Domestic violence and the DV policies of family courts and law enforcement is a multi-faceted issue that has an enormous impact on American families. Fathers & Families is hosting a debate between two of North America’s leading domestic violence authorities, feminist DV expert Professor Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW, and dissident DV expert Dr. Donald G. Dutton.
Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW (pictured, right) is a forensic social worker who has served as an expert in more than 100 criminal and civil cases, consulted with numerous federal and state agencies, including the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control, and won a number prestigious awards for his work.
Dr. Donald G. Dutton, Ph.D. (pictured, middle right) has published over one hundred papers and ten books, including Rethinking Domestic Violence, The Abusive Personality, Domestic Assault of Women: Psychological and Criminal Justice Perspectives, and The Batterer: A psychological profile.
The debate is running in several segments and will be posted on both www.fathersandfamilies.org and www.glennsacks.com. Readers are asked to keep comments respectful and on topic. Our rules of moderation can be seen here.
All of the posts relating to this debate are available here. Stark and Dutton sparred over numerous issues, centrally the question of whether the DV establishment’s “gender model”–domestic violence is something that men do to women, not vice versa–is the proper way to view DV.
Dutton and Stark sparred back and forth on question #1, which concerned President Obama’s appointment of Lynn Rosenthal as the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.
Below, Stark answers question #2, concerning gender and DV perpetration.
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers & Families
Fathers & Families’ Question #2: Feminist domestic violence authorities and dissidents disagree on many things, but their differing opinions on domestic violence perpetration and gender seem to be at the heart of what divides them. The DV establishment believes and treats DV as if it’s almost solely a male-perpetrated act. When male victims are discussed, which isn’t often, they are spoken of as a small minority.
By contrast, dissidents like Dutton assert that women play a large and in many aspects equal role in the domestic violence problem. This view is in some ways counter intuitive, and, feminist DV advocates argue, contrary to research. In your opinion and experience, how much of a role do women play in perpetrating domestic violence? And, given your opinion as to how limited or prevalent women’s role is, how well do current policies properly account for it?
We can now, finally, get to the heart of our differences, the question Glenn Sacks” asked us about the significance and role of women in perpetrating domestic violence and whether current policies account for this. I will translate the question this way: how can we reconcile survey evidence from dozens of studies showing that men and women are equally likely to use violence with their partners and that the modal dynamic of violence is bi-directional with the several thousand studies showing that the meaning, context, dynamic and outcomes of male and female partner abuse differ significantly?
“How can we reconcile survey evidence from dozens of studies showing that men and women are equally likely to use violence with…the several thousand studies showing that the meaning, context, dynamic and outcomes of male and female partner abuse differ significantly?”
Dutton eliminates having to respond to this dilemma by summarily dismissing the second group of studies because they draw their subjects mainly from what are termed “clinical’ sites in the literature, including “shelter houses’ (sic.”) This is a rhetorical and irresponsible ploy that has no more foundation than ignoring the survey evidence.
“We have known that men and women had a similar propensity to use violence to address conflicts in families at least since the findings from the first round of the National Family Violence Surveys more than 30 years ago…This body of work has had virtually no impact on policy…“
An analogy would be trying to disprove the claim that older white males are at highest risk of heart disease by showing that heart burn was equally common among young men and women in the general population. My answer, as I have suggested already, is that the two phenomena, violent acts and abuse, have only an incidental and coincidental relationship.
Where Does This “Puzzle’ Originate?
Let”s be clear about why this is ‘puzzle.’ We have known that men and women had a similar propensity to use violence to address conflicts in families at least since the findings from the first round of the National Family Violence Surveys (NFVS) more than 30 years ago. A number of surveys have replicated these findings and showed there is a similar propensity for couples to use acts of control, but little new has been added.
“Advocates drew on the data from these surveys to support their claims that violence against women was a problem. But they said little or nothing about the evidence of women”s violence, largely because they feared it would undermine their attempt to win public sympathy for female victims.”
This body of work has had virtually no impact on policy, however. Some of the blame may be ours. Advocates drew on the data from these surveys to support their claims that violence against women was a problem. But they said little or nothing about the evidence of women”s violence, largely because they feared it would undermine their attempt to win public sympathy for female victims.
“Since women who kill are my major clientele, I have never doubted the evidence on female violence.”
