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Family And Domestic Violence: Social Workers' Theories

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Literature Review
  3. Prevalence
  4. Etiology
  5. Impact
  6. Coping Mechanisms
  7. Relationships with race/ethnicity
  8. Relevant Theories
  9. Critique
  10. Relevance to Generalist Social Work Practice
  11. Conclusion
  12. References


Family violence like Domestic violence is a very common topic in our society. The purpose of this paper is to provide information about the prevalence, etiology, and the impact of violence in families. Also will talk about how one may cope with the problem or situation and to see if the problem may vary between race/ethnicity. Throughout the paper it will be shown how Social workers may use several theories to help them understand the situation of their clients.

Literature Review

There has been many research about family violence, addressing how the abuse may affect a victim, the causes and factors of the violent actions being made, how one can cope with the terrible situation, and etc. With Domestic Violence being a huge issue , it is hard to find the number of women who are abused each year because society’s perception of domestic violence as a private matter ( Locke & Richman, 1999).

With that being said, many women do not express that they have been or previously been undergoing abuse in their households. Many women will not say anything because they have no other support, and if they leave their partner they may not have anywhere to go. Many women may stay in the toxic relationship because they may feel like it is best to stay for the kids. Later you will see how violence can not only affect the mother but it could very much affect the children as well.


Starting with the prevalence of domestic violence, many women suffer from domestic violence in their relationships. Worldwide domestic violence is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women aged 15-49 years as cancer. The prevalence of domestic violence seems to be higher in clinical settings than it does in population samples. With that being said 30-50% was the mean lifetime prevalence of physical violence found in psychiatric and obstetric/ gynecology clinics (Alhabib, Nur, & Jones, 2009).

When it comes to families in the United States, 10-12% of couples have experienced one incidence involving violence and 28-30% of couples have experienced domestic violence during the period of their relationship (Gustafsson & Cox,2015). It seems to be that many women have experienced violence in their relationships. It has been founded that women who live in rural areas have an higher prevalence rate of domestic violence than women living in urban areas. Women in rural areas and isolated areas have the highest prevalence of 22.5% and 17.9%, and urban woman have the prevalence of 15.5% domestic violence ( Peek-Asa, Wallis, Harland, Beyer, Dickey, & Saftlas, 2011).


Domestic Violence is a very touching topic to the society, there are many factors that play a part into why abuse may be happening in a relationship. The increased of education and job skills are risk factors of domestic violence. When women have a high education level and job skills, some men can see that as a threat. That is when men perceive that their partner has more power in the relationship than they do. As women gain power through education and job skills that it when men will try to regain power and control through abusive ways (Schewe, Howard, Staggs, & Mason, 2006). Another factor that may play apart is during childhood.

If a person has experienced physical abuse as a child it is more likely that they will experience it in their adult relationships. This includes if they have experienced it or they have witnessed domestic violence growing up. This shows that someone behaviors are learned behaviors. Noting that some women grow up only seeing how their mother was beaten by their father everyday shows that, that is all that she knows and later in life she has a higher possibility being with someone who has the same toxic traits as her father. This does not pertain to all women because some do learn that abuse is not normal for relationships, and women may look for women who are different from her father.

With all of this info being stated, it shows that the causes of domestic violence in relationships is because men may feel that they are being overpowered when women are independent and do not have to rely on men to be able to get the necessary needs they need. It has a lot to do with how big a man’s pride is and jealousy. Men like to feel as if they are needed, so some may do whatever is necessary to be the most powerful in the relationship. Also can be about how one's’ childhood was. This goes for the victim and the victimizer, seeing domestic violence being acted between your parents while growing up can take a huge toll on you later on in your adulthood.


Women who have experienced domestic violence in their relationships end up being very affected by the abuse. Those who have been abuse experience levels of depression, lower-self esteem, and higher levels of psychological distress when compared to those who have not experienced abuse (Levendosky & Bermann, 2001). Many women will undergo post-traumatic stress disorder, which the prevalence of that certain disorder ranges from 45% to 84% of women.

It can cause more psychological distress than one may think, it can also have an effect of having anxiety, phobias, self- harm, somatization, and even decision making abilities.

