Domestic Violence and South Korean Women: The Cultural Context and Alternative Experiences

Article excerpt

The present research contributes to the growing body of cross-cultural research on domestic violence. This is accomplished by answering the question of how severity of intimate partner abuse varies for (1) women incarcerated for the homicides of their male partners (2) abused women who sought domestic violence shelter, short of killing their intimate assailants, and (3) a group of South Korean females outside of domestic violence shelters or prison. The article concludes with a discussion of potential policy implications of the findings as well as promising directions for future research.

Keywords: intimate partner homicide; domestic violence; cross-cultural research; South Korean women

The World Health Organization (2007) has determined that intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most common form of violence against women worldwide, with an estimated 5.3 million women experiencing violence at the hands of an intimate partner each year. In turn, a body of research from the United States and United Kingdom has revealed that a consequence of this social problem is the strong connection between women's abuse by intimate partners and their perpetration of partner homicide ( Browne & Williams, 1989; Jensen, 2001; Leonard, 2002) , with intimate male partners as women's most common victims in cases of lethal violence (Jensen, 2001; Wilson & Daly, 1992) .

The incidence and characteristics of retaliatory lethal violence by women against abusive intimate partners in non-western societies is an open question. In a sex-specific description of crimes committed in Korea between 1965 and 1994, Choi (1996) indicated that before the transition into a nuclear family system, homicides committed by women were almost always against their parents-in-law and husbands. With industrialization and changes in the traditional family system has come an increased incidence of female- perpetrated killings of lovers, children and infants. In terms of specific motives, recent research of South Korean women (Kim & Titterington, 2009) did not support the conventional argument, based on research from the United States, that those who resort to lethal violence toward their male batterers are women whose abuse histories are the most severe. Surveys reveal that domestic violence remains a serious social problem for Korean women in general (Kim & Cho, 1992; U.S. Department of State, 2004).

A cogent feature of research into the characteristics of women who commit intimate partner homicide is that these women are not socially different from non-criminal women except for their severe abuse experiences, based mainly upon the finding that those women who killed their intimate partners do not typically have prior crime histories ( Ogle, Mier-Katkin, & Bernard, 1995; O'Keefe, 1997; Walker, 1984; Wells & DeLeon-Granados, 2004) . At this point, however, we lack an in-depth understanding of any other differences between these women and non-criminal women. The few studies that have contrasted abused female intimate partner homicide offenders with abused non-criminal women generally indicate no significant differences between the two groups ( Browne, 1987; Walker, 1 989) or more severe abuse experiences among the abused women who ultimately kill their intimate partners ( Grant & Curry, 1993 ).

Addressing the argument that women's perpetration of IPV represents mainly selfdefense, U.S.-based research makes it clear that wives may be as physically and verbally abusive as their husbands during interpersonal conflict, though women's motives are often shown to be self-defensive whereas men's motives for such violence are for intimidation or control (Dutton & Nicholls, 2005; Jacobson et al., 1994; Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2005) . Also, a substantial number of women report abusive behaviors toward male partners ( Fiebert, 1997 ; Moffitt, Krueger, Caspi, & Fagan, 2000). There are several studies indicating that many intimate relationships involve mutual violence rather than male partners' unilateral aggression, though the context and extent of physical harm inflicted often differs between women and men ( Bland & Orn, 1986 ; Dutton & Nicholls, 2005; Ehrensaft, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2004 ; Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2005; Vivian & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1994) . …