Accusations of Domestic Violence
False Accusations During Divorce
The Battered Statistic Syndrome by Armin A. Brott -- appeared in
the Washington Post, July, 1994
By now, everyone knows about the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and
Ronald Goldman. But there's a third victim of these tragic killings: the
truth about the prevalence of domestic violence and female victimization,
a truth that is daily being maimed almost beyond recognition by the irresponsible
use of statistics.
Consider, for example, the wildly varying statements being issued
on all sides regarding the number of women who are supposedly beaten by
men in the United States. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,
for example, estimates that more than half of married women (over 27 million)
will experience violence during their marriage, and that over one third
(over 18 million) are battered repeatedly every year. Shocked by these
statistics--both of which are frequently quoted in the media--I called
the NCADV and asked where they came from. Rita Smith, the group's coordinator,
told me these figures were only ""estimates.'' From where? ""Based on what
we hear out there.'' Out where? Battered women's shelters and other advocacy
Common sense should tell you that asking women at a shelter whether
they've been hit would be like asking patrons at McDonald's whether they
ever eat fast food. It would be irresponsible and intellectually dishonest
to apply those answers to the country as a whole. But when there's a sensational
story to run, common sense and intellectual honesty are rarely taken into
Even those who have a public responsibility to be accurate on
these issues sometimes falter. According to Donna Shalala, Secretary of
Health and Human Services, for example, 4 million women are battered each
year by their male partners. But where did Shalala get her figure? From
a 1993 Harris poll commissioned by the Commonwealth Fund. Two percent of
the 2,500 women interviewed said they had been ""kicked, bit, hit with
a fist or some other object.'' Apply that to the approximately 55 million
women married or living with a man and you get a total of 1.1 million.
So where did the other 2.9 million come from? They were women who said
they had been ""pushed, grabbed, shoved, or slapped.'' That's a form of
abuse, to be sure, but is it what most people would call battering?
By far the worst distortion of the numbers of battered women comes
from Miami talk show host Pat Stevens, who appeared on a segment of CNN's
Crossfire show called ""OJ on the Air'' in June. Stevens estimated that
when adjusted for underreporting, the true number of battered women is
60 million. No one bothered to tell Stevens--or Crossfire's millions of
viewers--that 60 million is more than 100% of all the women in this entire
country who are currently in relationships with a man. Instead, Stevens'
""estimate'' and the other ""facts'' on battered women all serve to fuel
the claims that there's an ""epidemic of domestic violence'' and a ""war
How many battered women are there? ""Because many feminist activists
and researchers have so great a stake in exaggerating the problem and so
little compunction about doing so, objective information on battery is
very hard to come by,'' writes Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole
Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women (Simon & Schuster, 1994). But
Murray A. Straus, head of the Family Research Laboratory at the University
of New Hampshire, and Richard A. Gelles, a sociologist at the University
of Rhode Island, who have been tracking spousal abuse for over 20 years,
have come up with what are widely believed to be the most accurate estimates
available--the National Family Violence Survey (NFVS).
Their Survey, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health,
found that 84% of American families are not violent. In the 16% of families
that do experience violence, the vast majority of that violence takes the
form of slapping, shoving, and grabbing. Only 3-4% of all families (a total
of about 1.8 million) engage in ""severe'' violence: kicking, punching,
or using a weapon.
Moreover, a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine
found that 44% of ""severe violence'' to wives did not cause any injury,
and 31% caused only a slight bruise. Still, Straus and Gelles estimate
that about 188,000 women are injured severely enough to require medical
attention. That's a horrifying number of victims, but it's a far cry from
4 million, or 18 million, or 60 million.
