Physical and Psychological Abuse among a Predominantly African American Sample

Article excerpt

Abstract: The purpose of this descriptive correlational study was to explore the prevalence of physical and psychological abuse between intimate partners in a non-- clinical sample of predominantly African American women. The self-administered questionnaire included: a) demographic characteristics, b) the Index of Spouse Abuse (ISA) designed to measure physical and psychological abuse c) the Family Violence Scale (FVS) designed to measure family history of violence and d) a question inquiring as to past history of sexual abuse and e) a question asking whether participants perceived that they were abused versus nonabused. Students, faculty and staff from a large midwestern urban commuter university with undergraduate and graduate programs were surveyed. A computerized random sampling procedure was used to select the sample. One hundred and seventy nine usable questionnaires were returned. The findings revealed a 15.6% rate of physical abuse, an 11.7% rate of psychological abuse and a 6% rate of both physical and psychological abuse among the sample. Women's perceptions of abuse (feeling abused versus not feeling abused) and the occupation of their partners (blue collar) accounted for most of the variance in physical (R2=.32) and psychological abuse (R2=.43). The findings have implications for expanding the practice of nursing to college campus populations to prevent, and intervene in issues of intimate partner abuse.

Key Words: Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, African American Women

Violence towards women in the context of intimate relationships has been documented as a major public health problem in the United States (Glass & Campbell, 1998). Although violence between intimate partners is a major public health problem, the true magnitude and characteristics of spousal violence is not known, particularly among African Americans. Some domestic violence research has included minority women, yet the presence of African Americans in samples has been minimal or notably absent. African American female spouses who are abused are not usually included in clinical studies. As clinical groups are usually targeted for research, knowledge of violence in nonclinical groups is limited. Comparison groups of abused versus nonabused participants are also rare. The purpose of this study was to explore and describe the prevalence of psychological and physical abuse among a nonclinical sample of African American women.


Although true rates of spousal abuse are unknown, it is estimated that approximately one to 4.4 million women in the United States are victims of violence and are severely battered each year by their husbands or intimate partners (Plichta, 1997; Rennison & Welchans, 2000). Moreover, it is believed that this number severely underestimates the actual prevalence of spousal abuse, because the number is based on police and family court records that have been reported (Sampselle, 1991). Many incidents of spousal abuse are not reported. It is estimated that 10% of all women who present to the health care system are victims of spousal abuse (Campbell & Fishwick, 1993). Twenty-two to 35% of all emergency room visits are caused by intimate violence (Shea, Mahoney & Lacey, 1997). Spousal abuse has proliferated with other forms of violence in our society. "However, determining accurate prevalence and incidence rates of abuse and neglect is extremely difficult, due largely to the fact that domestic mistreatment is a private event, rarely open to public observation" (Ammerman & Hersen, 1992, p. 3). Furthermore, spousal abuse has a historical and cultural legacy of not being subject to outside influences or sanctions against such behavior. Gelles' (1985) research suggests that official statistics probably underestimate spousal violence by 20% to 50% because they are based on what people are willing to share during a 60 minute interview. Also, because of the shame and stigma involved and the fact that women may be uncertain as to what constitutes abuse, many incidents may go unreported (Asbury, 1987). …