Self-Reports of Spousal Violence in a Mexican-American and Non-Hispanic White Population

By Sorenson, Susan B.; Telles, Cynthia A. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1991 | Go to article overview

Self-Reports of Spousal Violence in a Mexican-American and Non-Hispanic White Population


Sorenson, Susan B., Telles, Cynthia A., Violence and Victims


As part of a survey of Los Angeles households, 1,243 Mexican Americans and 1,149 non-Hispanic whites were surveyed about their experiences of spousal violence. Questions to assess violence included both perpetration (whether they had been physically violent toward a partner) and victimization (whether they had been the victim of sexual assault by a partner). Over one-fifth (21.2%) of the respondents indicated that they had, at one or more times in their lives, hit or thrown things at their current or former spouse or partner. Spousal violence rates for Mexican Americans born in Mexico and non-Hispanic whites born in the United States were nearly equivalent (20.0% and 21.6%, respectively); rates were highest for Mexican Americans born in the United States (30.9%). While overall rates of sexual assault were lower for Mexican Americans, one-third of the most recent incidents reported by Mexico-born Mexican-American women involved the husband and approximated rape.

Despite rising public concern about violence in families, there are relatively few estimates of the prevalence or incidence of spousal violence for minority populations. In addition to being of minority status, a sizable proportion of Hispanics in the United States are recent immigrants (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1987). Migration creates unique stressors for families and can be thought of as a continuing process beginning with preparation and ending with transgenerational phenomena (e.g., Sluzki, 1979). Thus, both ethnicity and immigration status are important to investigate when Hispanics are the population of interest.

Two potential stressors for many Hispanics-ethnic minority and recent immigrant status-may function in an additive or multiplicative manner and be associated with higher rates of spousal violence. Conversely, subsequent non-immigrant generations of Hispanics (i.e., persons of Hispanic descent who are born in the United States) may be more violent toward spouses as they try to balance the conflicting demands placed upon them by their culture of origin and the dominant (United States) culture. And, of course, it may be that Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to demonstrate violence within the context of the family. Hypotheses such as these currently lack data-based support. The present paper reviews the limited literature on violence in Hispanic couples and investigates both ethnicity and immigration status as factors related to self-reports of spousal violence.

Fatal Violence

Known rates of homicide by a spouse or intimate acquaintance among Hispanics vary somewhat by geographic region and ethnic subgroup (Block, 1988; Rodriguez, 1988; UCLA-CDC, 1985). Hispanic women appear to be the victims of spousal homicide at rates lower than those for Black and Anglo women (e.g., rates of 0.7 vs. 4.2 vs. 1.0 per 100,000, respectively; UCLA-CDC, 1985). Rates of spousal homicide of Hispanic men appear to be lower than those for Black men and similar to those for Anglo men (0.4 vs. 6.9 vs. 0.4 per 100,000, respectively; UCLA-CDC, 1985).

Nonfatal Violence

Spousal homicide is often preceded by a history of spousal violence (e.g., Police Foundation, 1976). To our knowledge, only one other community-based study has examined spousal violence in Hispanic families (Straus, 1988). In this 1985 telephone survey, Hispanics reported higher rates of spousal violence than non-Hispanic whites (23.1 vs. 15.0 per 100 couples). Lower socioeconomic status, based on a distinction of manual versus nonmanual worker, was related to an increased risk of spousal violence for both Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. Women of both groups had slightly higher rates of severe violence toward their husbands than husbands reported toward their wives. This difference was less pronounced for Hispanic women than non-Hispanic white women.

While the Straus research (1988) provides the best data so far on violence in Hispanic couples, several limitations must be identified. …

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