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The Oxford Handbook of Criminology

The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (7th edn)

Alison Liebling, Shadd Maruna, and Lesley McAra
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date: 13 April 2024

p. 39818. Domestic violencelocked

p. 39818. Domestic violencelocked

  • David Gadd


This chapter outlines the key definitional and aetiological issues surrounding domestic violence perpetration. It begins with a discussion of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on domestic abuse globally, before assessing international estimates of the percentage of women worldwide who have ever been physically or sexually assaulted by a partner. The second section of the chapter reviews the British historical literature to show how Victorian concern with the protection of respectable women from ‘wife-beaters’ yielded to a medical-psychiatric discourse that blamed hysterical women for provoking men with quick tempers. It then outlines how twentieth-century feminist accounts reframed the problem of ‘wife-beating’ variously in terms of ‘domestic violence’, ‘domestic abuse’, ‘intimate partner violence’, ‘coercive control’, and ‘gender-based violence’ in efforts that exposed the roles of sexism, inadequate legal protection, and gender inequality in perpetuating a ‘continuum’ of abuse against women under patriarchy. The third part of the chapter appraises the critique of gender-based perspectives provided by psychological studies, some of which point to ‘gender symmetry’ in the perpetration of domestic violence and some of which reveal personality differences between perpetrators and non-violent men; as well as sociological studies that expose how the intersections between gender and ethnicity, sexuality and age manifest themselves, both in incidents of domestic violence and in official reactions to them. The chapter concludes by pointing to the challenge of finding a common voice capable of capturing the collective experiences of those in need of protection from domestic violence as well as the need to find ways of responding to perpetrators whose attitudes, motives, backgrounds are not necessarily identical to each other. These challenges are rendered more acute when the law is revealed as unpredictable in its capacity to determine the culpability of the small minority of men who perpetrate grievous assaults on their partners.

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