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Solution-Focused Treatment of Domestic Violence OffendersAccountability for Change$

Mo Yee Lee, John Sebold, and Adriana Uken

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195146776

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195146776.001.0001

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(p.229) Appendix 1: Theoretical Perspectives of Domestic Violence

(p.229) Appendix 1: Theoretical Perspectives of Domestic Violence

Solution-Focused Treatment of Domestic Violence Offenders
Oxford University Press

Domestic violence is a prominent issue in our society. It has pervasive and harmful consequences for victims, mostly women and children, and for the society as a whole. Many theories have been put forward to explain the etiology of domestic violence that include micro-oriented theories, macro-oriented theories, and multidimensional theories.

Micro-oriented Theories

Micro-oriented theories understand and explain the etiology and dynamic of domestic violence from an individual perspective. Characteristics of individuals constitute the focus of examination.

Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory utilizes the concept of modeling (Bandura, 1973) and classical and operant conditioning (Skinner, 1953) to explain how individuals acquire violent behaviors in intimate relationships. Social learning theory proposes that individuals learn how to behave through experience of and/or exposure to violence. Oftentimes, this theory is termed the “intergenerational transmission of violence” when applied to situations of domestic violence. Individuals who experience or witness violence in their family of origin learn that violence is an appropriate tactic or acceptable means for getting what they want (Doumas, Margolin, & John, 1994; Arias & O'Leary, 1988; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Critics of the theory, however, argue that this explanation is insufficient because not everyone who witnesses or experiences violence as a child grows up to be violent. A review conducted by Kaufman and Ziegler (1987) suggested that the rate of intergenerational transmission of violence was only 30%. In addition, not all violent individuals have been exposed to violence as children (Arias & O'Leary, 1984). Still, social learning theory remains one of the most popular (p.230) theories for explaining domestic violence; it suggests that victimization and witnessing of violence are among the most consistent risk markers for adult violence (Hotaling & Sugarman, 1986; Saunders, 1995).

Psychopathology and/or Personality Characteristics

A psychopathogical explanation suggests that individuals are violent because of various types of personality styles, psychopathologies, and psychological characteristics, including borderline personality organization (Dutton & Starzomski, 1993); aggressive or hostile personality styles (Heyman et al, 1995); narcissistic personality styles (Dutton, 1994a; Gondolf, 1999; Hamberger & Hastings, 1990); extreme jealousy and anxiety about abandonment (Holtzworth-Munroe, Stuart, & Hutchinson, 1997); elevated levels of depressive symptoms (Vivian & Malone, 1997) mediated by a higher level of self-reported anger (Feldbau-Kohn, Heyman, & O'Leary, 1998); low self-esteem (Gondolf, 1988); and high need for power (Dutton & Strachan, 1987). From such a perspective, violent acts are carried out by sick individuals who might not have control over their behaviors. Critics of the psychopathological explanation for domestic violence argue that such an approach reduces offenders' responsibility for their actions and minimizes the role of social structure in perpetuating violence in our society (D. O'Leary, 1993).

Biological and Physiological Explanations

Biological and physiological explanations focus on the contribution of individual biological and neurological factors in producing violent behaviors. Rosenbaum and his associates (1994) found than more than 90% of men in their sample had experienced head injury prior to the first instance of aggression, and men with head injuries were almost six times more likely to be batterers than men without head injuries. Other factors such as childhood attention deficit disorder (Elliot, 1988) and biochemical factors such as testosterone and serotonin (Johnson, 1996) have been identified as risk markers for relationship violence. Such an explanatory theory, however, eliminates responsibility on the part of the offender for his actions.

Alcohol and Violence

Substance abuse, especially alcohol consumption, is commonly associated with intimate violence (Fagan, 1993). Studies have also found a significant association between a family history of violence, current alcohol use, and the incidence of spouse abuse (Kaufman, 1993).

Micro-oriented theories focus on individuals' characteristics for explaining violent behaviors. These theories have made significant contributions to our understanding of the etiology of domestic violence, although (p.231) they either reduce responsibility of or blame the offenders for their actions. Such approaches also minimize the role of social structure in contributing to and maintaining violence in intimate relationships.

