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Domestic violence which is also referred to as intimate partner abuse, domestic abuse, intimate partner violence or intimate partner abuse can be defined as any threatening behavior between adults in a relationship or family members which may lead to abuse or violence. The government of the United Kingdom defines it as any event of threatening behavior, violence or abuse between adults who are or were in a relationship. Domestic violence may take various forms. As described by the definition, any maltreatment occurring within the context of romantic relationship is abuse. It therefore involves men and women regardless of their sexual orientation, be it heterosexual or homosexual relationship. Intimate partner violence may adopt the form of physical, sexual, economical, emotional or psychological abuse and can be seen as one individual within a relationship employing any possible means to control another (Hanmer, Griffiths, and Jerwood, 1999:12). Domestic abuse encompasses verbal, financial and spiritual abuse. Also included in this category are stalking and cyber-stalking. Physical abuse on the other hand encompasses pinching, chocking, pushing, shooting, stabbing and murder. Psychological, emotional, mental or verbal abuse can be described as employing words to demean, criticize or lower an individual’s self esteem.
Any behavior that employs sex to control or undermine the victim such as provoking the victim into participating in unsafe sex or sexual practices that he or she does not want to engage can be referred to as sexual abuse. Financial or economic abuse on the other hand can be seen as hindering an individual’s financial freedom or security. Spiritual abusers force their victims to take part in religious practices apart from their own. It may also take the form of the abuser forcing the victim to raise mutual children in a religion that the victim does not favor. Stalking refers to a continuous threatening and harassing behavior such as harassing mails, phone calls or vandalism. It is in most cases undertaken by perpetrators of the other kinds of domestic violence. Domestic violence manifests itself in all of these situations that most families and partners encounter at some point in their lives.
Domestic violence often leads to physical and emotional injuries and at times death. It affects millions of people and as such, it is a major concern in public health. The statistics concerning those that are affected by this phenomenon are overwhelming. Despite the widely held conception that men are not affected by domestic violence, there are numerous reports that indicate that men are also victims of this phenomenon.
Understanding domestic violence: possible causes
Domestic violence had been considered a private affair in the past but this has changed considering the magnitude and seriousness of the problem. Having been considered a private matter for quite a long time, law enforcement agencies were reluctant to intervene. However, there has been a number of cultural changes in the way that the issue is being handled within the criminal justice. These changes have been motivated by the dynamic social attitudes and political engagement concerning this matter. Again, the prevention of violence has also become an issue of priority especially within the Police Service. One of the major concerns when dealing with the issue of domestic violence is that of underreporting for both male and female victims. Academic research in the United Kingdom within the past five years indicate that the incidence of domestic abuse average thirty million incidents every year.
Psychologists, social workers, victim advocates and researchers involved with battering interventions have made the origins of domestic violence an aspect of much debate. This theoretical debate has affected practice in more than one field. However, many practitioners over the last two decades have begun to focus on a more integrated multidimensional model of domestic violence intervention in order to comprehend the problem. Domestic violence has been attributed to numerous factors. There have been some explanations to the effect that marital aggression is rooted in the need for control. The popular notion is that men use violence to control their female partners. It cannot be denied that control is a vital element in the dynamics of marital violence. Again, poor impulse control and together with a defective self concept may also be contributing factors. It has been found that abusers have low self esteem and are certainly impulsive. Domestic violence has also been attributed to poor communication between couples. There are many theories that account for the phenomenon of domestic violence.
Social theories sees domestic violence to be the product of the society. As such, they see domestic violence as emanating from the social structures and the cultural values and norms that stand the use of violence among partners. Furthermore, the causes of domestic violence have been attributed by some sociologists to be rooted in the structure of the family; the interaction between the members of the family and their social interactions. For instance, family systems theory relates the cause of domestic violence to communication flaws and conflict in intimate relationships. As such, they teach communication skills to partners so that they may avoid violence.
