Behind Closed Doors: Domestic Violence


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Theories of Domestic Violence Empirical Study
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The documentary Behind Closed Doors depicts several cases of domestic violence. In all of the anecdotes, women struggle to leave their abusive partners but due to personal and legal factors this is challenging. Some of the women are still in love with their abusers and return to them, despite the pervasive pattern of violence in the couple’s life together. Other times, even when men are constrained by the legal system, the men’s punishments are relatively minor, such as a sentence of only two months in prison. Coercive Control Theory helps to better explain some of the women’s seemingly inexplicable behavior, namely the idea that women’s disempowerment in society causes them to believe that their lives mean nothing unless they are attached to a male figure (Arnold 2009). Domestic violence is an assertion of male power and masculinity, according to the theory, not simply personal acts of violence; similarly, women may believe they are not real women unless they have a husband or boyfriend who loves them, even if that supposed love is shown through violence.

While, according to Lawson (2012): “Feminist theory sees intimate partner violence as an expression of gender-based domination of women by men,” sociological theories of family violence often see violence as a product of social systems, such as a class structure which produces inequities which make certain men feel violent and turn that violence against the women in their lives (p. 572). But a purely systemic theory of violence does not explain why some women, even after being offered economic aid and support, still feel a compulsion to return to the male figures in their lives; nor are all men who engage in domestic violence victims of personal or class-based injustice. In fact, the documentary suggests that the system often tends to validate rather than circumvent male control over women and refuses to acknowledge the economic and personal pressures which can cause women to have ambivalent attitudes towards their abusers.


Behind closed doors. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved from:

Arnold, Gretchen. (2009). A battered women’s movement perspective of coercive control.

Violence Against Women, 15(12), 1432-1443

Lawson, J. J. (2012). Sociological theories of intimate partner violence. Journal of Human

Behavior in the Social Environment, 22(5), 572-590.