The Truth About Intimate Partner Violence

April 4th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

What do you think about when read or hear about intimate partner violence? A sobbing woman with visible bruises?

Physical violence is a horrible crime that can take many shapes or forms. One of the most tragic kinds of physical abuse is when violence takes place within the context of an intimate relationship between two adults. An intimate relationship is supposedly the place where one can feel safe and loved, and having that bond be hijacked by a slap, fist or baseball bat is a traumatic experience indeed.

Nowadays there is considerable awareness around partner violence, and the signs of this increased awareness abound in the public sphere. The number of shelters for battered women have increased drastically in many modern countries, policy makers pass specific laws to combat domestic violence against women and the media no longer refrains from reporting about the damage that men inflict on women in relationships.

On first glance, this may all seem to represent real progress, and in many ways it actually does. However, there is a major omission built into the burgeoning domestic violence industry, and that omission has to do with the image of the sobbing woman that many of us have been taught to believe is at the core of partner violence.

While it’s certainly true that domestic violence against women is a huge problem that deserves our attention, society remains unaware of the fact that violence against men – perpetrated by women – is a problem of equal proportions.

Statistics or Research?

When you look at the statistics of domestic violence, it is far from obvious that men are the victims to the same extent as women, since 80 to 90 percent of the reported victims are women. Statistics, however, are not the same thing as academic research.

Statistics can be seriously biased due to large amounts of people not wanting to report what has happened to them. In the case of violence in the home, men rarely report what has happened to them, since they know that they would likely be shamed, laughed at, and not believed when telling their story.

Thankfully, the issue of partner violence is one that has interested lots of researchers around the world, and they have produced large amounts of reproducible research that consistently tell us the same story:

  • Men and women instigate domestic violence in equal amounts, with a small tendency of women instigating the violence more often
  • Men and women hit each other with the same frequency
  • Women tend to get hurt more than men, due to the superior upper body strength of men. However, the most serious injuries are sustained by both sexes in equal amounts, or even with a majority of male victims, since women are more likely than men to use a weapon or a tool when assaulting their partner.
  • Same sex couples experience similar levels of partner violence as heterosexual couples

Examples of Research

As noted above, the amount of research done on partner violence around the world is impressive, and consistently shows us the same thing. Perhaps the most overwhelming proof of women assaulting their male partners to the same extent that men assault their female partners, is the annotated bibliography by Martin S. Fiebert.

Other research studies include:

The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study performed on a cohort of more than 1000 subjects in New Zealand. Some of the key results of this this study can be seen online in this report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the study, about 27 percent of women and 34 percent of men reported having been physically abused by their partner. Furthermore, about 37 percent of women and 22 percent of men said they had perpetrated the violence.

What is especially interesting about this study is that the characteristics of the male and female perpetrators differ significantly. Male perpetrators had “extreme levels of polydrug abuse, antisocial personality disorder, dropping out of school, chronic unemployment, poor social support and violence against victims outside the family”. However, “these extreme social and personal problems were not found for Dunedin study female perpetrators.”

The researchers speculate that the reason that ordinary men do not dare hit women, while ordinary women do dare to hit their men, is that the women feel safe in the knowledge that the police will not believe a battered man, while the men know that laying your hand on a woman means that she could easily have the police arrest you.

Like many other studies, this one shows that women were more likely to get physically hurt than the men were.

The British Home Office Research Study 191 found that men and women perpetrate equal amounts of domestic violence. 4.2 percent of men and women had been victims of partner violence in the year preceding the study. The following risk factors for domestic violence were identified: marital separation, young children, financial pressures, drug/alcohol abuse, disability/ill health.

Straus and Gelles (1986) found no difference in spousal abuse prevalence among men and women, and no difference even when it comes to severe abuse. Just like many other researchers, they concluded that mutual violence occurs more frequently than either male or female violence alone. 

Conclusion

The available research, which is substantial and of high quality, makes it clear that gender is not a good predictor of partner violence; both genders hit each other with the same frequency. Women aren’t able to hurt their men to the same extent that they get hurt themselves (though some research contests this point), but this is certainly not from lack of trying.

Good predictors of domestic violence have consistently been shown to be mental illness, drug abuse, young children and poverty (i.e. psychosocial issues).

If we are ever to make progress in the difficult area that is partner violence, policy makers and the media need to start focus on the real causes, instead of buying into the feminist myth that partner violence is caused by some kind of male oppression.

