The single most widely used theory to explain intimate partner violence is feminist theory. The key explanatory concept is “coercive control.” Feminist theorists and researchers (e.g., Loseke & Kurz, 2005; Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Pagelow, 1984; Smith, 1991a, 1991b; Yllo, 1983, 1988, 1993, 2005) see violence against women as a unique phenomenon more closely aligned with other forms of violence against women (such as rape and sexual assault) than with child abuse and non-marital forms of elder abuse. The central thesis of the theory is that economic, social, and historical processes operate directly and indirectly to support a patriarchal (male- dominated) social order and family structure. Patriarchy leads to the subordination of women, and violence and abuse are mechanisms for maintaining subordination. As with all forms of oppression, patriarchal means of control are often subtle and deeply entrenched, with the most violent forms not emerging until and unless patriarchal control is threatened—as when individual women leave or threaten to leave relationships or groups of women assert their rights (Counts, Brown, & Campbell, 1992; Campbell, 1992; Stark & Flitcraft, 1996). For a test of Feminist Theory on a Global population, see Global Perspectives 7.1.

The main tenets of feminist theory are presented in the form of a wheel, often referred to as the “Duluth Power and Control Wheel” (Figure 7.2).

The Power and Control Wheel was developed in 1984 by the staff at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) in Duluth, Minnesota. The wheel presents the pattern of actions that an individual uses to intentionally control or dominate his intimate partner. The wheel is applicable only to the victimization of women and is not applicable to other forms of intimate violence and victimization.

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