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PREDICTING NGOS’ REPORTS ON PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN SMALL COUNTRIES

Introduction

Psychological and physical domestic violence are the most controversial, misunderstood and difficult to define forms of abuse between family members, societies and researchers (e.g. Tolan, Gorman-Smith & Henry, 2006). Legislation defines psychological and physical violence on general terms but does specify them as crimes when they harm individuals (e.g. World Health Organization, 2002). Cyprus law defines psychological and physical violence as part of the definition of domestic violence quoted as, ‘…any unlawful act, omission or behaviour which results in the direct infliction of physical, sexual or mental injury to any member of the family by another member of the family…’ (Violence in the Family Law, 2004). Psychological violence is sometimes redefined as emotional violence and sexual violence is often included in physical abuse but sometimes is excluded (e.g. Bottoms, et al. 2014). Psychological abuse and a few forms of physical violence, e.g. spanking, could be so frequent in family interactions that they are viewed by many as important components for the upbringing of children and elders’ care (Shafer, Caetano & Clark, 1998) and not criminal offences. Inconsistent findings on the consequences of milder types of psychological and physical abuse (Magdol et al, 1997; Margoli & Gordis, 2000) complicate further these two forms of family violence.

Psychological and physical domestic violence are the most common forms of assault for children, adults and elderly victims irrespective of their gender. Two review papers analysing 66 studies on child abuse within domestic settings concluded that between 30 and 60 percent of children were physically assaulted (Edleson, 1999; Appel & Holden, 1998). A study by Straus et al, (1997) in the United States with a sample of 910 children also proposed that the most common type of abuse was physical. The World Health Organization’s (2002) report on violence and health in 35 countries supported that between 10 and 50 percent of women reported to have been physically abused within the
family environment (Krug et al, 2002). Finneran and Stephenson (2012) reviewed 28 studies on domestic violence between homosexual male couples in the United States. Psychological abuse was analysed by six studies and ranged from 5.4 to 73.2 percent of all domestic violence incidents. Twenty-two of the twenty-eight studies investigated physical abuse and suggested that it represented between 11 and 45.1 percent of all assaults reported. Tobiasz-Adamczyk, Brzyski and Brzyski’s (2013) study in Krakow, Poland, analysed a random sample of 518 elderly citizens (older than 60 years of age). The citizens were asked if they had experienced any form of violence. Participants reported that 13 percent had experienced neglect, 8.4 percent psychological abuse, 4.8 percent financial abuse and 2.5 percent physical abuse. Fisher and Regan’s study (2006) had a clinical sample of 842 elderly women (older than 60 years of age) in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky in the United States that were interviewed via telephone regarding any violent experiences. Psychological abuse represented 45 percent of all assaults with physical abuse being 4 percent and sexual abuse 3 percent. In Cyprus, police crime statistics on domestic cases handled between 2002 and 2008 show that 79 percent concerned physical violence, 8.5 percent psychological abuse and 2.4 percent were sexual assaults (Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, 2011).

Domestic violence is argued to be the root of notorious crimes (Auchter, 2010), social dysfunction (Swanberg, Ojha & Macke, 2012) and a major public health challenge for societies (Chalk & King, 1998). The first step to handle domestic violence is to encourage people to report it (United States Department of Agriculture, 2009). By reporting
domestic violence pathways are then open for authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to prosecute and offer protection to those in need. (Carrell & Hoekstra, 2012, Rodriquez, McLoughlin, Nah & Campbell, 2001). Understanding the characteristics of reporting can help to stimulate it. Literature suggests that children are more likely to report domestic violence during periods of unemployment. Adults’ reporting is affected by whether victims are living with the perpetrator, by the victim’s gender and by social phobias. Elderly people are more likely to report domestic abuse if they have poor health.

Psychological and physical abuses seem to be the most underreported forms of assault. Fifty-eight percent of adults who experienced psychological abuse (Foynes, Freyd, & DePrince, 2009) and between twenty-seven and thirty-nine percent of adults who experienced physical abuse (Foynes, et al. 2009; Hershkowitz, Horowitz & Lamb, 2005; Mazza, Dennerstain & Ryan, 1996) as children did not report it to anybody. Bottoms et al, (2014) surveyed 1,679 college women in Chicago to examine reasons for reporting or failing to report childhood abuse. Physical abuse was the most unreported form of assault (34 percent). Reporting of physical abuse was positively related to high frequency of assaults and weak emotional relationships with the perpetrator. Both physical and psychological abuse reporting increased the older the victims were and the more worry caused to the victim by the abuse. A study in the Netherlands on children’s help-seeking behaviours analysed monthly from 1994 to 2008 calls to helplines. The results suggest that children’s reporting of violence increased with unemployment and divorce rates (van Dolen, Weinberg & Ma, 2012).

