Labeling Partner Violence: When Do Victims Differentiate among Acts?

By Hamby, Sherry L.; Gray-Little, Bernadette | Violence and Victims, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Labeling Partner Violence: When Do Victims Differentiate among Acts?


Hamby, Sherry L., Gray-Little, Bernadette, Violence and Victims


Domestic violence professionals have debated whether all physical assaults by partners should be labeled abuse. This study examined the use of labels such as "abuse," "victim," and "battered woman" in a sample of women (n = 78) who had sustained at least one physical assault in their current or most recent relationship. Self-labeling followed a differentiating strategy, that is, women experiencing more frequent and more severe assaults were more likely to apply labels. Lower partner income, being Black, lower relationship commitment, and having ended the relationship also were associated with increased self-labeling. Labeling of hypothetical acts followed an inclusive strategy, that is, all assaults were considered abusive. These results suggest that contextual factors influence labeling. Prevention and intervention programs may be able to increase their effectiveness by including more situational context in their messages.

When is a woman a battered woman? If her partner has physically assaulted her, is she battered as of the first time? The second? Must the assault be of a minimum level of severity? Relatively little empirical attention has been paid to these questions, although it is clear that the answers are a source of controversy. On the one hand, some domestic violence professionals advocate using labels such as "battering" for all physical violence (e.g., Hamberger & Arnold, 1989), what might be called an "inclusive" perspective. Advocates of this perspective assert that if the definition of battering needs to be changed at all, then it should be made broader to incorporate all acts of coercive control (Stark, 1995). They argue that applying a "calculus of harms" (Stark, 1995, p. 980) that discriminates among victims of violence can lead to minimizing some forms of violence. Such a strategy may limit the scope of public policy and intervention, and in the long run, reduce protection for assault victims. Most prevention and intervention programs in western countries adopt an inclusive strategy; that is, the definitions of "abuse" and "violence" tend to be broad and the cessation of all violence, including controlling and abusive behavior, is the treatment goal (e.g., Gondolf, 1995; McMahon & Pence, 1996; Pence & Paymar, 1993; also see Feldman & Ridley, 1995, for a review). Recent policy initiatives tend to adopt an inclusive perspective as well (e.g., Domestic Violence: Probation Act of California, 1995; Department of Public Health, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1995).

Other professionals argue that there are equal dangers in labeling all violence the same (e.g., Rouse, 1989). From this "differentiating" perspective, using the same terms for all physical force trivializes the experiences of women who have suffered the most horrific extremes of violence. Those advocating distinctions among levels and forms of violence suggest that their approach will be most helpful in terms of shaping theory, policy, and intervention because of the potential increases in specificity in each of these domains (Jacobson, Gottman, & Shortt, 1995; Johnson, 1995; O'Leary, 1996; Rouse, Breen, & Howell, 1988; Sedlak, 1988). Recent theoretical and empirical work suggests a marked trend in the direction of differentiating among levels of violence. Studies that differentiate among levels of violence are becoming increasingly common (e.g., Gottman et al., 1995). For example, many authors separate violence into minor forms, such as grabbing, versus more severe forms, such as beating up (Hamby, Poindexter, & Gray-Little, 1996; Sugarman, Aldarondo, & Boney-McCoy, 1996). Johnson (1995) has suggested that partner violence be divided into "patriarchal terrorism" and "common couple violence." These authors believe such a shift would have significant implications for the field.

Although the distinction between the inclusive and differentiating perspectives has been fairly well articulated among domestic violence professionals, little is known about the labeling strategies of women who have sustained physical assault by their partners.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Labeling Partner Violence: When Do Victims Differentiate among Acts?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?