Family violence

Visualization of narrower problems
Domestic violence
Conjugal violence
Mate abuse
Spouse and cohabitant abuse
Problem families
This general term includes all forms of destructive behaviour, physical and emotional, committed between persons who are married, living together or who otherwise enjoy a close personal relationship. Such physically abusive behaviour may include slapping, pushing, pounding with fists, or attacking with a lethal weapon. Emotional abuse does not have physical battering concomitants and is usually demonstrated by teasing, coercion or ultimatums.

Family violence is cruelty exercised on those nearest, most vulnerable, least able or inclined to defend themselves; in short it is usually practised on women and children. Within the confines of the home - which is supposed to be a refuge of warmth and security - private violence takes the form of child abuse, spouse beatings (usually of the wife), rape and sometimes even murder. And once violence becomes routine, there is no way of stopping it. The husband beats the wife, the wife may then learn to beat the children, the bigger siblings learn that it is permitted to hit the little ones, and the family pet may be the ultimate recipient.

Mate abuse is a crime and is legally referred to as assault and battery. Assault is the attempt to commit injury while battery is the actual use of force. Assault and battery are usually punishable as a misdemeanour; however, they can be charged as a felony, depending upon the amount of injury involved or the instrument used. Mayhem is charged when the attack results in permanent damage. Both mayhem and assault with a deadly weapon are usually punishable as felonies.

Domestic violence in rural families is complicated by the greater social pressure to maintain the appearance of family unity. Safe transition houses and anonymous support networks may be able to help urban families caught in a violent spiral, but such measures are inapplicable in rural communities.

Family violence is an age-old phenomenon which traditionally has not been questioned. The right of the family head to abandon disabled children, to expose and kill newborn children as a means of birth control, and severe and repeated physical punishment in education are well-known historical facts. A husband's right to physically punish his wife was considered to be a natural and legitimate means of maintaining order, which had a solid foundation in society and the legal system. Today's violence may go unchecked and unreported because battered women have been told by their ministers and their families that a good woman can change a man. Women may be nurturing, may want to help, may want successful marriages, may see the good in their mate. In addition, professionals themselves can be an essential part of the violence syndrome by failing to note signs of abuse (seeing a woman's or child's injury as caused by a fall or accident), or by labelling battered women as neurotic, prescribing tranquillizers for them, and telling them to go home.

Already during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England the problem of mate abuse was partially dealt with by forbidding husbands to beat their wives after 10 pm because of the noise.

Officially reported cases of battering do not reflect the entire extent of the abuse problem since victims are usually unwilling to report for fear of reprisal from their mate, or because social support systems are unable to provide adequate services to protect victims.

[Industrialized countries] In the UK one in ten women who do report being battered refuse to prosecute or change their story. This usually happens after they have contact with their spouse or other family members.

Although the USA Department of Justice reports that only one out of every ten cases of wife assault is reported, domestic battery is the single most significant cause of injury to women in the USA, more than car accidents, rapes and muggings combined. In California alone it is estimated that 100,000 women are seriously beaten every year. 40% of US men considered it normal to hit their partners. Women who are subjected to domestic violence run twice the risk of miscarrying during pregnancy and four times the risk of having a baby that is below average weight than women who are not; more babies are now born with birth defects as a result of mothers being battered during pregnancy than from the combination of all diseases and illnesses for which pregnant women are now immunized. Furthermore, 50% of women interviewed in a study on domestic violence reported that they had missed an average of 3 days work per month because of abuse at home. It is conservatively estimated that at least two million women are beaten each year in the USA. These figures would indicate that as many as 16% of all married women residing in the USA are beaten annually. 25% of all reported murders are family related and over half of these murders involved spouse killings. There are over 1,200 battered women's shelters across the USA. Although many batterings are perpetrated by men against women there is an alarming increase in the number of reported incidents where women have murdered their mates as a retaliatory self-defence measure for beatings they have suffered over an extended period of time.

[Developing countries] Between 20% and 75% of married women in poor countries suffer violence within the family. Rape and domestic violence account for 5 percent of illnesses and diseases among women, aged 15 to 44, in developing countries, where illnesses and diseases from material and communicable causes still overwhelm those from other conditions. In South Africa, one adult woman out of every six is assaulted regularly by her mate. In at least 46% of these cases, the men involved also abuse the women's children. In Bolivia, 79% of young prostitutes turn to prostitution out of economic need after running away from violent homes where they were victims of rape and incest by male relatives.

(D) Detailed problems