Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Domestic Violence


Domestic violence is one of the most complex, controversial, and latent issues typical of modern societies. National boundaries cannot be discussed as barriers to spreading the problem of domestic violence globally, and thousands of persons become victims of their partners’ violent actions annually (Dutton, 2011). Sociologists, culturologists, and anthropologists state that the problem is in the fact that, in many societies, domestic violence is not addressed at the level of social and legal norms, and this behavior can be viewed as accepted (Ahmed, 2009).

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As a result, violence against women can become a characteristic feature of many societies because of differences in cultural interpretations of this issue. Thus, people in many countries have different attitudes toward domestic violence, and to develop effective social policies to address the problem, it is necessary to rely on credible research in the field.

The questions that need to be answered in this research can be formulated the following way: What different cross-cultural perspectives exist in societies in relation to the phenomenon and how they treat the problem of cultural violence? The purpose of this research is to examine the phenomenon of domestic violence and attitudes to it in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Southern Asia with the focus on the context of Christianity and Islam among other religions and with the attention to authorities’ responses in the form of policies and laws.

Literature Review

Domestic violence is viewed as a problem that is typical of many countries, and cases of aggressive behaviors can be observed in any region, despite the socio-economic, cultural, or ethical differences of families. It is important to note that domestic violence can be discussed as aggressive acts of the physical, psychological, or sexual nature against any family member (Buzawa, Buzawa, & Stark, 2012).

As a result of these actions, a member of the family violates the rights and freedoms of the close person and intends to make the physical or psychological harm. Following Alhabib, Nur, and Jones (2010), it is possible to state that persons educated according to the principles of different cultures and societies are inclined to demonstrate their violence in different forms, and rates of reported aggressive behaviors in families vary. Differences are also observed in the public’s perceptions of this problem and the governmental or social responses.

Victims of domestic violence are women in the majority of cases, and they suffer from the oppression of their husbands and partners (Dutton, 2011). However, it is important to note that this term can also refer to the violence against an individual that is initiated by any person who may or may not live in the same apartment, including friends and acquaintances (Alhabib et al., 2010). Babu and Kar (2009) state that domestic violence is often related to regular aggressive behaviors demonstrated by males in families. However, the problem is also discussed in the context of single cases of violence.

Researchers are inclined to determine the physical, psychological, and sexual violence that should be treated equally (Bostock, Plumpton, & Pratt, 2009). According to Kaur and Garg (2008), the problem is in the case that many women do not accept the fact that they are violated in the family because they are not beaten, abused, or battered, and they suffer only from the regular psychological and sexual violence. In this context, policies and laws in many Western countries describe activities that can be evaluated as the psychological violence in detail (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010). As a result, those women, who do not receive the assistance, suffer from the pressure and stress.

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Dutton (2011) states that the public’s perceptions of women in society influence the social patterns associated with the discussion of domestic violence. Thus, in the Middle Eastern and Asian countries, women discuss the needs of the society and their families as more important than their personal needs, and they choose to justify their husbands’ violent activities and pressure (Boy & Kulczycki, 2008). However, Alhabib et al. (2010) note that, in the Arab world, domestic violence is still not spread as a phenomenon because of the religious visions, and most of the males’ aggressive actions are justified with reference to the women’s misbehavior.

Boy and Kulczycki (2008) assert that the problem of domestic violence in the Arab countries requires the detailed discussion because of the lack of research on this problem and the limited access to the data that are available to be examined in order to conclude about the specifics of this issue in the context of Islam.

In the Western countries, rights of women are protected equally to the rights of men, and many organizations, centers, and programs are established to provide the psychological and legal assistance to women who became victims of domestic violence in the United States and Europe because aggressive actions against family members are perceived negatively (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010). Nevertheless, the problem is in the fact that many women still need to conceal the fact of being assaulted or the case of psychological violence because they are afraid of consequences of such claims (Ahmed, 2009).

Alhabib et al. (2010) pay attention to the fact that many women are inclined to protect their husbands, and they do not report cases of violence to avoid possible punishments for them. Langhinrichsen-Rohling (2010) explains this tendency with reference to the fact that many female victims of domestic violence are psychologically dependent on their partners, and policies developed to address the problem can be ineffective if women reject reporting cases of violent behaviors.

According to Kaur and Garg (2008), the data analyzed in many studies in order to discuss the problem of domestic violence are collected with reference to hospitals and clinics’ reports. The number of women who choose to contact police officers and inform them about cases of violence is low in both Western and Eastern countries (Dutton, 2011).

Ahmed (2009) notes that distinctions in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism as the world religions also influence differences in the people’s perceptions of the problem of domestic violence. The religious background and cultural traditions seem to play a key role in influencing the public’s visions and the development of social norms. Buzawa et al. (2012) state that religions also explain the differences in the social roles of women in Western and Eastern societies. As a result, these differences can also be viewed as the main causes of problems observed in family relations where the roles and rights of women are also determined with reference to religious dogmas.

