Table of Contents


Professional interest in wife abuse started in the 1970s with resurgence of feminism in UK and USA. Authorities helped by providing shelters and safe houses for abused wives and their children.

Wife abuse is part of family violence, although wife-abuse and husband-abuse are very different. The few women who inflict serious harm on their husbands usually do so for self-preservation after enduring violence against themselves or their children. Family aggression reflects the socially sanctioned use of brute force to maintain essentially paternalistic systems and values within the family. The traditional marriage between a dominant male and a compliant female is a form of violence according to one social scientist.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists defined an abused wife as a woman who has suffered serious or repeated physical injury from the man with whom she lives. Straus (1980) distinguishes between "Normal" and "Abusive" violence. Normal violence is an act carried out with the intention or perceived intention of causing physical pain or injury to another person. Abusive violence is an act which has the high potential for injuring the person being hit. Walker(1984) differentiates between Psychological & Physical Violence.

Psychological Violence takes different forms such as : * Excessive possessiveness or jealousy. * Extreme verbal harassment. * Restraint of freedom of movement. * Withholding money. * Constant surveillance. * Threats of future abuse.

How much common is Wife abuse ?

In Colchester study (1975), wife abuse occurs in 1/500 marriages or 0.7% of married women, which is an underestimate. Macleod (1980) reported that 1/10 of Canadian married women were abused. Straus (1980) estimates that wife abuse occurs in 2 of 43 couples in USA and that 6 million men, women, and children are victims of physical violence. Wife -or - husband abuse index shows that 3.8% (1/26) American wives are beaten by their husbands (1.8 millions), while 4.6% of the wives made violent attacks on their husbands each year. However, men are more likely to inflict severe injuries.

Straus (1980) & Walker (1984) found that poverty and below average educational levels are closely associated with spouse & family violence. Families at or below the poverty line had a rate of violence 500 % greater than the most well-to-do families.

In a study by Mullen & Maack (1985), 138 patients at Maudsley with history of self-destructive behaviour reported acts of violence against their partners; 50% were men and 43 % women. Sexual jealousy can be a cause of spouse abuse.

Even during pregnancy women are not safe from violence. Gelles(1979) reported violence during pregnancy in 22 % of 44 families. Walker (1979 studied violence on 403 battered women and found higher incidence during pregnancy : 59% were attacked during first pregnancy, 63% in second pregnancy and 55% in third pregnancy. Pagelow (1984) also reported that 60% of 306 battered women were attacked during pregnancy. Gelles(1979) explains this by five major factors : * 1- Sexual frustration * 2- Family transition, stress and strain * 3- Biochemical changes in the wife. * 4- Prenatal child abuse. * 5- Defenceless of the wife.

Women are more likely to be killed or assaulted by their spouse than any one else (DOBASH & DOBASH , 1979). WALKER (1983) connected the association of psychological sequelae which amounts to a "Battered Woman Syndrome" with learned helplessness (Seligman 1978).

FINKLEHOR & YLLO (1982) examined rape in marriage as a form of marriage violence. Sexual victimization occurs when a woman is forced into having sex or engaging in a sex act she objects to, by her husband. RUSSEL (1985) estimates rape as more common in marriage, in a ratio of 2:1 in marriage as compared to rape by strangers.

Why violence occurs in marriage ?

According to GELLES & CORNELL (1985) many factors contribute to abuse and violence against women in marital relationships. - Time spent interacting with family members exceeds time spent interacting with others. - Interaction ranges over a much wider spectrum of activities than non-familial interactions. - Quality of interaction is unique in communication patterns, alliances, boundaries and affects. - Interactions inherently structured towards conflict and have a"zero-sum" aspect : There will be winners and losers in family relationships. - Belonging to a family carries the implicit right to influence the values, attitudes and behaviours of other family members. - Age and Sex differences provide the potential for a battle between generations and sexes. - Ascribed roles based on age and sex rather than interest and competence. - Families as a private institution insulated from eyes and ears of wider society . Where privacy is high, the degree of social control will be low. - Birth relationships are involuntary and cannot be terminated unless there is violence/breakdown pattern. - There can be no "ex-children" or "ex-parents". Being a family involves personal, social, material and legal entrapment. - Families are prone to stress, constantly undergoing changes & transitions: Events of the life cycle. - Strengths and vulnerabilities are all known to family members : This can help support a relationship or can also be used to attack intimates.

