Issues in Intervention with Battered Women in Collectivist Societies

Article excerpt

Over the past three decades, several models for individual and group intervention with battered women have been developed. The common assumption underlying all of these models is that violence and abuse are never appropriate in an intimate relationship, and that battered women have a basic right to safety, which is not negotiable. Because almost all of those models were developed in the individualistic contexts of Western societies, some questions and concerns have been raised as to their suitability for intervention with battered women in collectivist contexts. In this article, we explore the characteristics of collectivist societies based on the conceptual framework of Triandis, Brislin, and Hui, (1988) which focuses on five dimensions: the self, attitudes, values, activities, and behaviors. Furthermore, we explore each of those dimensions and their relevance to various aspects of wife abuse in collectivist societies, such as the way that battered women cope with violence against them, and possibilities for professional intervention.


Numerous studies have shown that the problem of violence against women by intimate partners exists in most societies throughout the world, if not in all of them (e.g., Levinson, 1989). For example, based on a review of 35 studies from a diverse range of countries, Heise, Pitanguy, and Germain (1994) concluded that the proportion of women who report physical abuse by a present or former partner ranges from one fourth to more than one half. Women also suffer from other forms and types of abuse by their intimate partners, including psychological, sexual, economic, and social abuse-although such experiences are reported less to health and mental health, welfare, and legal services. Irrespective of the rate of reporting incidents of abuse, empirical and therapeutic knowledge gathered over the past three decades clearly indicates that wife abuse by husbands occurs in all cultures, among all socioeconomic strata, and in different geographic regions (Haj-Yahia, 2000a; Levinson, 1989). Nevertheless, the incidence and severity of such violence vary in different contexts. Moreover, societies differ in their perceptions of wife abuse and battering, as well as in their attitudes toward battered wives and violent husbands. These differences are reflected in aspects such as justification of wife abuse and battering, tolerance and leniency toward violent husbands, blaming wives for violence against them, and leniency in society's formal responses to the various manifestations of the problem (Campbell, 1992; Haj-Yahia, 2000b; Levinson, 1989).

In many societies throughout the world, and particularly in individualist Western societies such as North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, legislation has been enacted over the past three decades to prevent violence against women. In addition, resources have been allocated for the establishment of services to support battered women and treat violent men, such as shelters and centers that provide protection, treatment, support, and counseling for battered women, as well as enrichment programs for the general public and for professionals dealing with the problem. Additionally, resources have also been allocated for research and conferences. However, public, professional, and scientific interest in the problem of wife abuse has been aroused only over the past decade in many countries, and especially in collectivist societies in regions such as the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. Despite increasing concern with wife abuse in collectivist cultures, those societies still view the issue as a personal and family problem rather than as a social and legal problem. As such, cases of wife abuse are often maintained within the family and are not dealt with on a formal, organized level, for example by involving legal, health, mental health, and welfare services (Haj-Yahia, 1996, 2000b, 2002).

In societies that have chosen to recognize the problem and develop responses to it, the following distinctive characteristics are noteworthy: the existence of a strong feminist movement with a solid organizational infrastructure; the existence of human rights organizations and movements; a system of health, mental health, and welfare services that acknowledges and responds to the specific needs of various groups in the population; a liberal and democratic atmosphere for individuals and families; and an increased recognition that violence against women by intimate partners is a pattern of coercive control, which derives from inequality in marital power relationships (Dobash & Dobash, 1992; Haj-Yahia, 2000b; Levinson, 1989). …