When domestic violence is occurring while the couple have children, there can be many effects on the parenting and the child’s adjustment. The changes in the mother’s mental state can cause a rift in parenting because her mood can cause an effect on the child’s emotional wellbeing. When thinking about the effects of domestic violence they do not only hurt the mother, it hurts the child as well. The child my experience social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development problems. There have been several study findings that state babies and young children have heightened levels of distress, sleep disturbances, night terrors, separation anxiety, aggressiveness, and emotional detachment ( Buchanan, Power, & Verity).

Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms is a very important process when domestic violence is involved. Many women cope in many different ways. According to a study, approach and avoiding are two different coping mechanisms. Avoiding is considered to be not believing that the abuse has actually happened, and not admitting to oneself that what is happening is a problem that needs to change. Examples of this may be not opening up to friends and family about what is going on in the relationship. Pretending that everything is good in the relationship. On the other hand, approach is very different. This type of coping is making the attempt to change the situation or distancing oneself from the stressor. This includes talking with a friend or family member about the situation, making a plan of action and actually following the plan. These two coping mechanisms are ones that can happen while the relationship is still occuring ( Waldrop & Resick, 2004).

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Next is cognitive versus behavioral strategies just like avoidance and approach, these strategies are different. For behavioral strategies it is observable actions that may take place when trying to reduce the impact of stress. This may include leaving the situation for a while to try to clear one’s mind. On average it takes a women to leave seven times before she is actually gone for good. So with that being said the behavioral strategy can be beneficial. As for cognitive strategy this strategy is changing one’s way of seeing the situation. Trying to see the positive side of it rather than focusing of the negative side ( Waldrop & Resick, 2004).

When it comes to how children cope when abuse is heavy in the family. Children like to occupy themselves with school, sports, and friends. Many children may turn to teachers and other adult figures in their life they may be able to help his or her family (Hines, 2014). Using family therapy or individual therapy can be very beneficial to how people can cope with the unfortunate situations.

Relationships with race/ethnicity

Domestic Violence happens to all women, no matter the race/ ethnicity. A study has shown that white women are more likely to name others as the problem rather than the abuser itself. Which is very different for African American women, they acknowledge that the man is the problem and hold the man responsible for the violence in their homes ( Weis, 2001). There was a finding that stated that ethnicity of the victim affected the attitude of others that heard about the incident ( Locke & Richman, 1999).

Relevant Theories

In the textbook, there are many theories that help with different situations. When it comes to violence there are three theories that are applied. These theories include operant learning theory, Exchange theory, and Social learning theory. These theories are different but yet they all can be used for domestic violence.

Starting with Operant learning theory, it address violence as a learned behavior. When talking about behavior, the behavior is always determines by the reinforcement and the punitive consequences. Violence is being used when it leads to reinforcement rather than punishment. Positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement With positive reinforcement, when the abuser abusing the victim ends up getting exactly what they wanted in the end is considered positive reinforcement and he or she is more likely to keep doing the same thing the next time. As for the victim he or she will do whatever the abuser wants just so the violence will stop, and with that being said they are experiencing negative reinforcement. This explains why violence is existing, because the abusers will hurt their partner just to get what they want and they will keep doing cause it is working or until it works ( Dale & Smith, 2013).

Next is Exchange theory, in this theory every exchange that occurs, a person is looking to get a benefit from it at the lowest possible cost. This theory goes with violence because if we focus on the abuser itself the benefits from him creating violence in the household is that he is gaining the superior role in the house. There is not necessarily a cost because the exchange is in his advantage, and he is experiencing a lot of satisfaction. As for the victim she is not benefiting from the physical abuse. The cost for the victim is the fear and loss of sense of safety one begins to have after being abused. At the end, the abuser is gaining something positive to them therefore he or she will continue to abuse. This theory also shows how women will stay in an abusive relationship because they do not have many other options.

Lastly is Social learning theory, this theory proposes that our behaviors are influenced by our observations of others. When we observe someone doing a certain behavior and that person gets rewarded for it, we are more likely to do a similar behavior. With violence, children who observe violent behavior are more likely to behave in aggressive or violent ways. With a children growing up with seeing his or her parents fighting abusively, he or she is more likely to commit similar behaviors because that is what the parents have taught as an example.


Moving on into critiquing the three theories, Operant learning theory is research based unlike some theories this theory does not only have causation for certain types of families. This theory can be used for all types of people even families in rural areas. A factor that this theory does not account for is that it ignores cognitive processes. Assuming that the learning and behavior is solely from reinforcement that is not all the way true.

