Chapter Summary and Learning Objectives
- Describe the various explanations for VMIR that have been proposed, including structural
- characteristics of intimate relationships, cultural acceptance of violence, the low costs of intimate violence, and the intergenerational transmission of VMIR.
- Interpret the funnel metaphor as it is used in measuring VMIR.
- Compare and contrast the important data sets and self-report survey instruments used in VMIR research.
- Identify the various methodological issues relevant in conducting research on VMIR, including those related to defining VMIR, establishing cause-and-effect relationships, and research designs.
We approached this chapter with three goals in mind. First, we try to explain VMIR. This section is not intended to be a detailed discussion of theory. Rather, it is an attempt to provide a context for understanding why VMIR is so common. Second, we introduce the various measurement issues that all researchers must navigate. This includes a discussion of important data sources and measurement instruments. Finally, we discuss the many methodological issues that make VMIR, and frankly all social science, so complicated.
Many cultural and social-structural antecedents contribute to physically violent and verbally aggressive intimate interactions. The structural characteristics of intimate relationships partly explain why VMIR is so common. Intimates spend a great deal of time together, and interactions tend to be intense. The subordination and in some cases dependency of intimates also make them vulnerable to abuse, and privacy norms make violence and maltreatment relatively easy to conceal. The culture sometimes encourages, condones, and accepts verbal and physical aggression between parents that, arguably, could indirectly contribute to violence and maltreatment. VMIR is also a relatively low-cost form of deviant behavior, which partially explains why it is so common. Finally, we introduce the concept of intergenerational transmission: the idea that VMIR is learned behavior and is passed on across generations. We conclude that learning factors are relevant, but that intergenerational transmission theory is not as powerfully predictive as many suspect.
The many difficulties associated with determining the extent of VMIR are illustrated
in Figure 2.1. The top of the funnel (Level I) is the actual amount of VMIR that exists in society. Although this figure is obviously unknown and unknowable, it can be estimated with self-report perpetration or victim surveys, such as the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), the Conflict Tactics Scales, and the Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire (JVQ). Self-report and victim surveys are the only way we can estimate the dark figure, which is the gap between the actual rate of VMIR (Level I) and officially
reported and recorded rate (Level II). Level II data sets included the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). Our funnel narrows even more at this point, through various stages of substantiation (determining whether or not the alleged abuse did in fact occur), social services, or criminal proceedings.
Many methodological problems continue to plague the field. The most glaring of these may be definitional ambiguity. For example, terms like sexual assault or child neglect or intimate partner violence are commonly used in popular and professional circles, but there is not always agreement on exactly what these terms mean, and how they should be operationalized. This ambiguity makes findings difficult to compare across studies. Another problem is that most VMIR research is retrospective and correlational.
This makes it very difficult to establish cause-and-effect relationships. Randomized controlled trials, also called experimental designs, are rarely feasible. Longitudinal research is expensive and difficult to conduct.
Despite these many difficulties, research on VMIR has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, and we fully expect this trend to continue.