Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Psychological Abuse in Intimate Relationships: A New Zealand Perspective

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Psychological Abuse in Intimate Relationships: A New Zealand Perspective

Article excerpt

Psychological abuse in intimate relationships occurs across all communities, throughout all social and economic classes, and in all cultures. There are indications that in New Zealand, psychological abuse committed by men against their female partners is more prevalent than physical or sexual abuse and may result in greater negative effects. This paper reviews how psychological abuse is characterised when it is attendant to and independent of physical or sexual abuse. Some of the characteristics and determinants of men who abuse their partners are described. Psychometric assessments of psychological abuse are reviewed and relevant portions of the Domestic Violence Act (1995) are discussed. Prevention programs and psychosocial perspectives on treatment for both perpetrators and victims are critically examined. The author offers recommendations for future research.

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Domestic violence refers to physical, sexual or psychological abuse within close relationships. When psychological abuse occurs in intimate relationships, it is inevitably a component of domestic violence. However, psychological abuse can and does occur without attendant physical or sexual violence. On the other hand, because physical or sexual violence against another person contains elements of fear, power and control, psychological abuse is inherent in these forms of domestic violence. Although the focus of this paper is on psychological abuse in intimate adult relationships, much of the research literature necessarily overlaps with physical and sexual abuse specifically, and with some broader issues of domestic violence in general.

Although the true prevalence of domestic violence in New Zealand is not known, the estimated costs are enormous. A report commissioned by the Department of Social Welfare conservatively estimated the annual cost of family violence in New Zealand at more than NZ $1.2 billion (Snively, 1995). Adding an estimate of the value of women's lost work productivity, Snively reported that the actual cost could exceed NZ $5.3 billion annually. Given the estimated high prevalence of psychological abuse in New Zealand (Leibrich, Paulin, & Ransom, 1995), it is reasonable to assume that a significant fraction of this NZ $5.3 billion cost might be directly attributable to psychological abuse.

Psychological abuse occurs across all communities, throughout all social and economic classes, and in all cultures (Hague & Malos, 1993). Traditionally, the overriding attitude toward domestic violence was to consider it a private matter between husband and wife. Historically, there has been a strong tendency to excuse or minimise the violence, and blame the woman (Chang, 1996; Douglas, 2000). As recently as 1994, 65% of New Zealand men felt that hitting their female partner "in some circumstances" was justified (Leibrich, Paulin, & Ransom, 1995). Alcohol is often seen as a common and easy explanation that obviates the need to ask further questions (Hague & Malos, 1993). However, most researchers have concluded that while alcohol is an important factor in domestic violence, it is neither a necessary nor sufficient explanation (Ratcliffe, 1997).

Amongst researchers in New Zealand, Europe and North America, there is now widespread acceptance that domestic violence grows out of a patriarchal ethos of male dominance and control (Adams, 1988; Chang, 1996; Gortner, Gollan, & Jacobson, 1997; Hague & Malos, 1993). Although there is no cross-cultural research that has focused on psychological abuse, there is also little evidence to suggest radical differences between psychological abuse in New Zealand and that of other western countries that share this patriarchal ethos. Therefore, I assume some generalizability in research findings across these countries. Since patriarchal dominance is a deeply rooted value in most countries, we are led to the conclusion that pervasive attitude changes may be necessary to effect a significant reduction or elimination of domestic violence. …

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