Social Ecology and Entitlements Involved in Battering by Heterosexual College Males: Contributions of Family and Peers

By Silverman, Jay G.; Williamson, Gail M. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Social Ecology and Entitlements Involved in Battering by Heterosexual College Males: Contributions of Family and Peers


Silverman, Jay G., Williamson, Gail M., Violence and Victims


This study examined how the social ecological factors of family history and relationships with peers were associated with 193 college men's partner violence and attitudes regarding battering. Multivariate (path) analyses revealed that witnessing paternal battering in childhood was both directly and indirectly (through male peer variables and attitudes concerning battering) related to a man's violence toward female partners. Specifically, those men who reported witnessing paternal domestic violence as a child were more likely to associate with male peers who are abusive and who provide informational support for relationship violence. Associating with abusive male peers and receiving male peer informational support for battering were also related to perpetrating relationship violence. Of particular interest were the findings that after controlling for witnessing paternal battering, male peer informational support exerted a direct effect on the increased likelihood of using violence against female partners, and that, in the path model predicting battering ever, witnessing battering ceased to be a significant predictor of men's violence when peer and attitudinal variables were considered. Male peer-related variables also predicted men's increased beliefs of entitlement to abuse female partners, and the belief that battering is justified directly affected partner violence perpetrated. These results support the inclusion of the broader social ecology of the batterer in examinations of male partner violence.

It is currently estimated that between 1.8-3.6 million men each year in the United States severely assault their wives and female dating partners (Straus & Gelles, 1990). Violence from male partners is the leading cause of serious injury for women in the U.S. (Stark & Flitcraft, 1992), and women are more likely to be assaulted or killed by a male partner than any other type of assailant (Browne & Williams, 1993). Between 1980 and 1984, 52% of all female homicide victims were murdered by current or former husbands or boyfriends (Browne, 1993). Male partners were, again, found to be the principal perpetrators of murders of women in a homicide analysis of the period from 1984 through 1988 (Schnitzer & Runyan, 1995). Battering is not confined to marital relationships. Women in heterosexual dating relationships experience equal, or even higher, levels of violence from partners than do women who are married (Koss, et al., 1994; Makepeace, 1981; Stark & Flitcraft, 1992). In a nationwide study of courtship violence among college students, 32% of women reported that physical aggression had been used against them by male partners (White & Koss, 1991).

A variety of programs utilizing numerous treatment models have focused on changing the violent behavior of male batterers. Reviews of outcome studies for batterer treatment programs have concluded that a major shortcoming of these efforts is their failure to address the "violent ecology" of the batterer (Eisikovits & Edleson, 1989) and that the success of future interventions may depend on targeting multiple systems and social levels (Eisikovits & Edleson, 1989; Tolman & Bennett, 1990). Others have also suggested that a variety of social factors operating at different levels in varying contexts across the life span must be examined to understand and combat the complex developmental process that leads to battering (Bograd, 1994; Bronfenbrenner, 1989; Yllo & Straus, 1990).

The present study investigated family and peer-related components of men's social experiences that may influence beliefs concerning female partners and violent relationship behavior. Three theoretical viewpoints guided this research: Ecological Systems Theory, Gender Inequality Theory, and Social Cognitive Theory.

Ecological Systems Theory

Ecological Systems Theory (ECT), as developed by Bronfenbrenner (1979; 1989), explains development as the "progressive mutual accommodation, throughout the lifecourse, between an active, growing human being, and the changing properties of the immediate settings in which the developing person lives, as this process is affected by the relations between these settings, and by the larger contexts in which the settings are embedded" (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, p. …

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