Domestic Violence: A Literature Review

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Domestic violence is an emerging social problem in our society that affects a significant amount of people, especially women. This form of violence is often experienced by women who are in an intimidate relationship but can also occur between different members of a household, as it comprises any form of family violence, including child abuse (Gilles, Hegarty, & Hindmarsh, 2000). Even though everyone can experience domestic violence, irrespective of gender or the background of a person, women are over eight times more affected than men, and therefore the most at risk of suffering from partner abuse.
According to Flury and Nyberg (2010), 10 to 30% of women experience an episode of physical abuse during her lifetime.Even though different studies estimate the extent of family violence, the real dimension of the problem remains indeterminate, since many women do not report incidents of domestic violence and doctors often do not recognize indications of battering (Kornblit, 1994). Known however, are the approximated cases of deaths, which are every five years as high as the numbers of people who died in the entire Vietnam (Wetzel & Ross). Furthermore, domestic violence can lead to serious short-, medium- or long-term consequences, that include physical injuries as step wounds, gastrointestinal disorders and many psychological consequences such as depression or panic attacks (Flury, & Nyberg, 2010).
Since the problem of physical violence within families or between intimate partners and former partners, is an ever-emerging problem that carries serious health risks for the victim, it is essential to determine how the aggressive behaviour of the perpetrator can be explained. Different theories, as the frustration-aggression hypothesis, have been used to explain the behaviour. Therefore, the question to what extent the frustration-regression hypothesis can explain the behaviour that is executed in domestic violence is going to be the central question of this literature review. In the first part of this essay, the general term domestic violence and the aggressive behaviour it describes are further defined. Different explanations of domestic violence, that is provided by different literature, are going to be stated in the second part, followed by the answer of the central question.
Different Definitions and Perceptions of Domestic Violence
The term domestic violence is defined in multiple different ways by divers’ people, laws or organizations, which makes a clear and proper definition challenging, but generally refers to a period of physical and emotional violence within intimate relationships. The Australian law considers, among other things, different forms of physical violence, as well as emotional violence such as harassment, between a female and a male partner as domestic violence (Gilles, Hegarty, & Hindmarsh, 2000). Research suggests that the majority of the public perceives domestic violence similar as this law. The public defines the term broadly and as any form of physical and partly also mental abuse within a relationship (Carlson & Worden, 2005).
Flury and Nyberg (2010) provide a definition that includes physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse of another adult person, or the threat of performing this behaviour. Furthermore, especially the aspect of physiological or emotional violence plays an important role in the problem from a health perspective (Gilles, Hegarty, & Hindmarsh, 2000). Verbal, economic and social abuse belong, amongst physical abuse, to domestic violence, from this point of view. Examples of aggressive behaviours, that would be understood as domestic violence from a health perspective, would be intimidation, causing physical injuries, isolating the victim, or the withdrawal of basic needs. Additionally, all sources state, that domestic violence does not refer to a single event but rather to a longer period of abuse. It can be stated that, even though the sources focus on various aspects, all define domestic violence as different forms of physical and emotional abuse.
Different Explanations of Domestic Violence
The determinants of the behaviour that underlies domestic violence are diverse and differ in particular cases, but often can be found in the personality traits or family history of the abuser. Different theories as intrapersonal models aim to explain the aggressive behaviour that is executed in domestic violence. Intrapersonal models point out, that violence in intimate relationships is caused by psychological abnormalities or mental errors (Kornblit, 1994). Wetzel and Ross (1983) determined, that man who abuse their partner are often extremely jealous, and suspect, that their wife or girlfriend is having a sexual relationship with another person without having a sufficient reason to. Additionally, also the family history of the abuser plays a crucial role in explaining the aggressive behaviour (Howell & Pugliesi, 1988). Approximately forty-two per cent of the abusers were abused as a child themselves, and about fifty-three per cent witnessed domestic violence in their family (Wetzel & Ross, 1983). As this research shows, it is possible to create an approximate profile of men who batter, which can also be used to explain domestic violence.
