Definitions and explanations of aggression can be found in psychology and social psychology. Theories about aggression mostly analyse individual behaviour and its the factors that influence it. Contrary to this, theories about violence are found predominantly in the field of sociology. They focus on the violent act itself and/or its societal context.
According to theories of aggression, it is defined as a habitual aggressive attitude, meaning aggression is viewed as an aspect of personality or individual character. Even though no unitary definition of violence can be found, all theories regard violence basically as damaging behaviour directed against an organism.
Theories about aggression focus mainly on the aetiology of aggressive behaviour. Four main approaches can be found: intra-individual, inter-personal, inter-group and finally ideological. Whereas the intra-individual approach regards aggression as an aspect of individual personality, the interpersonal approach views it as a communication problem and as a conflict between individuals. The third approach combines individual and sociological explanations, analyzing aggression in the context of inter-group dynamics. Aggression can help forging and strengthening group identities. The fourth approach can be found in social psychology,which views individual behaviour as embedded in a social context which supports or even legitimizes certain aggressive behaviour.
There are several approaches to differentiating between violence and aggression. Some theorists argue that aggression describes the emotional whereas violence describes the more functional aspect of a certain type of behaviour. In literature both terms are often used synonymously.
In contrast to aggression, the definition of violence is more subject to historical changes and influenced by culture and social values. Definitions reach from solely actual bodily harm to the idea of ‘structural’ violence (J. Galtung 1975), which claims a society that restricts somatic and mental realization compared to what is potentially possible can be defined as violent. Thus, direct and indirect discrimination will be regarded as an aspect of violence.
Violence in the close environment is called either ‘domestic violence’ or ‘family violence’. ‘Family violence’ puts the focus on the family. It includes intergenerational violence as well as violence within the partnership. In this approach, violence is seen as a symptom/result of a dysfunctional family dynamic. In contrast, ‘domestic violence’ includes various kinds of relationships aside from the family of origin, but still assumes that the participants are living together (cohabiting). ‘Domestic violence” thus covers various constellations of relationships, e.g. violence within the partnership, flat sharing communities or intergenerational violence, such as violence against older people. In contrast to ‘family violence’, ‘domestic violence’ puts the focus more on the perpetrator/offender and includes his/her social context: The causes of violent acts are seen either in individual life experience and/or in a social context which promotes or inhibits violent behaviour. A predominant social context is gender bias and its definitions of ‘male’ and ‘female’.
‘Domestic violence’ generally covers “physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or financial abuse by one person against a current or former partner in a close relationship, or against a current or former family member” (Definition by British Crown Prosecution Service 2006). Since in the UK adults are defined as any person aged 18yrs and over, cases of domestic violence do not cover the violent acts of juveniles against parents or vice versa. Usually child abuse is excluded from domestic violence.
Nevertheless a lot of young homosexuals and transgender people experience violence from members of their family of origin: for example parents confining the adolescent daughter to her room, taking her mobile phone and hamstringing contact to her homosexual partner. Alhough the parent’s violent behaviour might be due to homophobia and thus could be defined as ‘hate crime’, it needs to be defined as domestic violence since they are family members. Domestic violence can be exerted for homophobic reasons.
Neither “family violence” nor “domestic violence” seems to accommodate the present social changes in how people live together, how they arrange their relationships and their lives. Europe traditional ideas about the family have been radically changed, partners do not necessarily share a conjoint living space, they are not married, do not have children, are ‘patchwork families’ or have the same gender. There are less multi-generational-households and older people are not necessarily related to other adults in their living space. Furthermore, both terms veil the perpetrators of violence.
The project focuses on violence within couples, whereas it is exerted mostly by former or present partners. This includes male as well as female ex-partners.