|Strategies for Confronting Domestic Violence - A Resource Manual (UN, 1993, 130 p.)|
|I. Understanding the problem|
The term domestic violence is used to describe actions and omissions that occur in varying relationships. The term is used narrowly to cover incidents of physical attack, when it may take the form of physical and sexual violations, such as pushing, pinching, spitting, kicking, hitting, punching, choking, burning, clubbing, stabbing, throwing boiling water or acid and setting on fire. The result of such physical violence can range from bruising to killing; what may often start out as apparently minor attacks can escalate both in intensity and frequency.
Some people use the term domestic violence to include psychological or mental violence, which can consist of repeated verbal abuse, harassment; confinement and deprivation of physical, financial and personal resources. Contact with family members and friends may be controlled. The forms of violation may vary from one society and culture to another.
Other people use the term to describe violence against women in the family only, and for others it is a general label to cover any violation where the victim and perpetrator have some form of personal relationship or where they have had such a relationship in the past. Used in this wider sense, domestic violence encompasses child abuse, be it physical, psychological or sexual, violence between siblings, abuse or neglect of the elderly and abuse by children of parents. In this Manual, however, the term domestic violence means physical or mental assault of women by their male partners. In many countries the term wife assault is used for this type of behaviour.
Domestic violence is a hidden problem. Research on domestic violence is fairly new, and has been undertaken perhaps only in the last 25 years. In the main, it has originated in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Most studies have concerned the dominant culture, although a growing number focus on native populations, and immigrant and refugee groups. A growing number of studies are now being undertaken in the developing world. For example, comprehensive and systematic studies of domestic violence (defined in this case to include violence against women and men in the home) have been undertaken in Papua New Guinea.* In addition, a recent collection of essays published by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) summarizes the research into domestic violence that has been undertaken in various regions of the developing world.7
*See, for example, the following reports, published by the Papua New Guinea Law Reform Commission, Boroko: Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea, S. Toft, ed., Monograph No. 3, 1985; Domestic Violence in Rural Papua New Guinea, S. Toft and S. Bonnell, eds., Occasional Paper No. 18, 1985; Domestic Violence in Urban Papua New Guinea, S. Toft, ed., Occasional Paper No. 19, 1986; Interim Report on Domestic Violence; A Discussion Paper on Domestic Violence; C. Bradley, Final Report on Domestic Violence, Report No. 14, in press.
While it can be stated that women are the usual victims of violence in the home and men are the usual perpetrators, it remains unclear which particular women and men are likely to be involved. Studies indicate that marital violence occurs in some communities in as many as in one in three marriages.8 There appears to be no part of the world where it is unknown.
It is difficult to estimate the actual incidence of violence in the household. The problem is largely a hidden one. Communities deny the problem, fearing that an admission of its existence is an assault on the integrity of the family. Few official statistics are kept.
Current methods of estimating the number of women who are assaulted by their husbands are questionable. The statistics are based on reported incidents of abuse obtained, for example, from police, welfare and hospital records on the numbers of women using emergency housing or on self-reports from phone-ins or field surveys.
Statistics gathered from police records and other official sources show that wife-abuse does exist, but they are notorious for underrepresenting the problem. Victims are often reluctant to report that they have been violated: they may fail to report abuse because they feel ashamed of being assaulted by their husbands; they may be afraid; they may have a sense of family loyalty.
When women do report abuse, the statistics may be lost because the official fails to record the incident or records it in a way that is meaningless for research purposes. Criminal statistics, for example, although they could be a major source of comprehensive data on violence against women in the home, frequently fail to indicate the sex of the victim and of the assailant and rarely record the relationship between the two.* In these circumstances, it is impossible to distinguish wife assault from any other assault and thus, for statistical purposes, wife assault becomes invisible.
*Lorna Smith, Domestic Violence, Home Office Research Study 107 (London, Her Majestys Stationery Office, 1989) reports that, with the exception of homicide, United Kingdom criminal statistics do not provide information on the sex of the victim, nor is the relationship between the victim and the offender routinely recorded.
Self-reporting surveys also present problems. Women who have been abused may prefer to keep the fact to themselves. When they do respond, they may overestimate or, more commonly, underestimate the amount of violence they have suffered. For example, women may consider pushes and slaps to be insignificant and fail to mention them.
Phone-in surveys are restricted to women who have access to a telephone and who are willing to reveal intimate information to someone they do not know. Phone-in surveys may also exclude women from ethnic minorities.
Surveys taken of couples currently cohabiting exclude evidence of violence in relationships that have ended. Studies of women who have used emergency housing are restricted to women who have already defined themselves as battered and so do not represent the population as a whole.
Notwithstanding these problems, anecdotal and other evidence, from most parts of the world, makes it clear that violence against women in the home is a serious problem.9
In Canada, on the basis of statistics obtained from doctors, lawyers and social workers and from police records, it has been estimated that 1 woman in 10 is abused by her partner.10
Statistics from Papua New Guinea indicate that, as a national average, 67 per cent of all wives have been subjected to marital violence.11
In 1992, UNIFEM produced a fact sheet on gender violence (1992) summarizing statistical evidence on the incidence of wife-abuse worldwide. This reveals that wife-battering is common in Bangladesh, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Norway and Sri Lanka.
The actual extent of violence in the home may never be accurately known, but it is clear that such violence is part of the dynamics of many family situations in both the developed and developing world. In short, the research that does exist reveals that women are murdered, physically and sexually assaulted, threatened and humiliated within their own homes by men with whom they should enjoy the greatest trust. Sadly, this is not an uncommon or unusual occurrence.
Domestic violence can happen in families from any class. Given the limitations of existing research, it is difficult to generalize about the social position of victims of domestic violence. Some research shows an overrepresentation of victims who are economically disadvantaged or who might be described as lower class or from younger age groups.* There may be more domestic violence in families that are economically disadvantaged or where the husband has had less education than the wife.
*The studies by the Papua New Guinea Law Reform Commission reveal that domestic violence is more common in the lower and rural classes. See also D. Marsden, Sociological perspectives on family violence, in Violence in the Family, J. Martin, ed. (Chichester, Wiley, 1978).
Much of the information that is available, however, is based on studies of people who come to the attention of officials. These people may be less able to protect their private lives from official scrutiny. For instance, women from the middle and upper classes are less likely to use womens emergency housing. In some countries, public hospitals are used primarily by the economically disadvantaged. The wealthy are able to take advantage of private doctors and clinics whose records are not usually open to researchers. Records from social work or welfare files, in general, contain information on less privileged groups who must respond to government inquiries in order to get government assistance. Rich people are more able to insulate themselves from government and police attention.
Anecdotal material and small research samples show that wife-assault crosses all class, culture and colour barriers.12 This research indicates that violence against wives is prevalent throughout the economic and social structure and appears to have no cultural barriers.