The vast majority of physical abuse victims are women – about two-out-of-three – and the majority of these are abused by men, so it's common to question why some men abuse women. While there is no direct cause of physical abuse, there are factors that are known to increase the risk for physical abuse - both on the side of the perpetrator and on the side of the victim. It is worth noting that women abused in marriages suffer greater severity of abuse than those in other types of relationships.
What Men Abuse Women?
While no one type of man abuses women, in studies abusive men share certain characteristics. A Harvard University study showed convicted physically abusive men were found to, when compared to the average American man, commit more crimes as well as:1
- Have lower levels of education and IQ; be less clear-thinking
- Be more neurotic, anxious, nervous and defensive
- Be less agreeable, optimistic, content and more irritable
- Be less extraverted, conscientious and open
- Be less self-confident
- Be more excitable, moody, hasty and self-centered
- Be more authoritarian
These characteristics of men who abuse women alone show that they are more likely to lash out when provoked. Some men even show pride in abusing woman. Commented the author of the Harvard study:
"Instead of being ashamed, they seemed proud when they talked about kicking, biting, or slapping their wives and girlfriends 20 or more times in the past year."
Causes of Physical Abuse of Women
The causes of physical abuse may be related to one of the personality characteristics noted in male physical abusers, possibly their desire for unquestioned obedience and their lack of compassion for those they consider weak or inferior. Unfortunately, sexism often rears its ugly head in these situations and men consider women weak and inferior. Thus, when a woman "breaks a rule," the man feels no compunction against meting out harsh punishments like physical abuse.
However, the causes of physical abuse should not be attributed to sexism alone. Power and control are the prevalent motivations for physical abuse and if sexism is the only aspect focused on, it's likely the physical abuse would simply be suffered by another group of people such as the infirmed.
Other risk factors that increase the likelihood of physical abuse against women include:
- Substance abuse
- Stress, fatigue and/or dissatisfaction
- History of violence
- Psychological and/or physical impairments
- Poor impulse control
Pregnant Women Abuse
Abuse of pregnant women is common with 4-8% of women found to be abused at least once during pregnancy. In fact, homicide was found to be the leading cause of death in pregnant women in a study done in Maryland.2
It is thought one of the causes of physical abuse during this time is because the man gets the feeling his importance is being displaced by the pregnancy. Focus is no longer on him and this threatens his sense of self-worth. This may be of particular shock if the man (often young men) was expecting nothing in the relationship to change due to the pregnancy.
It's critical that abused women get out of any situation of physical abuse not just for themselves, but also for their babies. Babies in abusive situations have increased risks of being born both prematurely and underweight. There are also additional health concerns for the mother, such as high-blood pressure and kidney infections.
- Created: 26 July 2012
- Last Updated: 14 January 2014