The attention of the international community to the problem of domestic violence became obvious only about twenty years ago. The United Nations treats the right of women to avoid domestic violence in the context of human rights. The resolution titled the Elimination of Violence against Women was adopted in order to address the problem of violence in families at the global level (Dutton, 2011).

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According to the data of the World Health Organization, domestic violence becomes the cause of women’s deaths as often as cancer, and the organization has adopted several policies to address the problem in both developed and developing countries (Ahmed, 2009; American Psychological Association, 2010; Dutton, 2011). However, researchers agree that local policies, laws, and regulations to oppose domestic violence can be more effective because the visions of violence differ in many cultures, and the statutes adopted to address the program at the local level should be adjusted to legal systems of these countries (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010).

Natan and Rais (2010) pay attention to the fact that, in the Middle Eastern and Asian countries, the number of organizations and policies to support victims of domestic violence is significantly lower than it is in Western countries. Those women who report domestic violence in these countries can receive support and assistance in international organizations sponsored by the United Nations (Dutton, 2011). Thus, the problem exists, and it requires its solution at the social and legal levels.


The US Experience

In the United States, domestic violence can be observed in many forms, and both unidirectional and bi-directional cases of violence are reported. In this culture, the aggressive behaviors in families can be typical of both men and women, and violent actions are often results of conflicts that can be initiated by female and male partners (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010). Thus, in families, men are aggressors in 63% of cases, and women can initiate conflicts and behave as an aggressor in 37% of cases (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010, p. 180).

In cases when violence is initiated by men, it can become bi-directional in more than 80% of cases (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010). This fact is explained with reference to the particular features of the American culture and social attitudes to the problem. The American society supports the idea that women should protect their rights in their family life, and they should oppose domestic violence in any form, including the moral oppression and physical aggression (Bostock et al., 2009). As a result, cases of bi-directional violence are typical of this country.

However, women still remain objects of aggression in American families. According to the reports of the Department of Justice, during the period of 1998-2002, more than 70% of victims of domestic violence were women (Bettinger-Lopez, 2011, p. 4). During the period of 2000-2010, 34% of females reported that their partners regularly abused them in their relationships (Bettinger-Lopez, 2011, p. 8). Approximately 1.3 million women per year receive injuries because of their husband’s or partners’ violent actions (Bettinger-Lopez, 2011).

Another important factor that influences domestic violence in the United States is the economic and social status of families. In more than 45% of families with low-income status, domestic violence is perceived as normal, and partners do not report these cases to their relatives or social workers (Bettinger-Lopez, 2011). In these families, women suffer from financial dependence on male partners, and they reject informing about their problems.

The racial factor is also important, and it is reported that black females suffer from physical violence and moral pressure two times oftener than white women do (Bettinger-Lopez, 2011). High risks of becoming a victim of domestic violence are also typical of Latino women (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010).

However, in spite of the fact that violence can be observed in many couples in the United States, the public perceives the cases of the partners’ aggression negatively, and numerous social programs and policies are proposed in order to support victims of social violence that are promoted by the Department of Health and Human Services (Buzawa et al., 2012). Thus, women can obtain help using the telephone hotline, contacting social workers, and visiting centers providing assistance for victims of domestic violence.

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When there is a threat to their life, American women can also use the 911 services. Moreover, it is necessary to focus on the DELTA program aimed at the social education and prevention of violence (Buzawa et al., 2012). In 2012, the Federal Government allocated $600 million for programs in the context of the Violence against Women Act (Bostock et al., 2009; Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010).

In addition, at the federal level, there is a law prohibiting having a firearm for persons convicted of domestic violence. Furthermore, the key legal instrument against domestic violence is the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and Protection of Victims (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010). The hotline operates in the context of this program, providing support to victims of aggression and, if necessary, helping them find shelter, food, assistance, and protection (Dutton, 2011).

In the majority of states, the responsibility for domestic violence is not allocated separately in administrative and criminal codes, and it is usually classified under the articles related to, for example, assault, abuse, or attempted kidnapping (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 2010). Nevertheless, some states, such as North Carolina, have determined the increased responsibility for this type of crime (Dutton, 2011). The problem is in the fact that the percentage of women who choose to report their problems to the police or social workers or find shelter and assistance is comparably low, and the proposed policies can be ineffective to address this social problem adequately.

Attitudes to Domestic Violence in European Countries

It is important to state that, in the European countries, the problem of domestic violence is not discussed actively, and the specific aspects of the culture cause women to avoid speaking about their problems in relationships with partners or spouses. It is possible to accentuate the role of the culture and religion in forming the social attitude to the problem of domestic violence in European families (Flury, Nyberg, & Riecher-Rossler, 2010).