Since women who kill are my major clientele, I have never doubted the evidence on female violence. Politics also played a role, since we were aggressive in pursuing our agenda and there was no comparable push for battered men. But the two main reasons no one in policy circles paid attention to the survey evidence was because the researchers themselves clearly distinguished their findings from evidence about the types of abuse with which the advocacy movement was concerned and because there was no evidence that participants in these violent relationships needed or wanted help that was not available.
“[G]ender parity in violent acts comes from general population surveys that utilized the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) to determine how often partners use force to address their conflicts and which tactics they have used. The CTS has been widely discredited by researchers working from the gender model.”
The survey evidence Dutton summarized on gender parity in violent acts comes from general population surveys that utilized the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) to determine how often partners use force to address their conflicts and which tactics they have used. The CTS has been widely discredited by researchers working from the gender model.
But unlike these critics, I actually think the CTS measures what it set out to measure. In fact, what the folks who designed this instrument wanted to do was to map the use of force in families. They were interested in doing this because they were morally opposed to any and all violence as a means to address disagreements in relationships and believed violence used in homes spread to communities and would be reproduced in subsequent generations.
“[CTS researchers] paid no intention to the meaning, context or consequences of the violence they studied.”
They also believed that millions of Americans were acculturated to use violence as a normal part of their problem solving. Because Americans thought violence was “normal,’ the researchers felt it was pointless to ask respondents whether found the violence in their relationships problematic. So they paid no intention to the meaning, context or consequences of the violence they studied. Even so, and even though they were justifiably miffed at having advocates cite their data on male but not female violence, they distinguished the commonplace violent tactics they identified from woman abuse or “battering.’
“As recently as 1995, Gelles termed the belief that men and women are equal perpetrators of ‘domestic violence” a “myth’ and Straus termed the equation of the violent acts they identified with battering “ridiculous’ and “unethical.'”
As recently as 1995, Gelles termed the belief that men and women are equal perpetrators of ‘domestic violence” a “myth’ and Straus termed the equation of the violent acts they identified with battering “ridiculous’ and “unethical.’ These early surveys concluded that 75% of women”s reported violent acts involved self-defense. Only a tiny proportion of respondents to the NFVS had called police or used other resources and almost all who did so were women. This suggested that these respondents might be a different population than the abuse victims who called police or used other services.
The researchers also believed genuine abuse was too rare to be picked up in any significant numbers by small random population samples. They were wrong about this as it turned out, but it is certainly true that the actual number of persons they identified who had been victims of violence were too small and never meant to represent the range of situations in which violence occurred.
Straus and Gelles may have changed their position on what their data mean over the last decade. But the point I want to make is that they never intended to study abuse and that the method they developed was designed to pick up violent tactics that were generally considered abusive. It is possible to accept their findings as valid, as I do, without seeing any contradiction with the evidence about abuse from the sites where persons seek assistance.
“The related point is that no one would have given a second thought to this evidence if the Fathers” Rights movement had not needed to counter the move for family courts to make domestic violence a decision-point in assigning custody and distributing family assets.”
The related point is that no one would have given a second thought to this evidence if the Fathers” Rights movement had not needed to counter the move for family courts to make domestic violence a decision-point in assigning custody and distributing family assets. Archer and Kevan-Graham, two psychologists whose work is widely cited as evidence that there is sex parity in violent acts, are behavioral psychologists focused on aggression, a field that relies largely on animal models. They had no interest in abuse until their work on aggression was picked up by the media and the radical wing of the FR movement. I have only had limited exposure to them personally, but my impression is that they don”t have the foggiest idea what the advocacy movement is talking about. Dutton”s case is more complicated, since he has had a long history of being embraced, then rejected by the advocacy movement. I have always thought highly of his psychological studies.
“[A]ny structural arrangement in which one adult has power over a competent partner is “abuse.'”
So what about the data itself? What does it tell us?
Everything starts with the definition. When we in the advocacy movement use the term “abuse’ or “battering,’ we are referring to the problem the domestic violence revolution set out to address. We recognized that where dependent persons are involved, abuse refers to the illegitimate use of power by someone who has an otherwise legitimate or formal responsibility for their care and protection such as a parent or guardian. Since formal equality is the norm among adult partners, however, at least in highly industrialized societies like the U.S., partner abuse referred specifically to the non-voluntary establishment of unreciprocated authority by one party over the other and the corresponding reallocation of resources and opportunities in ways that benefit the dominant party. In other words, any structural arrangement in which one adult has power over a competent partner is “abuse.’