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25 Responses to “The Truth About Intimate Partner Violence”

  1. thebigmanfred Says:

    Pelle good post.

    is that the women feel safe in the knowledge that the police will not believe a battered man, while the men know that laying your hand on a woman means that she could easily have the police arrest you.

    I think this is largely true. Most of domestic violence is portrayed as one sided, so the police are likely to arrest the man when called. I’m trying to find the source for one California case in particular where this basically happened. If I remember correctly the daughter called the police, and the cops were set on arresting the father even though he was the victim. I don’t recall how it was resolved, I’ll try to hunt it down.

  2. thebigmanfred Says:

    Here’s an example from the California Woods v. Shewry which made state funding of dv gender neutral (yeah California!).

    From Marc Angelucci @ Glenn Sacks http://www.glennsacks.com/blog/?page_id=1784

    “…The anti-male bias of police policies was evident in the Woods case. During the 1995 shotgun incident, Ruth called the police after David wrestled the shotgun away from her. Maegan yelled to her mom, “Tell the truth!” and Ruth told the police she wanted them to come because she wanted to kill her husband.

    Nevertheless, when the police arrived and David opened the door to let them in, the officers immediately grabbed him by the wrist, wrestled him to the ground, and handcuffed him. They only uncuffed him after Maegan told them that it was her mother who had the gun.”

    I’m stunned.

  3. Pelle Billing Says:

    I’m stunned as well. I still cannot understand how actual legislation has been passed, defining all domestic violence as being perpetrated by men. Even statistics (which do not give an accurate represenation of domestic violence) show that 5-20 percent of the domestic violence victims are men. And legislators were well aware of those statistics when passing the laws. How do they justify discriminating a well defined group of victims?

    It’s time to reintroduce rational, critical thinking when discussing gender issues.

  4. Schala Says:

    “I think this is largely true. Most of domestic violence is portrayed as one sided, so the police are likely to arrest the man when called. I’m trying to find the source for one California case in particular where this basically happened. If I remember correctly the daughter called the police, and the cops were set on arresting the father even though he was the victim. I don’t recall how it was resolved, I’ll try to hunt it down.”

    Well, I heard about a case like that too, not the same as that in post 2, but similar.

    The guy was in a wheelchair, and bruised. He got arrested. He was part of the court process that resulted in making unconstitutional to reserve funding only for women’s shelters in California.

  5. Schala Says:

    Hopefully policies will eventually reflect the truth.

    I posted lots of interesting information in the February open thread on FC, and ballgame will eventually make a post out of it. Hopefully soon. It’s about DV and the abuse of the government and feminism about it. Like saying 300,000 Quebec women are beaten each year (that’s over 20% of all women), with no actual basis for it.

  6. thebigmanfred Says:

    Schala I remember you made a post about it on FC. I’m looking forward to ballgame’s post on it. That stat you just mentioned is astounding.

    Pelle:

    And legislators were well aware of those statistics when passing the laws. How do they justify discriminating a well defined group of victims?

    I can describe how the state of California justified it. Essentially what they said was that men don’t represent a significant amount of victims. That’s the basis that the attorney general of California was using to discriminate against men. Basically “women are the greater victims so it’s fine if men don’t have as much services.” Thankfully the court disagreed! In particular they said that equal amendment clause in their constitution isn’t about numbers, that it has nothing to do with group rights (like the rights of women over the rights of men), and that equal amendment applies to the individual. In short, they said you can’t discriminate against men as a whole because women as a group may be a greater number of victims.

  7. The Truth About Intimate Partner Violence - Part 2 Says:

    [...] Pelle Billing . com Gender Liberation Beyond Feminism « The Truth About Intimate Partner Violence [...]

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    “In short, they said you can’t discriminate against men as a whole because women as a group may be a greater number of victims.”

    Thank goodness for the common sense of the court.

    Male expendability is so ingrained that hardly anybody reacts when men are actively discriminated against. But the California ruling gives me hope that things are starting to change.

  9. Pelle Billing Says:

    Schala,

    Do you mean this thread?

    I scrolled through it and couldn’t find the information you’re referring to. Could you point me to the info? Thanks.

  10. Jim Says:

    Glenn ASacks and his blog are a great resource for this kind of thing. He is based in Los Angeles and reports a lot on issues in California. That’s where this case was.

  11. Jim Says:

    Glenn Sacks, I meant.

  12. Just a metalhead Says:

    Schala said”I posted lots of interesting information in the February open thread on FC, and ballgame will eventually make a post out of it. Hopefully soon. It’s about DV and the abuse of the government and feminism about it. Like saying 300,000 Quebec women are beaten each year (that’s over 20% of all women), with no actual basis for it.”

