Violent Resistance Essay

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Violent resistance is one of three major forms of partner violence defined by Johnson. He developed this control-based typology in response to contrasting findings within the partner violence literature concerning the use of violence by women and the frequency, severity, and consequences of partner violence. Violent resistance is physical violence used by one partner in response to intimate terrorism, a form of physical violence utilized as a part of a larger web of control and power that usually involves economic control, isolation, intimidation, and psychological abuse. Intimate terrorists are almost always men who seek to dominate and control “their women,” ultimately entrapping them in a highly coercive, dangerous relationship typically involving escalating and frequent violence. Since violent resistance involves a victim fighting back against an intimate terrorist, it is predominately used by women. Although violent resistance is similar to what is commonly thought of as self-defense, it does not necessarily meet the legal definition of self-defense and may not always be conceptualized as such by the women who use it. The third violence type that Johnson describes is situational couple violence or violence that is not part of a larger pattern of power and control, but is rather a response to a situation-specific conflict. Situational couple violence, the most common form of partner violence, is less likely to escalate to severe physical violence, tends to be relatively infrequent, and is equally likely to be used by women and men.

Violent resistance tends to be a temporary means of coping with the violence because of men’s general ability to physically dominate women and because the victim may fear the ramifications of fighting back. Women entrapped in intimate terrorism relationships may use violent resistance as an initial coping strategy, but often also seek help from the police, battered women’s shelters, courts, and/or hospitals. In addition, some research indicates that most victims of this form of violence either escape the relationship or are able stop the violence within 2 to 3 years of its onset. Victims of situational couple violence are less likely to use formal help sources, probably because they are in less imminent danger and because they may not require immediate assistance. Victims of situational couple violence are also less likely to leave the relationship. Because intimate terrorism victims frequently rely on social service agencies for help, they are typically found in clinical samples, whereas women experiencing situational couple violence are typically found in general samples of the population, such as those used in the National Family Violence Surveys. It is hypothesized that these different sampling strategies have resulted in researchers uncovering qualitatively different phenomena (intimate terrorism vs. situational couple violence) and ultimately causing rancorous debates among researchers.

More research is needed to truly understand the differences among these types of violence, particularly the role of violent resistance in women’s ability to cope with and escape intimate terrorism. Examining these differences is challenging, however, since it ideally requires reports from both partners and information about the context within which the violence exists.


  1. Johnson, M. P. (1999, October). Conflict and control: Images of symmetry and asymmetry in domestic violence. Paper presented at the Families in Conflict Symposium, University Park, PA.
  2. Johnson, M. P. (1999, November). Two types of violence against women in the American family: Identifying patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence. Paper presented at annual meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Irvine, CA.

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