chapter  1
6 Pages

The Extent of Domestic Violence

This book is about domestic violence. The choice of the phrase is deliberate and introduces the problems of terminology in this area. A variety of phrases have been used to describe such violence. Lorna Smith1 states: 'Domestic violence, family violence, domestic disputes, spouse abuse, wife abuse, battered wives, battered women ... There is a plethora of terms which are used, sometimes interchangeably, to describe the same phenomenon. Often they serve to confuse rather than clarify: Many of these phrases, however, concentrate on a marital relationship between the victim and perpetrator of the violence. The phrase 'domestic violence', on the other hand, denotes a much wider form of relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. It is important from the outset, however, to establish the boundaries of the phrase for the purposes of this text. 'Domestic ' can signify a large number of interfamilial relationships but the primary context of this book is the violence occurring, or alleged to have occurred, between married or cohabiting partners, or those who have been in an intimate relationship with the perpetrator. We do not, primarily, intend to examine other interfamilial violence within the text, but wish to concentrate on the responses to domestic violence in the narrow sense defined above by both the civil and the criminal justice system. For the purposes of this text, therefore, the term 'domestic' refers only to couples in intimate heterosexual relationships, as, until the coming into force of the Family Law Act 1996, couples in lesbian or homosexual relationships have limited protection. 'Violence' is taken to mean emotional and psychological abuse, threats of violence (whether to person or property), harassment, sexual violence, and physical violence against the person or property. In this respect we have adopted, to a large extent, the definition given by the Law Commission:2

Although Morris3 is clearly correct to stress that the phrase domestic violence hides who is the perpetrator and who is the victim, the phrase does denote the fact that the victim has been subjected to a criminal act. Mirlees-Black4 says that 11 % of women report some degree of physical violence in their relationships. Zorza5 states that in the United States violence to women accounts for one-fifth of all hospital emergency room cases. The National Crime Victimisation Survey in the United States estimated that during each year between 1987 and 1991, on average women were the victims of more than 572,000 violent crimes committed by an intimate and 20% of all female victims who were or had been married to the perpetrator reported being the victim of three or more assaults in the six months prior to the survey.6 In a national survey conducted in Canada in 19937 29% of women reported at least one incident of violence by their partners or ex-partners. These statistics show that in the incidents of domestic violence monitored, the victim has suffered an assault at the hands of the perpetrator and thus has been the victim of a criminal act. By using the phrase 'domestic violence' the criminality of behaviour of the perpetrator is emphasised.