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Theories of domestic violence

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1274 words Published: 25th May 2017

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There are many different theories as to the causes of domestic violence (abuse). These include psychological theories that consider personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender, as well as social theories which consider external factors in the offender’s environment, such as stress, social learning and drug and alcohol abuse.

Psychological theories focus on personality traits and mental characteristics of the offender. According to this theoretical approach, characteristics associated with individuals who abuse their partners include low self-esteem, isolation from social support, a manipulative nature, and a desire for power and control (Suman Kakar 1998). These individuals are likely to be unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions, have extreme feelings of jealousy and possessiveness, be overly dependent on the victim, and/or have certain mental or psychological disorders.

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An important aspect in the psychological theory is power and control. In some relationships, violence arises out of a perceived need for power and control. This is where the abuser may use violence as a strategy to gain or maintain power and control over the victim. Abusers may feel the need to control their partner because of difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions, or when they feel inferior to the other partner in education and socioeconomic background. For instance, in our society today, women have moved away from being just a “housewife” and taken up the role as a “career woman”. No longer are women staying home and tending to the house while men go out and work. In fact, a lot of women have taken over jobs that were previously held my men (women politicians). This has brought about a power struggle in the family which often leads to domestic disputes and abuse: Some men with very traditional beliefs still think they have the right to control women, and that women are not equal to men, while women on the other hand, are vying for power and control.

Stress may be increased when a person is living in a family situation, with increased pressures. Social stresses, due to inadequate finances or other such problems in a family may further increase tensions. Violence is not always caused by stress, but may be one way that some (but not all) people respond to stress. Families and couples in poverty may be more likely to experience domestic violence, due to increased stress and conflicts about finances and other aspects. Some speculate that poverty may hinder a man’s ability to live up to his idea of “successful manhood”, thus he fears losing honor and respect. As a result of him not being able to economically support his wife, and maintain control, he may turn to violence as ways to express masculinity.

Social learning theory suggests that people learn from observing and modeling after others’ behaviour. With positive reinforcement, the behavior continues. If one observes violent behavior, one is more likely to imitate it. If there are no negative consequences (e.g. victim accepts the violence, with submission), then the behaviour will likely continue. Oftentimes, violence is transmitted from generation to generation in a cyclical manner. According to Faith St Catherine of the Women’s Resource and Outreach centre in Jamaica, “there is a culture of abuse, especially among the inner city poor…” Studies have found that nearly one half of abusive men grew up in homes where their father or step father was an abuser. An environment where violence is either taught, by example, or accepted as “normal” will imprint upon a child’s psyche. For instance, a young boy may see his father come home from work drunk and angry, screaming at his mother. He watches his mother attempt to please and placate his father’s drunken behaviour. The young boy is being taught that violence gets results. He is developing his own ideas about what makes a man.


Drug and/or alcohol abuse may be a precursor to domestic violence. Substance abuse leads to out-of-control behaviour. A drunk or high person will be less likely to control his or her violent impulses. However some have argued that abusers use drug and alcohol as an excuse for their action. Yet, alcohol is an important risk factor for partner abuse. According to University of the West Indies professor and gender expert in Trinidad, Rhoda Reddock: in Trinidad, many of the most gruesome murders and sexual violence are linked to mental disease brought about by drug and alcohol addiction, respectively. Since alcohol decreases control and raises the potential for acting on impulse, it is not surprising that some feel it can be a catalyst for abuse. Often a person is able to maintain control of violent emotions when he is sober, but after a few drinks, he becomes abusive. The alcohol has dulled his wits and diminished his ability to control his temper.

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In the Caribbean or more specifically in Barbados, domestic violence is becoming more and more apparent in the society. Domestic violence is seldom reported in the island, hence why the true incidence of domestic violence is unknown. In November of 2005, according to The World Health Organization (WHO) one woman in every three (3) women are reported to be sexually abused during childhood or adolescence. The study revealed that the most common forms of violence is meted out by loved ones. As mentioned earlier, domestic violence is also known to be closely linked with drug and alcohol abuse. According to Tessa Chaderton-Shaw , manager, of the National Council of Substance Abuse (NCSA), “There are many cross-cutting issues with substance abuse and domestic violence…” She also stated that, “It can lead to isolation, shame, guilt, initial denial, loss of support, low self-esteem and a potential for criminal involvement.” People then became more aware of Domestic Violence in the country, and the awareness has constantly been growing. Even the Barbados Police Force has taken domestic violence under more serious consideration and had devised a strategic plan to address domestic violence and reduce its occurrence, according to Sergeant David Wiltshire. Wiltshire said that officers were sent to the United States and England for training to respond to domestic violence issues.


  1. Theories – http://social.jrank.org/pages/210/Domestic-Violence-Causes-Domestic-Violence.html
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_violence#Psychological
  3. http://wost201h_domviol.tripod.com/groupactionproject/id4.html
  4. Suman Kakar – Criminal Justice Approaches to Domestic Violence (1998).
  5. Rhoda Reddock & Faith St Catherine – http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/AllWoman/html/20061203T000000-0500_116180_OBS_CARIBBEAN_FACES_DOMESTIC_VIOLENCE_CHALLENGE_.asp
  6. Barbados & Domestic Violence – http://archive.nationnews.com/archive_results.php?mode=allwords&IncludeStories=1&numPer=20&start=0&keyword=Domestic+Violence&smartText


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