence include acts that are not themselves crimes. The London Metropolitan Police has nevertheless compiled a list of the crimes [8] which typically can occur when domestic violence occurs. They are:

  • Murder/attempted murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Indecent assault
  • Grievous bodily harm/wounding
  • Actual bodily harm
  • Common assault
  • Threats to kill
  • Affray
  • Threatening behaviour
  • Harassment
  • Blackmail
  • False imprisonment
  • Kidnapping
  • Criminal damage
  • Malicious communications
  • Witness intimidation
  • Obstructing the course of justice
  • Conspiracy to pervert the course of justice

The UK Crown Prosecution Service publishes guidange for prosecution in cases of alleged domestic violence. [9]

Risk Assessment

Policy in the UK since the start of the millennium has been to make a risk assessment when there is a reported incident of domestic violence in order to determine the likelihood of serious harm or further serious harm occurring, regardless of whether an actual crime has been committed. Further proceedings are then based on the outcome of the risk assessment. Some are concerned at the jurisprudence of this approach, because it allows punitive action to be taken against an alleged prepetrator without recourse to a fair trial. The charity Women's Aid proposes that such risk assessments should always be conducted on fathers who wish to see their children after parental separation even where there has been no history of domestic violence:

Women's Aid is concerned that there is no mention [in a recent government Green Paper] of the development of clear protocols to ensure that these measures [new measures to ensure family continuity] are not used in cases where there is a known history or future risk of domestic violence. [10]

Well-known Individuals Involved in Documented Reports of Domestic Violence

Noted accusations of domestic violence

  • In the 2004 ROC Presidential Election, President Chen Shuibian caused a furor during the presidential debates on 2004, February 14 by stating that unlike other people he does not easily get angry and beat his wife, referring to widely circulated rumors that candidate Lien Chan abuses his wife Lien Fangyu . Lien Chan has refused to address that accusation, but his wife has called into question Chen's moral character for making this accusation in public for political gain.

Domestic violence and culture

Wife beating in Islam

Sheikh Muhammad Kamal Mustafa, the imam of the mosque of the city of Fuengirola, Costa del Sol, Spain, in his book 'The Woman in Islam.' writes, among other things, on wife-beating in accordance with Sharia law. "The [wife-]beating must never be in exaggerated, blind anger, in order to avoid serious harm [to the woman]." He adds, "It is forbidden to beat her on the sensitive parts of her body, such as the face, breast, abdomen, and head. Instead, she should be beaten on the arms and legs," using a "rod that must not be stiff, but slim and lightweight so that no wounds, scars, or bruises are caused." Similarly, "[the blows] must not be hard." [11]

Mustafa noted in his book that the aim of the beating was to cause the woman to feel some emotional pain, without humiliating her or harming her physically. According to him, wife-beating must be the last resort to which the husband turns in punishing his wife, and is, according to the Qur'an, Chapter 4, Verse 34, the husband's third step when the wife is rebellious: First, he must reprimand her, without anger. Next, he must distance her from the conjugal bed. Only if these two methods fail should the husband turn to beating.

Sheikh Yousef Qaradhawi, head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, has advocated non-painful wife-beating: "it is permissible for him to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts. In no case should he resort to using a stick or any other instrument that might cause pain and injury."

Dr. Muhammad Al-Hajj, lecturer on Islamic faith at the University of Jordan (Amman) states: "Hard beatings are those that leave marks on the body or on the face. Thus, beating on the face is prohibited, because the face is a combination of the features of beauty, as it is said. It is forbidden to beat the face, it is forbidden to administer blows that leave fractures or wounds this is what our sages have said in their books."

While some Muslims interpret the Koran to allow the beating of wives, many other Muslims interpret the scripture to say "leave" the wife, not beat her.

Hindu/Indian culture

See also:

Further reading

See also

External links

  • (Conflict and Control: Images of Symmetry and Asymmetry) overview of two virtually non-overlapping populations of violent couples, distinguished by either gender-symmetric violence ("common couple violence,") or male violence ("patriarchal terrorism.") Researchers, also, are divided into two virtually non-overlapping populations: those who disregard common couple violence, and those who disregard patriarchal terrorism.

Last updated: 10-20-2005 08:32:45
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