The Risk of Partner Violence among Low-Income Hispanic Subgroups

Article excerpt

Women with few social resources are at elevated risk of partner abuse. Certain evidence suggests that African American and Hispanic women, who are overrepresented in the lower socio-economic strata, are at particularly high risk. We compare women's risk of partner violence, defined as moderate and severe, among 2,400 low-income African American, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Whites from "Welfare, Children and Families: A Three City Study" and find that these groups differ in their risk of degrees of violence. Specific nation-of-origin Hispanic subgroups also manifest important differences in their violence risk profiles. We argue that a better understanding of victimization requires more detailed ethnic categorization and a more refined understanding of the meaning of domestic violence for different groups.

Key Words: domestic violence, Hispanic ethnicity, partner violence, poverty, race, severity.

As a result of increased media attention and advocacy for victims, the problem of domestic violence has become a topic of serious public concern. In the United States, between two and six million women are abused annually (Gelles, 2000). The most salient risk factor, of course, is gender; in 95% of cases of domestic violence, women fall victim to their male partner's abuse (Bachman & Saltzman, 1995; Walker, 1999). Not only are women more likely to be victimized than men, they are far more likely to become the victims of ongoing abuse (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Partner abuse accounts for a large fraction of all violence against women. In 29% of cases in which a woman is victimized by a lone offender, the victimizer is an intimate partner, either a husband, a former husband, a boyfriend, or a former boyfriend (Bachman & Saltzman).

Domestic violence has been defined in many ways. In general, it refers to violent physical acts or coercive behavior directed against a spouse or partner, including psychological or emotional abuse as well as physical violence; threats against personal property, pets, and other family members; destruction of belongings; and the imposition and exploitation of economic dependence and isolation (Gelles, 2000). Conceptually, partner violence includes acts of abuse between two adults who are intimates, regardless of their marital status, living arrangements, or sexual orientations (Johnson & Ferraro, 2000). In this analysis, we employ the concept of partner violence to be as inclusive as possible concerning the relationships involved.

Previous research has established a fairly general socioeconomic risk profile for partner violence. Perhaps the most consistent finding is that women in low-income families are at elevated risk of victimization (Bachman & Saltzman, 1995; Cunradi, Caetano, & Schafer, 2002). Beyond that, little is certain and disentangling the role of socioeconomic factors from that of other racially influenced stressors has not been easy, largely because gender, minority group status, and social class are so intimately intertwined (Collins, 1991; Crenshaw, 1994; Zinn & Dill, 1996). African American and Hispanic women are at elevated risk of chronic poverty, which creates stress that can place minority women at elevated risk of violence (Benson, Fox, Demaris, & Van Wyk, 2000; Crenshaw; West, 1998).

Early research into the phenomenon of domestic violence was based on the assumption that the dynamics of abuse are similar for women of all racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds (Asbury, 1993; West, 1998). There is reason to doubt the validity of that assumption. Given the unique history of African Americans and Hispanics in this country, and the structured disadvantage they have experienced, race and ethnicity, in conjunction with minority group status, affect almost all aspects of social and family life, including how one experiences violence (Asbury; Collins, 1991; Crenshaw, 1994; West). There is ample reason to suspect that these same factors might affect not only specific domestic violence risk profiles but also the degree to which various types of violence are understood and tolerated by women from different ethnic and racial groups. …