Domestic Violence against Women: Its Roots in Social Structure
Godfrey, Lisbeth Sue
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My research was based on literature written by psychologists, sociologists, feminists, formerly battered women, and concerned others. The most fascinating aspect of my research came from my contact with victims of domestic assault. Due to my lack of counseling training, I was unable to develop my own case load until the last few weeks of my internship. My contact with clients was limited to support group and casual chats, until the last three weeks of work when I was then able to see clients in a counseling capacity. Unfortunately, I was unable to gain specific case histories and personal testimonials from victims of domestic assault which would have enhanced my research information. Yet, it was through my experiences at the Domestic Assault Program that I gained the most crucial information. I could have read all of the literature written on this subject, but the reality of the problem would not come until I had heard the horrible stories and had seen the pain, the frustration, the fear, the anger, and the sadness on victims' faces. For the purposes of readability and better understanding I have divided this thesis into four sections. The first discusses the historical precedents for wife battering, explaining the roots of our present attitudes toward women and subsequent treatment of them. The second section applies the systems theory approach to wife battering. This is a very complex section attempting to explain the present structure of society and the subsequent causes of domestic violence. Two questions are addressed in this section, the first being, "why does wife battering occur?" This question is developed through a cause and effect approach looking at individual personalities, the family system, the social structure and the influences each has on domestic violence. The second question is, "how does wife battering occur?", which takes a process approach to the problem looking at the family as a social system and at the effects of labeling within our society. This section also looks at two very crucial concepts developed by Lenore Walker, learned helplessness and the cycle of violence, which explain the process of female victimization. The third section deals with the assailants and common, identifiable characteristics which they share. The assailant is an important aspect of this issue, as he is the actual violent element. Although he, too, may in some way be a victim of society he, nevertheless, is responsible for his behavior. His driving forces must be understood in order to understand the victim's situation. The last section deals with one of the most misunderstood aspects of domestic violence, "why does a battered woman remain in a violent relationship?" People tend to hold the woman who stays responsible for the treatment which she receives, because she is not trying to escape the situation. It is assumed that, because she remains, she must like the abuse. This section explains the trap in which these women find themselves. They are often totally dependent on their men and totally victimized by social attitudes. My research of this subject was limited in two respects. The first limit was the clientele with whom I had contact. The majority of the women who seek help from the Domestic Assault Program are of lower socioeconomic standing; therefore, my research was also limited to that group of women. However, it is important to remember that domestic violence is not limited to lower class people and that members of all socioeconomic groups are potential victims. The second limit concerns the type of relationships in which battering exists. The relationships that were the subject of my research were heterosexual relationships; yet, it is important to remember that any intimate relationship has the potential for being abusive. Working at the Domestic Assault Program was a consciousness raising experience for me. I became aware of the few resources these women have and the little support they receive from society.