Family Violence Knows No Cultural Boundaries

Article excerpt


An estimated four million incidences of domestic violence against women occur each year according to the Office on Women's Health (OWH) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2000). Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States, and male intimate partners are more likely to assault, injure, rape, or kill their female partners than any other assailant. Alarmingly, one in four women in the United States will be assaulted by a domestic partner during her lifetime. These domestic violence injuries account for about one-- fourth of emergency room visits by women (OWH, 2000).

Abuse is common in intimate relationships; women account for more than 90% of abused adults (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2000). According to the Family Violence Fund (Memon, 1998) 7% of American women are physically abused and 37% were emotionally or psychologically abused in 1993. Abused women come from all socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds; family violence knows no skin color, religion, or culture.

Though not all women experience violence directly, few women live their lives unaffected by the pervasiveness of violence in our society (The National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women, 1998). Thirty percent of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by a husband or boyfriend in the past year (OWH, 2000), while a 1993 national opinion poll found that 34% of U.S. adults have witnessed a man beating his wife or girlfriend (as cited in OWH Frequently Asked Questions, 2000).

Sadly, a survey by the Commonwealth Fund found that 92% of abused women do not tell their doctors. This statistic demonstrates the vast underreporting of family violence in the United States, despite its frequency and pervasiveness in our society.

The American Medical Association and the U.S. Surgeon General believe that family violence is one of America's most critical health problems (Memon, 1998) According to the OWH, family violence can include a combination of the following:

Physical Abuse

Throwing objects, hitting, pushing, kicking, choking, and/or beating. Results in physical injury and emotional distress.

Psychological Abuse

Threatening to harm the woman or the children, threatening to harm a pet, destroying property or valued possessions, and/or forcing the woman to perform humiliating acts. Often psychological abuse precedes or accompanies physical abuse but may occur by itself.

Sexual Assault

Pressuring, coercing by manipulation or threat, and/or forcing the woman to perform a type of sex not desired or at a time not desired.

Emotional Abuse

Verbally attacking and humiliating the woman as a way to assert control.


Often used to gain control over a woman by interfering with the woman's time, activities, and contact with others. Obtained through threats, control, and lying.

Economic abuse

Controlling access to all of the woman's resources, such as time, food, transportation, clothing, shelter, and money. Can be used as a way to prevent a woman from becoming self-sufficient, giving perpetrator control over the relationship, and making it difficult for the woman to leave the relationship.

Family violence often follows a common pattern, causing the woman to feel trapped in the cycle and imparting power and control to the abuser. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (2000) cites three stages in the cycle of abuse (see Figure 1):

Phase 1: Tension begins to mount as perpetrator increases threats of violence, with namecalling, pushing, or shoving. often the abused will make efforts to please the perpetrator to prevent the impending battering. The violence is only postponed, not prevented.

Phase 2: The violence erupts, often physically or sexually.

Phase 3: The abuser apologizes and expresses guilt and shame, promising that the violence will never happen again. …