Date of Award

Summer 1986

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)




Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology

Committee Director

Kelly G. Shaver

Committee Member

Ronald A. Giannetti

Committee Member

Barbara Winstead

Committee Member

Thomas Cash

Committee Member

John A. Hunter


The central purpose of this research was to compare attributions of blame for spousal violence made by women who were in violent relationships with those of abused women who had sought shelter and those of women who had never been abused. Both clinicians and researchers (e.g., Frieze, 1979; Walker, 1979) have included victims of marital abuse among victims who self-blame, and have contended that self-blame contributes to remaining in an abusive relationship. Previous work, however, has not considered the repetitive nature of spouse abuse, and has routinely confounded self-causality with self-blame.

Nonabused women and abused women who remained in relationships were recruited with newspaper advertisements. Sheltered women were recruited at the shelter. All were screened with the Conflict Tactics Scales (Straus, 1979) for either two or more incidents of physical abuse in the past year, or no experience of partner violence. Demographics and factors such as marital satisfaction (Dyadic Adjustment Scale; Spanier, 1979) and childhood history of violence were collected. All subjects read vignettes depicting abuse, completed an unsolicited attribution measure (Harvey, Yarkin, Lightner, & Town, 1980), and a structured attribution questionnaire. They attributed blame for one incident of violence, for continuing violence, and for self-experienced violence when applicable.

Analyses of variance indicated that the groups differed on several demographic measures (p's from .05 to .001), on partner childhood history of abuse (p < .001), and on marital satisfaction (p < .001). Sheltered women had suffered more violence than abused-remaining women (p < .001). There were no differences among groups in blame attributed to the male and female partners, for either single-incident or continuing violence. All groups found the male more blameworthy than the female. Blame to the female increased when abuse was repetitive. Abused-remaining women were higher in self-blame for experienced violence (p < .05), but this was accounted for by group differences in male violence and marital satisfaction. The results suggest that self-blame is not as prevalent among abused women as has been claimed.


A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculties of The College of William and Mary, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology through the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology.


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