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Over the last few years, physical victimization of intimate partners has featured prominently in the media, courts, and professional journals. Interest in this issue is partly due to a growing awareness that physical victimization of partners is not a rare event. Findings from large-scale surveys suggest that at least one aggressive incident for the year previous to the study occurs in 10% to 12% of intimate relationships, and that 6% of these acts of victimization are severe (punching, kicking, biting, beating, and attacks with knives) (Straus & Gelles, 1990; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980).
Recently, the focus has shifted from examining prevalence rates of physical victimization to understanding the psychological consequences of such victimization. One of the most influential theories on the effects of physical assault, the Battered Women's Syndrome (Walker, 1984), is an application of Seligman's (1975) learned helplessness model of depression (i.e., the loss of the ability to predict whether behaviors will have any effect on outcome and a corresponding restriction of behaviors). A central feature of the Battered Women's Syndrome is depression. In support of the view that physical victimization is strongly associated with depression, community-based studies have found that those who experienced marital physical victimization were likely to have higher levels of depressive symptomatology than those without such experiences (Andrews & Brown, 1988; Ratner, 1993; Stets & Straus, 1990). Unfortunately, these studies were either based on selected community samples (Andrews & Brown, 1988), used relatively small samples of women (Andrews & Brown, 1988; Ratner, 1993), or used a limited measure of depressive symptoms (Stets & Straus, 1990). Furthermore, most studies on depression in victims of partner physical victimization have examined this phenomenon only in women. There is some empirical evidence to suggest that women rather than men suffer from depressive symptomatology in response to physical victimization. A community-based study found female victims of assault by a spouse reported a higher level of depressive symptoms than their male counterparts (Stets & Straus, 1990).
Isolation, frequently discussed in the literature, is another feature of victims of partner physical victimization. Herman (1992) considers the isolation of victims of domestic battery as a form of captivity, which gives the perpetrator increased power over the victim. Furthermore, according to Herman, perpetrators intentionally seek to isolate their victims from other sources of information, material aid, or emotional support, to gain victims' compliance and dependency. Studies have found that the experience of physical victimization by a husband is associated with isolation (Hilberman & Munson, 1978; Mills, 1985), and that increased levels of violence are related to fewer institutional and informal social supports among women at a shelter for battered women (Mitchell & Hodson, 1983). There appear to be gender differences in the use of social support as a stress moderator. In times of crises, studies have found that women, more than men, mobilize more varied and extensive social support (Belle, 1987). Yet, there is a dearth of studies that have examined whether there are differences between men and women in the social moderators of victimization.
Few, if any, studies have investigated whether experiencing partner physical victimization is related to elevated depressive symptoms, more restricted social activities, and fewer resources within one sample, within a sample that included both men and women, and within a nationally representative sample. Even fewer studies have examined whether there are gender differences in response to partner physical victimization. Using the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), a comprehensive survey created to …