A qualitative study of women perpetrators of domestic violence: comparison with literature on men perpetrators of domestic violence

Seamans, Cindy L.
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Texas Woman's University

This qualitative study examines the difference between male and female domestic violence offenders. An overview of the literature includes a discussion of the controversies surrounding the prevalence of female domestic violence offenses, and a discussion of theories of the underlying causes of domestic violence offenses, and a discussion of theories of the underlying causes of domestic violence, including feminist, social learning, family systems, evolutionary, and integrated theories. An overview of the existing literature on the characteristics and motivation of male and female domestic violence offenders is included. The qualitative study interprets the material from structured interviews with 13 women who have been referred for treatment in batterers' intervention programs. Two of the women are black, two are Hispanic, and the remaining nine are white. The interviews reveal the women's childhood and prior relationship history with violence, finding that the majority of them were victims of childhood abuse, with seven reporting physical abuse, four reporting sexual abuse, 11 reporting psychological abuse or neglect, and seven witnessing interparental violence. Most of the women (11 out of 13) report feeling cut-off from their mothers, and most of them left their childhood homes before the age of 18. The majority of the women, seven, also experienced violence at the hands of a prior partner. The study also examines the women's motivation for current violence, finding that most (8 out of 13) are responding in self-defense or in retaliation for their partners' physical abuse. The typology for women offenders proposed by Johnson (1995) is considered, with the majority (11 of 13) of the women falling into Johnson's categories of Common Couple Violence, Violent Resistance, or Mutual Controlling Violence. Other motivating factors for women's violence revealed in the interviews include retaliation for psychological abuse, reaching the end of their rope, trying to get their partners to listen to them, and responding to partners' control tactics. A link is revealed between becoming a domestic violence offender and giving birth to an infant. Help-seeking behavior and the women's perception of the criminal justice system as persecuting rather than helping them is discussed. An integrated theory for the causal and maintaining factors of domestic violence is outlined that includes Individual, Family of Origin, Relational, and Societal Levels of influencers that interact in a fluid and dynamic manner. Implications for treatment, including a list of recommendations for treating women in batterers' intervention programs, are discussed. Limitations of the study of recommendation for further research are included.

Family violence, Abusive women in literature, Abusive men in literature