Family Violence: Not Only Women

Family Violence: Not Only Women

Raffaella Sette (University of Bologna, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1286-9.ch003
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Using data from official statistics and surveys on victimization, this chapter aims to estimate the extent of domestic violence against men and examine the contraposition between female aggressors and male victims. More detailed knowledge both of women perpetrators and their male victims is believed to be useful for preparing appropriate programs of rehabilitation for the former as well as effective methods of intervention and help for the victims. The chapter reflects on the fact that, from the point of view of victimology, one of the risks to avoid is that of considering men as “second-class victims,” and from the criminological point of view, it is necessary to gain greater knowledge of the figure of the abusive woman, as well as focusing attention on the social representations of domestic violence.
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In the collective imagination, when the expression ‘domestic violence’ or ‘family violence’ is mentioned, thoughts go almost automatically to those situations where a woman is abused by a man. This may be due to the fact that this phenomenon is usually reported from a point of view exclusively focused on gender, setting forth a traditional and patriarchal image of aggressive masculinity and pacific or even passive femininity. In extreme synthesis, this outlines a scenario in which a man ill-treats a woman to control her, while the woman acts violently to defend herself only when she reaches exasperation (Storey, Strand, 2012, p. 637).

However, as the family is a social group made up of two or more individuals who live in the same home and who may be linked by relations of kinship, affinity and consanguinity (Barbagli, Bianca, 1993, pp. 29-30), it is clear that all the members of this group can unfortunately become victims of crimes committed against them by other members. Therefore, there may be cases not only of violence by the man against the woman, but also by the women against the man, by parents against the children, by children against the parents and by adult members against the older ones.

This chapter will concentrate on the phenomenon of domestic violence perpetrated by a woman against her male partner and will include data and accounts of research referring mainly to the North American, Australian and European contexts (with particular reference to Great Britain, France and Italy) as they are the ones the author knows best.

Regarding domestic violence, it is obviously undeniable and now universally known, also acknowledged by the Istanbul Convention1 in the preamble that “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, which have led to domination over, and discrimination against, women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women”. In this regard, there are also those who maintain that “women do not and would not use IPV” [Intimate Partner Violence] “against men because IPV in an issue of power and control of which only men in a system of patriarchy are capable” (Hines, Douglas, 2009, p. 576). On the other hand, however, numerous definitions both of a scientific and juridical type of this phenomenon, as well as of IPV, also known as, IPA (Intimate Partner Abuse), are usually gender-neutral.

For example, the Australian Guide of the 2011 Social Security Act, when illustrating the behavior that gives rise to domestic violence or to family violence, refers to “someone”, “partner”, “family member” and to “person” as follows: “Domestic and family violence occurs when someone tries to control their partner or other family members in ways that intimidate or oppress them. Controlling behaviours can include threats, humiliation (‘put downs’), emotional abuse, physical assault, sexual abuse, financial exploitation and social isolations, such as not allowing contact with family or friends. Family violence means conduct, whether actual or threatened, by a person towards, or towards the property of, a member of the person’s family that causes that or any other member of the person’s family to fear for, or to be apprehensive about, his or her personal wellbeing or safety” (Australian Government – Australian Law Reform Commission, 2019).

A further example is that of the USA where in the criminal laws of 42 States, as well as in those of American Samoa, Guam, and Porto Rico, the definition of domestic violence is gender-neutral: domestic violence is “any criminal offense involving violence or physical harm or threat of violence or physical harm committed by one family or household member against another” (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014).

Regarding Italy, the 2001 law on “Measures against violence in family relationships” refers, here again in a gender-neutral way, to: “injured person”, “spouse”, “people living together”, “member of the household”.

Lastly, in criminological literature, IPV is defined as “the actual, attempted, or threatened physical harm of a current or former intimate partner” (Storey, Strand, 2012, p. 636). In this last definition as well, reference is made, in a gender-neutral way, to the “partner”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Victim Support Services: Services that provide free and confidential help to victims of crime, witnesses, and their family. Usually, the support services that are offered are tailored to the needs of each person. In general, however, they consist of information and advice, counselling, advocacy, peer support and group work, compensation, restorative justice, personal safety services, help in navigating the criminal justice system, court support. At European level, the first victim support service was started in 1974 in Bristol (England).

Victimization Surveys: Surveys, usually carried out nationally, by interviewing representative samples of the population with the objective of collecting data on the dark figure of crime and other specific aspects, such as self-reported victimization experiences for various offences, characteristics and consequences of victimization, contacts with law enforcement, fear of criminal victimization, perceived risk of criminal victimization, subjective wellbeing.

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