The standard definition of violence is taken from criminal justice and refers to an “act carried out with the intention or perceived intention of causing physical pain or injury to another person’ (Gelles, 1997 p. 14). This was, more or less, the definition that was widely adapted in criminal statutes and has been the basis of most research in the field regardless of political orientation.
“Despite the publication of thousands of research monographs on domestic violence since the mid-70″s, there is still no consensus on the prevalence of abuse, who commits it, the principal causes and dynamics involved, and what types of assistance are required or effective.”
While applying this definition should have been a simple matter of finding out whether persons who committed these violent acts were “partners,’ adapting this definition has been a disaster. Despite the publication of thousands of research monographs on domestic violence since the mid-70″s, there is still no consensus on the prevalence of abuse, who commits it, the principal causes and dynamics involved, and what types of assistance are required or effective.
To cite just one example, surveys using the incident-specific definition have generated vastly divergent estimates of the annual prevalence of woman abuse based on whether respondents were asked about “conflicts’ (136/1000), “safety’ concerns (15/1000) or “crime'(7/1000). Without a consensus on the baseline we”re working from, service planning and evaluation will remain scattershot.
The reason the definition has failed us is because it bears little resemblance to what perpetrators of abuse do and victims actually experience. Note: This is the basic definition that Dutton draws on for his conclusions.
“Despite attempts to broaden the definition of domestic violence to include “psychological abuse’ or “control,’ criminal and family law, medical identification protocols, and other major intervention strategies or policies continue to focus on violence almost exclusively.”
The definition contains three core assumptions that have guided research, policy and intervention in the field. Each has little or nothing to do with the experience of abuse reported by the victims who seek outside assistance.
Abuse is Not About Violence
First, the definition equates abuse with violence. Despite attempts to broaden the definition of domestic violence to include “psychological abuse’ or “control,’ criminal and family law, medical identification protocols, and other major intervention strategies or policies continue to focus on violence almost exclusively.
“Dutton has worked with perpetrators for years and, in his last book, identified control as one of the facets of the personality type he termed “borderline personality organization.’ But he shows a stunning naivite here about its extent or significance.”
Dutton has worked with perpetrators for years and, in his last book, identified control as one of the facets of the personality type he termed “borderline personality organization.’ But he shows a stunning naivite here about its extent or significance. In fact, violence typically is neither the only or even the most salient issue in these cases. Depending on whether the data are drawn from arrests, shelter populations or batterer intervention programs, in 60% to 80% of the cases where female victims are involved coercion is accompanied by a range of tactics designed to isolate, intimidate, exploit, degrade and/or control a partner in ways that violate a victim”s dignity, autonomy and liberty as much as their physical integrity or security.
“In one well-designed study, for instance, 6 out of 10 of the men arrested for domestic violence reported they had taken their partner”s money as well as assaulted them.”
In one well-designed study, for instance, 6 out of 10 of the men arrested for domestic violence reported they had taken their partner”s money as well as assaulted them, and had restricted their partners in three or more additional ways (Buzawa et al., 1999).
In Abusive Relationships, Violence is Frequent, Even Routine
Second, the definition treats violence as a discrete event (“violent acts’) and a sequence of violent acts as “recidivism’ or the work of a subtype, the chronic offender. The surveys Dutton relies on ask respondents about whether they have engaged in or been the target of specific violent acts during the study year. The classic “gender model’ Dutton attacks actually takes the same approach he does: safety planning, protection orders, counseling for batterers, and other intervention strategies are predicated on the assumption that perpetrators and victims exercise sufficient decisional autonomy ‘between” episodes to end the abuse, what is called “time to violence’ in the treatment literature.
“The classic “gender model’ Dutton attacks actually takes the same approach he does…”
In fact, population surveys, crime surveys, shelter studies, arrest data, medical evidence and data from BIPS show that partner assault is limited to isolated incidents in only a tiny proportion of cases, probably fewer than 5%. The average victim suffers between 3.5 and 8 assaults annually with well over a third reporting they have been subjected to “serial’ abuse (once a week or more). The NFVS show this as well as all evidence from clinical sites.
“[T]he average duration of an abusive relationship is between 5.5 and 7 years…it is commonplace to find victims who have experienced hundreds, even thousands of assaults.”
Meanwhile, the average duration of an abusive relationship is between 5.5 and 7 years. As a result of its frequency and duration, it is commonplace to find victims who have experienced hundreds, even thousands of assaults. Given this combination of frequent assault with other tactics, victims report experiencing abuse as “ongoing,’ making many of the assumptions behind protection orders, BIP, safety planning and the like unworkable. This also means that the observed effects of abuse at any given moment are the cumulative result of multiple acts over time.
