Domestic Violence Texts: A Review of Teaching Resources*

by Karen E. Muench

Vera Anderson, A WOMAN LIKE YOU: THE FACE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 1997. 70p. pap., $16.00, ISBN 1-878067-07-9.

Ola W. Barnett, Cindy L. Miller-Perrin, & Robin D. Perrin, FAMILY VIOLENCE ACROSS THE LIFESPAN: AN INTRODUCTION. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997. 389p. pap., $46.95, ISBN 0-7619-0707-6.

Marian Betancourt, WHAT TO DO WHEN LOVE TURNS VIOLENT: A PRACTICAL RESOURCE FOR WOMEN IN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS. New York: Harper Collins, 1997. 261p. pap., $12.00, ISBN 0-06-273456-3.

Helen M. Eigenberg, WOMAN BATTERING IN THE UNITED STATES: TILL DEATH DO US PART. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 2001. 369p. pap., $22.95, ISBN 1-57766-169-9.

Donna Ferrato, LIVING WITH THE ENEMY. New York: Aperture, 2000 (4th ed.). 176p. pap., $24.95, ISBN 0-89381-480-6.

Ann Jones, NEXT TIME, SHE'LL BE DEAD: BATTERING & HOW TO STOP IT. Boston: Beacon Press, 2000. 309p. pap., $15.00, ISBN 0-8070-6789-X.

Ann Jones & Susan Schechter, WHEN LOVE GOES WRONG: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING RIGHT. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993. 358p. pap., $13.95, ISBN 0-06-092369-5.

Alan Kemp, ABUSE IN THE FAMILY: AN INTRODUCTION. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1998. 337p. pap., $53.95, ISBN 0-534-34198-5.

Ginny NiCarthy, GETTING FREE: YOU CAN END ABUSE AND TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE. Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 1986. 316p. pap., $12.95, ISBN 0-931188-37-7.

Anna Quindlen, BLACK AND BLUE: A NOVEL. New York: Dell, 1999. 369p. pap., $7.50, ISBN 0-440-22610-4.

Paula Sharp, CROWS OVER A WHEATFIELD. New York: Washington Square Press, 1996. 450p. pap., $14.00, ISBN 0-671-001164-2.

Beth Sipe & Evelyn Hall, I AM NOT YOUR VICTIM: ANATOMY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1996. 303p. pap., $32.95, ISBN 0-7619-0146-9.

Harvey Wallace, FAMILY VIOLENCE: LEGAL, MEDICAL, AND SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002 (3rd ed.). 402p. pap., $36.00, ISBN 0-205-31901-7.

Susan Weitzman, "NOT TO PEOPLE LIKE US": HIDDEN ABUSE IN UPSCALE MARRIAGES. New York: Basic Books, 2000. 289p. pap., $15.00, ISBN 0-465-09074-5.

Karen J. Wilson, WHEN VIOLENCE BEGINS AT HOME: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING AND ENDING DOMESTIC ABUSE. Alameda, CA: Hunter House, 1997. 393p. pap., $19.95, ISBN 0-89793-227-7.

 

When I select books for my domestic violence class, I choose one that provides a solid knowledge base, and then one of high interest that will help students apply the concepts they've just learned. Autobiographies, novels, and photojournalists' books meet the second criterion well. I also look for resources for future practitioners who will work directly with victims of domestic violence. Usually I discuss this third category of books in class, but do not require students to buy them.

Books That Provide Basic Knowledge

One of the best I've discovered is Karen J. Wilson's When Violence Begins at Home. Wilson's simple, straightforward writing style is easily understood by undergraduates. A survivor of domestic abuse herself, she passionately shares what the volunteers, staff, and board of the Center for Battered Women in Austin, Texas, have learned in twenty-five years of dedicated work.