Rodriguez et al (2001) examined how patterns of reporting domestic violence to the police changed depending on whether or not the victims were living with the suspect(s). Data collection was acquired from 12 emergency departments in California in 1996 regarding 1218 female patients. Physical and sexual abuse was mentioned by 140
women. The majority (55.7 percent) of the abused women supported reporting the incident to the police. From the women who were not abused, 70.7 percent supported the act of reporting domestic violence to the police. The highest proportion of those opposed to reporting the incident to the police was amongst women who were still seeing or sharing accommodation with the suspect(s) (Rodriguez, et al. 2001). A review paper by Tolan et al. (2005) suggested gender differences in reporting domestic violence to authorities, leading to higher proportions of male perpetrators being arrested due to the high proportion of female victims calling the police (compared with male victims). A study in Pakistan surveyed 23,430 women asking whether they experienced physical violence and whether they had reported it (Andersson, et al 2010). Approximately one third of the sample had experienced physical abuse and only 35 percent of them had shared this with a friend. From these 7,895 women who did experience physical abuse only 14 reported it to the authorities. In their explanations of why they had not reported the domestic abuse, women mentioned, a) dishonouring their family, b) intensifying the problem if they reported domestic violence, c) that reporting may lead to divorce and loss of their children and d) scepticism on how the community, councillor sand religious leaders would support them. A study in India interviewed 1,650 husbands and provided evidence that male victims are largely underreported compared with female victims of domestic violence
(Sarkar, Dsouza & Dasgupta, 2007). Another study in India by Kumar (2012), aimed to understand why male victims do not report their abuse. The study suggested that social phobias and family threats prevented them from reporting. A study in Hong Kong exploring 1,870 couples did not show any significant gender differences when reporting
domestic violence (Chan, 2012). Tobiasz-Adamczyk, et al (2013) suggests that an elderly person with poor health or a chronic illness is more likely to report an incident of domestic violence than an elderly person who is healthy. The authors explain this by arguing that elderly people’s need for support or help increases with poor health issues and as a result calls for help also increase.

The Republic of Cyprus has a population of approximately 838,897 (Statistics Service of the Republic of Cyprus, 2011). Living in such a relatively small country may increase social phobias of reporting domestic violence, e.g. stigmatisation. Cyprus is repeatedly characterised as a patriarchal society, (e.g. Hadjipavlou, 2010) with male individuals represented more in parliament and the church as authority figures. Parliament and the church play a crucial role in Cyprus’ legislation and social norms. The unequal status of males over females in Cyprus society can be a contributing factor to males being less likely to accept and report their victimisation in incidents of domestic violence.

There is one NGO on domestic violence operating in Cyprus and this presents a unique opportunity to understand how a country reports domestic violence to its NGOs. This study’s aim was to understand how small societies report to NGOs the most misunderstood forms of domestic violence. The research question was on whether the type of abuse reported (psychological or physical) can be predicted by analysing victim’s gender and/or age and whether the victim was living with the suspect(s). As both genders and all age groups (children, adult and elderly) are equally victimised by psychological and physical abuse, an equal distribution of reporting these two forms of assault between
genders and ages was expected. As this is the first study exploring how small societies report the two most misunderstood forms of domestic violence when victims are living with the suspect(s), this represented an exploratory approach to the research question.

Method

Participants

The official database of a Cypriot NGO, known as SPAVO, was used to answer the research question. The Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family (referred to as SPAVO) is the only available NGO operating in the Republic of Cyprus on domestic violence themes. All SPAVO’s services are offered free to the public
and include, a) a national helpline, b) shelters, c) individual counselling meetings with victims and suspects irrespective of their age, d) group therapy programs for victims and suspects available to all age groups, e) appearances in the media, schools, conferences and events to inform the public on domestic violence and f) a recently established research team.

SPAVO’s database is updated daily by its employees and volunteers who handle the helpline. Every time employees or volunteers assist a case via the helpline they add it to the database. The Statistical Package of Social Sciences (SPSS) is being used as SPAVO’s main database. The process of adding data to SPSS is carried out following a
training session. Employees and volunteers, when talking to callers, are not conducting a structured interview. Consequently employees and volunteers add to the database only what the callers share with them. For example, callers may not report the age of an individual and therefore this would not be recorded in the database. SPAVO employees and volunteers complete all variables of the database as long as the caller provides details for the relevant variable.

