Dr. Mary C. Sengstock, Ph.D., C.C.S.
Professor of Sociology
Wayne State University
Spouse Abuse Theories (ctd)
Recall Our Model, the Factors in It, & the Relationships:
Cultural Factors: Nature of Culture – Affects
Offender, Victim, Actions, Societal Response
II. Male’s Characteristics Abusive Behavior
III. Female’s Characteristics  Acceptance
IV. Nature of the Interaction Between 2 People
V. Response of Society: How Families,
Community, Social Agencies React to Abuse
All Factors Interact With & Affect Each Other
Summary: I. Cultural Theories
Religious Basis of Our Society Enables
Even Encourages Abuse of Women
Continues into Modern Day
Influencing Secular Laws & Society
Represents What Emile Durkheim Called
Meaning of Anomie
Lack/Absence/Weakness of Norms
No Clear Statement That Behavior Is Wrong
Western Society (& Most Societies) Have No
Clear Rules That Wife Beating Is Wrong
• Instead, They Condone – Even Sanction or
Encourage It
Institutionalized Norms
• Talcott Parsons: With Anomie, Rules Are NOT
• Institutionalized Norms: Embodied in Societal
Behavioral Reward Structure – EX:
• Good Act: Society Requires: Individual Reward
• Bad Act: Society Prohibits: Individual Punished
• Abusers Should Be Punished
Non-Institutionalized Norms
• Good Act: Society Requires: BUT Individual
Punished (Husband Does Not Get Power)
• Bad Act: Society Prohibits: BUT Individual
Rewarded (Husband Achieves Power)
• Abusers Are NOT Punished – Rewarded By
Getting Everything They Want
Other Cultural Theories
Subculture of Violence Theory
American Society (Or Parts of It)
Encourage & Support Violence (in General)
This “Spills Over” into the Family
Hypothesis: Spouse Abuse More Common in
Societies/Subgroups With a Lot of General
Other Cultural Theories (ctd)
Conflict Theory (Karl Marx)
Conflict Is Inherent in Social Relations
Power Differentials Create Dissatisfaction
Powerless Try to Obtain Power 
Powerful Try to Protect Power  Conflict
Alternative: “Consensus Theory” (Parsons):
Everyone Agrees About Power Structure
EX: Wife, Children Accept Husband’s Control
II. Spouse Abuse Theories:
Offender-Focused Theories
• Derived from Theories of Criminology &
1. Classical Theory
2. Positivist Theory – Psychological Theories
Frustration-Aggression Theory
Compulsive Masculinity Theory
3. Sociological Theories
Differential Association – Self Concept Theory –
Drift Theory – Function Theory – Conflict Theory
Classical Theory
• Originated in late 1700s
• Still Believed/Quoted By Many People
– Esp. in Criminal Justice Fields
Major Components:
People Are Basically Rational
Violence/Deviance Is a Rational Choice
Designed to Accomplish Goals
– EX: Gain Money, Maintain Power, etc.
Classical Theory’s Recommended
Response to Deviance
Offenders Are Acting Rationally
Violence/Deviance Is a Means to Their Ends
These Must be Countered By Punishments
Sufficient to Deter Their Deviant Acts
Recommendations for Handling Deviants:
“Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!”
Classical Theory
Applied to Spouse Abuse
• Wife Batterers Are Power-Oriented
• Violence Is a Useful Means to Achieve Goals
• Men Who Abuse Their Wives Should Receive
Severe Punishment to Force Them to Stop
• Do We Really Do That to Abusive Men?
• Do Courts? Police? Religious Leaders?
Problems With Classical Theory
Not All Behavior Is Rational
Much Behavior Occurs With Little Forethought
People Just “Do It” – It’s Not Planned
Some People Are Rarely Rational!
– Mentally Ill
– Mentally Retarded
• Some People Could Be Rational But Are Not
• You Cannot Expect Them to Respond to
Punishments Imposed
Conclusion Re Classical Theory
• Really Doesn’t Work With Many Offenders
• Isn’t Likely to Work Even With Rational Wife
Abusers – Why?
• Our Culture Is Not Likely to Believe in
Punishing Wife Abusers Anyway
• Exhibited in the Manner in Which These Cases
Are Generally Handled
• By Police, Courts, Families, Agencies
Reaction to Classical Theory:
Positivist Theory
Based on Actual Research on Offenders
Explains the “Positivist” Label:
“Positivism” Conducts Research
Seeks Explanations
Need to Look for the Reasons for Deviant Acts
Biological & Psychological Factors Play A Role
Positivist Approaches:
Psychological Approach
When People’s Goals Are Inhibited …
They Automatically Feel Frustrated …
An Automatic Response – Cannot Be Helped
Frustrated Men Will be Aggressive
Caused by the Woman – Caused By Other Factors
• They Can’t Help It! – Shouldn’t be Punished
Believed by the Men, Courts, Police, Families, &
Critique of Frustration-Aggression
• Are ALL People Aggressive When They Are
• Can We Really Afford to Have a Society in
Which Everyone Can Be Aggressive?
