For this research dissertation, I have chosen to study the subject of domestic violence, and more specifically, the issues and obstacles which make it difficult for women to leave their abusive partners and the role of the social worker and influences they have in practice. My research will be concentrating solely on women as victims, as although I acknowledge that men can also suffer at the hands of domestic violence, it is universally accepted that females are more frequently victims of domestic violence (Hague et al, 2003).
Domestic violence is a serious criminal and societal problem. Over the last thirty years domestic violence in the UK has gone from being a largely unspoken subject to one which is being tackled and confronted by government and statutory bodies and the voluntary sector. Furthermore, thirty years ago, little was written or known about domestic violence. This allowed the abuse of women to go on behind closed doors of many homes, without interventions; help was limited for sufferers of domestic violence.
Today the issue of domestic violence has become more prominent within the public arena. Domestic violence is now a relatively well documented phenomenon. The former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said at a world conference on ending violence against women in 1999 –
“Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards, equality, development and peace.”
(Cited in Leicester city council, 2006)
This topic was chosen due to my experience working as a Family Support worker for the Family Support and Child protection Team within London borough of Tower Hamlets Social Services.
I also have a personal experience of witnessing it from my sister who was a victim of domestic violence and was in a constant struggle but did not leave her husband for 4 years. This event first increased my awareness of domestic violence. It also enabled me to question why women do not leave their husbands even though domestic violence is taking place on regular bases. Therefore, primary objective for this project is to find out the issues and obstacles which make it difficult for women to leave their abusive partners and the role social workers play in dealing with this societal problem. As a result this project will give me an opportunity to research this issue in detail, which may potentially and hopefully lead to further prospects of work and research in this area.
In addition, for the purpose of this dissertation I will focus largely on women because while there is no doubt that a percentage of men are being abused by their partners “the incidents, frequency, and severity is nowhere near the magnitude of the problem of the abuse of women” (Steinmetnz, cited in Chana, 2005, P.4)
According to the Home Office (2006) domestic violence is “any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between adults who are or have been in a relationship together, or between family members, regardless of gender or sexuality” (Home Office, 2006). Thus domestic violence can, and does occur in many manifestations.
It is the misuse of power and the exercise of control by one person over another. It can range from emotional abuse such as shouting, blackmailing, isolation from friends and family or belittling comments, to physical attacks of varying degrees of severity ranging from a ‘gentle’ push to a kick, rape and in some cases death. The use of gender specific language should not be construed to mean that domestic violence is only perpetrated on women or in heterosexual relationships. However, academic research consistently demonstrates that the majority of domestic violence victims are female and the perpetrators male.
It is estimated that there are 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence against women and 2.5 million against men in England and Wales which costs the government ï¿½23 billion a year. In addition, quarter of all murders in Britain is the result of domestic violence. According to The British Crime Survey one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime; every minute in the UK the police receive a call from the public for assistance following domestic violence; and nearly one in five counselling sessions with Relate mentioned domestic violence as an issue in marriage (Women’s Aid, 2006).
Domestic violence is not a recent phenomenon; it is a social problem which has existed worldwide for centuries. Usually committed behind closed doors, for many years it was seen as a taboo subject – if the problem was not talked about or addressed, then it could be ignored. It was not until the early 1970s, that the matter was at last fully acknowledged (Radford, 2001). This occurred through the passing of legislations and laws surrounding domestic violence, and the opening of refuges for affected women which were “instantly filled despite almost universal claims that the problem did not exist in that neighbourhood, area or nation” (Dobash et al, 2000, P.1).
The first of such refuges was opened in 1972 in Chiswick, Essex, by Erin Prizzey, a domestic violence campaigner. At one point, this “small terraced house was accommodating about 150 women and children” (Radford, 2001, P.74). This subsequently inspired others to be set up across the country.
According to Jasinski et al (1998) the history of research on domestic violence is relatively short. “Early empirical research on family violence was based primarily on a few cases or special population, such as students or shelter residents” (Jasinski et al, 1998, p.ix). However, a great deal of research has been carried out over the past 20 years due to the recognition that domestic violence is a societal problem both in Britain and around the world. Since domestic violence has come to the public arena there has been many areas of research into it.
