Diagnosing Domestic Violence

Six factors have been identified as increasing a woman's chances of being in an abusive relationship: age, alcohol use, childhood experience with violence, race, relationship status, and socioeconomic factors.

A person's risk of being abused or being an abuser increases among adolescents. Research has discovered high levels of abuse among dating couples. However, the rate of violence among dating couples falls below that of couples who are married or cohabitating if controlled for age.

Clinical samples in which women are asked to describe their husbands' drinking patterns have provided the basis for the opinion that men beat their wives when they are drunk. Researchers have found that from 35 percent to 93 percent of abusers are problem drinkers. Better controlled studies have found that in only 25 percent of the cases was either partner drinking at the time of the abuse.

Individuals are more likely to be an abused woman or an abusive man if they were abused as a child. It is less clear that a relationship exists between witnessing wife abuse as a child and experiencing it as an adult. Researchers have found that men are more likely to become adult abusers if they observed domestic violence as boys. The data are inconclusive regarding a woman's chance of being abused if she observes domestic violence as a child. Men who observed domestic violence between their parents are three times more likely to abuse their wives. Sons of the most violent parents have a rate of wife abuse 1,000 percent greater than sons of nonviolent parents.

African American and Latino families have above-average rates of wife abuse. Abuse rates for African Americans are four times the rate of white Americans and twice the rate of other minorities. There are twice as many Latina women abused as non-Latina white women. Socioeconomic factors can explain these differences. According to data from a 1980 survey, African Americans earning $6,000 to $11,999 annually (approximately 40 percent of all African American respondents) had higher rates of wife abuse than comparably earning white Americans, while they had lower rates than white Americans in all other socioeconomic levels. When age, economic deprivation, and urban residence are controlled, then the differences between Latina and non-Latina white Americans vanish.

Legally married couples have half the amount of violence as cohabitating couples. It is felt that cohabitating couples may allow conflict to escalate because they are less invested in the relationship, more likely to struggle over autonomy and control issues, and more isolated from their social networks.

Domestic violence is more common in families with fewer economic resources, though it is found in all socioeconomic levels. Higher rates of wife abuse have been found in families in which the man works in a blue-collar job or is unemployed or underemployed and the family lives at the poverty level.

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