1 | Emotional Terror, Physical Harm, and Women’s Experiences of Domestic Violence
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28 1 Emotional Terror, Physical Harm, and Women’s Experiences of Domestic Violence When does bad behavior cross the line and become abuse? This question has different answers depending on whether it is asked by a legal professional, a violence researcher, or a concerned friend. In instances of rape or physical assault , the line may seem clear, but even in these circumstances, women’s safety is not necessarily the paramount concern in the policy arena. For example, some jurisdictions do not protect women against rape in marriage; of the 192 member countries of the United Nations, only slightly more than one-half have statutes that make it possible to prosecute marital rape (Secretary General of the United Nations, 2006). Many people believe that certain behaviors (such as disobeying one’s husband or being suspected of infidelity) are good reasons for a man to beat his wife (Garcia-Moreno et al., 2005). How a society defines domestic violence has implications for the legal protections available to victims , the availability of supportive services, and the likely responses that sur­ vivors will encounter from friends, family members, and others in their social networks. In American courts, domestic violence is usually defined in reference to existing statutes that criminalize assault and battery. From this standpoint, the important issue is whether physical harm has occurred to a person. Domestic assaults (if they come into the court system at all) are usually charged as mis­ demeanors, and the majority result in dismissal of the charges (Ventura & Davis, 2005). Most states have enacted statutes that either specifically address domestic violence or provide for enhanced penalties under already existing assault and battery laws for domestic violence incidents (Miller, 2004). The federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (vawa; Pub. L. No. 103-322, Section 3[a]) hews to a similar definition, stating, “The term ‘domestic violence’ Women’s Experiences of Domestic Violence  |  29 includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse of the victim” or other person with whom the victim has cohabited or shared a child. In general, us legal definitions of domestic violence focus on physical acts that cause harm to the victim. To understand dynamics related to domestic violence, it is important to reach beyond legal definitions to also consider the experience of victimization from a survivor’s perspective. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (Duluth Model, n.d.)1 and other researchers (such as Smith, Smith, & Earp, 1999; and more recently, Dutton & Goodman, 2005; Stark, 2007) have interviewed battered women about their experiences, and have concluded that physical and sexual assaults are events that need to be understood within the context of one partner’s ongoing effort to establish power and control over another. For example , Smith, Smith, and Earp (1999) note, Our research revealed battering to be an enduring, traumatic, and multidimensional experience conceptually distinct from episodic physical assault . . . We found that battering in women’s lives continuously shapes their behavior, views of self, and beliefs in the controllability of their own lives. We also found that battered women are actively engaged in this experience; they want to improve their situation and . . . they are continuously engaged in both intrapsychic and active coping. . . . Based on this, we derived the following definition of battering: A process whereby one member of an intimate relationship experiences vulnerability, loss of power and control, and entrapment as a consequence of the other member’s exercise of power through the patterned use of physical, sexual, psychological, and/or moral force. (p. 183) More recently, domestic violence researchers have argued for a reconceptualization of domestic violence as coercive control (Dutton & Goodman, 2005; Stark, 2007). Coercive control is an enduring pattern of behavior by the dominant partner that uses intimidation, fear-inducing threats, and episodic physical and sexual assaults to control another’s behavior, relationships with other people, and independent action in the world. In the context of coercive control, physical violence may be rare because reliance on the threat of harm is effective at producing the desired outcome. The dynamics of coercion differ from the kind of conflict found in other couples in which there is occasional or situational 1.  The Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs in Duluth, Minn., developed the “Power and Control Wheel” that is commonly used to educate people about the experience of domestic violence. 30  |  Chapter 1 violence, but whose violence is not clearly associated with an ongoing effort to control the other person’s behavior. For example, Johnson (2008) differentiates between intimate terrorism, which...


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Subject Headings

  • Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980).
  • Parental kidnapping.
  • Abused women.
  • Family violence.
  • Custody of children.
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