Design

The outcome (dependent) variable was the type of abuse. There are four types of abuse recorded by SPAVO. These are psychological, physical, sexual abuse and neglect. Employees and volunteers go through extensive training on which type of behaviours might be considered domestic violence based on Cypriot law. Employees’ and volunteers’
original choices were used for the study. For the purpose of this study, only psychological and physical abuses were investigated.

There were three predictor (independent) variables. First, the victim’s gender which was divided into male and female. This is the gender of the victim reported by the caller and not the caller’s gender. The caller could have been the victim, a relative or a third party. Second, the victim’s age, where three groups were created, a) children (aged from 0-17 years of age), b) adults (18-60 years of age) and c) elderly (older than 61 years of age, based on Tobiasz-Adamczyk et al. (2013)). The last variable was whether the victim was living with the suspect(s) at the time of the report which was a dichotomous variable of yes (for living with the suspect(s)0 and no (for not living with the suspect(s)).

Measures
There were originally 1,751 cases added to SPAVO’s database from January 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015. Cases that had missing data or had no details concerning any of the four variables of interest (type of abuse, victim’s gender, victim’s age, living with suspect(s)) were deleted. This reduced the sample to 590 cases. Data normality was tested by the Shapiro-Wilk test. All variables of interest were not normally distributed (p< .001). Binary logistic regression was conducted to answer the question of interest, due to the a) nominal nature of the independent variables, b) the dichotomous nature of dependent variables, c) cases independency and d) the nonnormal data.

Procedure

Researchers signed SPAVO’s ethical contract showing their commitment to respect the database in agreement with the Republic of Cyprus’s legislation on the protection of personal data which is the Processing of Personal Data (Protection of the Individual) Law of 2001 and SPAVO’s ethical guidelines. After the ethical approvals, researchers were given the data to analyse for the purpose of this study.

Sample

There were 590 cases reported to SPAVO between January 2014 and January 2015 that included details provided in relation to the type of abuse, the victim’s gender, the victim’s age and whether the victim was living with the suspect(s). Cases related to physical abuse represented 53% of the sample, with the remaining 47% cases being related to psychological abuse.

Results

Binary logistic regression was conducted to predict the type of abuse (psychological or physical) of 590 cases reported to SPAVO using the victims’ gender (male or female), the victims’ age group (child, adult, elderly) and the victims’ status of either living with or not living with the suspect(s).

The existence of relationships between the type of abuse and victims’ gender, victims’ age and whether or not the victims were living with the suspect(s) were supported (x2= 153.969, p < .001, df= 8).

Nagelkerke’s R2 of .099 indicated a weak relationship between the type of abuse and the three independent variables. The model predicted the type of abuse above chance with the classification accuracy rate being overall 60.5% (78.1% for psychological abuse and 44.7% for physical abuse).

The Wald criterion demonstrated that the victim’s gender and whether or not they were living with the suspect(s) both made a significant contribution to predicting the type of abuse (p = 0.015 and p = .002 respectively). The victim’s age was not a significant predictor (p = .099). Exp(B) value indicates 1.681 for victim’s gender and it was less than 1 for the victim’s age group ( .765) and whether or not they were living with the suspect(s) variables (.284).

Discussion

The present study investigated psychological and physical abuse reports in small societies from victims’ gender, age and whether or not they were living with the suspect(s). The study used a large representative sample and took the unique opportunity to understand how a country reports psychological and physical abuse to its NGO (as SPAVO is the only NGO in Cyprus). The study revealed that the abuse types reported to the NGO were predictable to a small extent but more reliably by the victim’s gender and whether or not the victim was living with the suspect(s). Psychological and physical abuse was equally reported by victims in all age groups.

The present study adds to the literature on significant gender differences in reporting psychological and physical abuse. Gender differences in reporting domestic violence were also documented by earlier studies (e.g. Sarker et al, 2007; Tolan et al, 2005). The present study’s results indicate that when the victim reported to the NGO is female it is
more likely that the incident will be related to physical abuse. When the victim reported to the NGO is male it is more likely that the abuse will refer to psychological violence. This unequal status on reporting psychological and physical abuse between the genders can be problematic for preventing and handling domestic violence. The unequal status of males over females in Cyprus society may have influenced the reporting of their victimisation and seeking help. This result shows society’s tendency to withdraw male victimisation reports due to gender inequality. This represents society’s imbalanced acceptance that if both genders are equally victimised by these two forms of violence,
males can become victims of domestic violence and report it.