Besides defining abuse and exploring the myths and realities surrounding domestic violence, Wilson discusses the effects of domestic violence on kids; teen dating violence; the correlation between substance abuse and domestic violence; problems with the legal system; living underground (which she herself did); domestic violence and women of color, lesbians, women in prison, women with disabilities, and older women; how family, friends, and loved ones can help victims; domestic violence and the workplace; domestic violence and the medical community; and what religious communities can do. She also includes strategies for developing interdisciplinary responses, intervention strategies for battered women and their children, and intervention and prevention programs for batterers. Her last three chapters address burnout, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the history of violence against women. Fifty-one pages of additional resources are appended.

Next Time, She'll Be Dead is another informative and credible read. Author Ann Jones grew up in a family of violence, with an alcoholic father who abused her mother. Jones, who did not believe it should have been up to her mother or her to stop him, argues that all women and children have the absolute right to live free from bodily harm. She passionately takes to task the legal, medical, social services, and mental health systems for not believing this and consequently failing women and children. Laws began to change, she says, only when feminist attorneys brought class-action lawsuits against police departments and court officers to compel them to do their jobs.

Jones's passion, directness, honesty, self-disclosure, strong feminist voice, and easy-to-read style are compelling, as are the cases she discusses. Her perspectives on why women stay and on what society can do to end domestic violence are especially powerful. This book will lay a strong base of knowledge, particularly for undergraduates.

Family Violence Across the Lifespan includes nine chapters pertaining specifically to domestic violence. The book is well-organized and informative; I recommend it for undergraduate-level courses. Each chapter begins with an interview of a prominent person in the field--for example, Angela Browne, a highly regarded researcher and expert on battered women and the founding editor of the Journal of Violence and Victims, is interviewed in "Marital Violence: Battered Women." Case studies interspersed throughout are another winning feature, and human interest stories like "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Manager/Case Manager" are captivating. Summaries in each chapter help organize the material. The human interest stories especially captured my interest--for example, "Defending Battered Women Who Kill" (pp.218-19). A chapter on courtship violence and date rape--a major problem for many college-age students--is another strength, as is a strong reference section that offers research suggestions and lists of organizations that deal with family violence.

Alan Kemp's Abuse in the Family has only one chapter on domestic violence, but it covers a lot of ground. Kemp discusses the historical context of domestic violence, types of abuse, a working definition, incidences and prevalence, the impact of battering on victims, the cycle of violence, why women stay, explanations and risk factors, classification of perpetrators, and intervention. The chapter lacks, however, any discussion of such important issues as safety or the response of the judicial, medical, governmental, and religious systems; nor does it offer human interest stories or case studies. Thus, it would best serve as a supplemental text.

Susan Weitzman's "Not to People Like Us" is both informative and personal. The book, which refutes the myth that domestic abuse afflicts only the underprivileged, resulted from a qualitative doctoral research study at the University of Chicago. Weitzman, a mental health professional for more than twenty-three years, first encountered domestic abuse in "upscale marriages" while practicing at the University of Chicago Hospital's Department of Outpatient Psychiatry. Many highly educated women enjoying comfortable, even lavish, lifestyles were enduring emotional and physical abuse by their powerful and well-educated husbands, but only with great reluctance would they reveal it--even within the safe confines of her office. "Women felt it essential to keep silent about their suffering," she writes, "in order to preserve and protect personal life" (p.6).

This book challenges Lenore Walker's "cycle of violence" theory in terms of upscale battered women.1 Weitzman contends, for example, that the "honeymoon phase" does not exist. She also explains such contemporary terms as "secondary wounding" and "traumatic bonding," and profiles upscale batterers as exhibiting narcissistic personality disorder. The chapter on how family, friends, and practitioners can either help or make things worse is very valuable. The book's practical appendices help readers identify abuse, traits of an abuser, and early warning signs and list extensive resources. I highly recommend "Not to People Like Us" for undergraduates, as well as for graduate students interested in Weitzman's research.

Harvey Wallace's Family Violence, although it deals mostly with family violence issues, also covers issues that some of the other books don't, such as the consequences of family violence; stalking; victims' rights; gay and lesbian abuse; and abuse of "special populations" such as persons with disabilities. Each well-organized chapter includes an outline, definitions, learning objectives, "promising practices," a summary, key terms, discussion questions, suggested readings, and endnotes. The work reads like a textbook, however, and does not hold my interest as much as the others.

