3. Causes and Complicating Factors

Domestic violence is a serious problem in all countries in which it has been studied in CEE/CIS. Women suffer high rates of violence in the home, including both physical and psychological violence.

Stereotypes about the “proper” roles and responsibilities of men and women in the family reinforce the view that the family is a self-contained unit, deserving privacy at the expense of other rights and freedoms. Traditionally, women are relegated to subordinate positions in this family structure. For victims of domestic violence, this notion of family privacy often interferes with effective police intervention and prosecutorial decisions in domestic violence cases. In many countries, people interviewed, including many police officers, reported that police often regard domestic violence as a minor offense and as a family issue in which police officers should not interfere.

These stereotypes also reinforce the mentality that men are the leaders of the family and thus have the right to control women’s behavior by any means necessary. Women are expected to show their husbands obedience and respect. Women have identified the male view of women as subordinate to men as one of the underlying causes of violence against women. Many view violence as a normal part of an intimate relationship.

Research also indicates that many people accept the widespread myth that alcohol is the primary cause of domestic violence. Police, prosecutors, doctors, and others share this view that alcoholism causes domestic violence.

Research from around the world demonstrates that while alcoholism is a contributing factor to some domestic violence, it is not the cause. International studies attribute domestic violence to other underlying factors in the abuser’s life. Some of these factors include violence in the home as a child, a belief that violence against women is acceptable and a desire for personal power. In discussing substance abuse and domestic violence, these researchers conclude that one does not cause the other. Because they are not causally related, scholars recommend that the government address alcoholism and domestic violence as two separate problems with two separate treatments. “Although programs addressing alcohol abuse are no doubt beneficial in many ways . . . unless interventions also aim to . . . alter male attitudes and beliefs in the rightness of male dominance and control over women, they are unlikely to be successful.” From Holly Johnson, Contrasting Views of the Role of Alcohol in Cases of Wife Assault, 16 J. Interpersonal Violence 54, 57 (2001); Larry W. Bennett, Substance Abuse and Woman Abuse by Male Partners (1997).

Economic hardship places additional stress on family relationships and affects a woman’s ability to leave a violent relationship. In many countries in CEE/CIS, affordable housing is very limited. Many women do not seek legal relief against their abusive husbands and partners because they do not have alternative housing arrangements. This reality affects both divorced women, who must live with their ex-husbands while they wait for financial and property settlements, as well as married women who may wish to flee the abuse but have no reasonable alternatives given their lack of economic resources. Economic considerations may be even more pressing for women with children.

Another consequence of poverty is changing gender roles within the family. Where there is severe poverty and unemployment, women often seek informal employment, taking jobs that men are unwilling to do. The income generated from this work, along with high rates of male unemployment, result in a shift of traditional gender roles in the family. This shift in gender roles changes the power structure within the family, often causing increased violence.

Religion also plays an increasingly important role in many countries in CEE/CIS. The religions are also diverse, ranging from Catholicism in Poland and Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine to Islam in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Some leaders in these religious communities hold very traditional views, taking the position that a woman should remain in her marriage and endure physical abuse regardless of the circumstances.

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