Behavior Change: Violence against Women throughout History
by Nicole Vellidis
Behavioral change applies to a wide variety of human traits and characteristics, including gender and domestic violence. Both occur as a result of a shift in human behavior and negatively impact the victim of the abuse. This type of violence can affect people on every level of existence. However, this paper will focus on abuse directed towards females. By using bioarchaeological methods, I aim to demonstrate the prevalence of gender and domestic abuse in ancient examples as well as a modern-day context. Oppression and gender violence are still prevalent all over the world, and studying how the different societal tactics of direct and indirect violence has affected women in the past shows how inequitable power dynamics adapt to keep the ‘status quo’ in evolving cultures. I aim to investigate the innate perpetuity of abuse that women have been victims of and the catalysts that cause an intimate partner to become a perpetrator of domestic violence. This paper will examine a variety of sources such as bioarchaeological remains, violence as recorded in the historic record, modern medical research, and violence present in war in order to understand the interconnectivity of violence and these catalysts.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) cites that one in three women are victims of domestic abuse in the United States alone. One in five women are victims are rape. These facts are neither surprising nor ground-breaking. These facts are normalized in a world in which domestic abuse, violence, and oppression towards women have consistently been occurring across generations, cultures, and mindsets. This violence extends further than physical trauma. This violence is a deeply personal experience and “influenced by notions of gender, the body, and identity”. Violence is a broad subject matter that includes a wide variety of topics. This paper will demonstrate the parallels of domestic and sexual violence past and present. Through the examination of bioarchaeological evidence, modern medical studies, and psychological studies I aim to highlight the deeply personal and complex nature of the effect of sexual and domestic violence on women and its evolution throughout history. The scope of this paper will range from antiquity to modern societal abuse and aims to prove the innate perpetuity of abuse that women have been victims of, and analyze the individualistic catalysts that cause an intimate partner to become a perpetrator of domestic violence.
Terms and Problems Facing the Bioarchaeology of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence manifests itself in several ways. A perpetrator may subjugate their victim to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Within the confines of this paper, the term domestic violence will focus on the physical aspect of the act which leaves physical trauma on the bones. A challenge faced in the study of domestic violence within the bioarchaeological sphere is the discernment of the origin of bone trauma. Several violent actions unrelated to domestic abuse can create similar trauma. A 1999 study examined the frequency of certain injuries occurring on women known to be victims of domestic violence. The women participating in the study were living and the study included wounds that may not have appeared on the bones, such as flesh wounds. The study found that most fractures and dislocations were concentrated on the arms, hands, and face of the women. This method was repeated in Martin et al., 2010 and is the prominent bioarchaeological method used in this essay in order to deduce the presence of domestic violence in the life of a deceased individual. This method will be discussed in more detail later in the paper. However, in order to identify trauma and the events and social settings leading to injury, both material culture and human remains must be examined. Burial context is an important element for study. The burial area, the body position, and any grave goods serve as indicators of the life and death of the individual. Studying skeletal remains in the context of broader social and cultural aspects of life allows for exploration of the “fundamental ways in which violence is linked.”
As discussed by Pamela L. Gellar, sex and gender are complex concepts that must be carefully considered when studying human remains. Gellar states that bioarchaeology “conceptualizes sex as an unshakable truth, a fixed essence, an observable fact”. The article explores the misogynistic origins of this statement and attempts to find a common ground for the complex role gender played in antiquity and continues to play on an even more dramatic and inflated sense in today’s society. Gellar is not satisfied with the common consensus that sex is described by the biological elements of a body while gender is determined by a culture or society and instead suggests a system based on the overall “identity” of an individual within a culture. Additionally, Gellar emphasizes the importance of not placing modern cultural constructs onto ancient remains. These ideas remain of importance for this paper, which will closely examine and correlate the lives of ancient and modern women and men. In the bioarchaeological cases explored in this paper it appears that the individuals both identified as female culturally and biologically.
Domestic Violence in the Historic Record
Classical scholars are unique in possessing a wealth of written literature that allows for an intimate view into the mindset of ancient peoples. In “Uxoricide in Pregnancy: Ancient Greek Domestic Violence in Evolutionary Perspective,” Susan Deacy and Fiona McHardy explore numerous examples of uxoricide, or a man attacking and killing his intimate partner while she is pregnant, in Ancient Greece by analyzing literary sources. This study, while not directly related to bioarchaeology, finds its place in this paper by providing insight into the possible mindsets that may motivate an individual to perpetrate violence against his/her intimate partner. These mindsets will then be examined against those presented in modern day society.