Each section of Helen Eigenberg's Woman Battering in the United States frames the issues in an overview and then reviews major debates in the literature. The author uses a combination of original work and previously published articles. Following Chapter 1, for instance, are reprints of two very interesting essays: Judith Lorber's "Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender" and Del Martin's "A Letter From A Battered Wife." The rest, however, is less engaging, including some lifeless, academic descriptions of research studies. This book might be suitable for a small graduate seminar, but probably not for undergraduates.

Books That Apply Basic Concepts

My favorite application book is I Am Not Your Victim, an autobiography documenting sixteen years of domestic abuse endured by author Beth Sipes. Evelyn Hall, her therapist, encouraged her to write this powerful and engaging true story, rich in examples of domestic abuse concepts; my students find it difficult to put the book down. Types of abuse, the cycle of violence, intergenerational violence, the "power and control wheel," child abuse, secondary wounding, traumatic bonding, and the characteristics of victims and batterers are all addressed. In a separate section, professionals comment on how their systems failed Beth, underscoring how far society needs to move in taking domestic violence seriously. It is clear from the commentaries that many of the systems that abused women turn to actually revictimize them, and that many people still think domestic abuse is a private, family matter that should not be interfered in. Students are never unmoved by Beth Sipe's story and always want to do something to make a difference. I highly recommend it for undergraduate domestic violence courses.

Students also find the novel Crows Over A Wheatfield engaging. Author Paula Sharp, a New York criminal lawyer, has keen insider knowledge of how the legal system fails to protect women and children. Students have trouble believing that this well-written work of fiction, which is set in Wisconsin, is not a true story. Suspenseful and emotionally compelling, it conveys powerful messages about domestic violence and deftly illustrates many domestic violence concepts. I highly recommend it for undergraduates.

Another novel to consider is Anna Quindlen's intelligent and heartrending Black and Blue. Quindlen's observations are acute and her arguments well reasoned, and the story is enormously readable, but I find it less credible than Crows Over a Wheatfield, especially concerning victim safety. My own knowledge of real victims' experiences makes me doubt that abused women in fear for their lives would remain in a location once they thought their abuser had found them. (Quindlen's main character stays put even when she suspects that her abusive husband has figured out where she and her son are hiding.) On the other hand, Black and Blue might generate an interesting class discussion about what a real victim would do.

Donna Ferrato's photojournalistic Living With the Enemy is a powerful visual documentation of a ten-year mission--one that began when Ferrato saw a millionaire father of five hit his wife--to explore the domestic abuse of women. Driven to do something, she used her camera as her weapon, snapping pictures as she rode along with police, visited hospital emergency rooms, attended support and therapy groups, visited shelters and victim's homes, and interviewed women in prison for killing their husbands and lovers. Ferrato strikingly captures the effects of abuse on women of different races, cultures, and socioeconomic levels. Another of the book's strengths is its introduction by well-informed domestic abuse author Ann Jones, who writes, "These stark images are disquieting. It's one thing to talk about domestic violence. It's something else again to see it" (p.15). Because it shows the real faces and stories of a serious social problem, I highly recommend this resource. It would also be an asset for primarily visual learners.

In A Woman Like You: The Face of Domestic Violence, Vera Anderson uses photographs to counteract stereotypes of abused women. Anderson, like many of the other authors reviewed in this article, was herself a victim of domestic abuse but did not initially recognize her own abusive situation. Her book is a direct result of asking herself, "What does a battered woman look like?" With her camera, she explores the face of domestic violence at women's shelters, coming up with thirty-five photos and stories that show battered women all around us. "We don't recognize them," she says, "because they look like us"(p.1). Although Anderson's book is strong, and less expensive than Ferrato's, I prefer Ferrato's because it offers not only powerful photos and stories but a great deal of explicit information for students.

