Domestic violence

Domestic Violence:  Justification, Entrapment, and Escape



Glenn Booker

SOC 101

November 19, 2012





Justification for abuse. 3

Why victims stay. 4

Protection for victims. 5




Domestic Violence (DV) is a common form of family violence that may include not only physical abuse, but one or more of emotional abuse, sexual abuse, technological abuse, financial abuse, and abuse by immigration status (Abuse, 2012).  Physical abuse can range in severity from bruising to murder.  Emotional abuse includes anything that adversely affects the mental health of the victim.  Sexual abuse includes any non-consensual sexual activity, or otherwise threatening the health or safety of the partner sexually.  Technological abuse includes using technology to stalk and/or control the victim.  Financial abuse includes controlling finances or ability to work.  Abuse by immigration status is controlling someone by threatening their ability to work and communicate, or threatening their families in another country.  (Abuse, 2012)

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) (Black et al., 2011) defines intimate partner violence similarly:  sexual violence (rape or other non-consensual sexual activity), physical violence (any violent physical contact), stalking (harassing or threatening tactics that cause fear), psychological aggression (insulting, humiliating, or verbal coercion), or control of reproductive or sexual health (not using birth control non-consensually).

In Philadelphia there are four agencies focusing on domestic violence (Sorenson, 2012):

  • Congreso De Latinos Unidos’ Latina Domestic Violence Program serves the Spanish-speaking community
  • Lutheran Settlement House’s Bilingual Domestic Violence Program provides bilingual services and transitional housing
  • Women Against Abuse (WAA) runs the only emergency shelter in the city
  • Women In Transition focuses on economic independence and emotional wellbeing of women and children

Philadelphia is underserved by WAA’s emergency shelter.  They can only provide 6 beds per 100,000 people in the city, whereas Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. provide 11-16 beds per 100,000 people (Abuse, 2012).  As a result of the chronic shortage of beds (in 2011 WAA served 637 people and denied 8,465 requests for shelter), many DV victims use the general homeless shelter system, which is not prepared to meet their emotional and safety needs.  (Sorenson, 2012)

While women are traditionally seen as the victims of domestic violence, the NISVS (Black, et al., 2011) reports the lifetime incidence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking is 35.6% for women and 28.5% for men.  The main difference is that men are primarily victims of physical violence, while women have much higher rates of rape and/or stalking.  This is supported by studies of “gender symmetry” in domestic violence, such as the extensive literature review by Kimmel.  Men underreport DV even more than women, which makes it a well hidden crime.  (Kimmel, 2002)


Abusers who commit domestic violence do so to control their victim, and maintain that control by threatening the victim’s safety and/or that of people they love.  To protect themselves from abuse, victims can identify that they are in an abusive relationship, and systematically work to free themselves from the abusive relationship.


This report focuses on how abusers justify their actions, reasons why victims stay in the relationship, and specific actions that victims can take to protect themselves.

Justification for abuse

Abusers find a wide range of excuses to justify abuse, including religion, karma, failure to follow sex roles, and jealousy.

A study of predominantly Muslim Egyptian women finds that half think getting hit or beaten is justified if they do any of the following:  neglect the children, go out without telling their husband, argue with him, refuse to have sex with him, or burn food. (Yount & Li, 2009)  Having an argument is a common reason to justify violence.  (Kimmel, 2002)  Christians don’t fare much better since the verse “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22) is often treated as justification for abuse.  (Nightingale, 2012)

The idea that ‘you get what you deserve’ is more formally known as the Belief in a Just World.  Under this philosophy victims of DV “deserved to suffer” because they must be “bad, unworthy persons.”  (Valor-Segura, Expósito, & Moya, 2011)  This generalizes the belief that victims of DV are getting punished for wrong behavior and/or poor moral character.  This is based on the premise that DV is an acceptable form of punishment.

Women are more likely to be blamed “when the woman does not fulfill her traditional role or challenges the male dominant position in the relationship.” (Valor-Segura, et al., 2011)  Failing to follow socially accepted roles for females makes them a threat to insecure partners, resulting in violence to put them in their place.

Another situational factor to justify DV is jealousy.  Violence is seen as justified when the spouse is at risk of committing adultery (not just actually doing it).  (Valor-Segura, et al., 2011)  While committing adultery is widely recognized as criminal, in the context of DV even socializing with others or having opposite sex friends can be interpreted as the risk of adultery, once again emphasizing the massive level of insecurity by some DV perpetrators.

Why victims stay

Victims stay in an abusive relationship for many reasons, most of them related to fear or a lack of power or resources to change the situation.

Victims may believe they face even worse social or emotional conditions if they leave.  This may be a part of emotional abuse, such as telling the victim that no one else will have them, or they don’t deserve to be treated better.  (Booker, 2012)  Socially isolating the victim is a common strategy to help keep them contained in the relationship.  (Abuse, 2012)

Victims of DV may be physically or legally threatened if they leave the relationship.  Threats may be made against the victim, their children, or relatives.  (Johnson, 2006; Yount & Li, 2009)  These threats could include the stereotypical “If I can’t have you, no one can” death threat, or threats to harm the children if you go to the police, or threats against relatives in another country if you fail to cooperate.

