Spouse Abuse

Domestic abuse occurs across the entire spectrum of relationships. While this article specifically addresses the issue in the context of a traditional marriage, it is important to remember that the same trends, problems, and legal issues apply in all intimate relationships, including traditional and same sex couples and teenage dating situations.

Spouse abuse occurs among families of all backgrounds, rich and poor: all ethic groups: in all settings, urban, suburban, and rural.

Victims suffer injuries ranging from psychological abuse to severe battering and murder. In fact, spousal assaults are more likely to result in serious injury's than assaults committed by strangers. Approximately one fourth of all murders in the United States involve people who are related, and many of these are husband and wife killings. Both women and men can be abusers, but women suffer 95 percent of the injuries inflicted by spouses. An estimated four million women are abused each year.

Abuse is rarely a one time incident. Batterers typically repeat the act, often with increasing severity, Spouse abuse, however, usually remains behind closed doors and often goes undetected or ignored by friends and neighbors.

Police officers use to hesitate to become involved in domestic disputes because they lacked training in safe, effective methods of intervention. In the past, most police officers were taught to either counsel the abuser and the victim or make the abuser leave the home for several hours.

These practices have changed, Most urban police departments now encourage officers to arrest spouses or domestic partners suspected of assault. Most states have enacted statues that require the arrest of alleged batterers if there is any sign of abuse, even if their injured spouses refuse to sign complaints against them.

Still prosecutors sometimes do not bring charges against abusive spouses and are often more willing to reduce the charges than in cases of assault between two strangers. This may be because the battered spouse feels threatened by the perpetrator or because the evidence against the batterer is weak. Some judges merely dismiss spouse abuse cases or give warnings or probation to spouses found guilty. They site the need to protect family privacy or to promote domestic harmony as the reason for their inaction. However, some court decisions recognize that there may be little family harmony to protect when one family member is assaulting another.

Despite advances in the law and in society's recognition of the problem, spouse abuse continues to be very difficult to combat because of the intense emotional strain it places on women, it's primary victims. Several factors contribute to the vicious cycle of violence that is spouse abuse, often including a woman's belief that the abuse is somehow her fault and that she can make the situation better, An abuser often apologizes, promises to change, and then provides gifts in an attempt to gain forgiveness.

Additionally women face enormous barriers to leaving an abusive relationship. Those barriers make it difficult to find safety or to successfully prosecute their abusers..

* Women fear retaliation from their abuser if they try to leave, go to the police, or press charges.

* Often, the women is not the family's primary wage earner, and she faces economic hardship if she leaves or if her husband goes to jail, especially if she has children.

* A woman may face ethnic pressures to stay, including mistrust of the community, cultural pressures to stay, language barriers, and immigrant status.

* A woman may have a sense of duty to her family and feel that to leave would hurt the family by breaking up the marriage and taking the children away from their father.

While victims of abuse can receive help through counselling, spouse abusers usually need treatment to help them learn to change their pattern of behavior. Abusers are frequently addicted to alcohol or drugs and must deal with their addiction as well as their abusive behaviour. Independent men's organizations, in addition to services started by battered women's programs, offer men counselling and support. Social services agencies, such as the red cross, and faith based organizations, such as the YMCA, often can refer men to nearby programs. Some state statutes require counselling for spouse abusers as a condition of their probation. So, even though many women do not want their abusive husbands to go to jail, the most effective way to ensure that a batterer receives counselling is to prosecute him.

Until recently, men could not be criminally prosecuted for raping their wives. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now recognize marital rape as a crime. In addition, a battered wife can file a civil damage suit against her husband.


Both victims and their abusers need to seek help to end the cycle of spouse abuse. The first incident of domestic violence is rarely the last. Victims of abuse can take the following steps.

Call the police. Assaulting anyone is a crime, and many consider arrest to be the most effective means of halting spouse abuse. Moreover, even if the police do not make an arrest, a police report can support later legal action. For instance victims can later (1) file charges on their own and testify against their spouses, (2) request protective orders, or (3) file for divorce.

Consult a domestic violence advocate. Various organizations can provide victims of domestic violence with assistance in the areas of economic independence and safe housing, They may also offer the opportunity to participate in a support group for battered persons.

Obtain a protective order. Courts can order an abuser to (1) stop the abuse, (2) cease all contact with his or her spouse, (3) leave the home,(4) get counselling, or (5) do something else. Violating a court order is considered contempt of court, and a person found guilty of contempt can be jailed or fined.

Move out. The law does not require an abuse victim to stay in the family home. Despite the significant barriers victims face in leaving the home, with help, it is possible for the victim to leave. For example, many communities have protective shelters where a woman and her children can live temporarily. Either the police or crisis hotline personnel can help a victim locate a shelter. She should then notify a friend or relative of her reasons for leaving.

Obtain a divorce. If a couple is legally separated, one spouse has not right to enter the other's home without permission. Local bar associations, legal aid offices, family courts, and women's organizations can give victims information about divorce.