and Risk Factors in Partner Violence: Chapter Summary
Chapter Summary by
Glenda Kaufman Kantor and Jana L. Jasinski
from an article of the same title by:
Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Review of 20 Years of Research
Edited by Jana L. Jasinski and Linda M. Williams (1998) Made available
by Sage Publications http://www.sagepub.com
This chapter examined current research on the dynamics and patterns
of family violence, the types of abuse, and the major risk markers for
intimate assaults and emphasized implications of these findings for assessment.
Major findings included the following:
- The forms and patterns of family violence are not the same for all
families experiencing violent conflict. Patterns of common couple violence
are more prevalent among general population samples, and patterns of
severe, "terroristic" violence are more typical of clinical samples.
- The cycle of violence associated with the battered woman syndrome
may be typical only of the more severe form of intimate violence.
- Common interaction dynamics include violence as a response to loss
of control, unmet dependency needs, fears, anxiety, frustrations, and
threats to self-esteem. Extreme, severe, and intermittent episodes of
rage (with no apparent stimulus) may be associated with particular disorders
of the personality.
- Aggression by women, though studied less than aggression by men,
differs in regard to the greater incidence of physical and psychological
injuries experienced by female victims compared with male victims. Women
also appear at greater risk for a system of victimization that includes
physical, sexual, emotional, and economic forms of abuse.
- Recent typologies of male batters distinguish three types of martially
violent men: family only, dysphoric/borderline, and generally violent/antisocial.
- Major risk markers for intimate violence include violence in the family
of origin; socioeconomic factors; personality variables such as low
self-esteem; substance abuse; biology; and situation factors related
to life course.
- Many risk markers in the family of origin are interwoven and can be
passed on to future generations. These include exposure to abuse, alcoholism,
and hostile/depressed personality-style parents.
- Aggression does not inevitably follow from alcohol intoxication, but
alcohol is the drug most consistently related to intimate assaults.
Alcohol facilitates aggression in many ways, including pharmacological
effects that interfere with reasoning, perceptions, calculations of
the consequences of behavior and perceptions of threat.
- A potential biological component to intimate violence is suggested
by findings of organically based correlates, including head injury,
attention deficit disorder, and differences in heart rate reactivity
among different types of violent men.
- An analysis of life course risk markers found that rates of intimate
violence are increased during courtship and early marriage, pregnancy,
separation, and divorce. Elders are also at risk for abuse by caretakers,
although these rates are lower than for other forms of family violence.
- The risks for spousal homicide are greatest when the spouse is also
violent outside the family, rapes the partner, kills or abuses pets,
severely injures the partner, and/or threatens to kill the partner.
Implications for Practice and Policy: What
Professionals Can Do
Screening for Victimization and Assessment of Risk
Some risk markers for partner violence can be identified by professionals
who might come into contact with individuals or couples involved in violent
relationships. Physical signs of abuse, such as bruises or other questionable
injuries, should be noted and inquired about. In addition, general questions
about marital satisfaction and quality can also be asked in a nonjudgmental
and non-victim-blaming manner. Questions about violence, both current
and in the family of origin, should become part of the documented family
history because they indicate elevated risk. The mental health practitioner
should also routinely ask questions such as the following:
· Is anyone in your family hitting
· Does your partner threaten
you? your life?
· Does your partner prevent you
from leaving the home, from getting a job, or from returning to school?
· What happens when your partner
does not get his or her way?
· Does your partner threaten
to hurt you when you disagree with him or her?
· Does your partner destroy things
that you care about (e.g., your family photographs, your clothes, your
· Are you forced to engage in
sex that makes you feel uncomfortable?
· Do you have to have intercourse
after a fight to "make up"?
· Does your partner watch your
every move? call home 10 times a day? accuse you of having affairs with
everyone? (Schecter, 1987)
Other risk markers that should be assessed include excessive alcohol/illicit
drug use by one or both partners and the presence of life stressors, such
as a change in employment status (e.g., more responsibility at work, reduction
in work load, reassignment to another job), pregnancy, and problems with
children. Affirmative responses to threats of violence and of death, and
destruction of property and pets are signs of potentially lethal violence.
Immediate intervention may be necessary in such cases. In a group therapy
session, professionals should watch for the relationship dynamics of the
couple and guard against one partner controlling the other. Signs to watch
for include one partner constantly speaking for the other and demand by
one partner to always be present when discussing the relationship. If
possible, partners should be interviewed separately to allow each to feel
free to speak openly about their relationship.
Professionals who deal with pregnant women are in a unique position to
screen for marital violence and to initiate intervention if needed because
pregnant women must come in periodically for checkups (Sampselle, Petersen,
Murtland, & Oakley, 1992). During these visits, professionals can
note any physical signs of abuse, such as bruises, as well as ask questions
regarding abuse as part of both an oral and a written history (Campbell
et al., 1993). Research evidence suggests that this process should involve
more than one question regarding abuse. For example, Helton (1986) found
that, of 68 self-identified battered women, 78% checked no to the first
abuse-focused question in a written history. Because many batterers may
attend doctor visits with their partners, written questions or a private
interview may be a more appropriate mechanism for assessing risk for abuse
(Campbell, Pugh, Campbell, & Visscher, 1995).
