A: No. This is an often repeated claim based on either faulty understanding or outright misrepresentation of a few studies made using the CONFLICT TACTICS SCALE (CTS) or similar self-report surveys. One of the authors of the original study, Richard Gelles, categorically rejects this interpretation of his research, and has done ever since these factoids began to be popularised.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FACTOIDS
by Richard J. Gelles, University of Rhode Island Family Violence Research Program
“This factoid cites research by Murray Straus, Suzanne Steinmetz, and Richard Gelles, as well as a host of other self-report surveys. Those using this factoid tend to conveniently leave out the fact that Straus and his colleague’s surveys as well as data collected from the National Crime Victimization Survey (Bureau of Justice Statistics) consistently find that no matter what the rate of violence or who initiates the violence, women are 7 to 10 times more likely to be injured in acts of intimate violence than are men.”
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: NOT AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD
By Richard J. Gelles
“[S]elf-described battered husbands, men’s rights group members and some scholars maintain that there are significant numbers of battered men, that battered men are indeed a social problem worthy of attention and that there are as many male victims of violence as female. The last claim is a significant distortion of well-grounded research data.
To even off the debate playing field it seems one piece of statistical evidence (that women and men hit one another in roughly equal numbers) is hauled out from my 1985 research – and distorted – to “prove” the position on violence against men. However, the critical rate of injury and homicide statistics provided in that same research are often eliminated altogether, or reduced to a parenthetical statement saying that “men typically do more damage.” The statement that men and women hit one another in roughly equal numbers is true, however, it cannot be made in a vacuum without the qualifiers that a) women are seriously injured at seven times the rate of men and b) that women are killed by partners at more than two times the rate of men.”
“[W]hen we look at injuries resulting from violence involving male and female partners, it is categorically false to imply that there are the same number of “battered” men as there are battered women. Research shows that nearly 90 percent of battering victims are women and only about ten percent are men…[T]here are very few women who stalk male partners or kill them and then their children in a cataclysmic act of familicide. The most brutal, terrorizing and continuing pattern of harmful intimate violence is carried out primarily by men.
Indeed, men are hit by their wives, they are injured, and some are killed. But, are all men hit by women “battered?” No. Men who beat their wives, who use emotional abuse and blackmail to control their wives, and are then hit or even harmed, cannot be considered battered men. A battered man is one who is physically injured by a wife or partner and has not physically struck or psychologically provoked her.
My estimate is that there are about 100,000 battered men in the United States each year – a much smaller number than the two to four million battered women – but hardly trivial.
Despite the fact that indeed, there are battered men too, it is misogynistic to paint the entire issue of domestic violence with a broad brush and make it appears as though men are victimized by their partners as much as women. It is not a simple case of simple numbers. The media, policy makers, and the public cannot simply ignore – or reduce to a parenthetical status the outcomes of violence, which leave more than 1,400 women dead each year and millions physically and/or psychologically scarred for life.”
Murray Straus also rejects the factoid interpretation of the original CTS research. Women are self-reported to be just as likely to strike their partners as men are, but they are not just as likely to batter their partners as men are. That is a crucial distinction.
One of the major critiques of the original CTS research, and it is one which Straus and Gelles largely concede, is the problem of sampling bias from various directions (the following is largely summarised from a post by Ampersand – link to cached article and refers to data from the USA):
- The surveys were voluntary, and the most abusive individuals are unlikely to agree to complete such a survey in case they gave themselves away as serious abusers.
- Their victims would be too terrorised to agree to complete such a survey in case their abusers found out.
- The response rate in the original research incorrectly failed to include those people who refused to answer screening questions. When these people are re-included in the statistics, the response rate drops from 84% to around 60%, well within the accepted margin for sampling bias.
- Straus and Gelles compiled information only about abuse within current, ongoing relationships. This has several sampling bias problems:
- As noted above, current victims of abuse are understandably (and rationally) hesitant to be frank with interviewers due to fear of their abuser discovering their frankness, especially when the researchers made no effort to ensure that respondents were alone when they called to ask survey questions.
- This methodology totally excludes violence which occurs after the end of a relationship, which accounts for 76% of all spousal assaults, and which is overwhelmingly committed by men, so thus discounts most of the most serious violence against women.
Other methodological criticisms of the CTS:
- In the original studies, no questions were asked about rape or sexual assault, in which male abusers predominate.