Psychological theories on the other hand attribute the causes to individual experiences and predispositions. Battering may be linked to biological inclination to violence and personality disorder, or as suggested by social learning theories, to the offender’s social environment during his early stages of development. Attachment theory emphasizes on the relationship between parents or caregivers with their children and the consequences of such attachments on the ability of an individual o develop safe and healthy relationships later in life. The interventions based on this theory seek to promote secure attachment between offenders and their loved ones. Cognitive behavioral approaches teaches offenders to alter their patterns of thinking and behavior while psycho-dynamic approaches focus on psychological causes of violence.
Not all of these intervention approaches use techniques that correspond with the goals of the criminal justice system and therefore, it is important that criminal justice professionals comprehend the assumptions and goals of the players whose interventions have broad theoretical base. Psychotherapeutic, feminist and family systems theories of domestic violence provide various explanations about the cause of battering. They therefore lead to distinct intervention models. Feminist perspective on domestic violence in intimate relationships is that it represents society’s patriarchal organization in which males hold dominant roles in most of the social institutions. Violence, together with economic, verbal and emotional abuse, is a means of maintaining male dominance within the family when they feel their power is being threatened. Women have been left to depend on men by economic roles. Again, the superior physical strength that men possess over women enable them to dominate through violence.
The basic feminist argument is that the social arrangement where men hold power and positions of respect has the effect of women being undervalued while men become overvalued. According to this conception, the offenders consider women to be incompetent and childish. In the view of the feminists, the offenders often feel they should be in charge of the family. A such, they are responsible for setting up rules, disciplining the disobedient members of the family and correcting anything that they consider not to be going right. The offenders may control the family through nonviolent means and only resort to violence occasionally. Male offenders often feel that their female partners should respect them and thus conceive disrespect and disobedience with negative attitudes, mostly anger. The offenders rationalize their violence on the basis that their partner’s action makes it necessary. For instance, they are bound to say that the female partner provoked it and hence they reacted just like any man should.
The family system model on the other hand views individual problem behaviors as representing a dysfunctional family unit (Archer, 2000: 651). As such, each family member contributes to the problem. According to this model, both partners may contribute to the problem, with each attempting to dominate the other. The proponents of this theory believe that the conflict is initially emotional and verbal. However, as the conflict continues, one of the partners may resort to violence. From this perspective, interactions lead to violence and therefore no particular individual can be held to be the perpetrator or victim regardless of whether one of the partners is the one who is physically violent. The theory also suggests that intercourse may facilitate or allow abusive behavior in a single individual such as the failure of a non-abusive parent to intervene in child abuse.
Psychological perspectives hold that individuals may be predisposed to violence by personality disorders or early experiences of trauma. As such, being abusive physically is seen as a manifestation of an underlying emotional problem. Childhood experiences such as parental abuse, rejection and the inability to satisfy the dependence needs of a child may provide a source of later violence. Individuals with these underlying problems may opt for a partner with whom they can set up the dysfunctional affair they experienced with their parents.
All these models are to some extent compatible with the goals of criminal justice especially with regard to their intervention strategies. In particular, the feminist approach corresponds much with the perspective of criminal justice than the family system or psychological approaches. In particular, the feminist’s view of domestic violence as a criminal act and not as a consequence of a faulty relationship or illness is embraced by the criminal justice system. The feminists view the consequence as appropriate, contrasting with the psychotherapeutic notion which results in a treatment approach that is meant to modify the internal emotional life of the offender through insight. This notion may be seen not to be within the scope of criminal justice intervention.
