Abstract

Domestic violence has now become rampant in many homes in America (Wilson, 2009). A study conducted by Johnson (2008) reveals the seriousness and far-reaching effects of domestic violence. Johnson argues that domestic violence is of various forms, with each varying in statistics and methods of finding solutions. Unfortunately, there is a lack of accurate records of the cases due to the relative privacy of the environment. There is a growing need for the society to acknowledge the issues arising from domestic violence and address them amicably. The violence includes all matters pertaining to verbal, emotional, physical and threatening abuse. The effects of it are felt by the victims regardless of their race, culture, religion, or socioeconomic status (Sokoloff & Pratt, 2005). The most intriguing thing about domestic violence is that it results into pain or injury inflicted by someone close. According to Stacey & Shupe (1983), this has made many victims fail to reveal the truth and accept to suffer in secrecy.

Domestic Violence in America

Introduction

Domestic violence is a serious issue that affects many people every year. It is frightening to get injured or harmed by a complete stranger. However, one cannot imagine the fear and pain caused by injury inflicted by someone you have grown to know, love, and trust. Moreover, the traumatizing experience occurs not out in the public domain, but within the confines of the home. Under normal circumstances, a home should not be a place of fear, but a place of security and comfort.

There are some serious facts to support the extent to which domestic violence is rooted in the American society. According to Roleff (2000), nearly a third of all emergency visits to hospitals are related to domestic violence; children are battered in half of families that do experience domestic violence; more than half of couples in the country have experienced at least one violent incident; a quarter of all murders nationwide involve family disputes; and a person is battered nearly every fifteen seconds, as a result of domestic related cases.

It is shocking why someone would be so violent to a person they share everything with. There are several factors that influence acts of violence in an intimate relationship. It may be because of inability to control anger; one partner may have experienced battering as a child; abuse of drugs and/or alcohol; or even personality problems.

Use of alcohol and drugs is just one of the factors responsible for domestic violence. However, this should not justify those acts. According to McGuckin (1998), there is a higher prevalence for domestic violence among persons involved in the use of drugs and alcohol. A study conducted by Flowers (2000) indicates that nearly sixty percent of domestic violence perpetrators are under the influence of drugs. In such cases involving both issues – they need to be addressed and solved amicably.

A partner may lose control over a situation and get angry resulting into violent behaviour. It is important to note that the definition of domestic violence has broadened to include all forms of emotional, verbal, physical, or threatening abuse (Wilson, 2009). These may be directed towards current or previous intimate partners as well as all persons related by blood.

Within this research, several issues will be identified. This includes the extent to which domestic violence has affected the American society; factors that contribute to domestic violence; and finally the role of the legal system in domestic violence cases; and role of medical practitioners in identifying and providing solutions.

Forms of Domestic Violence

(a)    Physical Violence

This occurs when one partner is overly aggressive over the other. It may be characterized by slapping, restraining a partners movement, grabbing, punching, shoving, pushing among other acts. A partner may also use weapon to inflict pain during fights. Physical intimidation through such acts as throwing objects and blocking doors sums up as physical violence. In some instances, a partner may not feel free to interact with friends as a result of being stalked by the other partner that also amounts to physical violence. Other actions include denying a partner the right to medical care or forcing them to use drugs. Physical abuse is the most common form of domestic violence.

(b)   Sexual Violence

Sexual violence involves coercing or attempts to coerce any form of sexual behavior or contact without a partner’s consent. It involves attack on sexual parts of the body, pressure to have sex, partner/marital rape, and any other form of forced sexual activity. It also includes treating the other partner in a sexually demeaning way.

(c)    Emotional Violence

Emotional abuse/violence results from undermining a partner’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem. It includes various acts such as constant criticism, name-calling/yelling, not appreciating one’s abilities, use of threats and coercive tactics, constant humiliation, isolating the victim from friends and family, denigration in the presence of children, controlling what can or cannot be done by the victim among other acts that affect the emotions of the victim.

(d)   Economic Violence

This form of abuse is a result of attempts to make a partner financially dependent by assuming total control over all financial resources of the family. It includes all acts that prevent the victim from accessing money such as restriction from employment and access to education. The acts prevent a victim from improving their social status and remain submissive to the perpetrators that forms an avenue for other forms of abuse to occur such as physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse.

Statistics on Domestic Violence

(a)    Domestic Violence Homicide Statistics

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics (2006), an average of three women and at least one man are killed every day by their intimate partners in America. Domestic violence homicides accounts for thirty percent of the murders of women and five percent of the murders of men.