The study also contributes to our understanding of how these two controversial forms ofviolence are reported when victims are living with or not living with the suspect(s). There was a significant difference between predicting abuse types reported based on whether or not the victims were living with the suspect(s). The findings add to the literature that victims living with the suspect(s) were more likely to report psychological abuse compared with victims who were not living with the suspect(s), who were more likely to report physical abuse. This result can be explained in line with two pieces of evidence supporting first that victims of serious violent domestic incidents are less likely to report it due to the legal, social and safety implications of reporting such acts (Loseke & Kurz, 2005) and second that victims who share accommodation with the suspect(s) are more likely to oppose reporting their abuse to the authorities (Rodriquez, et al. 2001). Physical violence may be perceived by some as more serious than psychological violence and this may have led victims who are living with the suspect(s) to fail to report such incidents.

Another important finding was that there was no correlation between the age of the victims and with the type of abuse reported, indicating that psychological and physical abuse was similarly reported by all age groups. This is an encouraging outcome demonstrating that victims’ age does not affect the reporting of these two types of assault. It was documented that these two types of assault are the most frequent for children, adults and elderly victims (e.g. Finneran & Stephenson, 2012) and acknowledging that all age groups report psychological and physical abuse in the same way is a step on the right direction.

Policy Implications

Psychological and physical assaults are criminal offences when they harm individuals. Still, there are numerous misunderstandings of psychological and physical abuse between family members. Understanding how the two genders, different age groups and people who are living with the suspect(s) are reporting psychological and physical abuse can help to encourage reporting of these two forms of violence.

In considering these findings two main applications can benefit from the reporting of psychological and physical violence in small societies. Gender differences in reporting lead to the need to target misconceptions of domestic violence by educating these societies. Gender equality in society is an important component to terminate gender inequality in reporting domestic violence. Studies in India, Pakistan, the United States and England (e.g. Andersson, et al. 2010) provided a common contributory factor for not reporting domestic violence, which is social phobia. Consequently minimising social phobias is a proponent to target in societies. The first suggestion is focusing on society’s education (e.g. using public media, seminars, school curriculums) to change misconceptions of domestic violence, specifically that male individuals can be victimised by both psychological and physical violence and that they should seek support to handle such offences.

Concerning the result of more psychological assault incidents being reported when victims are living with the suspect(s), a second policy can be suggested. This is to concentrate on developing a sense of trust between organisations (e.g. police and NGOs) and stakeholders (e.g. important figures). Earlier research argues that victims living with suspect(s) may fail to report serious domestic violence incidents (Rodriguez, et al. 2001). Reasons for this vary from victims’ fearing lack of support by organizations (Finkelhor & Wolak, 2003) and that reporting may intensify the problem (Andersson, et al. 2010). Helping victims understand the procedures and support they would get in the case of reporting is an essential component to encourage reporting of physical violence by victims who are living with suspect(s). Lack of knowledge on the procedures followed and support received can lead victims living with the suspect(s) to withhold their accusations.

Limitations and Further Research

One limitation of the study is that it did not differentiate between callers who were victims themselves and callers who were not victims themselves but called to report a domestic violence incident towards a relative, friend or neighbour. The analysis included victims’ gender, age and whether or not the victim was living with the suspect(s). It is important to note that these are details about the victims reported by the callers. So the callers may have been someone other than the victims. Future studies should analyse reports coming directly from the victims and exclude reports made by third parties. In addition to this, the study only considered minus factors influencing the reporting of a small part of domestic violence. Further factors such as reporting neglect, economic violence and sexual violence as well as the victims’ sexual orientation (homosexuality) and family economic statuses were not considered. Such factors in small societies may influence the reporting of domestic violence.

Conclusions

It is important to understand how people report psychological and physical abuse as this constitutes a step towards handling wider challenges surrounding these two forms of family violence. Psychological and physical abuses are the most misunderstood, common and underreported assaults. Understanding what affects help seeking attitudes of these assaults can aid reporting. The present study indicates that the victims’ gender that was mentioned to NGOs can help to predict the abuse type reported. Prediction on psychological and physical abuse was also accredited to victims’ status of either living with or not living with the suspect(s). Acknowledging gender inequalities in reporting
psychological and physical family violence as well as victims’ tendency to suppress reporting of physical abuse when living with the suspect(s) shall continue to puzzle small societies. Attention should be given to reduce any misconceptions related to genders’ victimisation in domestic environments and efforts should focus on developing a sense of trust between victims and the organisations that are committed to support them.

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