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An Online Resource Library on Gender-Based Violence.

Domestic Violence

Historically, the domestic violence field and the healthy marriage field have very different origins, funding sources and professional and advocacy bases. Until recently they have had little to do with each other, share many misconceptions of each other and sometimes seemed to be working at cross purposes. Yet they share a basic goal - fostering safe and healthy intimate partner relationships.

In 2006 the federal Administration for Children and Families funded Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs and required them to consult with DV experts to decide how domestic violence issues and concerns would be addressed in the program. This requirement arose from a response by government officials to concerns expressed by domestic violence advocates and others that joint exposure of a couple to some of the relationship education content could exacerbate existing violence, and put the victim at risk of harm. In the process of these consultations with domestic violence experts (who are often members of the local or state domestic violence coalitions), grantees are encouraged to develop written, site-specific "protocols," that is, guidelines tailored to the specific population and nature of the program.


Excerpted from Ooms, T., Boggess, J., Menard, A., Myrick, M., Roberts, P., Tweedie, J., & Wilson, P., 2006.

History and origins

The DV movement dates back to the ‘70s, when the first shelters and battered women's programs were set up and grassroots activists worked hard to get critical legal protections in place, educate police, and increase public awareness. Congress passed legislation in 1981 to create a federal funding stream for core DV services throughout the country. The Violence Against Women's Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, was the first federal legislation to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and provide federal resources to encourage community-coordinated approaches to combating violence. Since the mid-'70s, more than 2,000 community-based DV programs have been organized throughout the U.S. In addition, state, tribal, and territorial coalitions have been established; comprehensive training and technical assistance networks have been developed; and collaborative efforts to enhance health care, criminal justice, social service, and community responses to domestic violence have been initiated. These programs and services are funded through many different state, federal, and private foundation funding sources.


DV programs typically provide 24-hour crisis hotlines, individual and group support and counseling, legal and medical advocacy, support groups for adults and children, and other specialized services. A major emphasis of these services is safety planning with DV victims. More than half of these programs also provide emergency shelter to family members who are not safe in their own homes. Some large programs also provide employment services, respite care, and childcare programs; and some also offer batterer intervention programs, either directly or through a collaborative relationship. Many programs are actively involved in community education and awareness activities and conduct violence prevention activities (e.g., in schools). Although the network of DV services is now extensive across the U. S., there are too few programs available in rural communities and for Native American and migrant populations.


Excerpted from Ooms, T., Boggess, J., Menard, A., Myrick, M., Roberts, P., Tweedie, J., & Wilson, P., 2006 & Derrington, R., Johnson, M., Menard, A., Ooms, T. & Stanley, S., 2010.

The traditional definition of domestic violence* most widely used and accepted within the DV field is some variation of the following:

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another through threats or actual use of physical violence, sexual assault, verbal and psychological abuse, and/or economic coercion.

This is the type of violence most often reported to the authorities; is characteristic of victims seeking legal, health, and social and support services; and is measured and tracked in agency data. It has been graphically portrayed in the widely used Duluth model Power and Control Wheel.

Scholars are using new terminology to describe differing instances of domestic violence, such as "intimate terrorism," "situational couple violence," "characterological violence," and "violent resistance." Michael Johnson (2006) says that "intimate terrorism" is being used to refer to violence that is highly gendered and nearly always perpetrated by a man terrorizing a woman. It corresponds to the definition used broadly by the DV community (see above).

"Situational couple violence," a term that Johnson coined, is when a disagreement turns into an angry, nasty, two-way argument that then escalates into violence-hitting, shoving, biting, or worse. "Although this type of violence is almost as likely to be perpetrated by women as by men, men do more serious damage and their violence is more likely to introduce fear into a relationship and get the authorities involved" (Johnson, 2006). "The violence can be mild or severe; and, although often an isolated incident, some couples have a recurring pattern of such violence that is extremely dangerous."

A great deal more discussion, debate, and research are needed to explore two key questions:

  1. How do we best distinguish between domestic violence and others types of conflict and violent behavior that occur within intimate relationships?
  2. What are the implications of these definitions and distinctions for the policies and practices of HM and RF programs, particularly as they relate to recruitment, screening and assessment, and staff and volunteer training?

* The terms domestic violence, spouse abuse, battering, sexual assault, intimate partner/couple violence, intimate terrorism and so forth generally refer to physical or psychological violence that occurs between a male/ female couple who are married or sexually intimate, or a same-sex couple. Family violence is a broader term and includes child abuse and elder abuse as well.