The fundamental goal of the feminist programs is to hold offenders accountable for their violence. As much as psychological programs also claim to do the same for the offenders, the feminists hold that the psychotherapeutic conception of offenders as victims of bad childhood experiences contradicts the position that they should be held responsible for their actions. The family system’s approach on the other hand holds both the victim and the offender responsible. The feminist approach is further compatible with the criminal justice system in the sense that its purpose it to end the abusive behavior rather than to provide treatment for the offender or improve relationships as is being held by the psychotherapeutic approach and family system’s approach consecutively. It can also be claimed that the psychological interventions may satisfy the needs of the criminal justice system. The fundamental purpose of sending the offenders to batterer programs is to minimize recidivism and for this purpose to be achieved, there is need for an effective intervention programs. While the feminists criticize psychotherapeutic model for failure to hold the offenders responsible for their actions, the proponents of psychotherapeutic approach respond by accusing the educational intervention of ineffectiveness in rehabilitating and inhibiting offenders since their approach is superficial and thus does not address the needs of offenders with mental illness who comprises a good percentage of the offenders
Male Victims of domestic violence
Contrary to the widely held notions that men are hardly victims of domestic violence, some reputable official surveys indicate considerable levels of female violence against male partners in intimate relationships (Felson, 1997: 201-221). However, the criminal justice system is not objective in handling cases that involve male victims. The absence of publicly funded treatment programs for violent women indicate that the phenomenon has not been taken seriously. The present inequality makes no provision for abused fathers and their children. There is need for the government to recognize the existence of male victims. There is substantial amount of evidence that indicate that male victims account for between one third and one half of of domestic violence victims in England and Wales with the proportion increasing with the severity of the violence (Kaura and Allen 2004:576-588). Regardless of this proportion, the percentage of convicted and prosecuted females is only five percent.
The Dispatches survey of one hundred male victims in the United Kingdom discovered that angry women are capable of violence as angry men. Thirty five percent of the victims were attacked in their sleep while another thirty five percent were kicked in the groin (Kalmuss, 1984:87). The men were in most cases denied sleep and stayed with their partners for more than four years. Among the reasons that these men offered for staying in the relationship were: objection to walk on their children, lack of alternative accommodation and emotional attachment to the partner. The overall picture is that there are not much differences between the plight of male victims of abuse and female victims of abuse. The only difference is their criticism of the police as males are more critical since their complaints were not taken seriously. Some men even reported being arrested instead of their violent female partner as they were in most cases seen as the aggressor. The majority of men ,also fail to report their partners violence as they fear being ridiculed.
Effectiveness of Intervention Strategies
Domestic violence can be seen as the destruction of the victim’s autonomy by major actors in the private realm, traditionally supported and abetted by the failure of the state to intervene on the basis of protecting the privacy of the family. The enjoyment of maximum possible autonomy is the fundamental principle of feminist goal (Sugihara and Warner. 2002:315). They seek to emancipate themselves from the pressures that their abusive partners and discriminative social conditions exert on them especially at home and in the workplace. The call for the criminalization of abusers has in part been motivated by the reduction of the victim’s autonomy caused by the dynamics of a violent relationship. The abused victims are unlikely to protect themselves and thus there is need for external help. However, the prosecution policies that are meant to hand over the problem to state control within the criminal law and the applications for civil orders initiated by the state that are also serve to protect the vulnerable victims who cannot protect themselves invariable subject those victims that are not willing to take part in legal proceedings to a further form of domination, and this time by the public agents (Stanko, 1992).
There are fears that the malevolent control pushed over the victim by the abuser will be substituted by the paternalistic control of law enforcement officers. Those who have assumed that the victim’s need will be satisfied by criminalization without looking into whether it is what the individual victim needs have sharply been criticized by Hoyle (2000: 205). Pursuance of interventionist policies against victim opposition may undermine or postpone the goal of empowering women without making any progress with regard to ending the violence. It may not be wise on the other hand to act in accordance with the wishes of the victim that were or have been expressed during the time of the crisis. As has been argued by Hoyles and Sanders, a victim’s choice of not seeking legal action may be rational considering the context in which she has to make that particular decision (ibid. 21). They however hold the position that with external help, many victims may evaluate their best interest differently and opt to take steps channeled toward emancipating themselves from the violence. Before the actual wishes can be discerned, particularly if they are going to guide the way other individuals respond to the violence, the environment in which the victims make their decisions must support making of this choice without any adverse influence. As such, the goal should be to empower the victim. It is important to mark out factors that researchers report to hinder victims from seeking the help of the police, prosecution or applying for civil law remedies in order to identify the kind of support needed to achieve the above goal.
