Understanding the Social processes and Experiences of Women Towards Domestic Violence

Women's Experience of Domestic Violence


Domestic abuse is described as involving physical violence, and sexual, emotional, or financial abuse between current or former partners in an intimate relationship (Home Office, 2000). Despite under-reporting domestic abuses are a significant proportion of all violent crimes in the UK (Home Office, 1999) and 43% of all violent crimes against British women (Mirlees-Black, 1999). 

The British Crime Survey in 1996 showed that 10% of women aged 16–19 years said they had been assaulted in the previous year compared to a national average of 4% for all age groups (Mirlees-Black, 1999). Generally, domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women (Grace, 1995) and it has been estimated to be experienced by one in four women in their lifetime (Women’s Aid Federation, 2001). 

This paper deals with domestic abuse against women and reflects the stance that domestic violence is heavily influenced by the social, and gendered context in which it occurs. Violence against women is highly risky and often prolonged, and of those who do contact the police, some may not decide to take any formal proceedings against the perpetrator for reasons such as financial threat; fear of further violence; and fear of losing the children, their home, employment or family (Home Office, 1999). 

For those who return to violent partners, the reasons often involve partners promising to change or apologizing, lack of money, and nowhere to go (Anderson, Gillig, Sitaker, McCloskey, Malloy, & Grigsby, 2003). Similarly, a fear of loneliness and hope that things would change can deter women from leaving violent situations (Hendy, Eggen, Gustitus, McLeod, & Ng, 2003). 

Violence against women is linked with feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, and stress for the victim, and an increased risk of completing suicide (Romito, Molzan Turan, & De Marchi, 2005; Stark & Flitcraft, 1996) and physical health problems (Eby, 2004). Children in violent households are also affected (Calder, 2004) and those who witness violence are five times more likely to develop serious emotional and behavioral difficulties than those who have not experienced a violent household (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990). 

Women experiencing violence can be subject to the perpetrator engendering the woman with a sense of responsibility for the violence, underplaying the severity of the abuse, and convincing her of a lack of worth, which can result in psychological distress, emotional commitment to the perpetrator and economic dependence (Arriaga & Capezza, 2005). 

Some research has primarily focused on how women deal psychologically with abusive relationships (Davis, 2002a; Davis, 2002b; Kearney, 2001; Landenberger, 1993; Ulrich, 1991; Wuest & Merritt-Gray, 1999) Davis (2002b) found that women reported using their sense of hope, spirituality, sense of humor and support systems in order to survive and to end the relationship. 

The women in Davis’ study also spoke of how they actively created an atmosphere of ‘living for the moment and not thinking about the future, as a strategy to avoid being overwhelmed by fear. Davis’ (2002b) study focused on individual experience but wider social influences were also identified as important. 

Several women used educational courses as a way of reclaiming their identity, building their self-esteem, and giving them the confidence to survive and make a separate life from their abusers. The opportunity to network with others such as friends and community groups was also important and this enabled them to reflect on the abuse, realize that the abuse was wrong and value their own qualities (Davis, 2002b). 

While Davis’ study highlights the importance of networking, the emphasis on ‘inner resources’ assumes that abused women hold responsibility for the relationship and its resolution. This position is reflected in such statements as ‘a woman is not prepared to leave her abusive partner’ Eby, 2004 (p. 221). 

Such an approach underestimates the increased risk of violence on separation from an abusive partner (Campbell, 2004), regardless of personal resources. The lack of an analysis of how structural, societal or institutional factors can protect women or promote abuse towards them is typical of psychological research into violence against women (Salazar & Cook, 2002).


Twelve women living in a largely rural county in Northern England agreed to participate in the study. They were from both urban and rural areas and had all been in touch with voluntary sector services about their experiences of domestic abuse, which had lasted between 2 and 20 years. They were contacted via a number of agencies, who asked if they would be prepared to share their experiences with the researcher in an interview lasting approximately 1 hour. 

The participants were aged between 21 and 56 years. For one of the twelve, the abuse occurred in a lesbian relationship and the others were all in heterosexual relationships. All but two of the participants had young children and three participants were living in a Refuge at the time of the interview. The sample was largely opportunistic with the final two participants selected to reflect a wider range of demographic circumstances. 

Whilst all participants had used services, the nature of services used was varied, as were their demographic characteristics and current situations. An interview guide was devised by the researchers and a local women’s support group. Open questions were asked in order to generate detailed responses from the participants. Questions were asked about the experiences and consequences of domestic abuse, the effects of the abuse, and the resources and strategies used by the women.


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