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Strategies for Battered Women
Battered Women continuing education social worker CEUs

Section 23
Professional Women and
Domestic Violence

Question 23 | Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Social Worker CEs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEs, MFT CEs

The common belief that domestic violence occurs primarily in lower-income families is inaccurate. Professional women with good jobs and financial security also find themselves in abusive relationships with men. In many cases, these women find dealing with the problem even more difficult than poor women do because the violence is more unexpected and they are often less willing to utilize the social services that could help them escape from their abuser.

Stereotypical Scene
For most people, the phrase “domestic violence” summons a stereotypical scene: police pounding on the door of a ramshackle house; a man loudly, perhaps drunkenly, declaring his innocence; a woman crying. But for a vast number of middle- or upper-class women, many of them professionals, domestic violence is a secret, usually silent affair. They are prisoners of their world, but for many reasons they feel compelled to don a mask of normalcy. In spite of their bruises and scars, they may not even admit that they are victims. And until they fully acknowledge what is happening to them—a process that can take years—the very last thing they want to do is make their situation public.

White-Collar Victims
Definitive statistics on these white-collar victims are hard to come by, especially because shame or fear of reprisal makes them reluctant to report the crime. The Justice Department’s 1994 National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) found that only about half the women who suffered domestic abuse between 1987 and 1991 reported it to the police. As incredible as it may seem, Family Violence: Crime and Justice, a 1989 book that reviewed the research on the subject, projected that one-fifth to one-third of all women could be assaulted by an intimate at some point. And the perception that most victims are poor and uneducated is clearly distorted. The NCVS found less than a 10% difference in the rate of family violence between those with household incomes of less than $10,000 and those earning more than $50,000. “Women of means are just as trapped as women on welfare,” says Carol Arthur, the director of the Domestic Abuse Project in Minneapolis, a nonprofit program that aids victims. “The stories and issues are all the same. There are just different barriers to leaving the relationship.”

White-Collar Myth

Perhaps the greatest myth about white-collar domestic violence is that its victims should be able to arrange smooth, bloodless departures because, unlike poor women, they are blessed with financial and social resources. “The irony is how hard it can be even for women who earn more than the men they’re involved with to leave,” says Sharon Rice Vaughn, who co-founded one of the first battered-women’s shelters in the country in 1972 in St. Paul. “It is particularly hard for professional, highly paid women to believe that battering is happening to them.” One TV reporter was blind to the warning signs in her own relationship even though she had covered a number of domestic-violence cases. “I was in denial that I could be an abused woman because I’m smart, I’m professional, I know a lot of cops,” she says. “And there was this constant self-questioning-—is it really as bad as I think it is?” Experts say the confusion is compounded by a Gaslight [a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in which a husband schemes to convince his wife that she is going insane] effect created by the sporadic, random nature of the abuse; the victim wonders whether she really is being brutalized or whether the attacks are somehow her fault. The effect is even more potent when there’s a strong desire to keep the relationship intact. “It’s about wanting it to be a one-time thing,” notes a domestic-abuse counselor.

Fear of Exposure
In addition, professional women are trapped by a fear of exposure. “That’s the abuser’s secret emotional blackmail,” says Rice Vaughn. “If you have a reputation, your reputation will be ruined.” In fact, women who earn more or are more successful than their partners can be more vulnerable targets than women of like status to their husbands,” according to Evan Stark, co-director of the Domestic Violence Training Project in New Haven, 40% of whose clients are middle and upper-class victims of domestic abuse. “Those men are compensating by resorting to socially condoned male dominance,” explains Rice Vaughn. “It becomes their form of revenge. It’s as though she is being blamed for his failures—if she weren’t so successful, he wouldn’t be seen as less successful.”

So Much to Lose
Professional women usually have a great deal to lose by severing ties with their abusers, often including an expensive home in an exclusive neighborhood, their social standing in the community, their financial security and a superior education for their children. Because so much is riding on the perpetuation of their marriage, they may lack supporters— even among their own families.