DOBASH & DOBASH (1979) highlighted the importance of culture and context of violence. Women are considered in certain cultures as "appropriate victims " of family violence. Physical punishment in the upbringing of children promotes violence in the family. Family as an institution may have a culture that it is permissible to hit people you love and that it is acceptable for some powerful people to hit less powerful people and that hitting can be used to achieve some end or goal.

SMITH (1973) used a PSYCHOPATHOLGICAL MODEL to explain marital violence. The individual's violence may be due to mental illness, personality disorders, psychopathology, sociopathology, alcohol and drug abuse or other intra-individual abnormalities.

BANDURA (1973) in his SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY stressed that exposure to techniques of being violent and learning social and moral justification for violent behavior may predispose to wife abuse.

CORNELL & GELLES (1982) used SOCIO-SITUATIONAL FRAMEWORKS to link violence to social antecedents, especially social or "structural" stress :
- low income, inaequate financial resources - unempolyment - limited education - cultural norms concerning the "appropriate" use of violence.


In a societal/familial subsystem theory , ecomomics and social processes operate directly and indirectly to support a patriarchial (male-dominated) social order and family structure.

In EXCHANGE SOCIAL CONTROLS THEORY, GELLES & CORNELL(1985) postulates that violence will be used towards family members when costs do not outweigh the rewards.


  • The dimension of family life
  • Elements of interactions
  • Cylces of interacions.
  • Active meaning sysytems: - Intersubjective meanings - Pathological surface action. - Affective status of the family : * Communication * Boundaries * Alliances * Stability and adaptability * Family atmosphere * Relationship to the enviroment.
  • Holistic formulation of the family .
  • Changes achievable with therapeutic work: * The areas to be explored:- - Acceptance of responsibility for abuse - The degree to which responsibility is shown. - Acknowledgement of the abused family memeber in words and deed. - Acknowedgement of long-standing family problems. - The nature and rigidity of family patterns. - Present and past relationship with care professional re: Therapeutic potential.
  • Generalities of ideas about family life.



It is important to break the taboo of secrecy around family abuse . This can be achieved directly or indirectly. Direct Ways include Media publicity for abuse which can "legitimise" a complaint. Indirect Ways through professionals who must know the pattern of presentation and have the capacity to respond. A wife may use the medical agencies to draw attention to her situation. Medics and social workers must cooperate with the police.


SAFETY is paramount. Does a safe setting exist in the family ? Crisis management: providing a safe context to the abused wife and care for the children. Assess responsibility and factors which lead to violence.


Women aid projects (PIZZEY ,1974) and growth of shelters to provide protection for women .


  • Police , courts
  • Battered-wife shelters
  • Social sevices departments
  • Counselling services in crisis
  • Arrested wife abusers were less likely to hit their wives again .

Injunctions, eviction orders to provide housing to assist the necessary separation and protection of a wife.


Work in refuge and marital violence services : - To assist women through group and individual work . - To improve self-esteem. - To help with parenting skills. - To afford legal protection. - To aid women in finding independent role.

During the initial periods of separation, considerable caution in carrying out conjoint assessment or work until it is clear that responsibility for abuse is being taken and the partner's contribution is acknowledged.
ROSENBAUM & O'LEARY (1986) set ## THE RULES AND STAGES OF THERAPY :- ## 1- Violence is unacceptable under any circumstances. 2- Being intoxicated will lead to session being terminated. 3- Contingencies to protect partner :- Safe rooms , separate exits and support personell. 4- Violence reframed as a "Choice" not an inevitable behavior.


 - Identifying cues the violence is imminent.
 - Time out
 - Non-violent alternative behavior
 - Talking to self
 - Relaxation


Marital and Family Approaches


    -  More balanced spousal relationship in terms of authority  and power.
    -  Victims need to feel confidence in themselves and in available protector.
    -  Families need help in thinking about future crises and risk points.


Results of treatment depend greatly on the population worked with. The fact that there is a considerable marital separation may indicate that this is the most satisfactory outcome of a violent marriage.


Principles and Practice of Forensic Psychiatry : Bluglass and Bowden, Section VII , chapter 7 by Cyril Greenlan, chapter 8 by Arnon Bentovim