• Experiment: 2 Groups of Children:
– Both Saw a Frustrating Film
– Group A: Encouraged to Express Their Anger
– Group B: Discouraged – Urged to Do Other Things
– Which Should be LESS Aggressive at End?
Compulsive Masculinity
• Also a Psychological Theory
• Men’s Socialization Experiences in Modern
Society Are Not Natural
• “Nuclear Family” Separates Boys from Men …
• At a Critical Stage in Their Development
• E.g., Men At Work; Brought Up By Women
• Boys Do Not Learn How to Be Men
• In Order to Be Men They Must Reject Women
• They React By Being Aggressive to Women
Compulsive Masculinity:
Response to Spouse Abuse
• Bring Boys into Greater Contact with Men
• The More They Are with Men, the LESS They
Will be Aggressive Toward Women
• Solution: Have Boys Do More With Their
• They Will Learn the Way “Real Men” Are Men
• Then They Will Not Have to Reject Women &
Be Aggressive
Differential Association (Sutherland)
Sociologically Based Theory
People Learn Deviance from Their Associates
If They Are Around Men Who Batter …
They Will Batter Their Own Wives
Murray Straus: Batterers’ Fathers Battered
How Does This Fit With Compulsive
Masculinity Theory?
Self Concept Theory (Dinitz, Reckless)
• An Extension of Differential Association
• Deviance Does Not Result SIMPLY From
Association with Deviants
• RATHER: People CHOOSE Deviance
• If They Are Around Deviants …
• They Choose to Be Deviant Because They
Admire Those Who Are Deviant …
• Deviance Fits With Their Self-Concept
• Men Will Batter If They Admire Batterers
Drift Theory (David Matza)
• Based on Studies of Delinquent Youth
• People Are Not “Deviant” or “Non-Deviant”
• EVERYONE Engages in BOTH Deviant & NonDeviant Behavior
• Studies Showed ALL Youths Engaged in Both at
Different Times
• Hence All People DRIFT from Conforming
Behavior into Deviance & Back Again
• True of Most Abusive Men – They Are Not Always
Abusive – Often They Are Very Loving
Functional Theory
• A Sociological Theory
• Assumes That All Social Groups/Societies Are
Held Together By Cohesion
• Certain Behaviors Are Accepted by All
• Everyone Accepts This
• The Authority of the Husband in the Family Is
Accepted – By Wife & Children
• They Know This Is the “Right Way” for Families
• Problem: Do Wives & Children Always Accept
Conflict Theory
• Also Sociological Theory
• Every Society/Social Group Involves Differential
• All Members Do NOT Accept the Power Structure
As Legitimate
• Wives vs. Husbands; Parents vs. Children
• The Family Is Rife With Issues on Which the
Members Do Not Agree
• There is Tension & Pressure for Violence If These
Disagreements Are Not Resolved
Note Theoretical Conflicts
Many of These Theories Contradict Each Other
Classical Theory: Deviance Is Rational
Positivist Theory: Deviance Is Irrational
Compulsive Masculinity: Men Who Are
Around Women More Likely to Batter Women
Differential Association: Men Who Are
Around Men Learn to Batter Women
Cultural Theory: Culture Produces Deviance
Positivism: Deviance Is a Mental Aberration
Functionalism (Agreement) vs. Conflict
III. Victimization Theory
• Victimology Theory – Developed to Explain
the Role of Victim in Criminal Behavior
• Von Hentig: “The Criminal & His Victim”
• Typology of Victims (13 Types)
• Innocent (Physically, Mentally, Socially Vulnerable 9)
• Culpable (Mild, Cooperative, Tempting 3)
• Resisting (Fight Back 1)
• MOST Victims Were NOT Culpable
Mendelsohn – Another Typology
1. Completely Innocent (Children, Unconscious)
2. Minor Guilt (Ignorant)
3. Equal in Guilt (Voluntary Victim)
4. Greater Guilt (Provokes)
5. Alone in Guilt
6. Imaginary Victim
(Where Is the Innocent Victim?)
Critique of Mendelsohn
Mendelsohn’s Background:
Defense Attorney in Rape Cases
Amir: Study of Rape Victims:
“Interaction Theory of Crime DOES NOT FIT
Forcible Rape.”
• But Mendelsohn Applies His Theory of Victim
Causation to All Victims – Particularly Rape
• Victimology Has Been Applied to ALL Victims –
Esp. Women in Rape & Spouse Abuse Cases
Steven Shafer
• “The Victim & His Criminal”
• Compare to Von Hentig’s Title
• Interviewed Criminal Offenders of Direct
Physical Assaults
• 9/10 Said Victims Played NO ROLE in Decision
• Shafer Developed Theory:
• “Functional Responsibility for Crime”
Shafer’s “Functional
Responsibility for Crime Theory”
• Victim Always Motivates Offender:
Makes Him Conscious of Criminal Opportunity
Is Passive
Irritates or Incites
Instigates or Provokes
• Conclusion: The Victim or His Property ALWAYS
Generates Crime
• Without the Victim – There Is No Crime!