- The method of measurement is overly literal and limited:
- Results are ignored: a push in self-defense is equated with pushing someone down the stairs. The two acts are clearly not equally violent by any other measure.
- Context is ignored: playful mock-kicks or punches, which neither partner considers aggressive, are rated higher than a shove against the wall which jars the whole body.
- The CTS also ignores the mental impact of violence: many studies show that women are more frightened by violence, and experience a larger sense of loss of personal control and well-being. This is largely attributed to the fact that smaller women are less able to leave a violent situation against a larger man’s will than vice versa.
Other studies of intimate partner violence which have controlled for the methodological flaws in the original CTS research have garnered very different results.
US Dept of Justice: Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey.
Authors: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes Published: November 1998
—Women experience significantly more partner violence than men do: 25 percent of surveyed women, compared with 8 percent of surveyed men, said they were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date in their lifetime; 1.5 percent of surveyed women and 0.9 percent of surveyed men said they were raped and/or physically assaulted by such a perpetrator in the previous 12 months. According to survey estimates, approximately 1.5 million women and 834,700 men are raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States. Because women are also more likely to be injured by intimate partners, research aimed at understanding and preventing partner violence against women should be stressed.
It is important to note that differences between women’s and men’s rates of physical assault by an intimate partner become greater as the seriousness of the assault increases. For example, women were two to three times more likely than men to report that an intimate partner threw something that could hurt or pushed, grabbed, or shoved them. However, they were 7 to 14 times more likely to report that an intimate partner beat them up, choked or tried to drown them, threatened them with a gun, or actually used a gun on them (see exhibit 8).
—Violence against women is primarily partner violence: 76 percent of the women who were raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 were assaulted by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date, compared with 18 percent of the men. It is therefore imperative that strategies for preventing violence against women should focus on ways of protecting women from risks posed by current and former intimates.
Violence against women is primarily male violence. The survey also found that most violence perpetrated against adults is perpetrated by males: 93 percent of the women and 86 percent of the men who were raped and/or physically assaulted since the age of 18 were assaulted by a male. In comparison only 11 percent of these women and 23 percent of these men were assaulted by a female (see exhibit 10). Given these findings, adult violence prevention strategies should focus primarily on the risks posed by male perpetrators.
—Women are significantly more likely than men to be injured during an assault: 32 percent of the women and 16 percent of the men who were raped since age 18 were injured during their most recent rape; 39 percent of the women and 25 percent of the men who were physically assaulted since age 18 were injured during their most recent physical assault. About one in three women who were injured during a rape or physical assault required medical care. To better meet the medical needs of women who are victims of violence, medical professionals should receive comprehensive training on the physical consequences of violence against women and appropriate treatment strategies.
The survey found that women who were raped since age 18 were nearly twice as likely as their male counterparts to report an injury other than the rape itself (32 and 16 percent, respectively) (see exhibit 11). Similarly, women who were physically assaulted since age 18 were significantly more likely than their male counterparts to report that they were injured during their most recent physical assault (39 and 25 percent, respectively). When only physical assaults by intimates are considered, the difference between injury rates for women and men is even greater (41 and 19 percent, respectively).
The conclusion about intimate partner violence is perhaps best summarised by this Canadian Fact Sheet:
Sometimes women are accused of being “just as violent” as their batterers. However, spousal homicide rates show that women are killed by their partners at a rate of three times higher than women who kill men, and women who have been separated from their partners are murdered eight times more by ex-husbands than separated men killed by ex-wives.
Generally, the claim of “mutual battering” is a method of denying what is really taking place. A close look at the history and pattern of a “violent relationship” will most often show that the abuser has superior physical strength and skills for assault as well a superior social status and privilege by virtue of his gender, race or class. By contrast, his partner will be the one to adapt her behavior and lifestyle preferences to please the abuser, and will be the one who has suffered the more extensive physical and/or emotional damage. Both partners may be violent, but studies have shown that men are violent in response to women resisting their control or trying to leave, and women are violent when their lives or their children’s lives are in danger.
None of this is to assert that women are not capable of violence as part of a pattern of “common-couple violence”, or that women are never controlling abusive batterers. However, research that covers all the bases shows that there are many, many, many more battered women than there are battered men. Battered men deserve to be listened to and provided with services and protected from their abusers, but there simply is not the numerical demand for the same level of services for battered men as there is for battered women.