Rebuttal: Male, Female Aggression Don’t Equate

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(WOMENSENEWS)–As a victim advocate, I must take issue with the weight that Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett place on research by Murray Straus in their book "The Truth About Girls and Boys."

In an excerpt recently published by Women’s eNews, "Women Are Aggressors in Household Violence Too," the authors write: "After a thorough review of the literature on who initiates violence in couples, Murray Straus, of the University of New Hampshire, reports: ‘It is painful to have to recognize the high rate of domestic assaults by women. All six major studies which have investigated this topic found that women initiate violence in a large proportion of the cases.’"

That finding, says Jack C. Straton, is part of a longstanding backlash on women’s safety. In his article "The Myth of the Battered Husband Syndrome," Straton raises three problems with studies Straus co-authored in 1980 that found nearly equivalent violence rates between men and women:

    No 1: Using a set of questions that cannot discriminate between intent and effect and that "equates a woman pushing a man in self-defense to a man pushing a woman down the stairs." This questioning technique, he writes, "labels a mother as violent if she defends her daughter from the father’s sexual molestation. It combines categories such as ‘hitting’ and ‘trying to hit’ despite the important difference between them." Straton also says that Straus’ research looks at only one year. And that "equates a single slap by a woman to a man’s 15 year history of domestic terrorism."

    No. 2: Straus interviewed only one partner, while other studies have found that partners’ accounts of violence did not match.

    No. 3: Straus’ study "excluded incidents of violence that occur after separation and divorce," yet these account for nearly 80 percent of spouse-on-spouse assaults, with a male perpetrator 93.3 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

    (For the footnotes on all this read Straton’s full piece.)

Male Violence More Severe

Rivers and Barnett were careful to note that male violence was far more severe, but Straton’s article provides critical detail.

After analyzing the results of the U.S. National Crime Surveys, Straton writes that "sociologist Martin Schwartz concluded that 92 percent of those seeking medical care from a private physician for injuries received in a spousal assault are women. That same study shows that one man is hospitalized for injuries received in a spousal assault for every 46 women hospitalized."

This is a highly politicized field and so-called research must rise above any suspicion of bias or manipulation.

It’s also a field where under-reporting of abuse has been found by numerous studies.

In 2009, for instance, the Bureau of Justice found that 72 percent of intimate-partner violence against males and 49 percent of intimate-partner violence against females was reported to police the previous year and almost half (47 percent) of the rape or sexual assaults against women were reported.

Those statistics helped raise a big red flag for me when I came across a different survey that found a huge incidence of false accusations of abuse. It was conducted by Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), an organization based in Rockville, Md., whose website says it is dedicated to "protecting victims, stopping false allegations and ending abuse."

The group’s 2011 study, "One in 10 Falsely Accused of Abuse," shows why it’s important to take a close look at the underlying methodology and terminology.

Based on a phone survey, the 1-in-10 false-accusation finding is based on individuals reporting that they have been falsely accused of committing abuse. Hmm…If you ask those serving time in prisons, a high percentage will likely say the same; but that doesn’t clear them of the crime.

Friends, Family Denial

The survey’s finding is also based on claims of innocence by friends and family members on behalf of the accused. There have been several cases where the accused admits to committing domestic violence or sexual assault and family and friends continue to deny it simply because they can’t handle the thought that their loved one could commit such an act.

I have witnessed this in my own work, but the story of Julie Rook Schebig, published by Madison Magazine in October, strongly illustrates the point. After five years of living with emotional and physical abuse, Schebig filed for divorce. Shortly after the marriage ended in August 2009, her ex-husband, Jerry Orton, called 911 to report he’d “just killed" his wife (she recovered). Despite that call, along with other evidence that came out in trial and led to a 22-year prison sentence, many of Orton’s friends and family stood by him and continue to blame Schebig.

The SAVE survey also finds more males falsely accused of abuse. Given that the majority of research and crime data show more males committing acts of violence, this is not surprising. If more males are committing the crimes, it stands to reason that more are being accused in the first place.

The SAVE researchers fail to provide a breakdown of respondents according to sex and gender. The numbers of men and women who participated could surely affect the results.

I am very aware that there are male victims of domestic abuse and I strongly believe that we need to provide them with support. Through the victim advocacy program that I run for the Quileute Tribe, I have and will continue to do so.

I am also aware that people sometimes make false accusations.

But neither of these facts should be used to minimize the degree to which girls and women take the brunt of household violence.

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Monica Henry holds a master’s degree in gender and peace building from the United Nations Mandated University for Peace and has served as a domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and elder abuse victim advocate for the Quileute Tribe since 2006.

