Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Crime at Home and in the Streets: The Relationship between Family and Stranger Violence

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Crime at Home and in the Streets: The Relationship between Family and Stranger Violence

Article excerpt

Research and theory on violent behavior have treated aggression between intimates and aggression between strangers as separate phenomena. Major criminological works on violence and aggression have generally overlooked violence in the home. As a result, independent and distinct bodies of theoretical and practical knowledge exist regarding family violence and aggression toward strangers, and the relationship between family violence and violence directed against strangers is little understood. Estimates of the intersection of these behaviors vary extensively. Severity of domestic violence is associated with violence outside the home. Exposure to violence as a child consistently emerges as a strong explanatory factor for both domestic violence and the behavior of "generally" violent men. Behavior patterns appear to shift over time, from domestic violence only to violence toward both strangers and family members. However, an integrated theory of violent behavior by males provides explanations of both stranger and family violence. Early childhood socialization toward violence, modified by social and cultural supports during adolescence and adulthood, suggests a social learning paradigm. Hypotheses are developed that integrate and unify theories of stranger and family violence.

A man left his home and walked down the block to the bus stop. He got into an argument with a stranger and proceeded to hit him several times. When told of this encounter, we ask, Why was he so violent? The man then returned home and got into an argument with his wife. He hit her several times. We ask, Why did she stay?

For decades, criminologists have studied violence toward intimates and violence toward strangers as separate phenomena. Since the 1950s, numerous commissions of leading scholars and practitioners have addressed violent crime, consistently excluding crimes within the home. The major criminological works on violence and aggression have also generally ignored violence in the home, with the exception of homicide (cf. Wolfgang, 1958). But we now know that nearly half of all American couples experience violence at some point in their marriages and that 73% of parents with children between the ages of 3 and 17 years report at least one violent occurrence taking place in the course of raising the child (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980).! Accordingly, the knowledge base that historically has informed theory, policy, and practice on the control of violence is arguably skewed and incomplete.

In the 1960s, family behaviors became issues at the forefront of public policy. The "discovery" of child abuse and action projects of the emerging women's movement made violence in the family a social concern. At the same time, criminal justice practitioners identified domestic disputes as a major problem facing law enforcement (Button, 1987; Levens & Dutton, 1980; Parnas, 1972). Researchers observed the high incidence of calls for service for domestic disputes (Scott, 1981) and domestic homicides resulting from fights between family members (Wilt & Breedlove, 1977). During the mid-1970s, several studies established violence in the home, toward both women and children, as a widespread phenomenon and part of a way of life for many families (American Humane Association, 1980; Gacquin, 1978; Gelles, 1979; Russell, 1982; Schulman, 1979; Straus etal., 1980).2 The new social knowledge of family violence contradicted popular perceptions of family life and raised critical questions about our empirical knowledge of violence and crime.

Although investigation of family violence increased as researchers and policymakers recognized its incidence and toll, this research remained separate from the study of criminal violence toward strangers. Few attempts were made by researchers to integrate the emerging knowledge of violence in the home with other research on violence. Two related processes may have contributed to this schism. First, criminological research paralleled the conceptual frameworks prevalent in the criminal justice and legal communities-violence in the home was defined as a private affair and, until recently, subject to treatment as a crime only when resulting in severe injury or death (Gelles, 1982). …

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