People who are already marginalized in society by race, class, gender, and/or sexual orientation are especially susceptible to DV.  Their fringe social status makes it more difficult to amass the resources needed to get out of the relationship.  (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005)  Lack of employment or even the threat of losing employment can increase vulnerability to DV.  (Krishnan et al., 2010)  Marginalized people are already under additional stresses, which makes it that much harder to find the strength needed to even consider getting out of the relationship.  The diminished social status of males trying to reconcile “their masculine identity with their experience of being abuse victims” makes them particularly likely not to report DV, as cited by Cheung with regard to Chinese males.  (Cheung, Leung, & Tsui, 2009)

Most insidiously, victims of DV can stay in the relationship because they don’t realize that anything is wrong.  They might be taught by their culture that abuse is appropriate punishment after poor “behavior, words, or thoughts,” and therefore it is normal and to be expected.  (Yount & Li, 2009)  It is also common for abuse to escalate very slowly, making it difficult for the victim to become aware of how severe it has become, even though it is patently obvious to those around him or her.  (Booker, 2012)

Protection for victims

It is difficult to predict who will become an abusive partner (Health, 2012), so the primary means of protecting victims is to help them get out of such a relationship as soon as possible.  Victims of domestic violence can be protected by realizing that they are in an abusive relationship, creating a safety plan to prepare to escape, dealing with short term needs after escape, and finally dealing with long term needs after escape.

The first way to protect victims is for them to recognize that they are in an abusive relationship.  Women Against Abuse (Abuse, 2012) has a brief survey:

  • “Does your partner insult you in public or in front of your children?
  • Does your partner treat you like you are stupid or call you names?
  • Does your partner try to control what you do?
  • Does your partner act really jealous of your friends or family?
  • Does your partner blame you for his/her violence?
  • Has your partner ever threatened to hurt you or him/herself if the relationship ends?”

Answering ‘yes’ to any of those questions is a clear sign that you are probably in an abusive relationship, and should seek help immediately.  A similar survey is also available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  (Health, 2012)  In Philadelphia contact the 24-Hour Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-866-SAFE-014.  (Abuse, 2012)

Creating a Safety Plan (Abuse, 2012) is a good way to prepare to leave an abusive relationship.  Key elements of this plan include:  knowing where to get help (such as the hotline above), plan with your children if applicable so they have a safe neighbor or other place to go for a short time, arrange a signal with that neighbor when you need to make the transition, and finally prepare an emergency kit with basic clothing, legal papers,  and health needs.  This Plan makes it possible to leave safely on very short notice, and still take care of yourself and your family.  I applied much of this approach when getting out of an abusive marriage.  I sought counseling to make sure I really needed to leave (that didn’t take long), had a couple of friends nearby in case I needed a place to stay, had financial support from my family, then got a storage locker and put critical valuables in it before making the final decision to leave.  (Booker, 2012)

The next step is to deal with immediate physical and psychological needs after making the decision to leave.  Physical needs may include getting treated for injuries, collecting evidence for later legal action, ensuring your physical safety (e.g. emergency shelter), and getting childcare services as needed.  Psychological needs may include crisis counseling and legal aid (e.g. getting a Protection From Abuse order).  (Abuse, 2012)

The last step is to deal with longer term issues after leaving.  Transitional or permanent housing, educational and employment assistance (the former possibly both for you and your children), prosecution of the offender, long term counseling and career planning, and other social services may be helpful to continue creating a new life, safe from harm.  (Abuse, 2012)


Domestic violence covers a wide range of family violence such as physical, emotional, sexual, technological, financial, and immigration abuse.  It may be justified by excuses ranging from religion to karma to deviation from sex roles to jealousy.  Victims stay in an abusive relationship because they may be convinced it’s worse if they leave, they or their families will be harmed if they leave, they are marginalized and hence have no resources to leave, or they don’t even realize that they are in an abusive relationship.  The only way to protect victims is to help them get out of an abusive relationship by helping them recognize the abuse, creating a safety plan, escaping, meeting short term needs, and supporting them for long term needs.


The works cited for this report are one interview, two reports, three web sites, and seven journal articles.

Abuse, W. A. (2012). Types of Domestic Violence  Retrieved November 15, 2012, from

Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., . . . Stevens, M. R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Booker, G. (2012, November 15). [Interview with Glenn Booker].

Cheung, M., Leung, P., & Tsui, V. (2009). Asian Male Domestic Violence Victims: Services Exclusive for Men. J Fam Viol, 24, 447-462.

Health, F. O. (2012). Domestic Violence Awareness, from

Johnson, M. P. (2006). Conflict and Control Gender Symmetry and Asymmetry in Domestic Violence. Violence Against Women, 12(11), 1103-1018.

Kimmel, M. (2002). “Gender Symmetry” in Domestic Violence A Substantive and Methodological Research Review. Violence Against Women, 8(11), 1332-1363.

Krishnan, S., Rocca, C. H., Hubbard, A. E., Subbiah, K., Edmeades, J., & Padian, N. S. (2010). “Do Changes in Spousal Employment Status Lead to Domestic Violence? Insights from a Prospective Study in Bangalore, India”. Soc Sci Med., 70(1), 136-143.

Nightingale, T. (2012). Bible used to halt Solomons domestic violence  Retrieved November 15, 2012, from

Sokoloff, N. J., & Dupont, I. (2005). Domestic Violence at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender: Challenges and Contributions to Understanding Violence Against Marginalized Women in Diverse Communities. Violence Against Women, 11(1), 38-64.

Sorenson, S. B. (2012). Violence Against Women in Philadelphia – A Report to the City: School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, PA.

Valor-Segura, I., Expósito, F., & Moya, M. (2011). Victim Blaming and Exoneration of the Perpetrator in Domestic Violence: The Role of Beliefs in a Just World and Ambivalent Sexism. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 14(1), 195-206.

Yount, K. M., & Li, L. (2009). Women’s ‘‘Justification’’ of Domestic Violence in Egypt. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 1125-1140.


1 thought on “Domestic violence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s