8 thoughts on “Rebuttal: Male, Female Aggression Don’t Equate

  1. Studies do show that women initiate DV as much as men. According to the CDC, 38% of the most violent incidents are women against men. Men tend to under report DV for no one believes them Anytime you read stories of men being killed in the news, there is rarely ever mention of Domestic Violence. However, when a man does it to a women, it is front page headlines with the words Domestic Violence all over.

    Now lets talk child abuse which is under reported. Why? Because the number one abuser of children according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment Report are Mothers Only by far. Maybe than the safest place for kids can be with their biological dads.

    Next, no one talks about Suicide in Middle Aged Divorced Men with kids. It is the highest in the nation. They often become suicidal for after divorce they are torn from their children by a dysfunctional court system and often a mom that uses the kids as a tool. Now studies show that people who are suicidal are at most risk, whether a man or a woman, to commit Domestic Violence. Stop using kids as tools in divorces and separations and treat people who are suicidal and you can save many a life, man and women.

    Finally, we are now a nation of kids raised without a dad in the home. Over 21 million kids. By the time a child turns 18, 56% will not be living with one of their biological parents, usually a dad. In inner city Boston, teen moms, 85% have no dad in the home. Kids without a dad tend to become more violent adults, boys and girls.

    If we want to start to attack Domestic Violence at its core, we must bring back dads into kids lives. We must treat those who are suicidal and we must not use kids as tools in divorces.

    Thank you for the opportunity to post.

    • If we start viewing domestic violence as a social issue with solutions rather than a gender issue for blame we will reduce dv and children experience of dv.
      Are we ready to put judgements aside and work together?

    • Greetings Skiph56, can you please provide a link or citation for the CDC report you are referring to? I have the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and it doesn’t support that claim. The report does not provide a gender/sex breakdown concerning perpetrators (which I feel is a flaw in the report and have requested additional information from the CDC). The report only notes the percentages/estimated number of victims by gender/sex, it doesn’t provide detailed information on the gender/sex of the perpetrator. According to the report, males experienced “severe physical violence” at 13.8 percent and within the 12 month period prior to the survey at 2 percent (women were at 24.3 percent and 2.7 percent respectively) but since it doesn’t breakdown the gender/sex of the perpetrator, we don’t know how many of these incidents are female against female, male against male, male against female or female against male…..the report shows that men most definitely experience severe violence at the hands of intimate partners (and “pushing/shoving or slapping at a comparable level for males and females) but it does not reflect your statement that “38% of the most violent incidents are women against men.” If you could direct me to the CDC report you referenced, I would greatly appreciate it as I like to keep up to date on all reports/studies relating to intimate partner violence.

  2. Thank you Monica, for holding Women’s E-News accountable to proper research and reporting methods. As a psychotherapist in practice for 20 years, working with couples, I am greatly disturbed by the level of poor, biased and harmful reporting that is occurring. With domestic violence and sexual assault rates rising around the world we cannot afford slip-shod reporting and research in our own camp. Further, if we are not perceiving the problem with accuracy we certainly cannot hope to achieve its end with any efficacy.

  3. As a service provider for men and women who are looking for support services and information on male victims of female perpetrated domestic violence I have learned a lot pertaining to men’s attitude in domestic violence.
    Both men and women are people; there are violent and peaceful individuals, when cut both bleed blood, they are more alike than different.
    Independent of stats we have the result that there are both men and women who are victims of domestic violence; right now let’s not discuss who is the bigger victm.
    For about 40 years the vast majority of DV services have been directed for women; but the stats on dv victims has remained the same- something is not working here. Millions of dollars spent on prevention but the stats are the same??? Something is broken.
    Here is a thought; studies have shown “woman’s shelters save men’s lives”, why is that? A woman is provided with an option to either “kill the chump” or escape into a shelter. What if a man was provided with the same option; “hit the b****” or escape into a support shelter; which choice to you think the majority of men will take?
    My bet is on the man taking the shelter escape.
    Can we, of different genders and perspective, learn to work together toward solutions rather than “statistics show…” blame??
    In my experience of working with men; if men had a way out of the situation they would take it; which means women and children have a reduced experience of domestic violence; is that what we re all working towards?

    • It was interesting to read Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett’s article “women are aggressors in household violence too”, which gave me a different perspective of domestic violence, and face the reality that domestic violence is not only hurting women, but also some men. And later Monica Henry gave her own opinion about the former highlight article and pointed out that male, female violence don’t equal, and male violence more severe. I have to say that both articles seem rational and logical, and both provided all kinds of numbers. However, the point of domestic violence is not a debate of women or men, who get hurt more. It more has to do with how we stop it.

