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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325


RAMOS LIRA, Luciana  y  SALTIJERAL MENDEZ, María Teresa. Episodic violence or intimate terrorism? An exploratory proposal to classify violence against women in the context of intimate couple relationships. Salud Ment [online]. 2008, vol.31, n.6, pp.469-478. ISSN 0185-3325.

Introduction The concern of this paper comes from a reflection on the phenomenon of violence against women in the context of intimate couple relationships. Even though studies dealing with the issue tend to focus on the presence of physical violence, it should not be forgotten that in the same relationships several types of emotional and sometimes sexual violence may co-exist. Violent men intentionally aim to create a threatening climate against women. To do so, they resort to devaluations, insults, threats, maltreatment, shouting, contempt, intolerance, humiliations, jealousy and accusations. Nevertheless, women are often unaware of many of them given the social tolerance towards overall abuse and the lack of institutional alternatives. There are, however, some difficulties to operationalize these behaviours. It is particularly difficult to measure the characteristic pattern followed by these relationships as this may involve very subtle forms of violence. Likewise, results obtained in the physical and psychological dimensions are usually kept as separate areas or they are presented at best in a mixed form to show the prevalences from the different surveys carried out. This article is a theoretical and statistical exercise aimed at constructing a typology of male violence against women. Its starting point is a proposal posing that in heterosexual relationships two types of violence are present. The first one may be called episodic violence, where one or both members of the couple carry out some violent act without the desire to control or dominate the other partner. In the other one, defined as intimate terrorism, the man acts out with the clear purpose of exerting both a violent and non-violent control and dominion over the woman's actions, thoughts, and emotions. Although it is certainly arguable, it might be interesting to analyze this classification for it is risky to suppose that there are couple relationships where a symmetry in the use of violence exists both on the part of men and women -that is, that women are as violent as men. It is risky because it distorts violence's gender nature by presupposing that the same behaviour may be exerted with the same physical and symbolic strength and that it will have similar consequences. However, we think it is worth taking it into account as a starting point for this analysis. To do so, a database derived from a study conducted among a sample of women attending general medical consultation was used. The main analysis axis was the indicator of having experienced a physically violent behaviour on the part of the partner during the last year. This was related to five emotional violence dimensions which represent different modalities as to their intentionality and impact. The groups thus formed were analyzed considering some variables which were previously regarded as associated to this form of violence, including demographic features, and some other features related to household income participation and the distribution of household keeping chores in the women's families. Specific features regarding the violent relationship, such as the motives behind the physical violence episodes and the role played by alcohol abuse on the part of the male partner in these episodes, were also considered. Method A database derived from a transversal ex post facto study conducted with a 345-women sample attending first-time or subsequent medical attention in a first level institution was analyzed. A structured questionnaire made up of different areas was applied. The following areas were included in this study: 1. Socio-demographic variables from each woman, her male partner and her family. 2. A violence severity scale containing 22 different types of physically violent behaviours from men against women, and 36 emotional violence types. A previous analysis of the latter showed five conceptually congruous dimensions: Devaluation, Threatening behaviours, Intimidation, Hostility, and Abusive expectations. 3. Features of both the relationship and the violent episodes. 4. Alcohol abuse on the part of the partner. To construct the typology, women who had experienced at least one physical violence attack by their partners during the last twelve months were classified, regardless of the frequency and severity of such behaviour. With this sub-sample, a multidimensional escalation analysis was performed with the five emotional violence dimensions reported and these were considered as <<stimuli>>. Decisions were then taken as to the configuration obtained and the women were classified in three groups considering both the presence and severity of the physical violence experienced and the frequency of the different forms of emotional violence. Based on these groups classification, variance and chi square analysis were carried out with the variables selected to observe whether these effectively differentiated the women from each group. Results The resulting emotional violence dimensions allowed us to obtain a typology of the sub-sample of women who had experienced physical violence (30% of the total). With this, three groups were formed: 1. episodic physical violence, including women who did not report any threats nor intimidation or devaluation (12.5%); 2. intimidating physical violence, including women who reported threats and intimidation and some or no devaluation (12.5%), and 3. intimate terrorism, which refers to women who suffered very frequent threats and intimidations together with occasional to frequent devaluations (5%). The latter is the highest risk group. Women belonging to this group were older (35 years) than those from the other two groups and so were their partners (40 years). They reported having more children and having lived longer with the abusing partner. Three out of each five had a paid job, mainly informal, and took charge of the money income responsibility of their households. Male partners were the main income providers only in 40% of the instances. Role genders in these families were very traditional as the male partners seldom helped with household keeping cores. Male partners had alcohol abuse-related problems and, in fact, one out of each three got aggressive when he had had any alcohol. The main reasons behind physical violence were male drunkenness, jealousy, and women protecting their offspring. At the other end are the women we classified in the episodic violence group. These were the youngest in the study even when compared to non-abused and intimidating violence victims. These women and their couple's household income participation, and the family members' participation in household keeping cores were similar to those in the no violence group. Their partners had also used alcohol in a comparable amount to that of the intimidating violence group. The main reasons underlying physical violence were male anger and male jealousy, and drunkenness to a lesser degree. Conclusions A considerable amount of women, nearly one out of each three, had experienced some form of physical violence in their couple relationship during the last year, and one out of each five had suffered violence in an abusive context of threats, intimidation and devaluation. Given this, it is important to focus on any type of physical violence as a part of a primary preventive perspective.

Palabras llave : Abused women; couple violence; classification; episodic violence; intimate terrorism.

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