Thus, Catholic women and female Protestants who experience violence in their families are inclined to follow the vision that men are the core of the family, and they should be afraid of their husbands and obey them (Bostock et al., 2009). In France, sociologists accentuate that women in this country often become victims of domestic violence, and about 10% of French women were subjected to violent actions initiated by their husbands at least once in their life (Dutton, 2011). However, only 12% of French women agree to report the problems in their families (Flury et al., 2010).

In Germany, more than 35% of women became victims of physical violence at least once in their life (Flury et al., 2010). As a result of physical violence, these women are harmed, suffer from injuries, and experience significant stress. More than 20% of females report physical and sexual violence, including rapes (Flury et al., 2010). Furthermore, some women report that they experienced violence that was regular and initiated more than forty times (Buzawa et al., 2012). In addition, domestic violence is often observed in families where the husband is German, and the wife is an immigrant (Flury et al., 2010). In this country, women are more inclined to draw the public’s attention to the problem violence than in France.

In Switzerland, more women are inclined to report cases of psychological violence, and they often reject speaking about the cases of physical and sexual violence (Flury et al., 2010). As a result, statistics related to the problem are not complete, and the society in the country is inclined to discuss the phenomenon of violence in negative terms. There is an idea that rates of domestic violence in the country are lower than they are in other European states (Flury et al., 2010). According to statistics related to the situation in the United Kingdom, two women are killed by their husbands, spouses, or partners every week in the country (Dutton, 2011).

According to the Ministry of Interior, 1.2 million women reported violence in their families in 2008, but in fact, over 500,000 victims prefer not to report problems because of the psychological pressure (Bostock et al., 2009). Those women who declare cases of domestic violence choose to divorce their husbands and protect the children (Flury et al., 2010). The problem is in the fact that the cultural visions of traditional families in the United Kingdom are strong, and many women choose to divorce instead of reporting violence in order to protect children’s interests and avoid the public’s reprehension.

These data indicate that the cases of psychological or physical violence are typical of families in the European countries, but these problems are not discussed in the society openly. Many women choose to avoid reporting their experiences because of the impact of cultural norms and such feelings as shame or even guilt (Ahmed, 2009). The traditional ideas related to viewing relationships between women and men influence females significantly and make them fear to discuss their intimate or family problems with other persons, including relatives, social workers, counselors, or police officers.

However, it is also important to note that, in the discussed European countries, certain policies are developed to protect persons from domestic violence. In France, victims of domestic violence can request assistance in women’s rights associations. In Germany, there is a law that provides protection to the victim if violence resulted in injuries or limitations of rights (Flury et al., 2010). In such cases, the decision is made with reference to statements and reports received from the victim and confirmed by witnesses. In the United Kingdom, different public organizations and foundations function to help the victims of domestic violence cope with the problem and stress (Alhabib et al., 2010).

Telephone hotlines are created not only for women and children but also for men and same-sex couples who suffer from domestic violence in their daily life. Still, the problem is in the fact that courts can ignore the cases of the previous aggressive behavior of the offender in relation to a partner or children. This aspect is discussed as the weakness of the system that is based on traditions (Flury et al., 2010). It is also important to note that churches and religious organizations also play a key role in helping victims cope with the problem, and many centers provide counseling and rehabilitation services for victims of domestic violence.

Middle Eastern Perspectives and Israel

In spite of the fact that, following religious traditions, women in the Middle Eastern countries prefer not to discuss their relationships with partners, the number of reported cases of domestic violence is as high as it is typical of other cultures. More than 15% of married women are regularly physically abused by their partners (Boy & Kulczycki, 2008). The rate of deaths associated with the physical violence in families is also high.

The religious and cultural features also cause the trend, according to which the bi-directional violence and violence against men, as well as violence in same-sex couples, are not typical of the Middle Eastern countries (Ahmed, 2009). In most cases, women choose to discuss their experiences only with female relatives. It is also important to note that domestic violence can be observed in forms of physical assault and psychological pressure.

The problem is in the fact that the practice of protecting the women’s rights in the Middle Eastern countries is only developing, and many females do not discuss the opportunity to report about their experience as effective to address the problem in the family because of their financial and psychological dependence on partners. Furthermore, the situation is more dramatic in the rural regions where the community focuses on following Islamic traditions, and many women lack education and financial independence (Boy & Kulczycki, 2008). It is reported that, in many Middle Eastern countries, women are inclined to discuss themselves as provoking aggression in their partners (Ahmed, 2009).

