Why does family violence happen?

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Why does family violence happen?

Family violence is a complex problem with many interrelated causes. It often results from different factors working together. The risk of family violence can be increased by:

  • individual factors, like dug and alcohol abuse, low income, chronic and severe stress, witnessing or experiencing violence as a child and poor social skills
  • family/relationship factors, like partner or marital conflict, economic stress, marital instability
  • community factors, like weak community sanctions against family violence
  • gender norms, where people believe they have ownership or control of other people. these norms operate at all levels: between individuals, in the family, in the community and in society.

What we know

We know that family violence occurs between family members of all cultures, classes, backgrounds and socio-economic circumstances. It covers a broad range of damaging and controlling behaviours. These are usually of a physical, sexual and/or psychological nature, and typically involve fear and intimidation.

Research tells us that:
  • perpetrators of the most severe and lethal cases of family violence are predominantly male; the victims of these cases are predominantly women and children
  • children under the age of one are at greatest risk of being killed, with both mothers and fathers equally represented as perpetrators
  • the risk of a child homicide diminishes with the age of the child
  • the most common forms of elder abuse and neglect are psychological and financial abuse, and the majority of abusers are family members
  • men who abuse their partners are more likely to abuse their children
  • violence is often a deliberate act, used by perpetrators as a means of asserting domination, power and control over others.
The power and control wheel is often used to explain violence within families.

Where the power and control where is most helpful is in understanding violence in intimate partner situations, usually between men and women, but also in same-sex relationships. The wheel illustrates the factors that characterise such violent relationships. It shows that power and control are maintained through various tactics. Physical and sexual violence at the rim are often used to keep the other psychological and emotional tactics in place and reinforce the system which keeps control.

It doesn't fit all situations

For example, in some cases, elder abuse or child abuse occurs because of intense frustration, lack of support and lack of knowledge of any other way to deal with stress, rather than from an explicit desire to control. Some child abuse happens where there is undiagnosed postnatal depression. Some happens because parents strongly believe that physical discipline is the best or only way to each children how to behave in a socially responsible way. Nor does the wheel explain what happens n relationships characterised by mutual violence

The equality wheel

A useful counter-view to show how alternatives to power and control can work in a healthy relationship.

Credit: Power and Control Wheel, Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, Duluth

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