Another commonly accepted ""truth'' about domestic violence is
that 95% of the time, women are the victims and men the perpetrators. Nothing
could be further from the truth. The Family Violence Survey--as well as
numerous other studies--have found that men are just as likely to be the
victims of domestic violence as women. But aren't these women just defending
themselves against their more violent partners? Straus and Gelles found
that among couples reporting violence, the man struck the first blow in
27% of cases; the woman in 24%. The rest of the time, the violence was
mutual, with both partners brawling. The results were the same even when
the most severe episodes of violence were analyzed. They were also the
same when only the woman's version of the events was considered.
Even more interesting are Straus' findings, released earlier this
month, that men's violence against women--even as reported by women--has
dropped 43% between 1985 and 1992. Over this same period, in contrast,
assaults by women against men increased by about 28%. Straus concludes
that ""part of the reason may be that there has been no effort to condemn
assault by wives parallel to the effort to condemn assaults by husbands.''
So where did the claim that 95% of domestic violence is initiated
by men come from? From the U.S. Department of Justice, which collects data
on the number of reports of domestic violence. But as women's rights groups
rightfully claim, reports are not always an accurate measure of the severity
of the problem. Certainly, some female victims of domestic violence fail
to call the police, fearing retaliation by their abusers. But other Justice
Department studies have shown that men, too, are reluctant to ask for help,
reporting all kinds of violent victimization 32% less frequently than women.
Confessing to being beaten up by another man, however, is a piece
of cake compared to admitting being victimized by a woman. After all, men
are socialized to ""take it like a man.'' As a result, men tend to report
only the most extreme abuse. ""They wouldn't dream of reporting the kind
of minor abuse--such as slapping or kicking--that women routinely report,''
says Suzanne Steinmetz, director of the Family Research Institute at Indiana
Another example of how data on female victimization is distorted,
is the claim that ""domestic violence is the most common cause of injury
to women.'' The source for this claim is a 1991 study of extremely poor,
inner-city African-American women in Philadelphia--which doesn't even find
that domestic violence was the leading cause of injury. ""And even if it
did,'' says Dr. Jeane Ann Grisso, one of the lead researchers of the study,
""I'd never apply that conclusion to the total population of American women.''
Nevertheless, Grisso's study has been widely cited as proof that there's
an epidemic of violence against women.
Some advocates have taken Grisso's study one step further, claiming
that as many as 50% of women's hospital emergency-room admissions are the
result of ongoing abuse. At the source of this so called fact are several
studies done in the 1970's by Evan Stark and Anne Flitcraft, co-directors
of the Domestic Violence Training Project at the University of Connecticut.
They compiled their data by going through old medical records in urban
hospitals and estimating how many women were battered by using what they
called an ""index of suspicion.'' Christina Hoff Sommers has analyzed Stark
and Flitcraft's methods and writes: ""if a woman was assaulted but the
records do not say who hit her, Stark and Flitcraft classify this as a
case of "probable' domestic abuse; if she has injuries to her face and
torso that are inadequately explained, they classify it as "suggestive
of abuse.''' Apparently no one considered the possibility that someone
other than a husband or boyfriend might have been responsible for the woman's
Compare Stark and Flitcraft's results to those reached in a 1992
survey of 397 emergency rooms in California. Nurses were asked to estimate
the number of patients per month who have been diagnosed with injuries
caused by domestic violence. Estimates ranged from two per month for small
hospitals to eight per month for large ones. The California study concluded
that the number of perceived domestic violence victims was so low because
many health professionals are poorly trained in recognizing domestic violence.
That may be correct, but it's doubtful that it would account for the enormous
difference between a handful of domestic violence cases a month and the
claim that such cases account for 50% of all women's emergency room admissions.
There's no question that many women who have been severely battered
are afraid to leave their batterers--either because they are economically
dependent, or because they fear further abuse. In one of their ""fact sheets,''
the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence tells us that women who
leave their batterers ""increase by 75% their chances of getting killed.''