The British Crime Survey indicate that the number of domestic violence victims that consider themselves as victims of crime is only seventeen percent. A larger proportion see violence as something that is not wrong at all and as such consider it a normal phenomenon. In particular, male victims are reluctant to categorize their experiences as criminal or wrong. It is therefore not surprising that the police are in most cases not involved. The survey puts this figure at twelve percent. Most of the victims also seem not to be aware that it is a criminal offense to harass another. Problems that are related to this phenomenon are lowered self worth of the individual, feelings of isolation resulting from the uniqueness of their problem, self blame and embarrassment about the abuse and an actual social isolation reinforced by the majority of the abusers as part of their controlling behavior. When these factors combine, the victim is left without access to any support network (Barnett, Lee, and Thelen, 1997:462).
The victim’s commitment to legal action is normally intended for test by police practices often leave the victims to see themselves as responsible for the fate of their abusers. This is a responsibility that they do not want to take for fear of reprisals. At times, the victim not only hope to protect the abuser for fear of retaliation if the police are involved but also because of the the abuser’s excuses in accounting for the abuse, terming police involvement as unfair. Another fear relates with the victim conception of official notification resulting in the social service taking much interest in the issue with the consequence of the children being removed. Victims therefore resort to coping strategies as a result of these perceptions and the subsequent isolation from their normal sources of social and emotional support. To prevent violence from recurring, the victim’s behavior normally changes. However, these same strategies appear to contradict the interests of the victims and may minimize their chances of seeking more effective help.
These problems must be addressed if more cases are to be forwarded to the courts, either by the state through the victim’s consent or by the victims themselves. The past attempts to support victims assumed that they held in common the common sense appreciation of their status as victims of crime and of the strategies necessary to handle it. One of such projects was the victim support and advocacy project. The support that was given was inappropriate and often experienced as judgmental, patronizing or even irrelevant by this assumption of those who were involved in the project. Efforts to encourage a victim to take part in prosecution when she is reducing the violence or blaming herself are also likely to be ineffective. The victim’s sense of responsibility for the situation can be reinforced by making such attempts where she is not willing to take the action that is persuaded to take (Dobash, Emerson,Wilson, and Daly 1992:72). The findings of the project indicated that for the victims to consider any effective action aimed at protecting themselves from abuse, they must first be made to understand that they are crime victims, that they should not blame themselves for the condition, that they have been adapting and hindering their behavior in an effort to evade the abuse, that this strategy is not effective, and they need to reevaluate the value of their relationship with the abusers (Kelly et al 1999). The knowledge gained from this form of support may show the victim that she requires to act so as to protect herself. She however requires to be positive that she will receive protection when she acts toward quitting the relationship or rather, ending the violence. Before she can be convinced to take part in criminal proceedings against the abuser, issues such as disincentives to victim compliance within that system needs to be addressed.
The police and criminal courts are seen by many victims as incapable or unwilling to offer protection; police involvement is actually seen to aggravate violence. The victims of domestic violence are unlikely to cooperate with the criminal justice system unless it recognizes and responds to the dangers that are faced by victims that take part in the processes. Many commentators have observed that the conditions for bailing could be employed and monitored effectively to bar offenders from coming into contact and abusing the victims so as to prevent them from testifying. The majority of the victims are also afraid of the criminal trial which they experience as secondary victimization (Herring 2001:43). The task of court attendance and giving evidence can be partially improved by the powers that were introduced by the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. The Act allows for the use of screens, pre-recorded video evidence, cleared courts and cross examination for the safety of particular classes of ‘vulnerable and intimidated’ witnesses, and permits particular defendants to be inhibited fro cross-examining witnesses in person (Grace, 1995:89). Various schemes are also being assessed by pilot projects that are meant to improve the provision of information regarding the progress of the victim’s case, and the use of statements by the sentencing court that offers a description of the impact of the offense on the victim. This measures however may not maximize the instance of cases where victims have to testify. A guilty plea may be induced by simply taking the victim as far as the court door.