Books For Practitioners

I don't require my students to buy any of these, but I discuss them in class so they know what is available. Marian Betancourt's easy-to-read What To Do When Love Turns Violent is an excellent nuts-and-bolts resource for women who need to know how to protect themselves and get away from violence as safely as possible. Betancourt experienced domestic violence herself and knows the importance of safety for domestic abuse victims. She addresses how to evaluate a woman's safety, safety at home and at work, how to keep children safe, and how to leave safely. I haven't discovered any other text that discusses the safety issue so thoroughly. Many women are killed when they are leaving or are trying to leave an abusive situation.2

Ginny NiCarthy's Getting Free, another self-help book, was turned down by many publishers before Seal Press, believing in its marketability, took it on. The guide, which counselors and victims can use together like a workbook, targets women who have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused. NiCarthy candidly discusses difficulties women may encounter when they leave abusive situations, such as financial problems, safety concerns for themselves and their children, and coping difficulties such as fear of being on one's own. I appreciate her forthrightness and realism.

Still another excellent, comprehensive guide is the funny, sad, and inspiring When Love Goes Wrong. Based on interviews with fifty women from various backgrounds, classes, races, and stages in relationships, the book is designed for women interested in making changes. Authors Ann Jones and Susan Schechter address such issues as the reasons for abuse, the likelihood of an abuser changing, victims' choices to change, the choice to leave, and individual problems like substance abuse. They also include many checklists, including a unique one that evaluates whether or not a woman's partner is controlling. That six-page checklist alone makes this book worth discussing with students, who are often not aware of their own partners' controlling behavior.

All fifteen of the titles reviewed here have merit, but I would most highly recommend Wilson's When Violence Begins at Home, Jones's Next Time, She'll Be Dead, or Family Violence Across the Lifespan for solid, basic information; I Am Not Your Victim or Crows Over A Wheatfield for applying knowledge; and Living With the Enemy for visual learners. Any of the three practitioners' books would help victims gain a better understanding of themselves in relationship to domestic violence.

Notes

1. Lenore E. Walker, The Battered Woman (New York: Harper Perennial, 1979), pp.55-70. Walker describes three phases in the "cycle of violence": the tension-building phase, during which the victim feels like she has to walk on eggshells so as not to provoke abuse; the acute battering phase, when the batterer physically, emotionally, or sexually abuses the victim; and the honeymoon phase, in which the batterer, knowing he has gone too far, tries to win the victim back by being contrite, promising he will change, and showering her with gifts such as flowers, cards, candy, and trips. The violence subsides for awhile, but then the whole cycle starts up again, usually escalating, with less time between each phase.

2. Ann Jones, Next Time, She'll Be Dead: Battering and How To Stop It (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), p.50.

[Karen E. Muench, who received her B.S., M.S., M.S.S.W., and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is primarily a faculty member in the Department of Human Services and Professional Leadership, and is also a member of the Women's Studies faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where she teaches a domestic violence class each semester. She has received two grants to conduct art workshops with victims of domestic violence at a shelter near the Oshkosh campus; she believes that creating and discussing art helps victims regain their silenced voices.]

 

*For Further Reading: Violence in Lesbian Relationships

Some of the books reviewed in the accompanying article address violence in same-sex as well as in heterosexual relationships. Here are some works (not evaluated) that deal explicitly with the issue of lesbian domestic violence:

Lori B. Girshick, WOMAN-TO-WOMAN SEXUAL VIOLENCE: DOES SHE CALL IT RAPE? Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002. 201p. bibl. index. pap., $16.95, ISBN 1-55553-527-5.

Ellyn Kaschak, ed., INTIMATE BETRAYAL: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN LESBIAN RELATIONSHIPS. New York: Haworth Press, 2001 (co-published as v.23, no.3 of Women & Therapy: A Feminist Quarterly). 138p. $29.95, ISBN 0789016621.

Claire M. Renzeti, VIOLENT BETRAYAL: PARTNER ABUSE IN LESBIAN RELATIONSHIPS. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992. 202p. bibl. index. pap., $34.95, ISBN 0803938896.

Janice L. Ristock, NO MORE SECRETS: VIOLENCE IN LESBIAN RELATIONSHIPS. New York: Routledge, 2002. 242p. $21.95, ISBN 0415929466.

 


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