Most of the cases recorded occur between spouses. However, there is a growing trend among boyfriends and girlfriends who commit nearly the same number of homicides (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006).

(b)   Dating Violence Statistics

It is approximated that a fifth of female students do report sexual and /or physical abuse from their dating partners (Flowers, 2000). Nearly forty percent of girls aged between fourteen and seventeen report knowing a friend who has been physically abused by a boyfriend (McGuckin, 1998). McGuckin further reports that fourteen percent of teenagers report being threatened to harm themselves to avoid breakup. When a dating relationship progresses to a serious form, cases of violence also escalate.

(c)    Impact on Children

According to Flowers (2000), approximately fifty percent of men who assault their wives also frequently abuse their children. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2006) indicates that children under the age of twelve were residing in households experiencing acts of violence between 1993 and 2004. Forty three percent of the incidences involved female victims while twenty five percent involved male victims.

Children brought up in households experiencing intimate partners’ violence are likely to suffer low self-esteem, stress disorder, feelings of powerlessness, depression, and poor impulse control. They are also at a higher risk of engaging in drug and substance abuse, suicide attempts, isolation, and fear (Wilson, 2009). Moreover, children whose mothers were battered are fifteen times more likely to suffer the same fate.

(d)   Stalking

Seventy seven percent of women are stalked by their intimate partners. Women record higher rates of being stalked, which is at sixty percent, compared to men at thirty percent (Wilson, 2009). At least eighty percent of stalked women are physically assaulted by their partner while thirty percent are sexually assaulted. Victims have a higher likelihood of experiencing a psychological trauma or even death. Approximately seventy five percent of homicide victims were stalked before meeting their death.

(e)    Victim Assistance and Law Enforcement Statistics

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics (2006), approximately twenty one percent female and ten percent male victims do contact outside agencies for assistance. Among this number, forty five percent do contact private agencies. The number of cases reported to the law enforcement is only seventy percent on average and if to compare the number of those who fail to report their cases includes forty one percent male and twenty seven percent female victims. They gave varied reasons for not reporting that included victimization due to the privacy of the matter, fear of reprisal, protection of the offender while some believed the law enforcers would do nothing. The reasons reduce likelihood of solving the problem (Davis, 2008).

Effects of Domestic Violence on Specific Populations

This section takes into consideration the following special groups: same-sex couples, individuals with disability, racial and ethnic communities, rural and immigrant women.

(a)    Domestic Violence Between Same-Sex Couples

According to Wilson (2009), domestic violence between same-sex couples continues to be underreported. In most cases, there is a denial and a lack of awareness about the existence of such form of violence in the society.  There are myths surrounding same-sex relationships and gender roles that promote the silence witnessed when it comes to domestic violence. For instance, one may believe the nonexistence of abusive lesbian relationships simply because women are considered less aggressive to start fights.

Although there is a lack of records at the national level regarding domestic violence among same-sex couples, regional studies indicate that domestic violence remains a problem as it is with heterosexual relationships. The relationships experience same forms of domestic violence. The only problem is that most fear to come out due to stigmatization.

(b)   Individuals with Disabilities

This group of individuals experience unique challenges when it comes to domestic violence. However, few studies have been conducted to investigate violence involving victims with disability (Wilson, 2009). Acts of violence involving this special group of individuals include acts such as withholding assistive technologies and needed medication. The group also experiences other forms of violence discussed above.

The group has serious problems when it comes to reporting matters to do with domestic violence. There are various barriers that make victims suffer in secrecy. Some of them include communication problems arising from disability, most fear losing caregivers, and fear that their plea will not be heard.

(c)    Racial and Ethnic Communities

The level of violence varies from one race and/or ethnic group to another. For instance, more domestic violence cases emerge among African-Americans and Native Americans than among other communities (Sokoloff & Pratt, 2005). The Bureau of Justice Statistics (2006) reported a rate, thirty five percent higher, of domestic violence among African-American women than Caucasian women.

In some instances, members of racial and ethnic communities may refrain from reporting all forms of victimization to the authorities. It happens when the victim fears racist responses from the perpetrator and their family.

(d)   Rural Women

Few studies have been conducted to assess the extent of violence in rural communities. However, they also experience higher rates of violence in their homes (McGuckin, 1998). Those who suffer most are women as male dominate the rural society. In addition, there are many contributory factors including gender roles that require women to be submissive to men. Men use their dominance to perpetrate nearly all forms of violence. There is lack of a proper reporting system among other barriers that leave the women suffering in secret.

