Family Violence and Abuse
In this chapter we explore one of the dark sides of family relationships by considering the causes, correlates, consequences, and explanations of family violence and abuse. The concept of family violence encompasses a wide range of noxious behaviors perpetrated within the family. As we show later in this chapter, these family problems are pervasive in American society, and they have long-lasting and long-ranging consequences.
We believe that family violence and abuse can be understood as dysfunctional communication behaviors. In Dudley Cahn's analysis of family violence, he argued that “From a communication perspective, these behaviors are redefined as acts or actions with intention (from a message sender's point of view) or with perceived intention (from a message receiver's point of view). In addition, these acts or actions may be verbal (words) or nonverbal (symbolic actions besides words) or both” (Cahn, 1996, p. 6). Cahn suggested that like any communicative act, family violence has an instrumental dimension (task accomplishment or goal attainment), a relational dimension (e.g., commitment, love, conflict, and jealousy), and an identity dimension (a reflection of how the sender feels about himor herself). Research on family violence and abuse shows that the instrumental aspect of the behavior often involves trying to establish or maintain power in an interpersonal relationship. This might entail influencing a spouse to do something or a child to stop doing something. There is a powerful relational dimension to abusive and violent behavior. The perpetrator may feel frustrated or powerless, but the victim often harbors feelings of love or commitment to the perpetrator that prevents a departure from the relationship. Finally, problematic identity issues are almost always associated with family abuse and violence. The violence often occurs because the perpetrator is dissatisfied with his or her perceived identity in the relationship. In keeping with the theme of family violence and abuse as a communication behavior, we focus in this chapter exclusively on family, relational, and interpersonal aspects of and approaches to family violence and abuse. However, it should be pointed out that numerous biological, environmental, and psychological issues also contribute to abusive conduct in family contexts.
Communication researcher Mary Anne Fitzpatrick (2002) suggested that there are three powerful myths that inhibit a clear understanding of family violence. The first myth is that family violence is about men beating women. As we will show throughout this chapter, family violence also includes women aggressing against men, parents aggressing against their children, men aggressing against men, and women aggressing against women. Even though male → female aggression is one of the more commonly