      Last year, a big domestic violence scandal of one of Chinese public figures pushed the under-discussed and under-report domestic violence issue in to public view, especially those happened in high-income urban families. Li Yang, the founder and potentate of Li Yang Crazy English, is China’s most famous and richest English teacher. In September 2011, his wife publicly posted photos of herself on line with severe bruises on her head and knees, and vowed to seek a divorce. This online message got thousands of netizens’ attention and brought this traditional “private affair of a family” on the table. People condemned Li Yang and demanded that he respond. Li did apologize in public later, but he also said “problem involves character and cultural differences, which are difficult to solve through counseling.” I was shocked to hear a men who can feel no regret and stated that, “I hit her sometimes but I never thought she would make it public since it’s not Chinese tradition to expose family conflicts to outsiders.”

      After Li Yang’s scandal, I started to pay attention to China’s domestic violence issue. According to An All-China Women’s Federation survey (ACWF), domestic violence takes place predominantly in young families and households with low educational levels in rural areas. Normally more physical violence in rural areas, compare to emotional abuse in cities. Traditionally Chinese culture has lots to do with those under-report domestic violence cases. People still hold the opinion that women should be subordinate to men at home, as men consider themselves as family breadwinners and have the right to maintain order at home. Besides that, lots of Chinese women believe that domestic violence is private issue that should just stay in bedroom, and they choose to shut them mouth up to save the family face. All those reasons make it very harder for women to get proper help and response from police or the judiciary in China than other western countries. According to ACWF’s 2007 survey, domestic violence occurred in 30 percent of the 270 million families and over 85 percent of the victims were women. And about 100,000 families break up each year as a result of domestic violence.

      For most Chinese women, especially urban middle-class, high-educated, well-income women, Li Yang’s case set a good example for them. Li Yang’s western wife didn’t keep silence during the whole “ private issue”, instead she stood up and protected herself by publicing this violence issue and asking for help from judiciary and public. It also not only told people that domestic violence victim shouldn’t stay in silence, but also pushed the National People’s Congress to draft the Anti-Domestic Violence law and accelerated the legislative process. Even

      Back to the beginning of this discussion, there is no need to make a final decision about “men or women, who suffer more from domestic violence?” because we all know the answer that domestic violence sucks, no one like it, people get hurt, physically and mentally, and it also causes all kinds of social problems by breakdown of family. However the change of public view of domestic violence from this Li Yang case showed that the awareness of this issue has risen. Though we still have a long way to go, we are at least on the way.

  4. I so appreciate Monica Henry for writing this rebuttal to the Rivers and Barnett article that is damaging to women and children in unsafe situations. Both the Rivers/Barnett book and the Strauss research are biassed and written in ways that misinterpret the truth about family violence.
    Domestic violence shelters and programs are not intended to meet all family dynamic needs and issues, they are to get women and children out from unsafe home situations, and that is a serious and accurate need with courageous staff members helping women courageous enough to risk further harm by leaving!
    All that said, I agree with comments that emphasize that when there is violence, there are sometimes problems that are general and include all members of the family. Thus, there is also a need to address these issues. I emphasize, that it cannot be done by ignoring the fact that 90% of injuries in violent situations in families are to women and are from men; thus, when this occurs it must be addressed first, before all the other dynamic needs can be considered. It does not deny other issues. It does not deny that some men are also harmed by both women and men in domestic situations. Domestic shelters for women only need to be recognized for the fact that they do help women and children who are in unsafe family situations, and I applaud them for doing so.

  5. I don’t really understand why we need to debate who suffers domestic violence more. Domestic violence is a terrible crime no matter if the victim is male of female. I do believe women can be just as capable of domestic violence as men. Watching MTV’s “Teen Mom” can attest to that. Amber Portwood constantly hit her baby father Gary and even tried to kick him down the apartment stairs. Gary kept his cool and never hit her back, even though he is probably twice her size. It’s apalling that it was only after the episode aired that the Indiana police started investigating the incidents. MTV apparently didn’t care to report it. I believe this type of abuse does happen to a lot of men but it doesn’t get reported because it’s not that severe and most men just shake it off. I know that if Gary had lost his cool and hit her back, it probably would have been more severe and I’m sure that MTV would have taken action, but we can’t say one act of domestic violence is wrong because the violence was really severe and say another act of domestic violence is ok because it wasn’t so severe. All domestic violence is wrong!