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Family Abuse and Crime

Research On Victims

Compared to research on offenders, there has been somewhat less research on victims of family violence that focuses on factors that increase or reduce the risk of victimization. Most research on victims examines the consequences of victimization (e.g., depression, psychological distress, suicide attempts, symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome, etc.) or the effectiveness of various intervention efforts.

Children. The very youngest children appear to be at the greatest risk of being abused, especially for the most dangerous and potentially lethal forms of violence. Not only are young children physically more fragile and thus more susceptible to injury, but their vulnerability makes them more likely to be reported and diagnosed as abused when injured. Older children are underreported as victims of abuse. Adolescent victims may be considered delinquent or ungovernable, and thus thought of as contributing to their own victimization.

Early research suggested a number of factors that raise the risk of child abuse. Low birth weight babies, premature children, and handicapped, retarded, or developmentally disabled children were all described as being at heightened risk of being abused by their parents or caretakers. However, a more recent review of studies that examined the child's role in abuse calls into question many of these findings (Starr). One major problem is that few earlier investigators used matched comparison groups. Newer studies fail to find premature or handicapped children being at higher risk for abuse.

Marital partners. Studies that examine the individual and social attributes of victims of marital violence are difficult to interpret. It is often unclear whether the factors found among victims were present before they were battered or are the result of the victimization. Such studies often use small, clinical samples and fail to have comparison groups.

Battered women have been described as dependent, having low esteem, and feeling inadequate and helpless. Descriptive and clinical accounts consistently report a high incidence of depression and anxiety among samples of battered women. Sometimes the personality profiles of battered women reported in the literature seem directly opposite. While some researchers describe battered women as unassertive, shy, and reserved, other reports picture battered women as aggressive, masculine, frigid, and masochistic.

Gerald Hotaling and David Sugarman reviewed the wife abuse literature and examined risk markers for abuse. They found few risk markers that identify women at risk of violence in intimate relations. High levels of marital conflict and low socioeconomic status emerged as the primary predictors of increased likelihood of wife assault.

Elder victims. Research on elder abuse is divided on whether elder victims are more likely to be physically, socially, and emotionally dependent on their caretakers or whether it is the offender's dependence on the victim that increases the risk of elder abuse. Conventional wisdom suggests that it is the oldest, sickest, most debilitated, and dependent elders who are prone to the full range of mistreatment by their caretakers. However, the sociologist Karl Pillemer has found that dependency of the victim is not as powerful a risk factor as perceived by clinicians, the public, and some researchers.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawFamily Abuse and Crime - Risk And Protective Factors, Social And Demographic Risk Factors, Situational And Environmental Factors, Research On Victims