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close this bookViolence against Women (WB)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentInformation
View the documentForeword
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentAbstract
View the document1. introduction
View the document2. The scope and evolution of the problem
View the document3. A primer on violence against women
View the document4. health consequences of gender-based violence
View the document5. Implications of gender violence for health and development
View the document6. Steps toward eliminating violence against women
View the document7. Research needs
View the document8. Conclusions
Open this folder and view contentsAppendix
View the documentNotes
View the documentBibliography

3. A primer on violence against women

Many beliefs about violence against women are untrue. These same beliefs, despite their inaccuracy, have been used to avoid recognition of the problem and prevent investments in solutions. To dispel such misperceptions women's groups have prepared lists of truths about domestic violence representing the collective wisdom of those working on issues of gender-based violence. This section outlines some of the most common of these truths and presents data supporting them. For the sake of brevity, it offers only a few examples in support of each.

Women are mast at risk of violence from men they know

Contrary to the view of the family as a haven of love and support, data from around the world suggest that girls and women are at greater risk of violence in their homes than anywhere else. A 1987 study of more than 2,000 battery cases registered during five months at the Sao Paulo Women's Police Station for example, found that more than 70 percent of all reported incidents of violence against women took place in the home. In almost all the cases the abuser was the woman's husband or lover More than 40 percent involved serious bodily injury (Americas Watch 1991).

This finding was confirmed by Brazil's 1988 national household survey (PNAD), conducted by the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The survey found that Brazilian men who were murdered or physically abused were attacked outside the home primarily by an acquaintance or stranger, Brazilian women, by contrast, were murdered by their intimates. Among cases of abuse of men, only 10 percent involved relatives (including spouses); women were related to their abuser in more than half the reported cases of physical violence (Americas Watch 1991). Fifty percent of the rapes reported to Brazil's 125 women's police stations between January 1991 and August 1992 were committed by family members (Dimenstein 1992).

A recent review of violence against women in the United States, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association observes that "studies now document that women in the United States are more likely to be assaulted and injured, raped, or killed by a current or ex-male partner than by all other types of assailants combined" (Council on Scientific Affairs 1992, p. 3185). A study in Colombia in the early I980s by the Forensic Institute of Bogota found that a fifth of the cases of bodily injury presented to the forensic physician for assessment were due to conjugal violence, and 94 percent of those hospitalized were battered women (United Nations 1991). And a study evaluating medical records from a public hospital emergency room and two clinics in Santiago, Chile, found that of the 2,618 women seen for assault-related injuries from September through November 1986, 1,884 (73 percent) were injured by family members (United Nations 1989).

Gender violence cuts across all socioeconomic groups

Although studies suggest that violence against women is more prevalent among poor and working-class Families, they also consistently show that violence occurs in all socioeconomic and educational classes, although not at the same prevalence rates.

Violence within the family is at least as injurious as assaults by strangers

Violence between intimates is often considered less dangerous than street violence; in reality the opposite is often true. In the United States more than 80 percent of all assaults committed by spouses and former spouses result in injuries, compared with 54 percent of assaults by strangers. Victims of marital violence have the highest rates of internal injuries and unconsciousness (Lentzner and DeBerry 1980, as cited in the Council on Scientific Affairs 1992.

Though women can be violent, most violence that causes injury is perpetrated by men against women

According to the Uniform Crime Reports, in the United States men constitute 83 percent of all offenders arrested, 99 percent of those charged with rape, and 86 percent of those charged with offenses against family and children (Flanagan and McGarrell 1986, as cited in Koss 1990). Victimization surveys show that more than 90 percent of adult rape victims in the United States are women (National Victimization Survey, as cited in Koss 1990). And in an analysis of the results of the U.S. National Crime Surveys of 1973-82 Schwartz concludes that "there are...more than 13 times as many women [as men] seeking medical care from a private physician for injuries received in a spousal assault. (Schwartz 1987, p. 67, as cited in Dobash and others 1992).

