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Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family

NCJ Number
M A Straus; R J Gelles; S K Steinmetz
Date Published
310 pages
The findings in this book on family violence come from a national study of the extent and breadth of violence in American homes, what violence means to participants, and causes of family violence.
Families were selected to be representative of the approximately 46 million American families in 1976. Researchers interviewed one adult member of each family selected who were between 18 and 65 years of age. An effort was made to interview an equal number of males and females. The final sample yielded 2,143 completed interviews, 960 men and 1,183 women. Of the 2,143 families, 1,146 had children between 3 and 17 years of age living at home. Violence was measured using the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) that identified three conflict resolution methods: (1) rational discussion and argument; (2) verbal and nonverbal expressions of hostility; and (3) physical force or violence. The study looked at violence between marital partners and between brothers and sisters, social patterns in family violence, causes of family violence, and family violence prevention. Findings indicated that violence involved nearly 2 million wives and 2 million husbands yearly. With respect to children, most parents approved of spanking and slapping their children. Few parents, however, used guns and knives on their children or beat them. The overall level of violence between siblings far exceeded that which occurred between parents and children or between spouses. Social factors made a difference in a family's tendency to engage in violent behavior. Factors related to family violence included age, income, employment, religion, residence, and race. Persistent conflicts and disagreements among couples over time generally caused violence. The safest homes in terms of child and spouse abuse were those with fewer than two children. Measures to reduce family violence are discussed, including shelters, day care services, child welfare services, police and court intervention, family planning, and individual and marital counseling. Appendixes provide further information on the sample and interviewing procedures, violence measurement with the CTS, and indexes used to measure conflict and stress. 159 references and 32 charts