Men in Ancient Greek examples tend to be men of great esteem, such as kings or gods. Deacy and McHardy draw correlations between these esteemed characters and behaviors in “common” men. They argue that the act of uxoricide within mythology and literary sources are representative of a universal male mindset. This mindset results in the panic and the supposed loss of control induced by the pregnancy of their partner. Marriage, pregnancy, gaining/losing employment, and old age are all established as critical periods of change that may induce increased stress. These periods may involve a shift in power relations between intimate partners. Pregnancy proves to be a particularly vulnerable time for women with the first and third trimesters being the time of greatest risk.
The study of human remains can provide countless indications of elements pertaining to the life of an individual. In the instance of the La Plata site in the American Southwest, bioarchaeological data can highlight the course of established violence in the culture. The La Plata Valley site, as researched and detailed by Debra L. Martin, Ryan P. Harrod, and Misty Fields in their article “Beaten Down and Worked to the Bone: Biological Investigations of Women and Violence in the Ancient Southwest,” investigate the remains of sixty-six individuals from two sites. Of the sixty-six sets of remains six proved in need of further intensive examination. These six individuals were women with ages ranging from 20-38. The level of care placed into the burial of these six women contrast starkly with the other sixty bodies studied. The women were carelessly thrown into abandoned pits, their bodies sprawled onto the ground and buried without grave goods.
The six women possessed healed cranial depression fractures. Three of the women had evidence of multiple cranial injuries, while four possessed traumatic lesions to the body. Injuries of this type suggest continual assaults creating the same injuries. The size and the shape of the cranial depression fractures are not uniform and indicates that there was no specific weapon or tool used in the abuse of these women. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine assessed several aspects of modern domestic abuse in the United States. Their study found that the head and face possessed the highest number of injuries, followed closely by injuries on the arms, and that the injuries were of inconsistent sizes and caused by various blunt objects. The correlation between the wounds create a strong argument for the case of the domestic abuse of the six women of La Plata. This parallel also provides an insight into the broader spectrum into which domestic and sexual violence belong.
Several aspects of this study provide insight into gender-based violence of the past. Severity of force, the extent of bone damage, placement, healing, and timing were all investigated by the bioarchaeologists and are important elements to consider when attempting to provide insights into the treatment of the victims. Evidence from the six skeletons show healing over wounds, suggesting that the women were injured in the same manner continually over a considerable expanse of time. This implies an acceptance of gender-violence in the community as a whole. The frequency and consistency in location indicate that the concept and perpetration of the violence was a common activity shared among the individuals of the village. Beyond the bioarchaeological context, the burial setting insinuates that the women being abused possessed an extremely low social status among the La Plata peoples. The women were discovered “prostrate, sprawled, or loosely flexed in orientation” within the graves and possessed no grave goods. From the context and knowledge of other burial sites from the La Plata site this is a distinct shift in burial traditions. The mistreatment of the women after death indicates a probable mistreatment in life, marking them as possessing an extremely low social status. Although these elements are drawn from the six women in the La Plata site, domestic violence crosses cultures and manifests itself in similar ways.
Domestic and sexual violence are not singular occurrences. They do not exist as an isolated entity and there is no instance that is identical to another. In “Identifying and Interpreting Domestic Violence in Archaeological Human Remains: A Critical Review of the Evidence” R.C. Redfern proposes that cross-culturally there is no society or status group that is free from domestic violence. However, a group or society may hold varying beliefs in regard to what they recognize as abuse. Redfern explains that all causes of violence, both interpersonal and global, are related and connected. The reaction and acceptance of violence towards women, as with any social matter, is fluid within cultures and prone to fluctuations and decreases.
Depending on the socio-political changes in gender equality, acts of violence may become more or less accepted. This fluidity does not necessarily span over a large expanse of time, such as hundreds of years. In times of particularly high societal stress, such as the time during and after a war, droughts, and economic hardships, the acceptance of such behavior may morph. This morphing is a natural occurrence. In instances of war human desperation and fear rationalizes terrible actions, especially violence, so that the repercussions are less extreme than normal. However, in times of relative peace society increases their standards and morals.
