Anyone who has seen a family destroyed by domestic violence can wonder what would make a person act that way. Many perpetrators of domestic violence strike out without warning. Think of Ray Rice, who was a star in the National Football League. He was well liked and a pillar of the community, when one night he got in a fight with his fiancée and knocked her out in an elevator. Since that time, he has by all accounts gone back to being a good person who helps other people avoid his mistakes. This type of unexpected behavior is relatively common, as research has found that about 20% of women killed or injured by an intimate partner had no warning. There are some warning signs that everyone should be aware of, though.
A 1994 study found that 65% of women who were victims of severe physical abuse had a mental illness. Likewise, abused women in the study were three times more likely to suffer mental illness than women who were not abused. The illnesses studied included anxiety, depression, alcoholism and drug dependence, antisocial personality disorder, and schizophrenia. It is not exactly clear if mentally ill women tend to be abused, or if abused women develop mental illness. Nonetheless, it appears likely the two unfortunate situations occur together.
Poverty and unemployment
Numerous studies have found that people in dire financial straits are more likely to be involved in domestic violence. For example, a study that looked at welfare recipients in Michigan found that 63% had experienced physical abuse and 52% had suffered severe physical abuse. Half of homeless women and children report being victims of domestic violence. One major cause of this trend is the fact that abuse victims in poverty often lack the means to escape the situation. They may not have access to legal help or be able to afford their own housing. Abusers often take steps to keep their victims in poverty as well. For example, an abuser may sabotage a job opportunity for his or her victim in order to keep the victim dependent on the abuser.
Survey research done by the World Bank shows that around the world education makes a huge difference in rates of domestic violence. They found that each additional year of schooling was associated with a 1% increase in a woman’s ability to ward off unwanted sexual advances. Women with some secondary education lower their risk of domestic violence by 11% and completing secondary education lowers the risk by 36%. The same trend exists in the United States, possibly because women with more education are more likely to see themselves as equal to their abusers and to have the means to secure their independence.
One study found that young mothers who were 21 or younger when their child was born are twice as likely as other young women to be physically abused by their male partners. This is possibly tied to other factors, because young parents are more likely to be single, struggling economically, or have lower educational achievement.