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Q: Spousal Abuse: Typical Characteristics ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Spousal Abuse: Typical Characteristics
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: benfranklin-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 11 Jul 2003 21:02 PDT
Expires: 10 Aug 2003 21:02 PDT
Question ID: 229037
I need to know the description or characteristics of a "typical"
victim of spousal abuse.  The more detailed the answer, and the more
recognized the source, the better.  For example, does the APA have any
guidelines or descriptions of spousal abuse victims?
Subject: Re: Spousal Abuse: Typical Characteristics
Answered By: larre-ga on 12 Jul 2003 00:05 PDT
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Thanks for asking.

I've located several victim profiles for spousal abuse victims from
respected sources, including the American Psychological Association.
There is a growing consensus that victim profiles are less typical
than it was earlier believed. Broken down by gender, 5% of spousal
abuse/domestic violence victims are men, 95% are women.

Domestic Violence Victim Profile

"Typical traits, attitudes and behavior patterns.

-- Intense need for love and affection.  
-- Low self esteem.  
-- Believe that they don't deserve better treatment.) 
-- Childhood physical, emotional or sexual abuse. 
-- Enforced isolation creating resentment. 
-- Strong need for a relationship to validate them. 
-- Gain a sense of worth by care-taking the abuser. 
-- Inability to set and enforce interpersonal boundaries. 
-- Difficulty expressing anger, tendency to internalize it, act it
   out in other ways. 
-- Loyalty to the abuser takes precedence over emotional or physical
-- Belief that "it will change if I just try harder." 
-- Repeated attempts to leave the relationship. 
-- Inability to follow through with leaving - return to the abuser 
   again and again.  
-- Clinical depression, self-medication. 
-- Suicidal ideation or attempts."


At the Anger, Rage and Reconciliation Conference held in Cleveland,
Ohio in May, 1998, Steinbacher, Forinash, and Kaufman presented two
types of domestic violence victim profiles:

Rag-doll (self-esteem lowered prior to relationship)
-- emotionally dependent on protector
-- expects battery as deserved punishment
-- harbors sense of inherent worthlessness
-- perpetual striving to please
-- submits to abuse compulsively to fix the past

Pinata (self-esteem lowered due to relationship)
-- passive
-- self-blame for abuse of self and loved ones
-- some battery as price for security
-- harbors supressed anger

Steinbacher, Forinash, Kaufman: Victim profile 
Professor Roberta Steinbacher
Melissa Forinash
Professor Sandra Kaufman
Leven College of Urban Affairs
Cleveland State University

"As the former president of the Harnett County domestic violence
program, SAFE (Sexual Assault and Family Emergency), Dr. Harriet Enzor
of Campbell University is well acquainted with victims of domestic
violence. According to Enzor, there is no typical victim profile, but
there is one common thread.

“These women have lost all power," said Enzor, who is an associate
professor in the School of Education. "Eventually there is no
self-esteem, no self-awareness, no self."

Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC

The American Judges Foundation offers an online domestic violence
publication, Understanding the Problem and knowing the Victim, that
outlines the findings of several studies.

"Domestic Violence knows no age, socioeconomic, religious, racial,
gender or educational barriers. It is a myth that only the poor or
uneducated are victims of domestic abuse. Most studies indicate that
there is also a high incidence of spousal abuse in the more affluent
neighborhoods. Although a poor victim has the terrible problem of not
having resources available, the more affluent spouse may  also be in
an equally desperate trap due to social stigmas, greater economic
pressures and the increased societal position and power that the
partner may have at his or her disposal."

No One Is Immune / Everyone Suffers  
The American Judges Foundation.

"Battered Woman Syndrome can cause a woman to act in ways that confuse
those who wish to help her, thus making  it extremely difficult for
her to cooperate with the legal system, even though she wants the
abuse to stop.

Symptoms: BWS is a psychological reaction that can be expected to
occur in normal people who are exposed to repeated trauma, such as
family violence. It includes at least three groups of symptoms that
assist the mind and body in preparing to defend against threats.
Psychologists call it the "fight or flight" response.

The "Fight" Response Mode: In the "fight" mode, the body and mind
prepare to deal with danger by becoming hypervigilant to cues of
potential violence, resulting in an exaggerated startle response. The
automatic nervous system becomes operational and the individual
becomes more focused on the single task of self defense. This impairs
concentration and causes physiological responses usually associated
with high anxiety. In serious cases, fearfulness and panic disorders
are present and phobic disorders may also result. Irritability and
crying are typical symptoms of this stage.

The "Flight" Response Mode: The "flight" response mode often
alternates with the fight pattern. Most individuals would run away
from danger if they could do so safely. When physical escape is
actually or perceived as impossible, then mental escape occurs. This
is the avoidance or emotional numbing stage where denial,
minimization, rationalization and disassociation are subconsciously
used as ways to psychologically escape from the threat or presence of

Cognitive Ability and Memory Loss: The third major impact of BWS is to
the cognitive and memory areas. Here, the victim begins to have
intrusive memories of the abuse or may actually develop psychogenic
amnesia and not always remember important details or events. The
victim may have trouble following his or her thoughts in a logical
way, being distracted by intrusive memories that may be flashbacks to
previous battering incidents. The victim may disassociate himself or
herself when faced with painful events, memories, reoccurring
nightmares or other associations not readily apparent to the

Battered Woman Syndrome 
The American Judges Foundation.

