Towards an Understanding of Women's Use of Non-Lethal Violence in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships

The paper examines the complex issue of women's use of non-lethal violence against their male partners including a review of existing research, an examination of the motivations and context, and a critical analysis to inform policy and practice.

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VAWnet Summary:

Towards an Understanding of Women's Use of Non-Lethal Violence in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships by Shamita Das Dasgupta (February 2001).

In Brief:

Recently, the domestic violence movement has been confronted with an extraordinary twist of circumstances. Advocates and practitioners around the country have begun to notice an increase in dual arrests of men and women as well as an increase in only women being arrested and charged with domestic violence. Detractors of the anti-violence against women movement have hailed these arrests as proofs of gender neutrality of family violence. However, research on women's use of violence against intimate male partners leads to different conclusions:

  • The majority of women who use violence against their male partners are battered themselves;

  • The assessment of men's and women's violence towards their intimate partners as fundamentally similar arises from conflation of the terms 'battering' and 'violence' as well as decontextualization of violent actions;

  • Women's violent behavior towards their heterosexual partners is substantially different from men's on historical, cultural, systemic, situational, and individual grounds;

  • Women's abusive behaviors towards their heterosexual partners emerge from various motivations including self defense, retaliation, reclaiming self respect, and controlling of abusers' violence; and

  • Women from different cultural backgrounds may view violence differently. Many cultures may not consider physical aggression to be much of a taboo for women. Cross-cultural perspectives must be taken seriously in a pluralistic society such as the U.S. A limited approach to women's violence may lead to myopic policy development and inappropriate criminal justice responses towards diverse communities.

  • Women's use of force against their male partners needs to be recognized by their contexts that include socio-cultural backgrounds, family and community networks, systems and institutions of intervention, motivations and intentions, immediate situations, as well as consequences;

  • By equating women's violence to men's, the criminal justice and other intervening systems evaluate women's behavior by standards established for men's violence. Such an assessment is not only invalid, it leads to inappropriate and unjust responses.

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