The women’s movement of the 1970s led not only to greater recognition of domestic violence and other forms of abuse of adults, but also to research into the factors in the wider society that perpetuate abusive attitudes and behaviors. As of 2002, women are still more likely than men to be the targets of abuse in adult life.
Domestic violence refers to the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of a spouse or domestic partner. Early research into the problem of wife battering focused on middle-class couples, but it has since been recognized that spouse abuse occurs among wealthy professional couples as well. In addition, studies done in the late 1980s and 1990s indicate that domestic violence also occurs among gay and lesbian couples. It is estimated that four million women in the United States are involved in abusive marriages or relationships; moreover, most female murder victims are killed by their spouse or partner rather than by strangers.
Domestic violence illustrates the tendency of abusive people to attack anyone they perceive as vulnerable; most men who batter women also abuse their children; some battered women abuse their children; and abusive humans are frequently cruel to animals.
Elder abuse has also become a subject of national concern in the last two decades. As older adults are living longer, many become dependent for years on adult caregivers, who may be either their own adult children or nursing home personnel. Care of the elderly can be extremely stressful, especially if the older adult is suffering from dementia. Elder abuse may include physical hitting or slapping; withholding their food or medications; tying them to their chair or bed; neglecting to bathe them or help them to the toilet; taking their personal possessions, including money or property; and restricting or cutting off their contacts with friends and relatives.
Abusive professional (workplace) relationships
Adults can also be abused by sexually exploitative doctors, therapists, clergy, and other helping professionals. Although instances of this type of abuse were dismissed prior to the 1980s as consensual participation in sexual activity, most professionals now recognize that these cases actually reflect the practitioner’s abuse of social and educational power. About 85% of sexual abuse cases in the professions involve male practitioners and female clients; another 12% involve male practitioners and male clients; and the remaining 3% involve female practitioners and either male or female clients. Ironically, many of these abusive relationships hurt women who sought professional help in order to deal with the effects of childhood abuse.
Stalking, or the repeated pursuit or surveillance of another person by physical or electronic means, is now defined as a crime in all 50 states. Many cases of stalking are extensions of domestic violence, in that the stalker (usually a male) is attempting to track down a wife or girlfriend who left him. However, stalkers may also be casual acquaintances, workplace colleagues, or even total strangers. Stalking may include a number of abusive behaviors, including forced entry to the person’s home, destruction of cars or other personal property, anonymous letters to the person’s friends or employer, or repeated phone calls, letters, or e-mails. About 80% of stalking cases reported to police involve men stalking women.
Workplace bullying and abuse
Workplace bullying is, like stalking, increasingly recognized as interpersonal abuse. It should not be confused with sexual harassment or racial discrimination. Workplace bullying refers to verbal abuse of other workers, interfering with their work, withholding the equipment or other resources they need to do their job, or invading their personal space, including touching them in a controlling manner. Half of all workplace bullies are women, and the majority (81%) are bosses or supervisors.