• Excuses Offenders from Responsibility for Actions
Characteristics of
Spouse Abuse Victims
Typical Traits Proposed:
• Unsure of Self
• Weak Ego (No Strength of Character)
• “Learned Helplessness” (EX: Dog in Maze)
• “Battered Women Syndrome” (Lenore Walker)
• “PTSD” (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome)
• Conclusion: Abused Wives Are Weak, Accept
Their Abuse
Lee Bowker’s Alternative View
• NO! Women Do Not Accept Abuse!
• They Fight Back! – 7 Strategies:
Avoided the Men or Certain Topics
Passive Defenses (Covered Faces, Vital Organs)
Threat to Call Police, File for Divorce
Attempt to Extract Promises Not to Batter
Attempt to Talk Men Out of Battering
Fought Back Physically
Hid or Ran Away When Attacked
Cultural Patterns of Abused Women
• Same Culture As the Men –Condones Male Abuse
• Believes in:
Male Domination
Male Aggression Natural
Accepts Female Subordination
Saw Mother Abused
Often Was Abused As a Child
Sees Abuse As Normal
• Most Women Do Not Want to End a Marriage
• Instead They Want the Abuse to Stop
Victimology As a
Stimulus-Response Theory
Stimulus (Stress) Always  Response (Violence)
Offender Has No Control Over the Behavior
Contrast: Symbolic Interaction Theory (Athens)
3 Types of Offenders:
• Frustrative (Believes Victim Blocked Goals)
• Malefic (Believes Victim is Evil)
• Frustrative-Malefic (Victim Blocking & Evil)
Really LESS Violent Because BOTH Factors Required
Hence These Are NOT Automatic Responses
IV: Interaction Factors
• Cycle of Violence: Wife Battering Cycle:
– Minor Tension  Increased Tension  Height of
Tension  Violent Episode  Honeymoon 
Reconciliation  Repeat
• Many Women Can Actually Describe the
Process & Identify the Phase Their Pattern Is
In At A Particular Time
• They May Use It To Decide When to Leave Or
When To Defend Themselves
Studying the Violence Cycle
Dangerous to Study! (Gelles)
Buzawa & Sengstock:
4 Types of Domestic Violence:
Continual Mutual Violence (Somewhat Open)
Continual Asymmetric Violence (Somewhat Open)
Continual One-Way Violence (Most “Closed”)
Isolated Violent Act (“Open” System)
3 Models of Victimization
(Sengstock & Liang)
• Innocent Victim
V  (Innocent Act)  O  Criminal Attack
• Victim Precipitation
V  (Deliberate Taunt)  O  Criminal Attack
• Social Conflict Model
V  (Acts – Both Types)  O  (Acts – Both Types)
V (Response)  O (Response)
Goes On Indefinitely!
(EX: Most Children’s Fights)
V. Society’s Responses
• Society Can Prevent Spouse Abuse
– Courts – Police – Social Agencies – Families
They Have To Show They Want to Control It
They Have To Take It Seriously
They Have To Intervene – At An Early Point
They Have To Stop Excusing It
9 Aspects of Western Society Which
Promote Husband-to-Wife Abuse (M. Straus)
• Focusing on Men:
1. Pressure on Men to Defend Traditional Male Authority
2. Threats to Male Identity  Compulsive Masculinity
• Focusing on Women:
3. Economic Constraints Force Women To Stay
4. Burdens of Child Care (Do the Same)
5. Myth of Inadequate Single Parent HH
6. Assumed Pre-Eminence of Wife Role for Women
7. Prevalence of Negative Self-Image for Women
8. Notion of Women As Childlike
• Focusing on Society Structure:
9. Male Orientation of Criminal Justice System
Mechanisms By Which Society Can
Alter Spouse Abuse – Service Agencies
Professionals Can Identify Victims
Shelters Can Be Available to Protect Them
Support & Child Care Can Be Available to Help
Long-Term Counseling
Medical Care
Not Use Husband’s Income to Determine
Mechanisms By Which Society
Can Alter Spouse Abuse: Police
• Can Take Victims Seriously
• Can Avoid Taking the Offender’s Side
• Can Avoid Making the Offender Feel Like Hero
– EX: O.J. Simpson
• Can Adopt Different Arrest Procedures
– Arrest At Time of Offense Rather Than Later
– Not Require the Victim to Press Charges
Mechanisms By Which Society
Can Alter Spouse Abuse: Courts
• Judges Must Take Victims Seriously
• Not Raise Issues of Her Contribution
• Judges Need to Be Aware of Different Laws
– Differential Arrest Procedures for Family Issues
– Mandatory Counseling
– Injunctions In Divorce Proceedings
– Proper Filing & Referencing for Enforceability
How Long Will It Take?
Social Change Pyramid
Who Is Most
Likely to Change?
Who Is Likely to
Resist Change?
Aspiring Leaders
What Is the Chance
Of Change Occurring?
Maintain Control
Children, Youth
Most Likely Changers

IV. Theories of Spouse Abuse