Preventing Domestic Violence through Sociological Theories

Timothy Ojewuyi Blessing

Timothy Ojewuyi Blessing

May 2021 | Nigeria

Preventing Domestic Violence through Sociological Theories

Violence is the use of physical and extreme force. Olweus (1999) states that violence/violent behaviour is an aggressive behaviour where the actor or perpetrator uses his or her own body as an object (including a weapon) to inflict (relatively serious) injury or discomfort upon an individual.  Violence is an aggressive behaviour, that may be physically, sexually or emotionally abusive. The aggressive behaviour is conducted by an individual or group against another, or others. Hamby (2017) noted that A comprehensive definition of violence includes 4 essential elements, including behavior that is:

(a) intentional,

(b) unwanted,

(c) nonessential, and

(d) harmful.

Hence, one can conclude that violence is the intentional, harmful and unwanted societal behaviour perpetrated by a person or group of people that may result to physical, sexual, psychological or emotionally abuse. Therefore, if the above is carried out at home or in an intimate relationship, it is called domestic violence.

Domestic violence is defined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline as a forced "pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an individual."  Domestic violence is further defined as physical or sexual violence within the family. This includes sexual abuse of children and physical abuse of elderly parents (Etter & Birzer, 2007). Domestic violence occurs without regard to race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. It matters not if one comes from upper-, middle or lower-class families. This means that domestic violence  is neither race,  gender,  age, class or religion specific.

Sociology is known to be  the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that surrounds everyday life. Therefore, domestic violence should be at the centre of attraction of sociologists. That is, sociologists should be able to provide reasons and genuine solutions that can stop this menace in our society.

From a sociological perspective, domestic violence is a significant social problem in the world. It is often characterized as violence between household or family members, specifically spouses. To include unmarried, cohabitating, and same-sex couples, family sociologists have created the term intimate partner violence (IPV). Domestic violence has reached an alarming stage  in our society. In the United States, it is estimated that between two to four million women are victims of domestic violence every year. This shows that every 18 seconds someone is a victim of domestic violence. In  research study of Etter & Birzer (2007) it was determined that approximately 80.8% of accused abusers were male as compared to 19.2% of female offenders. While females do abuse, most reported offenders are male.

Frankly speaking, researches have shown that women are the primary victims of intimate partner violence. Catalano (2007) estimated that one in four women has experienced some form of IPV in her lifetime (compared to one in seven men). For this reason, conclusion can be drawn from Boss, Doherty, LaRossa & Steinmetz (1993) that domestic violence is a rampant social issue and since women are assumed to be the weaker gender in the society, majority of them are the main victims of domestic violence. The magnitude of domestic violence executed on women is more damaging than the type of abuse executed by women.

Sociological Theories of Domestic Violence

Theory is a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.  That is,  it tends to explain how and why something or someone came into being.  With this,  there are three main sociological theories that tend to provide  a vivid understanding of the reasons behind domestic violence.  The theories are:

A.  Symbolic interactionism theory,

B. Social conflict theory, and

C. Structural Functionalism Theory.

Symbolic Interactionism Theory: Lehrner & Allen (2008)  postulates that the theory believes that domestic violence arises when partners in a relationship fail to understand each other’s symbols and meanings. The symbolic interactionism theory maintains that it is very important for the two partners to share symbols and meanings in marriages, otherwise, domestic violence will occur.  This shows that partners who doesn't understand each other or accidentally or forcefully got married are at the high risk of resulting their minor or major conflicts to domestic violence.

Social Conflict Theory: Chibucos & Leite (2005) explain that domestic violence occurs in an intimate relationship when one partner possesses more resources than the other partner, so as to compensate for one’s wounded ego, the hurt partner usually resort to violence.  Boss et al. (1993) further buttressed the theory when they opine that marriage that can be seen as a social institution contains a variety of resources that may not be equally distributed. Some of the resources include job, talent, repute and money. When one partner lacks the resources, a sense of inferiority complex is generated and thereafter a sense of conflict occurs. When the intensity of conflicts rises, it results to abusive behavior causing domestic violence. Most of the time, conflicts arises in an intimate relationship when one partner possesses a better job than the other, or earns more money than the other partner.

