3. Causes and
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
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
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
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.