The Universitat de València (UV) is leading a study that uses passages from movies to analyse the acceptability of violence against women in couple relationships. Enrique Gracia and Marisol Lila, researchers from the Department of Social Psychology of the University of Valencia, and Christina M. Rodriguez, a researcher at the University of Alabama (Birmingham, USA), have published the results of this study in the journal 'Frontiers in Psychology'.
Intimate partner violence against women by their male partners is a widespread phenomenon across countries and cultures, although in varying degrees. It is the most common form of violence suffered by women, with an estimated global prevalence of around 30%, decreasing to 23.2% in high-income regions, and a global percentage of female homicides committed by their intimate partners of 38.6%, rising to 41.2% in western countries.
In the light of these disturbing data, research conducted by researchers from the University presents data which, through original and easily applicable media such as the use of films, could validate a method to reliably assess the degree of acceptability of physical violence against women: the Partner Violence Acceptability Movie Task (PVAM). 90-second extracts were taken from films well-known to the general public such as The Color Purple, Not without My Daughter, Sleeping with the Enemy or Fried Green Tomatoes, which portray intimate partner violence.
The selected fragments were viewed by two independent samples. Sample 1 included 245 psychology students from the UV (189 females and 55 males). Sample 2 included 94 male intimate partner violence offenders who were court-mandated to a batterer intervention programme and who had been sentenced to less than 2 years in prison and had no previous criminal record.
The key to this new procedure is in evaluating the response time to the clips showing male physical aggression against female partners, which provides an analog (indirect) measure of their acceptability. Participants were asked to stop the video when they considered the man had become violent. Researchers recorded the time lapsed (in fractions of seconds) from the initial physical aggressive contact between the couple until the participant stopped the clip. The PVAM total score was obtained from the mean delay across film clips. Slower response time in judging a scene as abusive is indicative of greater acceptability of intimate partner violence against women.
Until now, research with perpetrators on the acceptability of violence in intimate relationships had been limited to self-reports by the participants involved in the crime, which often provide distorted explanations or may end up being twisted. But the results obtained with the implementation of this new analog tool demonstrate adequate validity, as confirmed by the correlation verified between response time to violent scenes in the videos and the justification of violence: both perpetrators and students scoring high in the test (that is, who took longer to judge a scene as abusive) also scored high in self-reported justifications of partner abuse. However, the group of perpetrators of partner violence scored significantly higher in acceptability of partner violence that the group of students, and within the latter group, male students also obtained higher scores than females. In addition, there is a difference in the response time between offenders who were at the beginning of the intervention programme and those already at the end of it, since the latter stopped the videos much sooner, that is, have a lower acceptability of this type of violence.
These results must still be considered preliminary, but constitute a particularly interesting finding in terms of indicators of effectiveness of the programmes for offenders. They provide a psychometric survey and a valid procedure to measure the acceptability of domestic violence against women by their partners, and are a valuable complementary tool to self-reports, which evaluate attitudes and beliefs about such violence. In the words of Marisol Lila, "the preliminary results obtained suggest that this may be a promising tool to assess the acceptability of violence in intimate partner relationships and highlights the need to consider alternatives to self-report to evaluate potential beliefs about partner violence."
A recent survey conducted among the 28 European Union Member States estimated that an average of 22% of European women have been victims of physical and/or sexual violence by their partners since the age of 15, with a prevalence across countries ranging from 13% to 32% (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014). According to this survey, the prevalence in Spain is 13%, the lowest in the European Union.
However, it is worth stressing that the acceptability of partner violence against women does not only depend on the perpetrator: there is also an element of victim-blaming and the attitude of the general public against such behaviour. Regarding public attitudes toward this type of violence, another European survey indicated that victim-blaming attitudes are still widespread across countries, with an average of 55% of European citizens considering that "provocative" behaviour in women is a major cause of domestic violence (European Commission, 2010). Again, compared to other European countries, the prevalence of these attitudes in Spain is 33%, the lowest in the European Union (which ranged from 33% to 86%).
Acceptability of domestic violence against women is also directly related to the type of behaviour that is considered violent in intimate relationships. If in some incidents this violence is perceived as less serious, that is, more acceptable, this may lead to the persistence of this kind of behaviour among perpetrators, and to its justification by the victims themselves and their social circle. This situation may also inhibit victims from disclosing the attacks, seeking support or leaving the relationship, as they may come to believe that their social circle accepts this violence or considers it justified.
"It is important to highlight that the procedure presented in this document is in its preliminary stages of validation and the correlations and comparisons provided represent only initial data. Clearly, future research would benefit from further validation studies of this procedure by using other self-report measures, testing its stability over time, using observational data (e.g., therapists' reports) or exploring data on attitude change or recidivism," concludes Enrique Gracia.
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