Domestic violence is one of the most pervasive and little-understood crimes perpetuated today. The reasons that so many women remain in such abusive relationships and also why some women are finally capable of leaving violent households are little-understood, even though there is considerable statistical evidence that women suffering from domestic violence are under great risk of losing their lives to their abusive partners. This paper offers a qualitative research design approach for a proposed study to explore motivational factors for why women leave or stay in such relationships. It is phenomenological in nature in the sense that it attempts to describe why women act as they do, and to categorize the various personal factors that impact their actions, rather than impose paradigmatic designs or theories upon the women's responses.
Stage One: Conceptualization of a research focus
Domestic violence is one of the most common, yet underreported crimes today. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "almost 6 times as many women victimized by intimates (18%) as those victimized by strangers (3%) did not report their violent victimization to police because they feared reprisal from the offender" (Domestic violence statistics, 2011, ARDVARC). Women may fear reporting the crimes that have been perpetuated upon them for a number of reasons, including fears of more violence, should they return home. These fears are not necessarily misplaced: "About 75% of the calls to law enforcement for intervention and assistance in domestic violence occur after separation from batterers" (Domestic violence statistics, 2011, ARDVARC).
In the United States, 21% of violent crimes against women are perpetuated by intimates (either boyfriends or husbands) and 31,260 women were murdered by an intimate from 1976-1996 (Domestic violence statistics, 2011, ARDVARC). This prevalence is not simply true of the U.S. But also globally. One of the most significant studies of domestic violence was conducted by the World Health Organization in 2005. It found that "intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence in women's lives - much more so than assault or rape by strangers or acquaintances" (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2005, WHO). The international study, which was comprised of findings based on qualitative interviews from women from urban and rural locations linked women's poorer states of health to domestic violence. "One quarter to one half of all women who had been physically assaulted by their partners said that they had suffered physical injuries as a direct result. The abused women were also twice as likely as non-abused women to have poor health and physical and mental problems, even if the violence occurred years before. This includes suicidal thoughts and attempts, mental distress, and physical symptoms like pain, dizziness and vaginal discharge" (Landmark study on domestic violence, 2005, WHO).
A common question asked of women who suffer domestic abuse, of course, is 'why do they stay with their abusers? Why don't they leave?' While low self-esteem is often cited by feminist researchers as the primary cause of women remaining in abusive relationships, the reasons are frequently economic in nature as well as psychological. One study on the Passaic County Study of AFDC Recipients in a Welfare-to-Work Program, which was designed to provide women on welfare with job training to empower them to get off public assistance found that of the 846 women surveyed, 14.6 were currently being physically abused, 25% were suffering verbal or emotional abuse, and 57.3% had experienced physical abuse some time during their adulthood. "12.9% of the entire sample, and 39.7% of those current physical abuse victims, reported that their partner actively prevents their participation in education and training" (Raphael 1997).
Women who are unable to extricate themselves from poverty are often blamed for their own 'failures,' but these statistics indicate the degree to which males use economic power to 'keep women in their place.' It should be noted that the Family Violence Amendment requires welfare departments to screen recipients for signs of domestic violence and provide referrals of women to services. The Passaic County Study noted that "states are encouraged to provide temporary waivers of state plan requirements" for women with children to pursue employment, but such waivers for women may actually be counterproductive, given that this satisfies the goal of abusive husbands that the women remain dependent (Raphael 1997). Instead, allowing waivers for abused women simply would consign battered women on welfare to lives of poverty in abusive situations.
This underlines the fact that appropriate screening and identification of domestic violence is vitally necessary on the part of all who come into contact with abused women, particularly representatives of social service and healthcare agencies. If violence is not spotted, women may interpret this as a tacit acknowledgement that what they are enduring is somehow 'okay.' Social workers and healthcare workers may be the only individuals with whom a woman who is the victim of abuse has any contact with on a daily basis, other than her immediate family members.
However, although domestic violence may disproportionately affect poor women, based upon the available evidence, women of all socio-economic categories are affected by domestic violence. Even women who are economically independent may fear leaving their spouses, for self-esteem reasons, and also because they have irrational fears of their inability to provide for themselves and their families. "Fears about loss of children to a child protection agency as well as ineligibility for welfare benefits may prevent self-disclosure" on the part of poorer women, while middle-class and upper-class women may fear leaving an abusive relationship because of the psychological toll divorce might take on the children (Raphael 1997).
To improve reporting, State of California now requires all health practitioners to report injuries stemming from "injuries or wounds that they know or reasonably suspect are the result of assaultive or abusive conduct... A written report shall be prepared and sent to a local law enforcement agency within two working days of receiving the information regarding the person" (Lund 1999). However, there is no evidence that this law has substantially improved actual follow-up and prosecution by law enforcement officials of the crime of domestic violence.
What interventions are effective for victims of domestic violence? The proposed qualitative study will attempt to allow women to speak for themselves. Women who have been the victims of domestic violence (physical, sexual, and mental abuse) will be interviewed for this paper. They will be solicited through a variety of channels, including battered women's shelters, through advertisements in the newspaper and university campuses, and through hospitals and healthcare clinics. Women who have successfully left abusers will be interviewed and asked about what factors enabled them to escape the abusive context. Various responses of the women will be 'coded' in terms of what were the main factors that resulted in them entering into an abusive relationship, the reasons that they stayed within the abusive relationship, and what factors encouraged them to leave the relationship.
This qualitative approach will allow for a comparison of the different paradigms that currently exist, regarding how the crime of domestic violence is perceived. Feminists tend to emphasize the self-esteem component of domestic violence, and believe that women mainly stay in such relationships because of patriarchal constructs that encourage women to believe they are 'nothing' without a man. Other theorists stress that poverty and fear of losing one's livelihood and support is the main reason that women stay in such relationships. This theory suggests that women tend to be less economically empowered in general, because society pays women less for the same work as males (particularly low-wage work), and women are afraid to seek out independence as a result, regardless of the potential consequences stemming from abuse. They may also be afraid that they are unable to support their children.
The study will aim to discover how various women circumvent these rationalizations of remaining in an abusive relationship. In doing so, it attempts to illuminate for the reader what potential interventions might be helpful in encouraging women to leave violent households. The aim of the study will focus on motivational factors to break the cycle of abuse. While previous studies, such as the evolutionary psychologists theorists Wilson and Daly (1993b) have hypothesized that domestic violence attempts to "control over female sexuality, including the deterrence of infidelity," the focus upon younger women, to the exclusion of other factors such as economic pressures is not necessarily useful for designing an intervention program to help women (Peters et al. 2002). This qualitative research attempts to 'let women speak' and to use their voices to help other women.
Domestic violence statistics. (2011). Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource
Lund, Laura. (1999). What happens when health practitioners report domestic violence injuries to the police? A study of the law enforcement response to injury report, Violence and Victims, 14 (2): 203-14.
Peters, Jay; Shackelford, Todd K; Buss, David M. (2002). Understanding domestic violence against women. Violence and Victims, 17(2):…