The first research carried out into the issue of domestic violence was the National Family Violence Survey in 1975, by the University of New Hampshire in the USA (Brandwein, 1999, P.12), which illustrated that physical violence between family members was more frequent than was originally considered. In the time since this survey took place, a wealth of literature has been published on the topic of domestic violence, and I will be researching many of the books, journals and other publications which I consider are relevant to my main research question.
A review of the literature
One issue that should be perhaps taken into account, before looking into the specific themes of why women do not leave their violent partners, is how many women do not, or have not reported incidents of domestic violence to the police. For a large proportion of women, this might be seen as the first step towards leaving a partner, in that potentially by reporting to the police, this might enable her to leave her partner while he is in custody, without him stopping her or finding out where she may be going.
Studies and extensive research into domestic violence has provided a key insight into this aspect of domestic violence. According to Hoyle’s Thames Valley study, “just under a half of the sample of 387 incidents (that related to her specific study), were not reported by the women” (Hoyle, 1998, p.184). Similarly, relatively recent studies report that “between half and two thirds of victims told no one about the first time they experienced violence, the average time before telling anyone being one to two years (NCH, 1995, as cited in Hoyle, 1998, p.183).
It is apparent then, that a sizeable number of women who have been affected by various forms of domestic violence, are reluctant to testify to the police about their experiences. I shall now start to examine some key themes and reasons that have been acknowledged by experts of the social problem of domestic violence, which could explain why some women stay with their abusive spouses, although the actual research dissertation itself will explore these themes in greater detail.
“Poorly educated or unemployed women are dependent on abusive partners and therefore forced into staying” (Freeman, 1979, p.159).
One of the first reasons that is often quoted by researchers, and of course by the survivors of domestic violence themselves, as to a factor which might stop them leaving a relationship is financial constraint. The North London Domestic Violence Survey, as conducted by Mooney (2000), is still the largest survey of domestic violence ever to be carried out in Britain, gathering data from 1,000 individuals. The Survey reported that ‘economic dependence’ was the most frequently given response as a factor which prevented women from leaving a violent relationship, with 27 per cent of the women in her sample stating this as a reason (Mooney, 2000).
In households where the wife or girlfriend of the violent partner is unemployed, and reliable upon the income of her partner, a lot of women simply cannot afford to part from a relationship. Money might be needed in order to pay for a bed and breakfast or a hotel whilst a woman plans what she should do, or to buy clothes and supplies if she was to leave spontaneously, if the violence suddenly became too violent to live with. Walby et al, on behalf of the Home Office’s British Crime Survey, report that “women are three and a half times more likely to be subjected to domestic violence if they find it impossible to find ï¿½100 at short notice than if this was no problem” (Walby et al, 2004, p. 75). However, domestic violence is not only restricted to people from lower class backgrounds.
“The majority of adult women, who suffer physical, emotional and sexual attacks from their partners, have children” (Mullender et al, 1994, p.2).
In cases where domestic violence occurs within families, it may be the wish of the victim to try and keep the family together, and as such, she might accept the violence and stay with her partner, rather than leaving or reporting him (Binney et al., 1988). This is because, by staying and not reporting incidents of domestic violence, children still get to see their father, and to an extent the family can continue as ‘normal’, especially in the eyes of younger children who may not realize any problems. If the man is arrested, he might not be able to see his children; as such this could have a detrimental affect on the children themselves.
Research tells us that “many women only leave their home when they realise the effects of the violence on their children or when the children themselves are threatened” (Women’s Aid, 2006). The emphasis here is on the safety and concern of the children, rather than the woman’s anxiety for her own wellbeing, which reflects the notion that many battered woman are resilient, and often want to do what they perceive as being best for the family and children, even if it means suffering abuse.
“I loved him so much. He brought such joy to my life. I just could not face the fact that I might lose him” (Cited in Walker, 1979, p. 82).
One factor that is sometimes forgotten, and often overlooked as a reason for an abused partner to remain with their spouse, is the matter of love and commitment which exists within the relationship. Despite being hit or beaten, many of the women do still love their partners1, and especially in regards to married couples, the woman might feel that she has made a commitment with their husband, and should therefore stay with him (Walker, 1979). It could also be said that it is not easy to stop loving someone, even if that person is using violence in the relationship.
