This chapter analyses and compares books, journal articles and other reputable sources concerning the impact of gender and age on the acceptability of domestic violence. The goal of this section is to examine and synthesise existing evidence, arguments and contributions related to the research question, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the current knowledge on people’s acceptability of domestic violence against men, women and different age groups.
Domestic Violence and Gender
First of all, domestic violence is an umbrella term which covers a variety of situations wherein violence is perpetrated within a close relationship or in a family. (World Health Organization, 2002) While domestic violence is commonly viewed as a serious public health issue and social problem, research on gender-based domestic violence has given rise to different lines of arguments and theories which resulted in great confusion among policy-makers and scholars. (Kimmel, 2005, p. 198)
As McCue (2008) noted, even though women’s rights movements in Britain and the United States have brought domestic violence against women (henceforth DVAW) to public attention and have undoubtedly achieved remarkable results in terms of women’s rights, this phenomenon is a form of oppression which still exists in today’s world. (pp.5-6) As for domestic violence, Wendt and Zannettino (2014) argued that studies across the world clearly indicate that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than men and that this form of abuse affects nearly every aspect of their lives. (p.6)
In order to better understand the effect of domestic violence on society, it is worth mentioning that as of 2014, 30% of women across the world who have been in a relationship have admitted being sexually and/or physically abused by their partners at least once in their lives. (World Health Organization, 2014a) Moreover, global statistics indicate that 35% of women worldwide have been victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. (World Health Organization, 2014a) As Sokoloff and Pratt (2005) pointed out, the mainstream feminist view on domestic violence acknowledges that women are more likely to be battered and abused than men and that gender inequality is a major cause of DVAW. (pp.1-2) Moreover, pioneering research on domestic violence was based on the assumption that this phenomenon affected all women in the same way, thus disregarding women’s’ diverse needs, experiences and backgrounds. (Sokoloff and Pratt, p.3)
However, as Kimmel (2005, p.198) noted, women are widely regarded as the main victims of domestic violence because feminist organisations, activists and researchers tend to focus exclusively on women’s rights, thus disregarding the fact that domestic violence is not a gender-based phenomenon as an equal number of men and women are assaulted by their partners.
In fact, studies have revealed that domestic violence against men (henceforth DVAM) is also a widespread social issue, to the extent that Brott (1994) argued that men are subject to violence at least as often as their female counterparts. Brott’s (1994) position is partly supported by recent data released by the UK Office for National Statistics, according to which between 2011 and 2012, 1.2 million women and 800.000 men were victims of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom. (Office for National Statistics, 2013) Even more surprisingly, Home Office statistical bulletins concerning domestic violence in the United Kingdom showed that in 2004/2005 and 2008/2009, around 40% of domestic violence victims were male, which would suggest that domestic violence should not always be depicted as a female victim / male offender issue. (Campbell, 2010)
In this regard, McCue (2008) observed that as a result of the great attention that the media has been paying to DVAW during the past few decades, there has been an increase in research concerning battered husbands. (pp.33-34) In addition, advocates for male victims have started arguing that social stereotypes are one of the reasons why numerous men do not report violence by their female partners , as they are afraid of being laughed at for their inability to live up to their masculine role. (McCue, 2008, p.35) On the other hand, it should be noted that many cases of DVAW also go unreported due to victims’ fear, shame, insecurity and lack of information, to name but a few. (Das, 2011, pp.265-268; Birdsey and Snowball, 2013)
Although numerous campaigns have been carried out across the world to sensitise the public to domestic violence, acceptability of this phenomenon has been found to persist in both developed and underdeveloped countries. This section examines public attitudes towards domestic violence against women and men, taking into consideration a variety of socio-cultural factors which may be behind the acceptability of this phenomenon.
Domestic Violence Against Women
As Gracia and Herrero (2007) noted, while numerous researchers have investigated the reasons why female domestic violence victims do not report their victimisation, very little attention has been paid to factors affecting public attitudes towards DVAW. (pp.738-739)
Mainstream feminist theories maintain that there exists a relationship between domestic violence and gendered power relations, wherein people tend to see women as men’s property and justify domestic violence by arguing that men have a right to demand obedience from their female partners and to exercise their authority through abuse. (Wendt and Zannettino, 2011; Hamburger and Renzetti, 1996, p. 127) As Hunnicutt (2009) observed, even though feminist scholars have been criticised for placing too much emphasis on patriarchy, their findings have certainly succeeded in linking domestic violence to societal and cultural factors, rather than focussing exclusively on individual traits.