A particularly risky period for women in violent relationships occurs
when they try to leave (Ellis, 1987; Feld & Straus, 1990). In particular,
risks for lethal violence may be greatest when individuals try to leave
relationships (Browne, 1987; Wilbanks, 1983; Wilson & Daly, 1993).
Professionals who counsel victims of partner violence should watch for
signs of escalating abuse, including more frequent and severe episodes
of violence, and should be aware of any threats of violence or use of
weapons. Such behavior may indicate an increased risk for lethal violence.
The ability of therapists to recognize the risk markers for lethal violence
is extremely important. Some evidence, however, suggests that more training
is needed in this area. Hansen, Harway, and Cervantes (1991), for example,
found that, in a sample primarily composed of family therapists who were
presented with case studies containing evidence of violence, almost one
half did not address this violence as a problem.
Assessment of Male Partners. Counselors of abusive men suggest
that specific questions are needed to assess the extent of violent behavior
(Emerge, n.d.). Guidelines developed by counselors from Emerge, the first
program in the United States for treating male batterers, suggest the
need for concrete questions such as, What happens when you lose your temper?
Did you become violent? What about grabbing or shaking? Have you hit her?
When you hit her, was it a slap or a punch? They also suggest that violence
needs to be defined to the men as any actions that force a partner to
do things that she does not wish to do or that make her afraid. Therefore,
questions should be posed about whether he ever threatened her, took away
her car keys, threw things in her presence, damaged her property, or punched
walls or doors. He should also be asked about when the violence occurred
and against whom it was directed. Aldarondo (in press) cautions about
the need to use language carefully. Because men often do not consider
pushing and shoving to be violent behavior, the therapist should avoid
using the term violent. Many of the behavioral items mentioned
above are already included in the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS; Straus,
1990); clinicians may wish to use or adapt this most frequently used assessment
tool for couple violence or the recently revised version of the CTS (Straus
& Hamby, 1996). Counselors should ask direct questions about the man's
violence to help him take responsibility for his actions, as well as to
understand the nature and extent of the abuse.
Implications for Intervention, Policy, and Research
The information presented on the different types of abuse points
to the need for varying interventions. The most important distinction
is whether the abuse patterns fit the common couple dynamic or the terroristic
dynamic. The limitations of traditional family systems therapy, couples
therapy, or even psycho-educational approaches are all too evident when
the abuser fits the terrorist profile (Walker, 1995).
The research on psychological characteristics, alcohol abuse patterns,
and biological risk markers points to the need for both a variety of assessments,
as well as a variety of approaches to intervention. Because more severe
and injurious abuse is likely to be associated with numerous psychological
problems and with alcohol or other drug abuse problems, specialized clinical
skills are required. It should not be assumed that a program focused mainly
on " anger management" is sufficient to end the more serious types of
intimate violence or, for that matter, that substance-abuse-focused treatment
alone is sufficient. Sobriety may not be enough to end the assaults by
all batterers. At the same time, there is a need for more and better research
on effective treatment and other deterrence strategies.
The Vivian and Langhinsichsen-Rohling (1994) study, in particular, points
to the need to characterize offender-victim relationships. The findings
of this research, while documenting the rarity of women as the sole "batterers,"
also showed that victimization of either spouse, even by low levels of
aggression, significantly increased psychological distress. The study
authors went on to suggest that instances in which victimizations are
truly mutual and mild may be amenable to couples therapy. Research that
addresses the specific issue of marital aggression is still needed. In
cases of asymmetrical aggression (one perpetrator or one primary aggressor),
gender-specific treatment of individual partners is advisable.
Our review of the research found scant systematic examination of victim
characteristics, risk markers, or research on victim-specific interventions.
This gap in the research suggests that more information on victims is
needed. Women who have experienced abuse, particularly severe or long-term
abuse, may need assistance in understanding and processing their experience
so that they can move ahead with their lives (Walker, 1995). There is
also a need to assess whether the welfare of victims has improved or declined
longitudinally (McCord, 1992). Research to date has rarely considered
the well-being of women in the follow-up. Clinical evidence based on reports
of battered women service providers, however, suggests that the safety
mechanisms and psychological counseling provided in battered women's shelters
are central to women's recovery (Walker, 1995).
We identified particular gaps in the literature in regard to batterer-specific
and victim-specific interventions and victim risk markers. At the same
time, the discussions of this chapter drew on almost three decades of
research that clinicians can use to enhance their practice with clients
at risk for intimate violence. The strengths of our knowledge base as
detailed above include improved ability to identify offenders that pose
an ongoing risk; improved understanding of the psychodynamics of violent
relationships; better understanding of gender similarities and difference
in the forms that partner violence takes; and gains in knowledge about
how to break the cycle of abuse.
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