When I asked her to explain that figure, the NCADV's Rita Smith admitted
that that statistic isn't true at all, and that the Coalition has no concrete
evidence of the effect--if any--leaving a violent partner will have on
a woman. I then asked Ms. Smith whether it bothered her that her organization
was responsible for spreading an imaginary statistic. ""Not really,'' she
said. ""We think the chance of getting killed goes up and we're just trying
to make a point here.''
In a very small number of tragic cases, abusive men do kill their
partners. But women aren't the only ones killed in domestic disputes. A
Justice Department study released earlier this month showed that 41 percent
of spousal murder victims were male. Battered women's advocates claim that
those women who kill their husbands do so only out of self-defense. But
in an extensive study of women imprisoned for murder, Coramae Richey Mann,
a researcher at the Department of Criminal Justice, Indiana University/Bloomington
found that only 59% claimed self-defense and that 30% had previously been
arrested for violent crimes.
As for the perception that women who murder their husbands are
treated harshly by the justice system, Dr. Mann found that few female domestic
homicide offenders receive prison sentences, and that those who do rarely
serve more than four or five years. These findings were are confirmed by
a recent Los Angeles Times article. The article, which quoted Justice Department
sources, reported that women who kill their husbands were acquitted in
12.9% of the cases, while husbands who kill their wives were acquitted
only 1.4% of the time. In addition, women convicted of killing their husbands
receive an average sentence of only six years, while male spousal killers
got 17 years.
Why are these statistics being battered? ""The higher your figures
for abuse, the more likely you'll reap rewards, regardless of your methodology,''
says Dr. Sommers. Those who create and disseminate inflated statistics
are often invited to testify before Congress, they're written about in
the New York Times, and some even get to be interviewed on Oprah.
Not everyone who manipulates data does so for personal gain. Some
are simply trying to get people to sit up and pay attention to the plight
of battered women--a truly important goal. But to do so, they've created
a false epidemic. If advocates confined themselves to the truth--that 3-4%
of women are battered each year--domestic violence might still be regarded
as the unfortunate behavior of a few crazy men. But if enough people are
led to believe that 19 or 50 or 100 percent of women are ""brutalized,''
the only logical conclusion can be that all men are dangerous and all women
need to be protected.
Is it OK to lie shamelessly if your cause is a noble one? Is half
a solution better than no solution at all? On the one hand, lying about
the extent of the problem of domestic violence has had some very positive
effects, opening the public's eyes as well as their wallets. Battered women
are now the hottest story in town and Congress is about to pass the $1.8
billion Violence Against Women Act which, among other things, will fund
toll-free hotlines, battered women's shelters, and education and training
programs. It's certainly possible that none of this would be happening
if advocacy groups stuck strictly to facts.
On the other hand, even supposedly harmless ""puffing'' can have
been some extremely negative consequences. Inaccurate discussions about
domestic violence, for example, can quickly turn into smear campaigns in
which almost every man who hasn't exhibited his natural vicious and misogynist
tendencies yet, is expected to do so at any moment. Members of Congress,
seeing a golden opportunity to appease a large block of voters, have chosen
a quick solution rather than attempting to correct their constituents'
misapprehensions. The Violence Against Women Act, for example, doesn't
devote a nickel to the same kind of special protection for men, even though
males make up 75% of all murder victims and 61% of the victims of all violent
Women, too, are being hurt by the lies. Having fought so hard
to be taken seriously and treated as equals, women are again finding themselves
portrayed as weak and helpless--exactly the stereotypes that have been
traditionally used to justify discriminating against them. As the author
and feminist critic Katherine Dunn writes in the current issue of The New
Republic, ""The denial of female aggression is a destructive myth. It robs
an entire gender of a significant spectrum of power, leaving women less
than equal with men and effectively keeping them "in their place' and under
Worst of all, the inflation of domestic violence statistics produces
a kind of ratchet effect. The same people who complain that no one listens
if they don't exaggerate only find it that much more difficult to get people's
attention the next time around--which in turn seems to justify another
round of exaggeration. Eventually, the public either stops listening altogether,
or finds the statistics too absurd to believe. And when we're trying to
alleviate the tragedy of domestic violence, the last thing you want anyone
to do is laugh.
