Chapter Summary and Learning Objectives
- Describe the key issues that are present in determining the scope of violence and maltreatment in intimate relationships (VMIR).
- Demonstrate the ways in which VMIR can be viewed as a social construction.
- Summarize the historical events that have led to the discovery of VMIR.
- Identify and discuss the VMIR forms of abuse and victim groups that are less well recognized in today’s society, including elder abuse, LGBTQ violence, and male victims of IPV and sexual assault.
- Describe the various definitional components of VMIR including intimate relationships,
- violence, and maltreatment.
- Discuss the various intervention and prevention efforts that have been developed to address VMIR.
Our intent in this chapter, in part, is to impress upon the reader the significance and prevalence of VMIR. Compared to other wealthy democracies, the United States is,arguably, the most violent country in the world. An unacceptably high proportion of this violence occurs within intimate relationships.
We take a social constructionist perspective in our description of how VMIR came to be recognized as a social problem. The social constructionist perspective focuses on the role claims makers have played in this history. Each of the forms of VMIR discussed
in this book has, at various times in history, been treated with indifference. The mistreatment of children began to receive serious attention during the child-saving movement of the mid- to late-1800s, and the research community essentially ignored child abuse until the 1960s, when medical doctors began to raise awareness. The victimization
of women was similarly ignored until the late 1800s, and the social problem of woman battering was not fully discovered until feminists successfully raised awareness
in the early 1970s. Other forms of family violence—sibling violence, dating violence,
marital rape, acquaintance rape, and elder abuse—were only discovered after claims makers successfully raised awareness.
Specific definitions of VMIR are also shaped by the claims making process. Words such as abuse, battering, assault, maltreatment, and violence are commonly used in discussions of VMIR, but there is little agreement, or even discussion, on exactly what these words mean. Their meanings are negotiated by claims makers, and the winners in these negotiations earn the right to define particular behaviors and estimate their prevalence.
Social scientific progress in the field of VMIR depends, to some extent, on a shared understanding of what constitutes VMIR, so we have offered our own conceptualizations.
Violence is a physical act meant to hurt another person. Maltreatment is a more inclusive term meant to encompass various forms of nonviolent acts such as psychological
mistreatment, neglect, or inappropriate sexual contact. And finally, the term intimate has historically referred to family members, but as conceptualizations of family have broadened, so too have our understandings of intimates.
Any history of the recognition of VMIR as a social problem is incomplete without a consideration of the prevention and intervention strategies that have been introduced
to address this problem. Prevention efforts are attempts to keep VMIR from occurring in the first place, whereas intervention strategies are responses to VMIR after it occurs. U.S. social policies have tended to emphasize intervention rather than prevention, and these intervention strategies have most typically focused on protecting victims and deterring perpetrators from committing further violence.