Not all physical force can be characterized as violence, and not all violence is created equal. There are numerous controversies regarding definitions of violence and abuse and no clear consensus among researchers on how to characterize acts as one or the other. Presumably, there should be commonalities among different types of violence so that all can be characterized first as violence, and yet some violence is socially approved and so would be placed in a separate category. Even the issue of whether it should be assumed that there are many different kinds of violence is controversial, with some holding that violence is violence in any setting and at any time. At the same time, while there are important differences among the different forms of family violence, all may be caused by similar social and psychological factors. Research has shown that the some forms of violence are more damaging than others but that all may be linked in terms of etiological factors. Society has responded to these issues by passing laws against child abuse and spouse abuse, but at times mixed signals are sent by laws and legal actions. Women who are abused are seen to be victims, but at some point, many of these women turn on their attackers and commit violence against them. The legal system has responded to this trend in an ambiguous way. Often, these women are prosecuted for killing their abusers on the theory that no one has the right to take the law into their own hands. Juries, however, often acquit these women, seeing them as victims who had little choice except to fight back, even if they did so with excessive violence. Here, again, is evidence that society insists on making distinctions between different forms and instances of violence and creating a gradation or hierarchy of violence, with violence allowed at some times even though violence in general is seen as a social evil.
Inherent in abusive relations is a disparity in terms of power, with the abuser asserting his power over those in the family who lack power. As noted, we see violence as a clear use of power, but power can also be expressed verbally and have just as devastating an effect. In an article on the abuse of nurses, Cameron (1998) notes,
Verbal abuse is the most common form of aggression; its consequences in terms of emotional upset?
anger, low self-esteem, embarrassment, and fear?
may be as damaging as a physical attack (Cameron, 1998, 34).
Cameron further notes that verbal abuse often follows a moment of stress or a stressful event, and verbal are then used as a coping mechanism to deal with stress. Nurses responding to a questionnaire on the subject noted that following an incident of verbal abuse, they most often felt "unappreciated" (54%) and "anxious/upset" (42%), followed by "concerned" (4%). Those reporting also indicated that verbal abuse influenced job performance by causing increased errors (52%), decreased morale (51%), decreased productivity (40%), and increased workload for peers (29%)(Cameron, 1998, 34).
It is widely accepted that a great deal of violence occurs in the family setting. Findings from research on family violence may serve as a point of departure (Fleming, 1979; Kincaid, 1985; Pagelow, 1984; Schechter, 1982; Straus et al., 1980; Walker, 1984). There are disagreements about the nature of the impact of family violence on the behavior of children, but it is not necessary to resolve the minor debates in order to pursue the logic presented here. Nor will much time be spent debating the link between financially troubled families and the likelihood of family violence. Currie (1985) and others show quite effectively that economically disadvantaged families are more likely to produce violent offspring. An argument can be posed in response to these findings. The economic factors are frequently treated as minor problems which do not require urgent response. We can appreciate the long-range implications of decreased social support for families (Currie, 1987, pp. 11-12), but those in policy making positions feel the need to respond immediately to the more dramatic forms of adult violence.
To date, the most frequently used instrument to measure violence between dating and marital partners has been the Conflict Tactics Scale. Although the CTS has been shown to be a relatively sound device (Barling et al., 1987), several problems exist. First, violent acts are ordered in terms of severity as perceived by the investigators without regard to the sex of the persons exhibiting or receiving the behavior. Whether research participants would order the acts in the same way is not known. Further, people may be more tolerant of female-to-male violence than that carried out by males against females. This suggests that the recipients of violence may be differentially affected and perceive the acts disparately depending on their gender (Arias and Johnson, 1986, 1989; Makepeace, 1986). For example, being slapped has been considered mild or ordinary violence. It may be that a man who is slapped by a woman would consider that mild; however, a woman slapped by a man might view the act as moderate or serious violence. The severity of Violence Against Men Scales (SVAMS; Marshall, in press) was designed to assess female to male violence.
A common criticism of the CTS has been that the effects of violent acts on the recipient are not considered (Arias and Johnson, 1989; Finkelhor et al., 1988; Gondolf, 1987). Another instrument, the Index of Spouse Abuse (Hudson and McIntosh, 1981) allows the severity, but not necessarily the consequences, of behavior to be scored. It also meets another identified need (Weis, 1989) by including threats (and other nonphysical acts) which may be harmful to women; the nonphysical subscale includes some direct physical acts.
According to Mcwhirter, Mcwhirter, Micwhirter, & McWhirter (2004), antisocial behavior leads to delinquency and gang activity, with its accompanying violence and drug involvement, and one of the sources for such problems is family violence, along with problems in school and peer pressure. The authors consider some of the prevention and intervention strategies they see as useful and effective, including the application of reality therapy to turn these young people around before they commit crimes or become victims of violence themselves.
Effect on Children
Research shows links between the development of PTSD and earlier incidents of observed violence. Overstreet and Braun (2000) used data collected from children during a summer program to see if they could correlate a relationship between victimization though community violence and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children as well as discern the mechanisms through which exposure to community violence leads to PTSD. Their study did find that exposure to community violence was related to decreased child perceptions of neighborhood safety. However for those children perceiving danger, the risk of negative developmental outcomes, such as PTSD symptoms, increase.
Anderson and Cramer-Benjamin (1999) note the impact of couple violence on parenting and on the children and offer theoretical explanations for the negative effects caused by wi9tnessing family violence, based on Social Learning Theory, Systems Theory, and the Psychiatric Model. The authors note the important point that that "children who witness couple violence are as disturbed as children who are directly abused themselves" (p. 5). There are direct and indirect effects of witnessing violence, and there are gender differences in witnesses. Factors related to children's treatment outcomes are considered, noting that there are five different areas influencing outcomes. These are: severity and frequency of violent events, the content of parental disagreements, the depth of the child's relationship to the victim and the perpetrator, a parent's ability to use conflict resolution skills, and child involvement in the interparental conflict. Clinical implications are focused around assessment, as well as special considerations for treating children exposed to violence. Various examples of treatment programs for adults and children exposed to violence are cited, each of which incorporates teachers, mental health professionals, and often, law enforcement officers.
Extreme cases are cited by Burman and Allen-Meares (1994), meaning case where a child witnesses the murder of one parent by the other. Such children experience multiple levels of trauma, including coping with a violent trauma, the instantaneous loss of both parents, dislocation from their homes, insecurity about where and with whom they will live, and feelings of anger, depression, and guilt. The authors present a case study of "Joseph and Sam," who witnessed the shooting death of their mother by their father. These children were brought in for treatment two years after the event, mainly because of problems they were having in school. Other symptoms seen included bedwetting, nightmares, trouble sleeping, and an obsessive fascination with guns and violence (in Sam only). The authors describe the two theoretical frameworks upon which their intervention was based. These include the Theory of Psychosocial Development, based on Erikson's stages of development, and Social Learning Theory as a way to explain modeling behaviors. The treatment section details significant events that occurred during the eight months that the children worked with a therapist. A variety of techniques were described, including play therapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques to…