    I agree that this number was pulled out from thin air with no basis, but to be precise, it doesn’t make up 20% of all women in Québec. There are nearly 4 million women in Québec, so 300 000 would be a bit under 8% of all women, but if you include only women from 18 to 60 years of age, the women most likely to be in a couple, that’d be about 2,2 millions and 300 000 would represent about 14% of that number.

    Anyway, my understanding of the problem of perception of intimate partner violence amongst feminists is this: it IS true that there are cases that actually conform to the Duluth model where a man tries to dominate his partner by using a myriad of violent tactics. The man in question would probably consider that he as a man has to have power and impose it on others no matter what means they take. However, the problem is that feminists by and large put all acts of violence in intimate relationships in the same basket, they presume that any time when violence is used, it automatically fits into the neat classification they put up. Reality is much more complex.

    I think the truth is that in most cases when there are acts of violence in a couple, it is actually reciprocal, two people who live together will inevitably have some friction, and not all have the maturity to deal with such friction in a calm manner, ending up with a physical act of violence as an “argument”. There may also be problems of miscommunication which builds up frustration and leads to impulsive acts of violence. Often, men and women are taught to communicate differently, and when they misread what the other says (directly or indirectly) it can lead to needless arguments and confrontations.

    The problem of the feminist approach is probably the result of the approach of “the personal is political”. It’s okay to try to see the social causes behind specific personal problems, it is an analysis that is worth doing but that has its limits. If you push it too far, the personal and political start being mixed up. They stop using the personal issues to get a glimpse at social issues and start using the analysis of social issues as a way to perceive personal issues. Meaning that if they conclude that the “patriarchy” is oppressing women, then the correspondance in reality is that the only possibility that makes any sense is men hitting women to oppress them and women hitting men only in self-defense to protect themselves and their independance. If there are cases where the woman in a couple is actually using violence to dominate her partner, then the analysis according to the radical interpretation of the “the personal is political” idea would be that there is a “matriarchy” oppressing men, because only that would explain these specific cases. This simply cannot be the conclusion, so of course the case in question cannot exist, that is the reasoning I perceive.

    To paraphrase Freud “sometimes a slap in the face is just a slap in the face” (not that I wish to diminish the importance of violent acts), it doesn’t need to always just be a symbol for wider social trends, it can be, but then again maybe it isn’t and that is something that feminists often forget when dealing with IPV.

    There are a lot of problems with this approach to IPV: by imposing a one-size-fits-all approach, you mean that every case that falls outside of the presumed characteristics of the situation gets badly treated or ignored. So men in a reciprocal violent relationship get unfairly all of the blame while the women can actually get justified for their own actions, one person gets treated and the other not, so you only solve half the problem, if even that. But worse, it means that people suffering in situations that do not fit the presumptions get ignored, men who suffer domestic violence and lesbians who suffer from domestic violence (in proportions similar to heterosexual if I might add, how can you explain that if domestic violence is only the manifestation of “male privilege” and the “patriarchy”?) are told that in fact their situation is impossible or even worse, they get told that in fact they must be responsible for it!

    I hope my message makes sense, I’ve had a lot of problems trying to express exactly what I think.

  13. Pelle Billing Says:

    Excellent comment metalhead, I completely agree. Saying that only men can hit their partners is tantamount to saying that only men are capable of being destructive or evil, which leads to a very weird worldview.

    Conflating the personal and the political is indeed a feminist problem, which I discussed here.

  14. Schala Says:

    “I agree that this number was pulled out from thin air with no basis, but to be precise, it doesn’t make up 20% of all women in Québec. There are nearly 4 million women in Québec, so 300 000 would be a bit under 8% of all women, but if you include only women from 18 to 60 years of age, the women most likely to be in a couple, that’d be about 2,2 millions and 300 000 would represent about 14% of that number.”

    I’d like to say this number was in 1985. 24 years ago. It was touted as truth until a MRA asked what it was about to the government, who found no source for it save the word of the one who said it, and removed it from pamphlet (including that of the Justice department) etc – in 2004.

  15. Schala Says:

    In 1985, this number was based on data from the next census in 1974 (people trying to imagine from 1974 to 1981 how the population would grow). Their estimation was about 2,580,000 women in the province in 1981. So someone got the number 258,000 women beaten every year out. Then it got changed to 300,000 a year later by magic.

    300,000/2,580,000 is not 20%, true. It’s 11.6% of all women. Or 20% of all women in couples of 15-65, in 1981.