Redfern and the New England Journal article both flag several elements that act as catalysts in domestic abuse. Alcohol, drug abuse, poverty, unemployment, being regularly involved in fights, low levels of education, and the man’s status as a partner all contribute to creating the setting for domestic violence. The man’s status as a partner may be one of the most important factors in domestic abuse. There is an innate desire in males to possess control over their sexual partner. This desire is closely related to male-male competition for women. This suggests that the root of domestic violence against an intimate partner is uncertainty over paternity and is a form of “mate-guarding.” This sexual jealousy and protectiveness creates an unhealthy environment and puts the intimate partner at risk for abuse and death. This type of sexual jealousy and mate-guarding is particularly prone to occurring during pregnancy. The Ancient Greeks recorded several such instances in their literature and mythology, as stated above.
There is evidence from the La Plata site that indicates that a similar power shift occurred. Martin, Harrod, and Fields present several theories and catalysts for the apparent abuse of the six women (mentioned above). One theory places emphasis on the social structure of the village itself. In this theory, the six women are not foreigners but “an unfortunate group of women” within the society. The people of the La Plata area are known to have practiced polygamy and there is a possibility that the low status of these women is a direct result of a multiple marriage. In this scenario, the first wife is the dominant figure who possesses a higher status than the second wife, thereby having the power to force labor onto the secondary wife and inflict physical damage. In correlation with the men in Ancient Greece, the first wife would have felt threatened in her position in the marriage and would have lashed out in order to regain control over that threat. This is a common occurrence in cultures that encourage polygamous relationships, although it is not the only instance in which female violence is a strong possibility.
The six women fit into a profile and model for being victims of a raid on their native village. A raid would have resulted in their capture and would have forced them into a slave-like existence. This type of raid initially appears to be a stereotypical male activity. However, evidence indicates the possibility that the women native to the village performing the raid may have assisted in capturing and enslaving foreign women. Initially, this poses more questions than answers. Why would native women want to bring in foreign women to add competition for mates and resources? An increase in demand for a labor force could be a possibility, as indicated by the six women skeletons possessing an increased number of stress indicators relating to hard labor. In this scenario there is the possibility that the domestic abuse may have been perpetrated by the native women who “ruled” over them.
Women stereotypically are considered less prone to violent acts than their male counterparts. However, Martin, Harrod, and Fields present the theory that women possess the same potential for violence and aggression as men and will utilize violence to gain a desired outcome. The violence presents itself differently in women than men. Women appear to be more likely to adapt an emotional and passive aggressiveness before resorting to violence. By this standard, women are not always passive victims when it comes to domestic violence but may themselves be perpetrators of it.
Domestic Violence in War
Domestic violence does not occur as an isolated event or without a significant catalyst. Catalysts such as drought, famine, or times of war can cause intimate partners to act negatively towards each other and may result in domestic violence. However, in times of war domestic violence is morphed into something different and more often contains a sexual component. Violence is accepted differently in times of war. Events and actions that normally would be condemned are allowed. This is a stark behavioral change within a group of people. As a result of this behavioral change domestic and sexual violence against women and children is proliferated in a more lethal manner. Debra Martin studies the effects of war on women and children’s bodies in an ancient and modern context, particularly within situations in Syria. Traditionally and predominately in modern society, women are not directly involved in combat during war. As a result, it was widely assumed that there would be no physical violent damage on the bones of females and children from war zones and war times. However, this notion fails to account for the fact that when an enemy gains territory they often turn to terror tactics in order to control the population. Women commonly emerge as targets for this type of abuse that is intended to isolate them from their families, ethnic group, and religion. Since this type of abuse is usually sexual it can be difficult to find physical evidence in the bones. However, Martin believes that studying the skeletal remains of females who have been subjugated to this type of violence can reveal a “wide range of insults, injuries, disabilities, and other problems” indicating domestic violence. This could serve to emphasize the types of violence that disproportionately affect women. This sort of bioarchaeological study assists in legitimizing the case of the La Plata women, who very likely were subjugated to this type of fear tactic by both the men and women of the village.
Domestic abuse has been occurring for an inordinate amount of time. Through the examination of multiple cultures, time-periods, and varying manifestations of abuse it can be concluded that the evolution of domestic abuse is not really an evolution at all. The abuse and catalysts for abuse overwhelmingly have remained consistent over the expanse of human history. Men, and occasionally women, react to a series of catalysts that threaten their control and position in relationships. This manifests in a violent manner in an attempt to regain control. In the case of the La Plata village, the possible women perpetrators sensed a shift in the dominant powers and changed their behavior in order to live the life they were accustomed to.
