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Spousal abuse is a specific form of domestic violence where physical or sexual abuse is perpetuated by one spouse upon another. The term was coined in the late 1970s once such crimes were given wider attention in society. There are separate legalities and punishments applied to such a crime as opposed to random assault or assaults of another nature (see battered woman syndrome).

Most reported cases of spousal abuse involve violence by men against women. However, there are a significant minority of cases involving violence by women against men, violence by same-sex partners or where both parties act out violently against one another. Men tend not to report spousal abuse at the same rate as women; partly because they diminish the impact themselves and partly because society, media, police and courts also tend to diminish its impact.

Dr. Martin Fiebert, from the Department of Psychology of California State University, has compiled an annotated bibliograhy of research relating to spousal abuse by women. This bibliography examines 155 scholarly investigations: 126 empirical studies and 29 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 116,000.

It may be pointed out, however, that while the simple tally of violent acts might be similar, studies show that men's violence usually does much more damage than women's1; women are much more likely to be injured and/or hospitalized, wives are much more likely to be killed by their husbands than the reverse, and women in general are more likely to be killed by their spouse than by all other types of assailants combined.2 In their study of severely violent couples, Neil Jacobson and John Gottman3 conclude that the frequency of violent acts is not as crucial as the impact of the violence and its function, when trying to understand spousal abuse; specifically, they state that the purpose of battering is to control and intimidate, rather than just to injure.

See also

  • Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project

External links


  • RAINN. Information about the rights of spouses and how to protect oneself from spousal abuse.
  • Stop Abuse For Everyone. Services for victims of domestic violence who typically fall between the cracks, such as abused men, gay and lesbian victims, the elderly, teens, and immigrants.
  • Domestic Violence Against Men In Colorado. Information and research about partner violence against men.


  • Note 1: Dina Vivian and Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling, "Are Bi-directionality Violent Couples Mutually Victimized? A Gender-sensitive Comparison", Violence and Victims 9 (1994): pp. 107-123
  • Note 2: Angela Browne and Kirk R. Williams, "Exploring the Effect of Resource Availability and the Likelihood of Female-perpetrated Homicides", Law and Society Review 23 (1989): pp. 75-94
  • Note 3: Neil S. Jacobson and John M. Gottman, "When Men Batter Women: New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships", New York, Simon & Schuster (1998).
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