In fact, while individual attributes and issues (e.g. mental disorders, traumatising experiences, substance abuse, biological dispositions) contribute greatly to the persistence of domestic violence, recent sociological research has adopted a socio-cultural perspective aimed at identifying the environmental factors which cause people to accept and condone domestic violence. (Healey, 1999, p. 16)
For example, Menon (2008) reported that domestic violence is usually accepted in Indian households, as long as it stays within certain limits. (p.152) As a result of that, domestic violence in India cannot be tackled using the same tools that would be used to cope with this phenomenon in the United States, where violent behaviour is more stigmatised and institutions provide victims with various domestic violence shelters and schemes. (Menon, 2008, p. 152)
Similarly to India, Muslim countries have been found to condone domestic violence to the extent that wife beating is commonly regarded as an acceptable practice whose goal is to correct misbehaving wives. (Suad and Afsāna , 2003, p. 126) As Douki et al. (2003) observed, domestic violence in many Arab and Muslim countries is still widely disregarded, even though surveys have revealed that over 30% of Tunisian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Israeli women are subjected to domestic violence. From a cultural perspective, this is because Muslim households are usually very reserved in nature and see domestic abuse as a private issue, rather than a public one. (Douki et al., 2003; Finley, 2013, p. 250)
As reported by Newman and Newman (2010), people’s perception of domestic violence as a private issue is one of the reasons why this phenomenon was widely ignored in the United States until the 1980’s, to the extent that when the authorities got involved, officers used to encourage household members to overcome their differences without holding victims or perpetrators accountable. (p.28) Even though today domestic violence is seen as a substantial health and social issue by the U.S. public, statistics indicate that 5.3 million U.S. women are subjected to intimate partner violence every year. (Department of Health and Human Services, 2003)
Domestic violence persists in Europe as well, where 25% of women have been victims of intimate partner violence at least once in their lives. (World Health Organization, 2013a, p. 17)
As for people’s perception of this phenomenon, a study conducted by Gracia and Herrero (2006) revealed that acceptability of DVAW is pervasive in the European Union, where countries with higher levels of GEM (Gender Empowerment Measure) exhibited greater differences in female victim blaming attitudes. Similarly, Hagemann-White (2001) concluded that even though women in several European countries are finally starting to see domestic violence incidents as actual crimes, domestic violence still exists in the European community, where numerous cases go unreported. This is partly due to the fact that victim-blaming attitudes and passivity are still common among the European public, which contributes to creating a climate of indifference and tolerance towards domestic violence. (Gracia, 2007, pp. 741-743)
As far as women’s perspective is concerned, Asay et al. (2013) reported that as of 2010, a high percentage of Greek women considered physical and sexual abuse as violent behaviour, whereas psychological and verbal abuse, together with economic and social restriction were still widely condoned. (p. 98) Moreover, research has shown that respondents who had been subjected to abuse were more reluctant to characterise domestic violence as a crime, and that several victims had accepted stereotyped gender-based roles. (Asay et al., 2013, p. 99)
With regards to men’s perspective, Gracia and Herrero (2006) demonstrated that men who know a perpetrator are more likely to accept DVAW than men who know a victim, and that victim blaming stems from higher levels of acceptability of this phenomenon.
Domestic Violence Against Men
Steinmetz (1977-1978) was the first expert to label male victims of domestic violence as “battered husbands”, arguing that violence against men is often disregarded, whereas DVAW incidents are often paraded before the public. (p.499) In an attempt to analyse domestic violence from a cultural and historical perspective, Steinmetz (1977-1978) argued that it has always been common for people to caricaturise and condone violence against husbands who do not possess typically masculine traits, such as assertiveness, strength and intelligence. (p.500)
Even though evidence demonstrating both gender symmetry and asymmetry makes it difficult to determine with absolute certainty whether there is an equal number of male and female victims of domestic violence, available statistics suggest that DVAM occurs more often than DVAM (Kimmel, 2002, pp.1334-1335; Fisher and Lab, 2010, p.306)
During the past few years, several studies have been conducted which indicate that people of different age and gender tend to exhibit different attitudes towards DVAW and DVAM.
