Now You Know: Domestic abuse

Monday, March 7, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:57 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

What was learned: Loreen Olson, an MU researcher and assistant professor of communication, has developed a model for understanding abuse in romantic relationships.

“By summarizing past literature, I proposed a new typology of violent couples, creating four general categories: abusive, violent, aggressive and combative,” Olson said.

Why it was done: “Most researchers, and society in general, think that all violent couples are the same,” Olson said. “For example, a man who beats his wife for not having dinner ready when he gets home and controls her every move is very different from a couple who might push one another during a heated argument. Past research had combined these two very different couples into one classification: violent.”

Why it matters: Aggression in families appears to be on the rise, with spousal abuse being the most severe, accounting for 49 percent of reported family violence incidents, according to an MU News Bureau release.

Olson said one classification was insufficient in truly understanding the factors that affect aggression and abuse toward a partner.

“Collapsing these couples into one category is problematic because we are ignoring very important differences, such as frequency of violence, severity of violence, patterns of power and control, and reciprocity of violence, to name a few,” Olson said.

“Moreover, a one-size-fits-all mental health intervention would not be effective because the violence or aggression is used for different reasons. Treatments can be created that better suit the needs of the couple and individuals,” she said. “The more we recognize differences between violent couples, the more we may be able to intervene earlier, stopping the trajectory of aggression and keeping it from getting more severe and frequent over time.”

Olson’s findings were published last year in the Journal of Family Communication.

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