Can any of you gentlemen point me in the direction of documentation
that could help me investigate and refute and/all of these claims if they
prove to be false? The environment around here e (in Ann Arbor) is *very*
hostile towards Men's Rights primarily because these sorts of stats go
Hope this helps ---------------------------------------------
Armin A. Brott
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 14 Apr 1996 07:10:49 -0600 (MDT)
From: Walter H. Schneider
Subject: Domestic Violence (fwd)
The forwarded article is, as far as I could determine, not included in
the section on statistics in the FM home page. It should be included.
Maybe a link to it could be set up.
All the best,
Walter H. Schneider Bruderheim, Alberta, Canada
From: "Ted J. Jensen"
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 19:21:38 -0500
We should also be concerned with violence done to men by women and not speak
as if only men are demons and perpetrators.
I realize this opens up debate, for many everycase of a woman attackiing or
injuring a man or the vast mahority of such cases are just women defending
themselves and women are just victims of "battered women syndrome"; such is
an oversimplification and distortion and just not so.
On the Internet and elsewhere this issue (women injuring men through
violence) is being intelligently discussed, and it is maintained women are
equally responsible for being perpetrators.
Armin Brott has a long essay, intelligent and logical, about domestic
violence. It can be located using "Violence" under the search engines on the
Internet. Or I may just post it heere now.
From: "Armin A, Brott" firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Battered men--the full story David:
Here it is. Again, please post my e-mail address with the piece and
encourage people with similar experiences (and, in addition, violent
women) to contact me.
Thanks for your interest.
"... she started pawing and ripping at him with her fingers, scratching
his back and face..."
From Dec. 12, 1990 police report detailing the beating of Stanley G.
by his wife
"... multiple bruises, abrasions and lacerations... chest wall
contusion... psychological trauma..."
From the hospital injury report of the same incident
Billboards, radio and TV ads across the country proclaim that "every
fifteen seconds a women is beaten by a man." Violence against women is
clearly a problem of national importance, but has anyone ever asked how
often men are beaten by women? The unfortunate fact is that men are the
victims of domestic violence at least as often as women. While the very
idea of men being beaten by their wives runs contrary to many of our
deeply ingrained beliefs about men and women, female violence against men
is a well-documented phenomenon almost completely ignored by both the
media and society.
Consider recent studies on family violence. In 1975, and again in 1985,
researchers Murray A. Straus, Ph.D., and Richard J. Gelles, Ph.D., et al.,
conducted the National Family Violence Survey, one of the largest and most
respected studies of family violence ever done in this country. The Survey
showed that men are just as likely to be the victims of domestic violence
as women. In addition, Straus and Gelles found that between 1975 and 1985,
the overall rate of domestic violence by men against women decreased,
while women's violence against men actually increased. In 1991, to avoid
accusations of gender bias, Straus recomputed the assault rates based
solely on the responses of the 2,947 women in the 1985 Survey. The new
results confirmed that even according to women, men are the ones more
likely to be assaulted by their partners.
Violence takes various forms. There is no question that since men are, on
average, bigger and stronger than women, they can do more damage in a
fistfight. However, according to Professors R.L. McNeely and Coramae
Richey Mann, "the average man's size and strength are neutralized by guns
and knives, boiling water, bricks, fireplace pokers and baseball bats." In
fact, a 1984 study of 6,200 cases of reported domestic assault found that
86% of female-on-male violence involved weapons, while only 25% of
male-on-female violence did.
But not all men are bigger than their wives. On one occasion, Stanley G.,
whose wife weighed over two hundred pounds, locked himself in his car to
keep her from attacking him. She managed to get in anyway. Once inside,
she shoved him face-first into the passenger side of the seat and jumped
on him, putting her knees in his back. Stanley reached for the cellular
phone to call for help but his wife wrestled it away from him and hit him
with it several times on the side of the head.