For example, Fox et al. (2014) investigated young students’ perception of domestic violence in the United Kingdom, concluding that boys were more likely to condone violence than girls and noticing that students who had either experienced, perpetrated or witnessed violence before exhibited a greater acceptance of violence in intimate relationships. (p.15) However, what makes Fox et al.’s (2014) research particularly relevant to the present study is the fact that its findings showed that a significant percentage of students deemed female-on-male violence to be more acceptable than male-on-female violence. (p.15) This is certainly in line with previous studies, which also demonstrated that people tend to consider violence against men more acceptable than violence against women. (Price et al., 1999) From an etiological viewpoint, past research has revealed that condoning female-on-male violence results from socially-constructed stereotypes and norms, wherein women are perceived as weak, whereas men are viewed as strong and assertive. (Gerber, 1991, Askew, 1989; Burr, 1998)
In an attempt to evaluate young people’s attitudes towards domestic violence (against both men and women) in the United States, Bryant and Spencer (2003) used the Domestic Violence Blame Scale to assess University students’ perception of victims and perpetrators. Their study revealed that male respondents were more likely to blame the victim than female students and that participants who had experienced violence in their family of origin had a tendency to blame societal factors. (Bryant and Spencer, 2003)
With regards to the impact of gender on people’s acceptability of actions performed by men and women, past research suggests that the public is usually prone to approve of women who engage in activities which are usually performed by their male counterparts, whereas men who engage in activities which are more typical of women are perceived as less acceptable. (Ellis et al., 2013, pp.850-851) Therefore, being domestic violence traditionally associated with patriarchal views, typically male values and masculinity, the above findings would partly explain why violence perpetrated by females is usually seen as more acceptable or less grave than violence perpetrated by males. (Cook, 2009, p.31, p. 39)
According to Cook (2009), this is due to the qualities and traits that people tend to ascribe to men and women; for example, a survey conducted by BKG Youth Inc. revealed that 30% of women aged between 18 and 25 agreed with the statement that “Men are assertive and dominant, while women are more nurturing and submissive”. (Cook, 2009, p.40) Furthermore, when respondents were asked how many men they would beat up if they were given the power to do so, 48% of them provided figures ranging between one and ten. (Cook, 2009, p.40)
According to Cook (2009, pp. 39-40), both biological and social forces should be taken into consideration when analysing DVAM, as while female-on-male violence is deemed to be more acceptable than male-on-female violence, there are certain biological differences (e.g. different levels of male and female hormones) which have been found to be associated with increased aggressiveness.
Domestic Violence and Age
Societal and cultural factors certainly play a fundamental role in creating a climate of tolerance to violence, which would explain why countries which experience high levels of domestic violence also exhibit high levels of other types of violence. (World Health Organization, 2009)
As reported by the World Health Organization (2009, p.3) social acceptance of violence is usually developed in childhood, especially when children are subjected to corporal punishments and/ or witness violence in their family. Therefore, considering the impact of both direct and indirect violence on children’s future views on domestic violence, it can be inferred that this phenomenon is part of a vicious cycle that starts with people’s acceptance of child abuse, which increases the likelihood of children growing up tolerating and even condoning violence. (Cross, 2014, p.172; Aghtaie and Gangoli, 2014, p. 42) In this regard, Dr. Athens observed that children who are exposed to domestic violence and abuse are more likely to see violence as a way to solve problems, to get what they want and to protect themselves. (Rhodes, 2000, p.192)
Moreover, another reason why this study focuses on both domestic violence against men and women and child abuse is because statistics indicate that these issues are likely to manifest simultaneously, as when violence occurs within a domestic context, it usually affect all household members regardless of their age. (Humphreys et al. 2008) In fact, as a pattern of assaultive and aggressive behaviours, domestic violence is not usually limited to single events and tends to become increasingly severe with the passage of time, thus increasing the likelihood of children being abused sooner or later. (Prevent Child Abuse America, 1999)
Acceptability of Child Abuse