The 1981 Canadian Urban Victimization Survey and the 1987 General Social Survey also found that women were the primary victims of assaults by intimates (Solicitor General of Canada 1985; Sacco and Johnson 1990; Statistics Canada 1990). In a review of the data from these surveys Johnson (1989) concluded that "women account for 80-90 percent of victims in assaults or sexual assault between spouses or former spouses. In fact, the number of domestic assaults involving males was too low in both surveys to provide reliable estimates. "

The "gendered" nature of most violent crime is especially evident in murder statistics. In most nations, between 80 and 90 percent of homicide offenders are male. An even higher share of those whose victims are adult women are male: in Canada about 95 percent of the killers of women (females 15 and older) are male (Gartner and McCarthy 1991).

Contrary to this pattern, women constitute a significant share of those who neglect or physically abuse their children-in part because women generally bear primary responsibility for the care and discipline of young children. The victims of physical abuse are as likely to be boys as they are girls. This is not the case, however, with child sexual abuse: the vast majority of abuse is directed at young girls by older men In the United States 78 percent of substantiated cases of child sexual abuse involve girls (Wyatt and Powell 1988). In Durban, South Africa, of 37 Indian victims of child sexual abuse identified at R. K. Khan Hospital, 92 percent were girls. All but one of the perpetrators were male, and two-thirds were male family members (Haffejee 1991). And in Costa Rica service statistics show that 94 percent of victims of child sexual abuse are girls and 96 percent of the perpetrators are male (Claramunt 1991).

Violence within relationships tends to escalate over time

Women's groups providing services to victims of domestic violence in both the industrial and the developing world confirm that abuse within relationships tends to be multifaceted and to escalate over time. The best available data illustrating the point are from the United States. Consider the following:

· Studies of abused women in the United States have shown that the majority-73 to 85 percents not experience physical violence until they have married. After they marry, the frequency and severity of violence tends to escalate (Browne 1987).

· Data from two representative surveys in Texas demonstrate a pattern of multiple abuse. Of the women who reported being physically abused after age 18, 74.6 percent also suffered specific types of emotional abuse and 34.3 percent suffered sexual abuse (Teske and Parker 1983; Grant, Preda, and Martin 1989).

· In a study et Yale University Hospital, Stark and Flitcraft found that nearly one in five battered women had presented at least 11 times with trauma; another 23 percent had brought six to 10 abuse-related injuries to the attention of clinicians. In most of these cases the health care provider never identified the history of abuse underlying the injuries (Stark and others 1981).

Most violent men are not mentally ill, contrary to common perception

Studies of abusive men in the United Sates indicate that few exhibit diagnosable psychopathology (Maiuro and others 1988); among those who do, there is no consistent pastern of illness (Bograd 1984). Indeed, the pervasiveness of violence against women suggests that men who abuse women and girls are not mentally ill. Many abusive men are merely exerting what they see as their natural right to dominate women.

Emotional and psychological abuse can be at least as debilitating as physical abuse

Those who work with victims of domestic violence report that women often consider psychological abuse and humiliation more devastating than physical assault. A detailed study of 127 battered women in Ireland that asked the question "What was the worst aspect of the battering experience?. received the following top five response &: mental torture (30), living in fear and terror (27), the physical violence (27), depression or loss of all confidence (18), and effects on children (17; Casey 1988).

Alcohol exacerbates but does not cause violence women

In a few societies and subcultures wife abuse seems to occur mainly in conjunction with abuse of alcohol or drugs, or both, but in many others alcohol is seldom involved. In a study of 90 small-scale societies Levinson (1989) found eight in which men's use of alcohol is a key component in the sequence of events leading up to wife beating incidents and five in which both alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related abuse is reported. In the 77 other societies alcohol use plays little or no part in abuse.

Research in the United States shows that abusive men with severe alcohol problems abuse their partners both when they are drunk and when they are sober; these men are also violent more frequency, and inflict more serious injuries on their partners, than abusive men without alcohol problems (Frieze and Browne 1989). Thus treating an underlying alcohol problem can help reduce the incidence and severity of assaults, but it seldom ends the violence. Often both men and women use the supposed disinhibiting effects of alcohol to excuse behavior that otherwise would not be tolerated.

There are societes in which violence against women does not exist

Although violence against women is an integral part of virtually all cultures, there are reports of societies in which gender-based abuse does not exist. In his ethnographic review of 90 peasant and small-scale societies, Levinson (1989) identifies 16 that can be described as "essentially free off or untroubled by family violence. And Sanday (1981) has found that there are societies free of rape. Such cultures-even if few in number - offer proof that violence against women is not inevitable.