According to many women's rights advocates, female violence against
men--if it exists at all--is purely a self-defense response to male
violence. Several studies, however, show that women initiate about one
quarter of all domestic assaults, men initiate another quarter, and the
remaining half are classified as "mutual." Other researchers, attempting
to discredit the findings on men as victims, claim that since women are
physically weaker and do less damage, only "severe assaults" should be
compared. The results of that analysis show men are only slightly more
likely (35% by men, 30% by women) to initiate the violence. Overall, Dr.
Straus found that whether the analysis is based on all assaults, or is
focused exclusively on dangerous assaults, "about as many women as men
attack a spouse who has not hit them during a one year period." Clearly,
then, the claim that women's violence is purely "self-defense" doesn't
But if female-on-male domestic violence is so widespread, why haven't we
heard about it before? For several reasons. First, men, in general, are
extremely reluctant to report that they have been the victims of any
assault. After all, men are supposed to be tough, able to take care of
themselves, right? What would people think...? "Men are trained not to ask
for help, and a man's not being able to solve his own problems is seen as
a sign of weakness," says Dr. Alvin Baraff, a psychotherapist and the
founder of MenCenter, a Washington, D.C. counseling and research group
focusing on men. It's hardly a surprise, then, that men report all types
of violent victimization 32% less frequently than women, according to the
1990 Department of Justice Survey of Criminal Victimization.
But confessing to being knocked around by another man is a piece of cake
compared to admitting being victimized by a woman. Why? Most likely, men
fear--quite justifiably--society's traditional reaction. In 18th- and
19th-century France, a husband who had been pushed around by his wife
would be forced by the community to wear women's clothing and to ride
through the village, sitting backwards on a donkey, holding its tail. If
he tried to avoid the punishment, the crowd would instead punish the man's
closest neighbor--for having allowed such a travesty to occur so close to
his own home. This humiliating practice, called the charivari, was also
common in other parts of Europe. In Brittany, villagers strapped
wife-beaten husbands to carts and "paraded them ignominiously through a
Modern versions of the charivari persist today. Take Skip W., who
participated in a program on domestic violence aired on the short-lived
Jesse Jackson Show in 1991. Skip related how his wife repeatedly hit him
and attacked him with knives and scissors. The audience's reaction was
exactly what male victims who go public fear most: laughter, and constant,
derisive snickering. Even when they are severely injured, men will go to
great lengths to avoid telling anyone what they've been through. Dr. Ronn
Berrol, an emergency-room physician at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, sees a
lot of men with hot-water burns on the face, deep cuts on the hands, and
other injuries consistent with being on the receiving end of domestic
violence. But when Berrol asks how they were injured, most of these
victims are evasive and claim they somehow "did it themselves or that
their kids accidentally dropped something on them."
A few men, though, are willing to swallow their pride and call the police
when they've been abused by their wives. While each of the police officers
I spoke with very carefully claimed that "domestic violence calls are all
handled the same way--regardless of the gender of the victim," male
victims tell a very different story. Tracy T., for example, a 36-year old
professional from near San Francisco, was regularly attacked by his wife
and, just as regularly, called the police. "But every time they'd show up,
they'd just laugh it off and tell me not to take it so seriously."
One evening, after his wife had hit him with a shoe and thrown a phone at
him, Tracy says he finally decided enough was enough. When she came at him
again, he slapped her. "She immediately stopped hitting me and called the
police." When they arrived a few minutes later, Tracy tried to explain
what had happened. "There I was, cuts and bruises all over my arms, but
when I told the cops I'd only slapped her in self-defense, they told me I
was under arrest for beating my wife." For Skip W., things weren't much
better. After he reported his wife's violence, he was ordered to attend a
program for abusive men, while his wife was put into a program for
But besides the police, the mental health community has also been in deep
denial when it comes to acknowledging men's victimization. Because most
therapists rarely see battered men or abusive women, many of them ignore
subtle (or not so subtle) clues that their male patients may be abused, or
that their female patients may be violent. For example, when a man admits
he loses his temper, most therapists, in an attempt to find out whether he
might be physically abusive, will ask a few questions. The most common
ones would probably be, "How do you express your anger when you lose your
temper? Do you throw things? Do you hit people?" On the other hand, female
patients who admit they lose their tempers are rarely asked these
But if the right questions aren't asked, the truth just won't come out.
