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.
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.