seal  Purdue News

JOURNALISTS' SUMMARY: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The release below is about research conducted by a Purdue University expert in relationship commitment and domestic violence who found abused women often justify the violence in their relationship as joking.

October 16, 2003

Get serious: Domestic violence is not a joke

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., – Some women who are victims of domestic violence will not report it because they have convinced themselves their partner is joking, says a Purdue University psychological sciences expert.

"It's important to understand that violence perceived as joking can be an indication of what is going on in the relationship," says Ximena (pronounced He-men-ah) Arriaga, an associate professor of psychological sciences who studies relationship commitment and domestic violence. "We hear people say my partner was joking when he hit, kicked or burned me. They also may excuse degrading comments as simple jokes.

"When a partner is violent, the victim must wonder, 'Why is this person who is supposed to love me also hurting me?' One way to make sense of this puzzle is to view the violence as benign. If the person can explain it as something else – something less negative, such as joking, and attribute it to their partner's sense of humor – then they can deny that they are abused and don't have to put up with the possible shame that goes with staying in a violent relationship."

Previous research in the field shows that partner violence – male and female – is part of the relationship for one in every eight couples. Arriaga and her team is just beginning to identify specific responses that downplay partner violence. Survey work has not been conducted to determine how often it happens, Arriaga says.

Individuals who can't easily leave their abusive relationship are more likely to reinterpret violent behavior through justification or denial, Arriaga says. For example, a woman may justify her partner's actions by saying he was ill or had a tough childhood as a way to absolve her partner of any blame.

Rather than downplaying violence, what should a woman do instead? Arriaga says women should look for a social support group.

"Leaving isn't always simple, and many relationships may be salvageable," she says. "Leaving may not be an option because their lives are tied financially and parentally. Some of these women have no money. Immigrant women often have husbands who have taken their identification cards or refused to teach them to drive or let them work. Other people may not leave because it goes against their religious beliefs. So one can't just say, 'She should leave.'

"If an abused woman wants to leave, there's help. But if she doesn't want to leave (or can't leave) she should join a social support group. These groups provide support, offer another point of view on violence and offer access to counseling and other important resources."

One way to find a social support group is to call National Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-7233, or find a local YWCA at (800) 992-2871. Arriaga teaches a support group in Spanish at her own local YWCA, which also offers a social support group in English.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Source: Ximena Arriaga, (765) 494-6888,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Ximena Arriaga's article "Joking Violence Among Highly Committed Individuals" was published in the June 2002 Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Related Web sites:
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Ximena Arriaga

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page