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) was created in 2002, and it provides the support in the Middle Eastern countries for immigrants and female victims of violence in different languages, taking the specifics of their cultures and religious backgrounds into account (Ahmed, 2009). Similar organizations work to provide confidential advice on such issues as domestic violence, forced marriage, and rape among many others.

It is also important to focus on the situation in Israel. The problem is in the fact that, in this society, women who become victims of domestic violence are often young, and aggressors are husbands, elder brothers, and fathers (Natan & Rais, 2010). It is reported that domestic violence in Israeli families is directly associated with the partners’ social status and levels of education. In this country, spouses kill about 20 women each year (Natan & Rais, 2010).

Thus, according to statistics provided by public organizations, at least one hundred thousand women and children suffer from violence in Israel annually (Boy & Kulczycki, 2008). From this point, every seventh or eighth woman in the country experienced violence. However, researchers state that females in Israel are also inclined to justify the actions of their spouses and partners (Natan & Rais, 2010). In order to address this problem, inspectors of social services focus on cases of physical violence, as well as cases associated with emotional abuse, humiliation, and even economic terrorism in the family. Israeli psychologists believe that children who can observe any kind of violence against members of their family experience stress, and complex services are provided not only to women but also to their children (Boy & Kulczycki, 2008).

Domestic Violence in Southern Asia

The religious background of Southern Asia is diverse, and this aspect influences the culture, as well as the attitudes to domestic violence in these countries. Citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan are Muslims, and citizens of India follow the principles of Hinduism and Buddhism. According to the reports of international organizations, the intentional violence against women is typical of the rural and underdeveloped societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan where women are almost completely dependent on their husbands and other male members in families (Kaur & Garg, 2008). It is reported that every fourth female in Afghanistan and Pakistan experienced physical violence at least once in her life (Ahmed, 2009).

In Pakistan, women can receive assistance with reference to the Women’s Protection Act. In Afghanistan, there are no policies or statutes to protect women, and there are statements in the adopted laws, according to which male members of families can initiate ‘honor’ killings, support the domestic abuse, and beat wives and children while discussing these actions as the form of punishment (Ahmed, 2009). However, the actual data related to domestic violence in these countries are not available in many sources, and the culture influences the discussion of this topic in these societies.

A similar situation is observed in India where domestic violence is one of the acute social problems. The causes of violence are usually disagreements between spouses or financial aspects. More than 15% of females in India report physical violence, more than 50% of women describe cases of the psychological violence in families, and more than 20% of women state that they experienced sexual violence (Babu & Kar, 2009). Researchers state that women with low education and from low-income families become victims of violence in relationships with partners oftener than women from high-income families and those females who have the education and job (Kaur & Garg, 2008).

One more important fact is that violent actions can be directed not only to women but also to children and people working in the family (Ahmed, 2009). High-income families of Indians can afford to hire a babysitter. These people are primarily women who are from the poorest regions of the country, and they are often illiterate and vulnerable. The intensification of the activities of local human rights organizations along with the growing number of violent cases began to receive publicity (Kaur & Garg, 2008).

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the violence against women initiated by husbands or other male family members can be observed every nine minutes. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was adopted in 2006, and it is a significant source of legislation to address the mentioned problem (Kaur & Garg, 2008).


The results of this research indicate that domestic violence is a problem that is typical of different societies, but attitudes to this problem are various in many countries. While explaining the examined statistics with reference to cross-cultural perspectives, it is possible to state that, in the United States, women are more ready to speak about domestic violence than in any other discussed country.

Furthermore, in the United States, violent or aggressive actions are often bi-directional, and they demonstrate the readiness of American women to oppose the aggressor. Still, in the European countries, the rates of psychological, physical, and sexual violence are high, but many women do not report cases of violent behaviors in their families in order to preserve the good image of the traditional family.

The data regarding domestic violence in the Middle Eastern countries are limited, but some reports state that the rate can be significantly higher than it is in the United States and the European countries. The reason is in the religious visions, cultural aspects, and traditional relationships in families. Women in these countries are inclined to perceive men as heads, and they often agree that their actions could provoke husbands’ aggression.

It is typical of Muslim females to avoid speaking about domestic violence and justify males’ behaviors if the violence was observed. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, cultural views, traditions, and religions influence the phenomenon of domestic violence significantly. In the countries where Islam is the main religion, women are inclined to conceal the fact that they are victims of domestic violence. In India, all family members who have low social status can become victims of domestic violence.

These cultural and religious differences allow speaking about domestic violence as the global problem that has regional features. From this point, there are no societies in which domestic violence is not observed, and different countries respond to this problem while supporting organizations that protect women’s rights and adopting acts and policies regulating the violent behavior in families. It is important to note that the research indicates that the activities of these organizations, as well as laws, policies, and statutes oriented to protecting victims of violence, are more effective in the industrialized world and Western cultures.


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