Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Origin and Solution Attributions of Responsibility for Wife Abuse: Effects of Outcome Severity, Prior History, and Sex of Subject

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Origin and Solution Attributions of Responsibility for Wife Abuse: Effects of Outcome Severity, Prior History, and Sex of Subject

Article excerpt

The purpose of the present study was to determine the effect of sex differences and seriousness of the abuse situation on observers' attributions of responsibility for origin and solution to both partners in a couple. Male and female undergraduate students (N - 354) read a vignette about a wife abuse incident. The results supported the victim activation hypothesis, with wives being held more responsible for the solution than for the origin of the problem. In contrast, husbands were held more responsible for the origin than for the solution to the problem. Overall, there were sex differences for attributions of responsibility to die husband but not for those to the wife. Women were more likely than men to attribute origin and solution responsibility to the husband. There was no clear support for the effects of the seriousness of the abuse situation. Husbands were attributed more control over the problem's solution than were wives.

A number of researchers (Breines & Gordon, 1983; Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Stark, Flitcraft, & Frazier, 1979) have argued that battered women are victimized twice. First, they are abused physically by their partners. Second, the abuse continues with agents of social control (e.g., medical practitioners, police officers and other representatives of the legal system, social workers, etc.) who attribute blame to the woman for being victimized. Given that these social control agents often mirror attitudes and beliefs held by the general public, it is important to examine factors that influence how observers perceive situations of wife battering.

The evidence for derogation of the battered wife by observers is far from overwhelming. Kalmuss (1979) noted that her respondents were more likely to attribute responsibility for the violence to the husband/offender or to both actors equally. It was rare for an observer to perceive that the wife was predominantly responsible for the violence. Similarly, Summers (1982) reported that greater blame was attributed to the male offender than to the female victim. This was particularly evident if the offender's relationship with the victim involved marriage, in contrast to just living with or being acquainted with the woman. Instead of supporting the construct of victim derogation, this research suggests that offenders are given the majority of the responsibility for the abuse (offender derogation).

Given that Kalmuss's approach provides weak support for the presence of wife abuse victim derogation, it is difficult to reconcile these findings with the position of a number of writers who argue for the presence of victim derogation (Breines & Gordon, 1983; Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Stark, Flitcraft, & Frazier, 1979). However, reconciliation is possible. Loseke and Cahill's (1984) critical review of the domestic violence literature noted that family violence theorists attempt to avoid viewing the battered woman as a cause of her own abuse. However, when the woman remains in the battering relationship and does not attempt actively to terminate the abuse situation (e.g., leave the partner, pursue legal action against the offender), observers infer that she is somehow deviant. Essentially, the woman is not seen as responsible for causing the abuse situation; rather, she is held responsible for terminating the present abuse and for making sure that she is not involved in a similar situation in the future (victim activation). Similarly, one can attribute responsibility to the offender/ husband for eliminating future violent behavior toward a partner (offender activation).

Attribution researchers (Cohn & Sugarman, 1980; Kalmuss, 1979; Richardson & Campbell, 1980) have focused exclusively on the actor's responsibility for the origin of his or her present abuse situation. In other words, they primarily have assessed to what degree the victim was perceived to be responsible for the occurrence of the abuse. Brickman and his associates (1982) pointed out that responsibility attributions might also involve a. …

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