Victim Profile

A profile of the women involved in this study is drawn from women’s
responses to the victim survey at time of adjudication. The typical
victim was 34 years old ranging from 18 to 63 years of age. Comparing
his age to her age, women averaged two years younger than men with
these differences ranging from her being 23 years younger to 14 years
older. About 53% of women reported that the defendant was their
husband and 37% said he was their live-in boyfriend. Victims reported
the average length of their relationship with the defendant as 7
years. About 23% of women reported that they had less than a grade 12
education, and about 10% had graduated from college. Forty-seven
percent said they were employed full-time, 19% reported part-time
employment, 11 % said they were a homemaker and approximately 3% said
they were unemployed and looking for a job. Of those who were working,
63% reported they were in unskilled or semi-skilled positions. Yet
there were almost 20% who reported they were in professional or
managerial positions. This finding suggests that the victim sample
included the range of women in the sample. However, we suspect that
higher occupational status women were over-represented in our victim
sample. We say this because 90% of the time these women reported that
their husband or boyfriend was working. This is substantially higher
than the 72% of men who reported they were working at the time of

Test of the Efficacy of Court-Mandated 
Counseling for Domestic Violence Offenders:
The Broward Experiment, Executive Summary
Author(s): Lynette Feder ; David R. Forde
September 28, 2000

American Psychological Association

Domestic Violence Facts

Nearly one in every three adult women experiences at least one
physical assault by a partner during adulthood.

Approximately four million American women experience a serious assault
by an intimate partner during a 12-month period.

Six times as many women who experience violence by an intimate partner
(18 percent) as by a stranger (three percent) do not report the crime.

Several types of violence and abuse usually occur within the family;
men who batter their intimate partners are more likely to abuse their
children too.
Risk Factors
Perpetrators of violence usually have problems with power and control
and a history of physical or sexual abuse, or threats of abuse.

Battered women and their abusers come from all demographic groups;
there is no single psychological profile of either; and the only risk
factor they both share is exposure to violence between parents.

Both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence have a tendency to
abuse alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is more than 50 percent for male
batterers and around 20 percent for women victims.

The highest risk for serious injury or death from violence in an
intimate relationship is at the point of separation or at the time
when the decision to separate is made.

APA - Domestic Violence Facts

Adult Victims

Violence against adult family members may occur at any stage of family
life, but it can be thought of broadly as occurring within four
contexts: in dating relationships, during marriage or partnership,
after separation, and against elders in the family. Violence that
begins when a couple is dating is likely to continue and to escalate
when the couple lives together or marries.

Battering is a pattern of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse in
intimate relationships. Men batter women far more frequently than
women batter men. Boys who witness or experience violence in their own
homes as children are at major risk for becoming batterers. Alcohol
use, especially binge and chronic use, is strongly associated with
battering and its more serious aftermath, but it does not cause the
violence. Both victims and perpetrators under report their use of
nonprescription drugs.

Many people believe that a battered woman should leave a relationship
with a man who batters them, but the violence does not necessarily
stop when the relationship is terminated. Couples are particularly
vulnerable during periods of separation and divorce. The risk of
serious or lethal violence may actually increase after separation.
When a marriage ends in divorce, the legal system may become a
symbolic battleground where the batterer continues to abuse. Women who
have been battered exhibit a range of measurable psychological
effects. They generally resist their batterers in some way, but a
variety of obstacles impede their attempts to avoid or escape the

Violence and the Family: Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on
Violence and the Family -- Executive Summary

A full copy of the above report is available:

Violence and the Family: Report of the American Psychological
Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.  This
report summarizes the psychological knowledge pertaining to violence
and the family, describes family violence problems that can be
prevented or ameliorated through psychological approaches, and makes
recommendations based on their findings. 1996, 142 pages.  After the
first copy, there is a $5.00 fee per additional copy of this
publication.  Additional copies can be ordered from the APA Order
Department (1-800-374-2721, extension 5510).

Additional Resources

Google Directory - Domestic Violence

Search Strategy

Google Search Terms:

"domestic violence" "victim profile"
spousal abuse victim profile

I hope these resources provide exactly the information you are
seeking. If anything I've said is incomplete or unclear, or if
(yikes!) you discover a broken link, please let me know, and I'll make
it right.

--- larre
benfranklin-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Spousal Abuse: Typical Characteristics
From: jadeforrest-ga on 07 Oct 2003 14:30 PDT
Although a lot of the above information is very useful, the statement
that "5% of spousal
abuse/domestic violence victims are men, 95% are women" is an often
repeated factoid rather than a fact. If you look at hospital room
surveys and police reports, yes, you will gets rates similar to this,
but if you look at random surveys, you gets rates closer to 50%/50%.
This is surprising, but what it indicates is that men are much less
likely to report domestic violence than women. Men also tend to be
injured slightly less than women, although some research indicates
that women make up for their smaller physical size by using weapons
more often.

You can read all about this sort of thing in the sociological research
literature, or in books like Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic

You can also find information on other forms of under-reported
domestic violence, such as gay and lesbian domestic violence (same-sex
violence), elderly abuse, and so on, at

From there, you'll see links to much of the research that I mention in
this comment.

Domestic violence is a serious issue for anyone victimized by it,
regardless of what kind of person they, man or woman, gay or straight.
Subject: Re: Spousal Abuse: Typical Characteristics
From: jadeforrest-ga on 07 Oct 2003 16:37 PDT
I found another good link, which reviews the sociological research on DV:

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