  16. Schala Says:

    The 10% thing (exactly 10%) came from a feminist in 1980 saying that 10% of women HAD to be beaten every year, by a contest of estimations where she arrived at around 500,000 for Canada, somehow. She counted the same people 2 or 3 times, more than once, so her number is inflated a couple times.

    Rather than 10%, statistics had found 3.3% of women* being beaten every year.

    * Of married women in couples between the ages of 15-65

  17. Schala Says:

    So 300,000 a year for Quebec only is just 6 times the real rate. This has served to give influx of taxpayer money into programs to combat this social evil, which was seen as disproportionately bigger than it was, on the word of some government person in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1985, all based off guestimates.

  18. Just a metalhead Says:

    Schala, reading your posts I just wish to mention that I hope that I didn’t come off as aggressive in my post about the 20% figure. I didn’t intend to deny or question the points you made, I agree with all of them, I’m just a nitpicker about statistics and numbers. I just want to make it clear so that there is no bad blood.

    Anyway, the “invention” of numbers to prop up whatever cause is a serious problem. The first step to tackling the problems of our world is to make sure you have all the facts about those problems, including their frequency. What I wonder most is whether or not the feminists who propose and repeat these numbers and similar ones about similar problems actually believe in them or if they know they’re probably lying but “it’s for a good cause so it’s OK”. I’ve already seen the latter sentiment expressed by an activist for safe sex (a cause I agree with, don’t start thinking I’m a prude) who had mentionned as an example that interrupted coitus actually had some efficiency as a mode of birth control according to studies, but they weren’t going to tell THAT to teens so they said that it was completely inefficient. And it’s not like it was only his group that did it, I clearly remembered my sex ed classes telling me the same thing. It makes you wonder, how many good-intentionned activists for different causes are consciously lying to us “for our own good”? And why should we trust them if they won’t bother to be honest with us?

    The perverse effects of these practices are clear: the limited amount of money that is available to invest against social problems can be distributed disproportionally to the specific problems’ importance. It is sad to say, but sometimes it’s better to take some money out of a good cause to put it in another good cause where that same money would have more effect. Additionally, there is the possibility that inflating numbers will somehow “normalize” it for some people so that they expect it and they may even accept it.

  19. Schala Says:

    Keep in mind no numbers have been advanced for male victims, and in Quebec province, as far as I know, no shelter exist at all for male victims. Versus a few hundreds for women.

  20. Pelle Billing Says:

    Metalhead and Schala,

    Great exchange, good to see that the two of you are diligent about the numbers. As has been demonstrated time and again, feminism uses factoids in its rhetoric, and we certainly want to do better than that.

  21. Schala Says:

    It would be nice if the numbers of male victims, advanced in many research studies – of which many feminists take their info from (but only the female victim side of the info) was cited widely, and understood to be a problem to deal with as well.

    I’ve heard arguments against supporting male victims:

    1) It will remove focus from women.
    2) Only gay men are victims, and that’s 5% of all victims.
    3) There’s not enough funds to go around (goes back to 1) a bit).
    4) Men don’t need shelters, they’re all rich (ok, I’m paraphrasing, what they really say is men have the power to get away from a relationship and have more financial means – though this is outright classism). Men’s children are also forgotten there, the shelters might be also important for their children – women’s shelters have understood that.
    5) It doesn’t comform to the Duluth model, so it doesn’t exist.
    6) We don’t have time to deal with this, we have our hands full (that’s the government now, not a blogger).

  22. Just a metalhead Says:

    “4) Men don’t need shelters, they’re all rich (ok, I’m paraphrasing, what they really say is men have the power to get away from a relationship and have more financial means – though this is outright classism). Men’s children are also forgotten there, the shelters might be also important for their children – women’s shelters have understood that.”

    I don’t think it’s classism, because they assume that of all men, whether rich, poor or whatever. It just ties in to the concept of “power” that is often used to justify double standards in many feminists’ way of thinking. It’s one of the arguments used to be able to blast “men” in general and make wide assumptions about men while deflecting accusations of sexism that would come out were men to reflect back the same criticism on women. They say “sexism = prejudice + power”, so blasting men is a-okay because, well, men have the power and not them, so prejudice against men is acceptable, but prejudice against women is bigoted.