Additionally, to the intrapersonal model, also the social constructivism as well as the social learning approach, which focus on the environment of the perpetrator, provide explanations of the determinants of domestic violence. The social learning approach focuses on the influence of factors as the employment status or parenting style (Howell & Pugliesi, 1988). Howell and Pugliesi (1988) state, that being unsatisfied with one’s occupational situation increases the probability of executing aggressive behaviour towards the partner in individuals under 40. In opposite to this approach, social constructivism emphasizes the impact of the direct social environment as well as the influence of the entire society on the perpetrator and the victim (Kornblit, 1949).
Attitudes, demands and expectations of the society can have a significant impact on the behaviour of individuals and can cause abusive behaviour within relationships. According to this theory, domestic violence is not only the result from direct interaction between the couple, but also derives from the past, present and future of the individuum and its interactions with others as well as the general influence of the social environment (Kornblit, 1994). Even though these theories have a slightly different approach in explaining domestic violence, they all stress the influence of the social environment.
Aggressive Behaviour as a Result of Frustration: the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis
Additionally, to the above-mentioned theories, also the frustration-aggression hypothesis can be related to the topic of domestic violence. The frustration-aggression hypothesis states that aggression is caused by some form of frustration the individuum experiences, in which frustration refers to an external condition and neglect of a reward (Berkowitz, 1989). Aggression in this context is defined as any behaviour that is executed with the intention to cause injury. According to this theory, frustration almost always leads to aggressive behaviour and aggression would presuppose frustration.
The major reason why frustration does not always cause aggressive behaviour would be the awareness of specific consequences, as punishment, that such behaviour would cause. Reformulated versions of the hypothesis, however, define frustration as an emotional state that occurs when for instance a goal cannot be achieved (Howell & Pugliesi, 1988). Different factors in the household can create stress and might not be easy to resolve, which can determine frustration. The individuum could be frustrated over the fact, that he or she has expectations the partner is unable to meet (Kornblit, 1994). Those forms of frustration, as well as frustration about incidents outside the home, might cause a person to react aggressively towards his or her partner. The fact that if the perpetrator would execute aggressive behaviour outside the household, it might lead to further consequences and punishment, could determine that the person acts out aggressively towards the partner instead. To conclude, in the original frustration-aggression hypothesis points out, that frustration determines aggressive behaviour in almost every case.
This literature review dealt with the research question, to what extent the frustration-aggression hypothesis can explain aggressive behaviour in domestic violence. To provide an answer to this question, first, different definitions and perceptions of domestic violence were given. Moreover, the intrapersonal model, social constructivism and the social learning approach and further the frustration-aggression hypothesis has been described and applied to the topic. Different definitions, provided by the law and researchers, perceive domestic violence as different forms of emotional and physical violence as well as sexual abuse. Intrapersonal models focus, in explaining couple violence, on personality traits as extreme jealousy and temperament. In opposite to that, social constructivism and the social learning approach refer the determinants of domestic violence to environmental factors. The frustration-aggression hypothesis points out, that any form of frustration almost always causes aggressive behaviour.
Partially the frustration-aggression hypothesis might explain domestic violence to a certain degree. Different circumstances inside a household, as well as outside, for instance, the neglection of a higher payment, might cause a person to become frustrated and act out aggressive further on. However, it must be considered that not only frustration that emerges in specific situations can be the cause of couple violence, but rather a range of factors. Past experiences of the perpetrator, as well as the social environment, can have a significant impact on the development of domestic violence. Furthermore, reformulated versions of the original hypothesis, which do not state, that frustration compellingly causes aggression and the other way around, might be more suitable to explain domestic violence. Based on the information in this review, it can be stated, that frustration probably could be the cause of certain aggressive behaviour, but various factors need to be considered in explaining couple violence. The original frustration-aggression hypothesis is therefore not suitable for explaining domestic violence, as aggressive behaviour within households is not always and especially not only caused by frustration.
Since domestic violence represents a significant problem in our society, it is important to carry out more current research on this topic and to reconsider relatively old theories about the determinants. Furthermore, it is crucial that the causes of domestic violence are further explored to be able to prevent and stop domestic violence.

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