Purdue News

December 8, 2006

New book addresses family abuse across the generations

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A new book by Purdue University sociologists looks at family abuse within and across generations and possible solutions for policymakers to consider.

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"Often domestic violence, partner abuse, elder abuse and child abuse are talked about separately," said JoAnn Miller, an associate professor of sociology and affiliated member in women's studies. "But you cannot understand one problem without understanding the others. We need to look across generations. A daughter who grows up in an abusive family will possibly struggle with abusive dating relationships as well as an abusive marriage or even violent marriage."

The book, "Family Abuse and Violence: A Social Problems Perspective," by Miller and Dean D. Knudsen, a professor emeritus, is written for policy advocates, practitioners, researchers and students. It was published by AltaMira Press ($39.95) in October and is based on case studies and survey research as well as the professors' experiences working with family abuse in their community. The book highlights a different theory of abuse. It features the many voices of victims and offenders and emphasizes the importance of academics collaborating with practitioners and policymakers to solve social problems.

"It is important for practitioners and trial judges to focus on responding to the problems of abuse, while researchers address the causes of abuse," Miller said. "Together, we can work toward more positive solutions."

Miller also conducted a national survey, via Purdue's Social Research Institute in 2003, to ask Americans their perceptions about how abuse toward women should be handled. Miller found strong gender differences. After the survey, participants were read examples of first-time abuse incidents. Miller asked what would be the most appropriate consequence: jail time, therapy or a hands-off approach. More than 66 percent responded therapy, with women tending to favor therapeutic intervention, and men preferring the other and more extreme options.

Miller said the general population may be surprised to learn that the common safety nets created to handle abuse actually can contribute to other problems.

"People recognize there is a problem and support different programs to change behaviors," Miller said. "But very well-intentioned social interventions can be lethal. For some abusers, arrest and prosecution can increase violence. If a woman seeks refuge at a safe shelter, it can save her life or it can cause her and her children more harm. We have these safety nets to catch people, but our policy, laws and interventions tend to be one-size-fits-all, and that can have dangerous consequences."

The book also illustrates the problem with family violence and homicide cases that occurred throughout the United States.

Miller said even though all forms of domestic violence and abuse constitute a global problem, the situation can improve only with local solutions.

"I would like to see this book encourage the legal system, social service agencies and academics to form partnerships that can effectively address problems in each community," she said.

Purdue's Department of Sociology and Anthropology, which is housed in the College of Liberal Arts, supported Miller's work on this book. She also received support from the college's Center for Social and Behavioral Sciences and as a Liberal Arts Fellow at Harvard Law School.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: JoAnn Miller, (765) 494-4699, jlmiller@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in a review copy of "Family Abuse and Violence: A Social Problems Perspective" can contact Sheila Burnett, vice president of marketing for Roman and Littlefield Publishers, at (301) 459-3366, sburnett@romanlittlefield.com.


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