Abuser’s Haven

There is also the problem of a legal system that one victim characterizes as an “abuser’s haven.” Women trying to divorce wealthy, established husbands typically find themselves ensnarled in court battles for years. Finally, the fact remains that when a man is intent upon killing his wife, there is no sure way to prevent it. One distinguished judge whose husband was arrested for assaulting her says, “I have not even tried to get a divorce, because I believe it would be fatal.” She stipulated that she could not, under any circumstances, be identified. “Absence of malice,” she says, in a reference to the libel defense, “won’t help me when I’m dead.”

Killing their Careers
Aside from the physical and emotional toll, domestic violence can exert a crushing weight on a career. In a 1987 survey from the New York Victim Service Agency, three-quarters of 50 employed battered women reported being harassed by their abusers at work. And half of them reported missing three or more days a month because of their abuse. Another survey, conducted in Duluth, Minnesota, found that of 71 abused working women, nearly a quarer reported losing a job at least partly because of their abusive partners; in addition, one-third of 42 battered Duluth women reported that their partners had prohibited them from working altogether. Finally, because of the numerous daytime court appearances that may be required, paticularly when child custody is at issue, victims of domestic violence are at risk of being penalized or fired for absenteeism, lateness or decreased productivity.

The Powerful Abuser
For professional women married to abusers who are also power brokers out to preserve their reputations, the road to freedom can be virtually endless—and carpeted with broken glass. Money offers these men a way to perpetuate the psychic pain through the courts; the more money, the more tools the abuser holds and the longer the battle rages.

Some observers consider the plight of women who are victimized by such men qualitatively worse than that of women whose husbands, however brutal, lack the financial toolbox to manipulate the judicial system. “Society goes after the little guy,” notes one victim, “but the big guys are clever, and they won’t give up until they destroy you.”

Leaving for the Children
Most abused women experience a moment when they resolve to get out of the relationship at any cost. Most experts consider the issue of child custody and visitation one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest one, faced by women in domestic-violence cases. Only 40 states have statutes stipulating that domestic-violence charges may be presented in custody cases. In Evan Stark’s opinion, shared custody is “completely inappropriate in domestic-abuse cases.” He calls it “tangential spouse abuse,” because the man typically uses the child to continue to exercise control over the woman with threats and psychological torture, and, in some cases, it gives him opportunities to physically abuse her.

The Price of Freedom
Although domestic violence discriminates along gender lines rather than class lines, professional women have one advantage over poor women: their job skills and education. It is precisely because they have independent incomes, says Stark, that some white-collar women are able to extricate themselves.

Still, any advantages women of means may have over poor and blue­collar women are minimal, says Carol Arthur. “White-collar women are like all other women in terms of getting sucked into the psychological and emotional abuse that traps them,” she says. “All the messages we got growing up taught us to define ourselves in terms of our relationships.” In the end, having the emotional strength to leave that notion behind is what really sets one woman apart from another.
- Weitzman, S., Ph.D., (2000). Not to People Like Us. Basic Books: New York.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Adams, A. E., & Beeble, M. L. (2019). Intimate partner violence and psychological well-being: Examining the effect of economic abuse on women’s quality of life. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 517–525.

Lloyd, M., Ramon, S., Vakalopoulou, A., Videmšek, P., Meffan, C., Roszczynska-Michta, J., & Rollè, L. (2017). Women’s experiences of domestic violence and mental health: Findings from a European empowerment project. Psychology of Violence, 7(3), 478–487.

McKenzie, M., Hegarty, K. L., Tarzia, L., & Palmer, V. J. (2021). Narrating the self-in-relation: How friends’ responses to intimate partner violence shape young women’s identities. Qualitative Psychology, 8(2), 279–294.

Smagur, K. E., Bogat, G. A., & Levendosky, A. A. (2018). Attachment insecurity mediates the effects of intimate partner violence and childhood maltreatment on depressive symptoms in adult women. Psychology of Violence, 8(4), 460–469.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 23
The statistic that there is less than a 10% difference in the rate of family violence between those with household incomes of less than $10,000 and those earning more than $50,000 indicates what? Record the letter of the correct answer the Test.

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