For Exchange theory, it is research based and just like operant learning theory it does not apply to certain types of families. Some factors that this theory does not account for is how the exchange calculations may become complex and subjective if there are no common measure between two choice dimensions of the couple ( Dale & Smith,2013). For Social learning theory, it is researched based. The theory talks about learned behavior so if a family does have violence in the household it is likely for the child to inherit those acts. With that being said for domestic violence it only refers to individuals that have seen it in the past which also includes families in rural areas. The theory does not account for the persons accountability of their own actions. Putting the focus on how the environment may affect the person it does not put enough weight on how the person handle everything.

Exchange theory seems to be the least feasible of all of the theory. The reasoning behind this is because it may be capable but out of all three theories it seems to be the one that will be less likely. Some people do not go into relationships because of what they can benefit form. If that was the case abusers would be abusing their mates at the early stages of the relationship to get what they want but instead they do it later in the relationship. Social learning theory seems to be the most plausible because it is the most believable out of the three theories. The impact that a person’s childhood has on them is huge. Many children do not know how to cope from seeing violence in the household. Which will have an effect on their adulthood, and may have them act in aggressive ways when angry.

Relevance to Generalist Social Work Practice

For generalist social work practice, these theories can be very beneficial, they give different approaches that a social worker may choose to use. Social learning theory can have the social worker looking back into the abuser and the victims childhood to see if any of their actions are learned behavior. For exchange theory we can look at the costs and benefits each person in the relationship has. For the victim if she is only staying with the abusive person because she has no job and dependents on them for everything. The social worker can provide several resources so that the client is in better hands. Operant learning theory can be used by the social worker by helping the social worker understand the motives behind the actions.

Some ways that the social worker may intervene with the family is by maybe having family therapy or even individual therapy with each of the family members to get a better understanding and to provide the needed resources. Another intervention that may need to happen is bringing in Child protective Services so that the children needs will be met and the issues between the couple may be resolved once the women starts to fight to get her child back. Which also can lead to therapy. A social worker will use their values and ethics to help with the clients by the use of confidentiality, being trustworthy, being able to provide the necessary needs for the clients, knowing the clients dignity and worth, and social justice. These values can help the clients feel more confident in telling information, helping them feel safe. Those values can help the social worker chose which theory they may want to go, asking about their childhood and etc.


Throughout the paper Domestic violence has been discussed. The prevalence, etiology, impact, coping mechanisms, and the relationship with race/ethnicity have been addressed. The social work theories that may play a part in a person’s life who has been affected in any way are explain and criticize. Lastly, generalist social work practice shows the relevance it has on the issue. Domestic violence is a serious issue that needs to be more important to the society.


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  3. Buchanan, F., Power, C., & Verity, F. (2014). The Effects of Domestic Violence on the Formation of Relationships Between Women and Their Babies: “I Was Too Busy Protecting My Baby to Attach.” Journal of Family Violence​, 29​ ​(7), 713–724.
  4. Dale, O., & Smith, R. (2013). Human behavior and social environment: Social Systems Theory (7th ed.). Pearson: Boston MA.
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  6. Hines, L. (2015). Children’s Coping with Family Violence: Policy and Service Recommendations. ​Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal​, ​32​(2), 109–119.
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  9. Peek-Asa, C., Wallis, A., Harland, K., Beyer, K., Dickey, P., & Saftlas, A. (2011). Rural Disparity in Domestic Violence Prevalence and Access to Resources. ​Journal of Women’s Health (15409996)​, ​20​(11), 1743–1749. ​
  10. Schewe, P., Riger, S., Howard, A., Staggs, S., & Mason, G. (2006). Factors Associated with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victimization. ​Journal of Family Violence​, ​21​(7), 469–475.
  11. Waldrop, A. E., & Resick, P. A. (2004). Coping Among Adult Female Victims of Domestic Violence. Journal of Family Violence​, 19​ ​(5), 291–302.
  12. Weis, L. (2001). Race, Gender, and Critique: African-American Women, White Women, and Domestic Violence in the 1980s and 1990s. ​Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society​, ​27​(1), 139.
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Family And Domestic Violence: Social Workers’ Theories. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Family And Domestic Violence: Social Workers’ Theories.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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