Detecting domestic abuse in bioarchaeology is not black and white. Only when bioarchaeological data is paired with a larger context can larger connections and parallels be forged. Similar to Christopher Stojanowski’s division of three approaches of bioarchaeology which all must combine in order to gain a cohesive understanding of past lives, gaining an understanding of the evolution of domestic abuse throughout time is not possible solely through bioarchaeological evidence. An understanding of the interconnectivity of violence itself is important. All types of violence are related and connected, and violence does not exist for the sake of existing. There are a series of catalysts that must occur in order to create the environment for violence, with a distinct change in behavior being of the upmost importance.
Deacy, S., & McHardy, F. (2013). Uxoricide in pregnancy: Ancient Greek domestic violence in evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary Psychology, 11(5), 994-1010.
Garcia-Moreno, C., Jansen, H., Ellsberg, M., Heise, L., & Watts, C. H. (2006). Prevalence of intimate partner violence: Findings from the WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence. The Lancet, 368, 1260-1269.
Geller, P.L. (2008). Conceiving sex: Fomenting a feminist bioarchaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology, 8(1), 113-138.
Hynes, P.H. (2004). On the battlefield of women’s bodies: An overview of the harm of war to women. Women’s Studies International Forum, 27(5-6), 431-445.
Kyriacou, D.N., Anglin, D., Taliaferro, E., Stone, S., Tubb, T., Linden, J.A., Muelleman, R., Barton, E., & Kraus, J.F. (1999). Risk factors for injury to women from domestic violence. The New England Journal of Medicine, 341. 1892-1898.
Martin, D.L., Harrod, R.P., & Fields, M. (2010). Beaten down and worked to the bone: Bioarchaeological investigations of women and violence in the ancient southwest. Landscape of Violence, 1(1), 1-19.
Martin, D.L., & Tegtmeyer, C. (2017). The Biology of Women and Children in Times of War. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing.
Me Too. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://metoomovmt.org/
National Statistic Domestic Violence Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence2.pdf
Redfern, R.C. (2017). Identifying and interpreting domestic violence in archaeological human remains: A critical review of the evidence. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 27(1), 13-34.
Stojanowski, C.M., & Duncan, W.N. (2015). Engaging bodies in the public imagination as social science, science, and humanities. American Journal of Human Biology, 27, 51-60.
Perez, V.R., (2012). The bioarchaeology of violence: Infusing method with theory. The SAA Archaeological Record, 12(2), 35-38.
 National Statistic Domestic Violence Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence2.pdf
 Martin, D.L., Harrod, R.P., & Fields, M. (2010). Beaten down and worked to the bone: Bioarchaeological investigations of women and violence in the ancient southwest. Landscape of Violence, 1(1), 1-19.
 Perez, V.R., (2012). The bioarchaeology of violence: Infusing method with theory. The SAA Archaeological Record, 12(2), 35-38
 Kyriacou, D.N., Anglin, D., Taliaferro, E., Stone, S., Tubb, T., Linden, J.A., Muelleman, R., Barton, E., & Kraus, J.F. (1999). Risk factors for injury to women from domestic violence. The New England Journal of Medicine, 341. 1892-1898.
 Martin et al. (2010)
 Perez. (2012)
 See Beaten Down and Worked to the Bone, referenced later in paper.
 Perez. (2012)
 Geller, P.L. (2008). Conceiving sex: Fomenting a feminist bioarchaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology, 8(1), 113-138.
 Geller. (2008)
 Redfern. (2017).
 Kyriacou et al. (1999)
 Further evidence of this provided in Redfern article, referred to later in the essay but not mentioned here.
 Martin et al. (2010)
 Martin et al. (2010)
 Redfern, R.C. (2017). Identifying and interpreting domestic violence in archaeological human remains: A critical review of the evidence. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 27(1), 13-34.
 Redfern. (2017)
 Redfern. (2017), Kryiacou et al. (1999)
 Deacy, S., & McHardy, F. (2013). Uxoricide in pregnancy: Ancient Greek domestic violence in evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary Psychology, 11(5), 994-1010.
 1998, pp. 199–200; cf. Wilson, Daly, and Wright, 1993
 Deacy, et al. (2013)
 Deacey et al. (2013)
 Redfern. (2017)
 Martin et al. (2010)
 Deacy, et al. (2013)
 Martin, D.L., & Tegtmeyer, C. (2017). The biology of women and children in times of war. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing.
 Hynes, P.H. (2004). On the battlefield of women’s bodies: An overview of the harm of war to women. Women’s Studies International Forum, 27(5-6), 431-445.
 Stojanowski, C.M., & Duncan, W.N. (2015). Engaging bodies in the public imagination as social science, science, and humanities. American Journal of Human Biology, 27, 51-60.
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