‘ABC proffers girls as docile and passive victims and boys as assertive and aggressive offenders’

Sacramento, CA–Richard L. Davis, MS and MA, of www.Familynonviolence.orgwas one of the presenters at the historic From Ideology to Inclusion: Evidence-Based Policy and Intervention in Domestic Violence conference in Sacramento, CA. in February, 2008. (To learn more about the conference, click here.) Below, Richard (pictured) and Robin M. Davis, RN, B.S., CSN, MS/CH write about a recent ABC World News report on teen dating violence. ‘ABC primarily or exclusively proffers girls as docile and passive victims and boys as assertive and aggressive offenders’
By Richard L. Davis, MS and MA, and Robin M. Davis, RN, B.S., CSN, MS/CH We believe that the January 6, 2009 ABC World News report by Charlie Gibson, Protecting Teens From Dating Violence was well intentioned as are all dating violence interventions and programs. However, the ABC report, similar to most media and educational presentations about dating violence, primarily or exclusively proffer girls as docile and passive victims and boys as assertive and aggressive offenders. Hence they are actually “Violence Against Girls’ presentations rather than about dating violence victimization. Domestic violence websites demonstrate the same model concerning adult heterosexual domestic violence.

Gibson begins with, “For millions of teenage girls, the first high school boyfriend is a rite of passage. What most [girls] don”t realize is that the relationship can spiral into something they never considered – violence.’ Gibson does not consider, nor mention that first high school girlfriends can present problems of dating violence for boys.

Gibson then notes, “Indeed, one in 10 high school girls report being abused by a boyfriend, according to the Department of Justice.’ Again, Gibson makes no mention of boys being abused by their girlfriends. Research reveals that an October 2008, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report Teen Dating Violence: A Closer Look at Adolescent Romantic Relationships states that, “According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, (YRBS) approximately 10 percent of adolescents [not just girls] nationwide report being a victim of physical violence at the hands of a romantic partner during the previous year.’ It appears that Gibson was misinformed and in turn Gibson misinforms his viewers. On page 7 of the YRBS it notes that; “Overall, the prevalence of dating violence [victimization] was higher among male (11.0%) than female (8.8%) students…’ ABC News is no more or less culpable than most media outlets, educators, public policy makers and domestic violence advocates when they ignore or minimizing female offending and male dating victimization. Polls, have shown that media outlets, – similar to ABC News – educators, public policy makers and domestic violence advocates believe that females are the primary victims and males are the primary offenders in all intimate partner relationships regardless of age. The primary reason for this belief is because ideological advocates [ideological advocates are more concerned about women”s rights than victim rights] always refer to victims as “she’ and “abusers’ as he. Misinformation Central Liz Claiborne Inc. sponsors A Parent’s Guide to Teen Dating Violence: Questions to Start the Conversation (LCI-PGTDV). This parental dating violence handbook perpetuates this simplistic concept and erroneous belief and starts the conversation with the following claim:

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 90% of all relationship abuse victims are female and most abusers are male. For that reason, this handbook uses “she’ when referring to victims and “he’ when referring to abusers.

It may be assumed that contributors to the LCI handbook should be aware of the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) absolutely and positively does not proffer this all relationship abuse victims claim. These contributors should know that the DOJ does not estimate that 90% of dating violence abusers are boys and only 10% of offenders are girls. On the second page of the handbook, the CEO of Liz Claiborne Inc. (LCI) claims that their handbook is part of the company”s 10 year effort to draw attention to the issue of relationship violence. The LCI-CEO, more than any other contributor to the handbook, should be aware that the 90/10 male-female offender/abuser claim is far from factual concerning dating violence. The CEO should also know that half truths can be more harmful than complete lies. In 2006, LCI sponsored the Teen Relationship Abuse Survey (LCI-TRAS) among a representative sample of 1,004 U.S. teens (13 to 18.) Page 11 of that survey documents that (17%) of boys and (15%) of girls report they were hit, slapped or pushed by their dating partner. Are none of the contributors to the handbook aware of the LCI survey? Is it possible that the LCI CEO has not read his company”s survey? To the LCI”s credit the survey does include the context and circumstances advocates recognize are so important and too often ignored. These context and circumstance factors do appear to play a pivotal role concerning some behavior by girls and boys that may be precursors of, or may play a precipitative role in more harmful consequences. Question 4 in the handbook suggests that the mores and norms of society cause boys to be controlling, jealous, intimidating and possessive. However, page 3 the TRAS survey notes, “[P]ower and control actions and attitudes are pervasive in teen relationships – many young people have dealt with a boyfriend or girlfriend who tried to control their whereabouts.’ The survey asks if the boys or girls had partners who want to know: Ø Who were they with all the time, (32%) of boys and (39%) of girls responded yes. Ø Where they were all the time, (31%) of boys and (35%) of girls responded yes. Ø Tried to tell them what to do a lot, (33%) of boys and (31%) of girls responded yes. Ø Asked them to only spend time with him/her, (24%) of boys and (24%) of girls responded yes. Ø Tried to prevent them from spending time with family or friends, (22%) of boys and (21%) of girls responded yes. The survey documents more similarities than differences except for serious relationships. On page 4, it reports there are greater differences in “serious’ as compared with “non-serious’ relationships. However, the survey provides no definitional distinction between “serious and non-serious’ relationship. That important distinction is left open for the respondents to define and assign to themselves. On page 15 the TRAS explores relationships between boys and girls who have endured emotional abuse from their partner. It was reported that: Ø (59%) of boys and (64%) of girls report that their partner made them feel bad or embarrassed about themselves. Ø (28%) of boys and (26%) of girls report that their partner called them names or put them down. Ø (8%) of boys and (10%) of girls report that their partner became physically or verbally abusive when drunk or high. Truth or Consequences There remains controversy about mutual aggression between boys and girls despite the fact that most studies, similar to the YRBS document higher victimization rates for boys than girls. Most dating violence advocates claim that female dating violence offenders are not equally guilty of offending and they present the following data to document their reasoning:

(1) Females are injured more often than males; (2) seek medical treatment more often than males; (3) fear for their safety more often than males; (4) are the victims of sexual violence more often than males; (5) are hurt emotionally more often than males (O’Keefe, April 2005)

Most members of the academe, regardless of what they believe concerning mutual aggression, agree that females do suffer more from the consequences of dating violence than boys. However, if advocates intend to prevent these negative consequences, it is vital that media outlets, educators, public policy makers and domestic violence advocates understand the above data represents the results or consequences of the abusive behavior and consequences are not precipitating causes. We need to know the cause to provide the cure. A growing number of intimate partner violence studies reveal that the primary predictor of being physically assaulted, regardless of severity, is to initiate the assaultive behavior. It is difficult to improbable to use the argument of self-defense when the person claiming self-defense is the person who actually initiates the assaultive behavior. Further, the straw man argument of disproportionate response would be mute if there was no initiation. Studies and surveys of interpersonal relationships, regardless of age, must ask about initiation. The fact is, despite ubiquitous claims to the contrary, there is not a single empirical evidence-based study that clearly documents that the majority of assaults by girls are in self-defensive. One of the few studies that did ask the self-defense question, Gender differences in adolescent dating abuse prevalence, types and injuries documents that females do perpetrate more assaults than males out of self-defense. However, the survey also notes that when controlling for self-defense girls still initiate more mild, moderate and severe dating violence than boys. Conclusion Cause is generally defined as that without which an effect or a phenomenon would not exist. For that reason the proper and unbiased identification of context and circumstances must be placed before the consequence to effectively minimize or eliminate that consequence (Straus, 2006). Minimizing or ignoring female offending and male victimization suggests an ignorance of the data or a lack of compassion for male victimization. Do victims, regardless of gender, need to be victimized in the same manner and in equal numbers to be recognized as victims? Regardless of percentage differentials, if advocates intend to prevent dating violence, advocates must more openly and honestly recognize all offenders and victims with an understanding of the context and circumstances of both offending and victimization. The authors of the DOJ sponsored report Teen Dating Violence: A Closer Look at Adolescent Romantic Relationships on page 38 note that:

Because girls engage in high levels of physical aggression and psychological abuse and most abusive relationships are characterized by mutual aggression, prevention efforts must be directed toward both males and females, and interventions for victims should include services and programming for boys and girls.

A cursorary view of the majority of domestic violence organization websites reveals that, similar to the LCI- PGTDV handbook and the ABC news report, the above advice is ignored. Domestic violence interveners should not apply the adult heterosexual Duluth model when providing dating violence interventions and programs. The Duluth model blames the patriarchy, sexism and the subjugation of females by males as the exclusive or primary cause of violence against females. There are little to no empirical evidence-based studies that support the Duluth model as being effective for adults or teens. For the sake of our daughters and our sons, domestic and dating violence advocates and researchers must end the gender blame game. The LCI sponsored TRAS clearly documents that both genders share the blame. It is vital that we identify all behaviors that play a precipitative role in conflict and how that conflict may become a precursor to destructive consequences. Dating violence advocates may discover that more males will become engaged in prevention and intervention efforts when dating violence organizations cease dismissing female offending and male victimization as rare or inconsequential. Most importantly it must be recognized that the context and circumstance factors in the TRAS do not begin the day adolescents becomes teenagers nor end the day teenagers becomes adults. We hope that, perhaps one day soon, someone in a media outlet or public policy or domestic violence advocates will read the above hyperlinked studies and surveys. The TRAS clearly documents, despite what the handbook claims, that the vast majority of abuse in dating relationships is not committed by young men. LCI needs to answer why it ignores the data in its own survey. If you are reading this in print, you may use the search engine of your choice to read the above surveys and studies. After you read the hyperlinked studies and surveys please feel free to contact us at with your comments or concerns.

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