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Family Violence

Definition of Family Violence

Family violence is violence within the family unit and is most frequently perpetrated by men.

Violence is a reality in many families. Sociologists who study violence in the family consider several factors when studying domestic abuse. They cite cultural as well as structural factors that can encourage or discourage family violence. In patriarchal societies, which allow for and encourage male dominance, women and children are subordinate. As such, women and children are much more likely to be victims of violent acts. Economic inequality and other life stressors have been found to contribute to domestic violence as well, with the perpetrators taking frustrations out on their partners and children. Norms and expectations related to gender can play a part in family violence. For example, expectations about how men handle stress or what roles women should play in a relationship can contribute to the prevalence of family violence.

Researchers estimate that about 35 percent of women in the world experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. However, there are global differences when it comes to family violence with numbers being higher among poorer nations or poorer areas in wealthier nations. Child abuse can be related to social and cultural attitudes toward children. Like women, children are seen by their abusers as subordinate and as such experience high rates of abuse, including in labor sectors where few laws protect the interest of children in developing nations.

Types of Family Violence

The two main categories of family violence are child abuse and spousal or partner abuse.

Family violence is separated into two major categories: violence against intimate partners and violence against children. An intimate partner is a romantic partner, such as a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. In most cases, family violence occurs between intimate partners. Spousal or partner abuse and child abuse take many forms, including the infliction of physical, sexual, or emotional pain, as well as neglect.

Specific types of family violence include assault, rape, homicide, forced isolation, neglect, verbal or emotional abuse, and stalking. Most violence perpetrated against loved ones is about power and control within the relationship. Abusers use violence to maintain dominance over the victim. Domestic violence can also be related to chronically stressful living conditions, where perpetrators have little or no control. For example, chronic poverty is a social and economic situation that creates great stress for people who have little social power and few opportunities to control their situation in life. This is why domestic violence incidence rates are higher among those living in poverty. Family violence is not a defining characteristic of low-income families, but poverty-related stress is a risk factor. Other risk factors for family violence include drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, lower education level, and previous abuse witnessed as children. Numerous factors can reduce violence in families. Laws and the enforcement of these laws, along with financial and other support for victims, are all effective measures that decrease violence in families.