As reported by the World Health Organization (2002), child abuse is a serious global issue which stems from cultural, economic and social factors. In order to understand the extent of this problem, it should be noted that 25% of adults worldwide have been subjected to physical abuse as children. (World Health Organization, 2014b) Although available data suggests that child abuse, neglect and homicide are more common in low and middle-income countries, differences exist within high-income countries as well, where deprived areas and disadvantaged communities are associated with higher child maltreatment rates (World Health Organization, 2013b, pp.viii-ix)
Before analysing available theories and data concerning child abuse, it should be mentioned that people’s views on violence as a way to discipline and correct children depend greatly on their personal values, as well as on the socio-cultural contexts where they live. (Gracia and Herrero, 2008, p.1210) Therefore, when evaluating existing research on domestic violence and child abuse, it is important to always take into consideration the socio-cultural environments examined by each study in order to avoid making inaccurate, approximate generalisations. In fact, while certain forms of child abuse are considered acceptable and even therapeutic in certain cultures, they may be deemed intolerable or even illegal in other cultures. (Clark et al., 2007, pp.53-54)
An excellent example of such socio-cultural relativism is provided by Chan et al. (2000) who investigated Singaporeans’ perception of child abuse, using a sample of 1252 professionals and 401 members of the public. Their study revealed that while most respondents considered all those actions which may result in physical harm as unacceptable, child caning was condoned under certain circumstances. As Thomas (1999, p. 96) reported, caning is a practice which has been outlawed in Europe and other countries across the world. With regards to the negative effects of caning, Phillip Noyes from NSPCC argued that caning is a totally unacceptable practice which was rightly outlawed in English schools a long time ago. (BBC News, 2013)
With regards to the relationship between child maltreatment and acceptability of child abuse, Harmon (2008) conducted a study which revealed that mothers who are more approving of child abuse and see violence as a disciplinary tool are more likely to maltreat their children than mothers who can distinguish between aggression and discipline. (pp.31-35) Similarly, Rodriguez et al. (2011) also concluded that parents who are more tolerant towards physical discipline and abuse are associated with harsher parenting styles and child abuse potential.
A study conducted by Gracia and Herrero (2008) on the acceptability of child maltreatment in Europe showed that men are more likely to tolerate physical punishment of children than women and that higher levels of acceptability are exhibited by older, less educated men. Their findings also suggest that countries where physical punishment is illegal and less child maltreatment cases are reported are usually associated with lower acceptability rates. (Gracia and Herrero, 2008)
With regards to the impact of age and income on people’s acceptability of child abuse, Özgülük (2010) analysed the answers provided by 65 Turkish respondents, observing that as income increased and age decreased, participants’ towards child abuse became increasingly negative. (p. 518) This is in line with Brown et al.’s (1998) findings, which also supported the hypothesis that poverty increases the likelihood of child abuse.
From a Freudian viewpoint, violence against those who are perceived as weak usually stems from self-preservation mechanisms, which prompt individuals to hate, abuse, torture and even kill those who embody weakness, disintegration and regress. (Piven, 2004, p.192) According to Piven (2004), the aforementioned mechanisms may even be used to explain anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, as well as child-hating, misogynistic cultures dominating certain Middle Eastern regions, where many believe that women and children deserve to be punished as a result of their innate weakness. (p.192)
In view of the above considerations, it can be inferred that child abuse is still widely accepted across the world, even though certain socio-cultural factors may either reduce or increase people’s acceptability of this phenomenon. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that even though psychological and sociological research has produced a wealth of data on the negative effects of child abuse, as of today only 24 nations have banned corporal punishment, most of which are in Europe and the Americas, while only two are in the Middle East and Oceania. (Zolotor and Puzia, 2010) As argued by Gelles and Lancaster (2005), domestic violence and child abuse are strongly interconnected and stem mainly from socio-cultural attitudes which fuel the acceptability of violence by promoting it as useful for both instrumental and expressive purposes. (p.26)