Structural Functionalism Theory: This theory believes that domestic violence occurs when there is a change of role in the family or relationship. According to the social functionalist theory, men are supposed to hold instrumental position within the society whereas women are expected to occupy expressive roles. Social functionalist theory holds that this arrangement works well to the benefit of the entire society if the roles are maintained. However, domestic violence especially by men is executed so as to offer an alternative when they cannot occupy the instrumental roles in the society Eaton, Davis, Barrios, Brenner, & Noonan (2007) further explain that according to the social functionalist theory, most of the abusers are men and they believe that it is their responsibility in society to make sure that their women are kept in line. Domestic violence occurs when women strive to occupy instrumental roles that are meant for men. At the moment, one can see that there are many women within the labor force despite the fact that men still seem to possess more wealth and ideological authority than women. Keeping this in mind, domestic violence is considered to be a technique of exercising control and also maintaining power usually used by men.

Sociological Solutions to Domestic Violence

The sociological solutions will be provided by addressing the three sociological theories behind domestic violence. That is, the need to critically study the theory will bring everlasting solutions to domestic violence

Symbolic Interactionism Theory: Since the theory focuses more on the need for the partners to understand the signs and symbols of each other, partners in an intimate relationship have to apply symbolic interactionism so as not to only understand other people’s point of view but to also understand other people’s symbols and meanings.  In short, both the partners need to be on a common ground or always work on how to always achieve a common ground.

Perhaps, that is why Wolitzky-Taylor and colleages (2008) assert that when two partners in a marriage understand each other’s symbols, they ultimately have a mutual understanding and know each other better. Therefore, they will have no reasons for domestic violence in their relationship or marriage. The partners in a relationship learn about themselves and form personal feelings founded on they react to each other when they interact with each other.

Lastly, the society needs to shun the idea of forceful marriage because marriage that is not based on love and affection has high risk of resulting to domestic violence.

Social Conflict Theory: The perfect understanding of this theory will bring about peace and contentment. The partners must know that they are one. That is why they are called better half.  Another analogy of their single entity can be seen when they are being joined together as one on one on alter. This means that possession of resources should not predict their behaviour. Men need to understand that the kind of ego that follow resentment and jealousy only destroy relationships and families. It is better to let go of egos and have a peaceful family as an entity than to uphold egoism that can destroy and shatter one's family.

Also, it will allow the partners to understand that resources in marriage are not for the sake of competition. The desire to acquire wealth more than ones partner should be suppressed. The partners should work together to ensure that they meet the target of the family.

Structural Functionalism Theory: According to the theory, the society has designated roles for the genders in a relationship or marriage. However, domestic violence usually arises when the roles are substituted. Perfect studying of this theory will give the partners an insightful knowledge that families different from society to society and these rigid designated society roles should not take away the peace of the family.  In a situation where the roles of men are being carried out by women in marriages,  it should not be a source of violence,  rather the men should provide physical, psychological and emotional support for the smooth running of the family not physical,  psychological and emotional abuse that will destroy the family or relationship.

In conclusion, domestic violence cannot promote the well-being of human societies and it must be totally condemned to avoid generational domesticated violence. Children who grew up where domestic violence was the order of the day will think it is normal to abuse or forcefully subjugate ones partner either psychologically, emotionally, physically or financially.  All members of the society must work together in harmony to make sure that this anomaly becomes history.


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Catalano, S. (2013). Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization, 1993–2011. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics.    ncJ 243300

Chibucos, T., Leite, R., & Weis, D. (2005). Readings in family theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Eaton, D. K., Davis, K. S., Barrios, L., Brener, N. D., & Noonan, R. K. (2007). Associations of dating violence victimization with lifetime participation, co-occurrence, and early initiation of risk behaviors among U.S. high school students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(5), 585–602.

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