(e)    Immigrant Women

Most immigrant women do experience violence in their relationships due to the status of their citizenship. In several instances, the perpetrators may threaten to report to the Department of Homeland Security about the undocumented status of the victims in a bid to have them deported. Some may even revoke sponsorship of the victim’s residency.

Some women immigrants do face obstacles in matters such as language barriers, inability to understand the legal system and cultural issues (Sokoloff & Pratt, 2005). This makes it difficult for them to seek help when faced with acts of violence in their relationships. The women are likely to experience all forms of domestic violence discussed above.

Legal Protection

One of the functions of the government’s legal system is to protect the freedom and autonomy of all citizens. Within this function, there is a crucial role aimed at restricting actions negatively impinging on the other person’s liberty. Acts of domestic violence violate criminal law and are taken as misdemeanors for first time offenders and develop into felonies for the second offence.

In the past, it was a requirement by criminal law that victims present formally signed complaints before the state can file any charges. However, things have changed today owing to the development of statutes that allow the arrest of offenders regardless of whether the victim proceeds with criminal charges (Roberts, 2002). In several states, there are units within the attorney’s office that are specially trained to deal with domestic violence (Wilson, 2009). The units consist of attorneys, criminal investigators, victim’s advocates, and other support staff.

A study conducted by Jaffe et al. (2008) suggests ways of dealing with custody disputes after separation resulting from domestic violence. The study proposes a series of parenting plans that may be adopted depending on results of differential screening for risks. The methods can be adopted by the legal system when making rulings regarding custody.

Role of Medical Practitioners

The medical world, especially the nurses need to identify and assess people involved in acts of domestic violence. The victims will only open up and share their experiences and fears with trusted health officials. The nurses are the ones in constant contact with the victims; they can therefore divulge information by interviewing the patients in privacy. According to Nucero & O'Connor (2002), the nurses need to ask direct questions, which may include a research to find out if the victim displays Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The physical scars may disappear, but the psychological damage may prevail.

According to Goulston (2008), approximately one third of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patients have experienced partner abuse. They may verbalize or display partner abuse while experiencing flashbacks, panic attacks, poor sleeping patterns, hyper-vigilance and nightmares. These are some of the symptoms that a nurse needs to identify from a victim especially when the perpetrators try to isolate them from people who can help.

Some medical institutions have developed a domestic violence intervention plan for the medical practitioners. The intervention pan is called RADAR and is applicable when a practitioner feels a patient may be suffering as a result of domestic violence (Roberts, 2002). The initials are explained as follows: R stands for routine screening of female patients privately; A stands for asking direct questions; D means documenting the findings; A means assessing a patient’s safety; and finally R means reviewing options and referrals. The acronym is useful for nurses in the assessment of patients who are victims of domestic violence. Most practitioners use it unknowingly.

Conclusion

Domestic violence is a criminal offence that should not be taken lightly. The acts of domestic violence have no simple solution. Moreover, the violence affects people regardless of their age, race or economic status. In most cases, it does more than physical harm to the victims. Domestic violence causes psychological problems to the victims as well as to other family members.

It is fortunate that the society has acknowledged domestic violence as a serious social problem and that much is still to be done to fight against the vice. It is a prerogative for the society to end the cycles of domestic violence. From the research findings, it is evident that domestic violence has severe consequences that range from physical injury, psychological problems, and alcoholism and drug abuse among many others.

The legal system has improved the fight against domestic violence by ensuring perpetrators are punished under criminal law. The cases are taken with utmost urgency by units within the legal system that are specialized in dealing with them. The medical world has also developed mechanisms of identifying and assessing patients who are victims of violent acts. Such actions have contributed towards reduction in occurrence of violent acts.

Whenever a medical practitioner identifies a patient as a victim of domestic violence, they need to let the victim know of their alternative solutions. This includes choices they need to make and an assurance that there exists a solution to their problem. The medical practitioner also needs to highlight the consequences of keeping the problem secret. Secrecy usually leads to worsening of the problem, which could become more severe and frequent.

It is important for all members of the society to fight domestic violence to prevent it from tarnishing the marriage institution. This will restore dignity to the family as an institution. In addition, it will also boost the economy as couples will focus their energies on more productive functions in the society.

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