Therefore, women may feel that they are unable to leave their husband or boyfriend, and cannot report their violence to social or law enforcement agencies. Indeed, it has been acknowledged that “for women who cannot envisage separation from their partner, any call for police assistance is likely to be a call for immediate emergency help to halt a particular incident, rather than an attempt to get the man prosecuted” (Hoyle, 1998, p.188).
“Women may be reluctant to put their friends and relatives at risk of repercussions from an angry husband” (Young, 1989, p.47).
It must be argued that the police are not necessarily going to be the first group that an abused woman would turn to for help and advice.
Many research studies (Hoyle, 1998, Young, 1989) have shown that women seek support from friends and family; but it is sometimes the case, as seen in Young’s quote above, that women may not want to put the burden on somebody else, and jeopardise their safety as well. Yet again, the selfless attitude and behaviour of these brave, suffering women is evident. Similarly, it has been acknowledged that “most people do not have big enough houses to take in a woman and her children, and therefore may be unable to offer anything more than advice and support” (Young, 1989, p.47). If this is the case for a particular woman suffering domestic violence, and she cannot afford to put herself and her children in temporary accommodation, then she may feel she is compelled to stay with her aggressive partner for the foreseeable future.
“From our contract work with women, it is evident that many local authorities and agencies still do not respond positively to the needs of women trying to leave violent partners and start new lives” (Homer, 1988, p. i).
This issue has been raised by various researchers who have delved into the problem of domestic violence (Hague et al., 1996; Homer, 1988; Radford, 2001). Previously, before the creation of Community Safety Units in police stations, and dedicated agencies which specialise in helping survivors of domestic violence, it was found that that often women did not know who to turn to (Women and Equality, 2006). Also, the individual social policy branches, such as social services or the housing department, and indeed the police, did not know who should deal with such problems: “From the beginning it was clear to see that women in such a situation were not the direct concern of any particular agency (Hague et al., 1996 p.2). As a result, one argument might be that it has not necessarily been the unwillingness of women to seek help and advice on leaving a violent relationship, but more the agencies’ reluctance to get involved with such cases.
“Leaving may not be the final solution, because violence often continues and may even escalate after a separation” (Hester et al, 1996, p.6).
I believe this is a significant point to consider when asking the question: what issues and obstacles prevent women from leaving their violent partners?
This is because, as is mentioned above, walking away does not necessarily guarantee the end of violence. In a major study of battered women who killed their partners, Jones found that “at least half of all women who leave abusers are followed and harassed or assaulted again, many of them fatally” (Cited in Hester et al 1996, p.42). Correspondingly, Hoyle reported in her Thames Valley Domestic Violence Survey, that “40 per cent of women were involved in incidents of domestic violence with ex-partners with whom they had not been living at the time of the dispute” (Hoyle, 1998, p.188).
In both cases, if a woman realises that by leaving her violent husband or boyfriend, she may face an increased amount of violence, and as brought up earlier, even risk being fatally injured, then it is clearly comprehensible why she would have doubts as to whether or not to walk away.
“All the evidence suggests that men who are violent to their partners do not stop being violent, but, rather, increase the frequency and the severity of the attacks” (Hanmer et al, 1985, as cited in Hoyle, 1998, p.188).
One theory that is often conveyed by females who have found themselves victims of domestic violence, is the notion of it ‘only being a one off’, or similarly claiming that external factors such as alcohol, were to blame for his violence. As expressed, this is rarely the case, and it is argued that the women are often influenced to believe this by their partners, who try to divert the blame and responsibility from themselves (Cavanagh et al, 2001). In regards to the issue of alcohol being to blame for domestic abuse, it is true that in some cases drink does play an important part in the battering process (Hearn, 1998), but moreover that “many battered partners have partners who did not drink” (Walker, 1979, p.88). It also begs the question of whether drink can truly be used as an excuse in the committing of domestic violence. I consider that the majority of the public, both men and women, would agree that this can never be a justifiable reason to hit, or inflict even greater violence on one’s partner.
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1It is argued too, that many of the men do still love their partners as well, despite violence representing a significant feature of the relationship (Walker, 1979).