Dr. John G. Macchietto, a counseling psychologist and Director of the
Student Counseling Center at Tarleton State University in Texas, recently
began doing what he calls "role reversals" with his patients. A woman
patient who wanted a better relationship with her boyfriend, complained
she was often angry at how insensitive he was. When Macchietto pressed her
to explain how she expressed her anger, the woman replied that she "hit
him--sometimes with heavy objects--during arguments" and that it was
always she who struck him, never the reverse.
Unfortunately, most therapists seem uninterested in confronting their own
stereotypes about domestic violence. One man, Dean C. had an experience
that in many ways sums up the mental health community's attitude towards
the problem. Dean and his then-girlfriend went to see a therapist to
discuss, among other things, her violence towards him. During one session,
Dean told the therapist about an occasion when he had fallen asleep on the
couch while watching TV. About 2 a.m., he was awakened by his girl-friend,
pounding on the front door. After Dean opened the door to tell her to go
home, she suddenly clobbered him over the head with a glass seltzer
bottle. After hearing of this incident, the therapist looked at Dean and
asked: "Do you often fall asleep in front of the TV?"
Another aspect of female violence the mental-health professionals usually
overlook is lesbian partner abuse. Victims of female-against-female
domestic violence--a widespread yet completely unacknowledged issue in the
lesbian community--are frequently viewed as crazy. Susan L. Morrow, one of
the authors of a 1989 article in the Journal of Counseling and
Development, witnessed a therapist refer to a lesbian who had been abused
by her partner as "borderline" and "paranoid." The fact that the patient
was a victim was completely ignored. Morrow and co-author Donna M.
Hawxhurst found that several myths--that women are less aggressive than
men and therefore don't batter, and that women are incapable of inflicting
serious harm--"have contributed to the secrecy surrounding the issue" of
lesbian partner abuse.
When it comes to domestic violence, society seems to have one set of rules
for men and another for women. Perhaps it's because we have been
socialized to view women's violence as somehow less "real" (and
consequently more acceptable) than men's violence. A 1989 study published
in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that "both men and women
evaluated female violence less negatively than male violence." When it
came to domestic violence, the researchers found that "[p]hysical violence
of any kind was perceived less negatively when the female in the arguing
couple was the aggressor." The double standard for violence apparently
extends as far as murder. A recent survey of 60,000 people over 18,
conducted by the Department of Justice, found that people rated a
husband's stabbing his wife to death 40% worse than a wife's stabbing her
husband to death.
There are several very serious effects of society's reluctance to
acknowledge the female potential for violence. First, women are subtly
encouraged to be more violent. Dr. Straus found that "a large number of
girls have been told by their mothers 'If he gets fresh, slap him.'"
Images of women kicking, punching, and slapping men with complete impunity
are not only widespread in movies, TV, and books, but the viewer/reader's
reaction is usually "good for her." Second, while it is possible to argue
that a slap is unlikely to do any severe damage, not recognizing that a
slap is still violence sets a rather dangerous precedent. Arresting a man
who slaps a woman, while dismissing a woman who slaps a man as "nothing to
worry about," both condones violence and reinforces a double standard that
historically has been used to oppress women in the name of "protection."