This analysis assumes that the victims that have been empowered to make free decisions and choices concerning their situation would need their abusers to be handled under the criminal law given the current focus on punishment. A number of victims might support criminal proceedings that offer perpetrator programs that are meant to aid the abusers to tackle and reform their behavior and attitudes instead of punitive sanctions. The courts may be in possession of such remedies on sentencing or they could be employed as a formal shifting of offenders from being prosecuted, with the need for the victim to appear in court being inhibited by the latter option (Hoyle and Sanders, p 98). Further investigations into these programs are however necessary since their effectiveness has not been proven. There is also controversy concerning the appropriateness of their design. More specifically, some of these programs are predicated on a micro-level comprehension of domestic violence, emphasizing on abuser’s psychological problems while others are gender biased, adopting a stance that is pro-feminist (Mullender & Burton, 2002: 55). A sentencing innovation that is specifically relevant for domestic violence, especially ex-partner abuse, is offered by the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The convicted harassers can be disposed by the criminal courts through the issuance of restraining orders meant to protect the victim from further behavior amounting to harassment or which results in fear of violence. It is considered a serious offense for an offender to breach such orders (Lawson-Cruttenden & Addison, 1997). Offenders can be prohibited from getting into contact with the victim or her family by these orders. They are also required not to show up at the victim’s homes, place of work or the surrounding area. This act offers protection after conviction unlike bail conditions. However, they can only be effective if their terms are framed in a suitable way and if the victims are aware of their existence of such terms.
There is enough evidence to the effect that some solicitors advice their clients to avoid initiating any civil proceedings since there is the possibility of the offender to seek for orders associated with the children (Watson, Cascardi, Avery-Leaf, and Daniel 2001). The victim’s application for injunction may motivate this action. Some courts also seem to order contact between the offender and the children claiming that it is in the best interest of the children regardless of the fact that contact meetings results into further abuse of the mother and that the children also suffer emotionally from seeing such abuses (Kaganas 2000:89). If the victims are to be convinced to look for protection from the civil courts than there is need for these criticisms to be thoroughly scrutinized. The Court of Appeal has reacted to research findings about the consequences of domestic violence on children and their care takers by supporting a more circumspect approach to the evaluation of contact applications made by alleged offenders (Morley & Mullender 1994:67-68).
The civil justice system and the criminal justice system have restricted functions in any event ,and as such cannot satisfy the wider needs of domestic violence victims. They also cannot in isolation be effective in ending the violence. It is always the case that quitting the relationship is the best strategy for ending the abuse. However, the victim may not be in a position to end the relationship without sufficient and fundamental physical and material security especially in the absence of alternative accommodation. Many victims are barred from pursuing or reporting domestic violence cases because of fear of social and economic consequences of the bread winner being locked up or ending the relationship. The police are not capable of handling these key issues but as has been shown by Domestic Violence Units and other projects, a single focal point can be established in an integrated multi agency response to this phenomenon which includes referring the victims to relevant voluntary and statutory bodies which are capable of meeting these wider needs. Some commentators however caution that the ‘contract’ with the prosecutor should not involve access to material support in exchange for which the victims must take part in the criminal process (Zedner 1997: 603-605). Such a precondition may function disproportionately against the marginalized members of the society such as the poor and ethnic minority whose lives are already characterized by continuous and unhappy exposure to the criminal justice and who may hesitate seeking the assistance of the police. Victim autonomy should therefore not be preserved for the privileged. Every individual should be given the same level of support to allow them handle the consequences of abuse.
While many victims who are accorded such support may consider taking part in legal action against the offender, others on the other hand may remain hesitant (Carrado, Michelle, George, Elizabeth, Jones, and Dale Templar 1996: 451). The majority of the victims may wish for the abuse to stop but also wish their relationship with the offender to continue whether as a father of their children or as partners. Others may want to end the affair but consider legal proceedings as irrelevant to the goal, holding the view that the criminal justice system is not well equipped to provide them with any meaningful assistance needed to achieve their goals. Others still may fear acting. The best way to reconcile the view of domestic violence as a public problem with regards for the autonomy of the victim still remains the major question. Is there any foundation for prosecuting domestic violence if the victim does not support that course? Again, is there any possibility of the state bringing proceedings meant to protect the victim without her consent?
The legal system can approach these questions in many ways depending on the conception about the following issues: appropriate categorization of offenses against the individual, the aim of the legal system in reacting to these offenses and the civil law issues that emerge from them, and the actual roles ans relationship between the state and the victim within this context. There are differing approaches to this problem among commentators and these includes victim complaint model, offense against society model and the victim protection model (Cascardi and Vivian. 1995: 255).