    The big problem is again that the term “power” as used here is very vague, like their concept of “patriarchy” or of “privilege”. According to that concept, all men have power and all women don’t because that’s how the “patriarchy” wills it… proof? Well, look at the wage gap and at the small number of women in positions of authorities. But that doesn’t make sense if you look at individual cases, according to that definition, for example, a male serf who lived in Renaissance England and died in his 20s in a war would be considered to have had power while Queen Elizabeth, for whom he worked and died, wouldn’t, because he had a penis and she, a vagina. That she ruled an empire and had basically the right of life or death on him while he didn’t even own the land he tilled his entire life is just a diversion from the essential power relation according to that concept!

    The biggest error in that line of thinking is believing that someone who belongs to a certain group (gender, race, religion, etc…) will inevitably manifest group solidarity and favor his own group to the detriment of others. So if most authority positions are filled by men, then it would logically follow that these men would use their power to make society more agreeable for men…

    The truth is often the opposite of that. Cases where a member of a minority came to a position of power and treated his fellow minority members much more harshly than his “privileged” predecessor abound. For instance, in Québec (yeah, I’m from it so forgive my examples), there was a case where a young muslim girl was playing soccer in a tournament while wearing an hijab. She played a few games and was never told to remove her hijab by the referees of the games she played despite the fact that the rules said that such articles of clothing were prohibited… then she was set to play another game where the referee happened to be a fellow muslim, the referee went to her and told her to remove her hijab or he wouldn’t let her play.* That’s just an example, but there’s a lot of them around, how many women in the workplace say that they were better treated by male bosses than by female ones? I think often, someone in a position of authority will tend to fear being accused of discrimination or will tolerate specific things from people belonging to other groups he wouldn’t otherwise because he doesn’t feel at ease to make a judgment on their actions, not having experienced whatever it is that makes the groups differ. For example, a male boss told by a woman employee she had to take a day off of work because of menstrual cramps would probably feel very uncomfortable judging whether or not this is a legitimate reason, in doubt, most would allow it. I think a female boss is more likely to say “Take an aspirin and come here. That’s what I do.”. Just google it. The opposite is also possible, a person in authority discriminating clearly against others not of his own group, but that is not the whole truth.

    Anyway, to the problem of men’s shelters, the reasoning is about this from what I understand: even if the woman is beating and dominating the man, he still has power and she doesn’t, so if he wants it to stop, it’s easy for him to leave the relationship because remember, he has the power even while he protects his head from thrown plates. He may have no money, no social network to fall back on, his fellow males in authority will laugh at him if he comes to them for help and may be disabled, but somehow, he still has the “power”.

    *http://www.thestar.com/News/article/186035

  23. Schala Says:

    We,, I’m also from Quebec, if you look up for the first comment about the DV thing, I mentioned Richard Martineau (of Journal de Montréal)’s comment.

  24. Just a metalhead Says:

    I know, I had read you on the subject on an open thread on Feminist Critics which I read.

  25. Danny Says:


    1) It will remove focus from women.
    2) Only gay men are victims, and that’s 5% of all victims.
    3) There’s not enough funds to go around (goes back to 1) a bit).
    4) Men don’t need shelters, they’re all rich (ok, I’m paraphrasing, what they really say is men have the power to get away from a relationship and have more financial means – though this is outright classism). Men’s children are also forgotten there, the shelters might be also important for their children – women’s shelters have understood that.
    5) It doesn’t comform to the Duluth model, so it doesn’t exist.
    6) We don’t have time to deal with this, we have our hands full (that’s the government now, not a blogger).(emphasis mine)

    Those two points I emphasized are invocation of the zero sum game argument. (the belief that in order for one side to gain the other side is losing). As probably many of you have seen before women’s advocates like to point out how men use the zero sum game argument and this is a perfect example of how they invoke it when it suits them.

    They are concerned that if men start to receive funding for aid and support then women will suffer (kinda reminds you of the silly argument that real rape victims, well they usually say women, are the only ones hurt by false accusations). Well for private shelters and aid organizations there’s not a lot to be said to counter that argument because a private organization is pretty much free to do as it pleases. My problem is when they apply this to shelters and aid organizations that get government funding.

    What you have is a situation in which men are paying to fund these shelters and other resources (by way of paying taxes) and then when the need arises for them to get help they are turned away because of their gender. Simply put how fair is it to have your money poured into a resource that you do not have access to because of artificial gender reasons*? I’m pretty sure if women were paying into something that they didn’t have access to because of artificial gender reasons there would be an uproar.

    * – By artificial gender reason I mean being blocked because of your gender vs. the resource not applying to you because of your gender. I as a cisgender male wouldn’t bother with not having access to government funded free pap smears because they don’t apply to my male reproductive system as a cisgender women wouldn’t bother with not having access to government funded free prostate exams.


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