Men's victimization is a fact. Nevertheless, a few nagging questions
remain: First, if men are so much bigger and stronger, why don't they
protect themselves? The answer, when you think about it, makes perfect
sense. First of all, at the same time little girls are being taught its OK
to slap, little boys are being told "Never hit a girl." And when these
little boys grow up, they are told that any man who hits a woman is a
bully. But if a woman hits him, he's supposed to "take it like a man."
James B., for example, is a battered husband who was repeatedly told by
his therapists that his wife's violence was something he'd "just have to
put up with." Second, according to Professor Suzanne Steinmetz , Director
of the Family Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University
at Indianapolis (IUPUI), men recognize the severe damage they are capable
of doing and therefore consciously try to limit it.
These reasons explain why most abused men, no matter how capable they are
of doing so, offer little or no resistance to their partners' physical
violence. And many women, well aware of these fears, may actually continue
their abuse, knowing they can get away with it. One man interviewed by Dr.
Steinmetz recounted the single time he retaliated against his wife's
physical abuse, hitting her in the mouth. "She went flying across the
room..." After that, because he realized how badly he could hurt her, he
continued to take her physical abuse without retaliation.
Some men, though, are simply unable to offer any resistance to their
partner's violence. James B., who now helps other men by doing volunteer
peer-counseling, told me about one of his clients, a blind man who was
regularly abused by his girlfriend. "She'd just turn the TV up real loud,"
he said. "So he could never tell when she was coming at him."
Not fighting back is one thing, but why would any sane person stay in an
abusive relationship? It may surprise some people to learn that men's
reasons differ little from women's: economics and concern for the
children. Although the average male victim of domestic abuse has more
financial resources available than his average female counterpart, this is
changing fast. As more and more women enter the workforce, it's getting
harder and harder to find a traditional "man-is-the-sole-breadwinner"
family any more. In addition, more men than women lost their jobs in the
recent depression, leaving them completely dependent on their wives'
income and unable to support themselves alone.
Many abused women fear that if they leave their husbands, the violence
they have experienced may be directed against their children. But abused
men too--despite widespread stereotypes to the contrary--are just as
concerned for their children as women are. Dean C. (the guy who falls
asleep in front of the TV) for example, delayed breaking up with his
abusive girlfriend because he thought he could better protect the children
by staying. His girlfriend repeatedly beat her daughter (from a previous
relationship) and often screamed viciously at their infant son. Moreover,
since women still get physical custody of children in over 85% of all
divorce cases, many men are hesitant to leave, realizing that if they do,
the courts will severely limit their access to their children.
For a man, deciding to leave an abusive relationship is only half the
battle. The other half is, "Where do I go?" For women, shelters and
support groups exist, although still scarce and pathetically under-funded.
But where are the facilities for men? Over a dozen calls to battered
women's shelters, parental stress hotlines, and men's groups in the San
Francisco Bay Area produced not a single resource or shelter for battered
men. However, comments like these were common: "Men's victimization is
statistically irrelevant," and "Any violence women may do is purely the
result of living in a violent patriarchy." After his wife knocked him
over, splitting his head open on a bathtub, James B. tried to get help
from a local battered women's shelter, but was rudely turned away. The
only shelter for battered men in the entire state of California is run by
Community United Against Violence (CUAV) in San Francisco, an organization
dealing exclusively with gay men. Even straight men who are brave enough
to risk the stigma of admitting victimization are unlikely to turn to a
group of gay men for support.
In some other states, attempts are being made to help abused men. In St.
Paul, Minnesota, George Gilliland, Sr. the director of the Domestic Rights
Coalition, has been trying to set up a shelter for battered men for quite
a while, although without much success. Gilliland, whose wife hit him in
the head with a board with a nail in it, missing his eye by a fraction of
an inch, attributes part of the delay to efforts by battered women's
groups and other women's organizations to block the project. In San Luis
Obispo, California, David Gross is organizing the Allen Wells Memorial
Fund for Battered Husbands. Mr. Wells was a battered man who could find no
help and finally committed suicide after losing his children to his
violent wife in a custody battle.