Macro-oriented Theories

Macro-oriented theories focus on the social and cultural conditions that contribute to the occurrence of domestic violence. Domestic violence is no longer being viewed as an individual pathology. Instead, it is embedded in broader sociocultural conditions that reinforce and support violent behaviors. The more prominent theories include the feminist perspective, family violence perspective, and the subculture of violence.

Feminist Perspective

Feminist theory focuses primarily on violence of men against women. From such a perspective, violence against women is a manifestation of a system of male dominance and female submission supported by the concept of patriarchy (Chornesky, 2000; Dobash & Dobash, 1979) and maintained by various societal institutions, including male-dominated social structure and socialization practices that teach men and women gender-specific roles (Yllö & Straus, 1990). In particular, family represents one of the most powerful social institutions that reinforces the submission of women to men and patriarchal values. Violence becomes a means to maintain social control and male power over women (Levinson, 1989). Feminist explanations of violence also focus on the relationship between the cultural ideology of male ominance and structural forces that limit women's access to resources. ritics of the feminist perspective question its explanatory power regarding omestic violence. For instance, only a small percentage of men use violence gainst women, despite strong patriarchal beliefs and structure in the society. In addition, Dutton (1994b) suggest that a broad focus on male privilege and dominance cannot predict individual thoughts and actions and is too simplistic because it ignores differences among men. Also, such a framework cannot account for violence by women in both lesbian and heterosexual relationships (Straus & Gelles, 1990). Still, the feminist perspective remains a predominant macrostructural theory for explaining domestic violence, since 90% to 95% of domestic violence victims are women (Kurz, 1997).

Family Systems Perspective

The family systems perspective views domestic violence from an interactive and relational perspective (Lloyd, 1999; Margolin, 1979). It focuses on the nature of family structure to understand the origin of domestic violence, (p.232) and gender does not constitute a major focus of examination because women are found to be as violent, as men (Stets & Straus, 1990). Violent behaviors are usually part of a pattern of escalating retributive strategies used by the couple to resolve differences. Characteristics that make a family prone to violence include legitimizing violence by using corporal punishment, accepting violence as one solution to family conflict, providing basic training in the use of violence through physical punishment, and creating a link between love and violence (Straus, 1990). The semi-involuntary nature of family membership makes family socialization a powerful force in shaping individuals' behaviors. Because a family violence perspective emphasizes the mechanisms that maintain domestic violence in general and does not focus on violence against women, it has been heavily criticized by feminists as neglecting the role of patriarchal beliefs and structures in maintaining violence against women, discarding empirical evidence that 90% to 95% of victims in domestic violence are women (Kurz, 1997), and diverting resources from assisting women victims.

Subculture of Violence

The subculture of violence perspective suggests that in certain subcultures violence is viewed as acceptable and is even encouraged. These groups are more likely to accept the use of violence to achieve what people want. For instance, individuals from a lower social class are more likely to accept and use violence than are individuals from a higher class (Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1982). Schwartz and DeKeseredy (1997) developed the male peer support group model and suggested that violence against women is supported among male peer subgroups that reinforce values that condone violent behavior as a legitimate means to dominate and control women.

Integrative Frameworks

Integrative frameworks attempt to integrate micro factors (such as psychological or personality characteristics, relationship dynamics, substance abuse) and macro factors (such as gender, class, culture, and race) in explaining domestic violence. These frameworks are multidimensional. For example, Gelles (1983) used principles of both exchange theory and social control theory in explaining violence. Exchange theory assumes that human behaviors are guided by a calculation of rewards and punishments (Homans, 1967). Social control theory postulates that deviant behaviors will occur in the absence or inadequacy of social sanction against the behavior. In other words, offenders use violence because the reward of violence is greater than the cost (i.e., social sanction and/or other negative consequences). Anderson (1997) integrates elements of feminist and family violence perspectives in examining domestic violence. Patriarchal beliefs and (p.233) structures serve to increase the risk for violence against women because they influence the power structure within the family or intimate relationships. Heron, Javier, McDonald-Gomez, and Adlerstein (1994) developed the social etiological model to explain domestic violence. This multidimensional interactive model of violence and aggression incorporates both structural and personal factors in understanding domestic violence. Violence against women is a result of structural inequalities in our social system and in particular the organization of family. At the personal level, an individual may have a distortion of reality and morality to justify the use of violence to resolve conflicts and gain control in intimate relationships. (p.234)