While battered men find few facilities or support, there are a variety of
programs (many of which are run by feminist men's groups) to help abusive
men deal more effectively with their violence. But for violent
women--strangely enough--no comparable treatment programs exist. This fact
further illustrates a serious problem: society is simply unwilling--or
unable--to acknowledge and deal with violent women. Dr. Suzanne Steinmetz
says there are plenty of women who have been violent to their husbands or
who are feeling out of control and are afraid they will hurt someone. But
these women have no place to turn. When they call women's shelters or
support groups, they are often told that they "can't do any real damage
anyway, that their violent feelings are nothing to worry about."
Despite all the evidence about female-on-male violence, many groups
actively try to suppress coverage of the issue. Dr. Steinmetz told me that
she received verbal threats and anonymous phone calls from radical women's
groups threatening to harm her children after she published "The Battered
Husband Syndrome" in 1978. In addition, all of her female colleagues were
contacted and told to "do everything possible to deny" Steinmetz tenure.
And when the ACLU invited her to speak on domestic violence, it received a
bomb threat. Steinmetz finds it ironic that the same people who claim that
women-initiated violence is purely self-defense are so quick to threaten
violence against people who do nothing more than publish a scientific
Unfortunately, Steinmetz's story in not unique. Ten years later, R.L.
McNeely, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Social Welfare at the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Gloria Robinson-Simpson, EdD.,
published "The Truth About Domestic Violence: A Falsely Framed Issue." The
article examined various studies on domestic violence and concluded that
society must recognize that men are victims "or we will be addressing only
a part of the phenomenon." Shortly thereafter, McNeely received letters
from a Pennsylvania women's organization threatening to use its influence
in Washington to pull his research funding. He also suffered many other
"character assassinations." Professor Robinson-Simpson, who uncovered some
of the most important data, received relatively little abuse because,
according to McNeely, "she, a young, assistant professor, was assumed to
have been 'duped' by the more senior male professor."
But existence of female-against-male attacks is not the only aspect of
women's capacity for violence that has been suppressed. Morrow and
Hawxhurst found that many feminists also refuse to acknowledge battered
lesbians, because it would "endanger a feminist gender-specific
analysis... that viewed battering as a consequence of male privilege and
power in society."
And in the rare instances when female-against-male violence is publicly
acknowledged, the woman's responsibility is frequently mitigated. In the
recent CBS movie, "Men Don't Tell" (which told the story of a physically
abused man), for example, the abusive woman was clearly mentally ill--a
fact that made the viewer feel somewhat sympathetic toward her.
The victims and the perpetrators of domestic violence--women and men--have
been suffering for too long. As the sharp distinctions between traditional
men's and women's roles continue to blur, women are more frequently
behaving in ways once thought (often erroneously) to be the exclusive
province of men. Many experts feel that the problem of female-initiated
violence must be exposed, "legitimized," and addressed by the media, the
mental health and law-enforcement communities, and the Legislature.
Resources and facilities to combat domestic violence are, unfortunately,
in short supply due to cutbacks in almost all social services. Perhaps
some battered women's groups fear that if society recognizes that men are
victims too, what little money is available will be diverted. But
acknowledging men's victimization in no way involves denying that women
are victims. Women's groups that help battered women could also help
battered men, while men's groups that counsel abusive men could make their
expertise available to violent women as well.
Continuing to portray spousal violence solely as a women's issue is not
only wrong--it's also counterproductive. And encouraging such unnecessary
fragmentation and divisiveness will ultimately do more harm than good. No
one has (or should have) a monopoly on pain and suffering. But until
society as a whole confronts its deeply ingrained stereotypes and
recognizes all the victims of domestic violence, we will never be able to
solve the problem. Domestic violence is a neither a male or a female
issue--it's simply a human issue.
Meet Those Friendly Folks Who Brought You
the $285 Billion Per Year "False Child Abuse Industry