What we”re dealing with is a akin to a chronic illness: frequent abuse is part of the definition, not merely the byproduct of a certain perpetrator subtype. One fact, whether a perpetrator has assaulted their partner in the past, predicts subsequent abuse better than all the risk factors and psychological profiles put together.
The Marker of the Most Serious Cases is Routine, Minor Violence Rather than Injurious Violence.
The third assumption in the definition is that the severity of abuse can be assessed by applying a calculus of physical injury and psychological trauma to violent episodes. This is why there is so much attention to injury. The presence of injury is typically not a formal prerequisite to access criminal justice, shelter, medical or other services. As a practical matter, however, decisions regarding intervention are often based on this calculus.
In the National Family Violence Surveys (NFVS) for instance, acts with a low probability of causing injury were classified as “not abuse’ or as a “normal’ part of interacting with children or a spouse (Gelles, 1997). Between 95% and 99% of partner assaults are non-injurious and even trivial from a medical or criminal justice standpoint. This is true even among the populations where we would expect to find the highest rates of serious injury–in the Emergency Room (96%), among women who call police (97%), and in the military (93%).
The point here is not that minor violence constitutes abuse. The point is that the only credible way to distinguish abuse from the sort of commonplace violent acts we see in fights or the marriages seen in couples counseling is to put the acts into their context in a particular relationship.
The Fact that Violence is Not Injurious Has No Bearing on Whether Abuse is Serious
Severe violence is common enough in abuse. But it predicts very little about the outcome in abuse. In studies of homicide, the three factors consistently shown to be predictive are a recent separation, the presence of firearm, and the level of control in the relationship (Glass et al., 2004). The severity of violence is not predictive.
As my work and the work of numerous others have shown, battered women who use the health system have been distinguished from non-battered women by a profile of medical, psychosocial and behavioral problems that includes disproportionate rates of alcohol and drug abuse, depression, attempted suicide, homelessness, an elevated risk of HIV and other STDs, homelessness, unwanted high risk pregnancies and fear of child abuse.
As I pointed out earlier, the emergence of these problems post-dates the onset of abuse so cannot be its cause. Nor, however, is this multi-problem profile caused by the trauma of severe violence, since most domestic violence is not serious or life-threatening. Instead, this profile is almost certainly the direct result of the combination of frequent, low-level assault with the range of other tactics typical of these situations.
Significantly, and indicative of the fact that abuse is a completely different problem than the violent acts identified by surveys, is that no other population of assault victims presents anything like the profile associated with battering and presented by female victims of male partner abuse, not women assaulted by women or men assaulted by women or other men. Not even victims of stranger rape.
What happens when we adapt Dutton”s approach and the approach also taken by many of the researchers he justly criticizes? Consider this example: a woman or man who is abused nightly finally calls the police, or a neighbor does. Since the law defines domestic violence as a discrete violent act and since this incident is likely not to have caused a serious injury, even when police arrive and even if they make an arrest, the crime is charged as a second-class misdemeanor and the perpetrator is back on the street in no more than 24 hours.
Since nothing has changed, his abuse continues, perhaps even escalates in frequency or severity. But as the victim complains more often, the response actually become more perfunctory, if there is any response at all, because he or she is now “well known’ as the kind of woman or man who “stays.’
“Victims are viewed as exaggerating their situation, particularly when the proximate incident is minor, being “ambivalent’ about separation, or even fabricating their reports of abuse, an allegation that is particularly common on this blog, as in family court.”
Victims are viewed as exaggerating their situation, particularly when the proximate incident is minor, being “ambivalent’ about separation, or even fabricating their reports of abuse, an allegation that is particularly common on this blog, as in family court. Prosecutors may know about the history, but this has no affect on their ability to charge. So, when we consider how ineffective law enforcement has been in stemming domestic violence, we don”t have to look any further than the gap between the violent act definition and the reality of victims.
Almost all of the surveys Dutton refers to rely on cross-sectional data, just as the cops who come to the house in the case illustration. Is it surprising that they have no idea what”s really going on? The same gap between perception and reality explains why every other intervention based on the violent incident model has basically failed.
Note–the police response doesn”t change a bit if we throw out the gender model and take up Dutton”s call to be gender neutral and use “science.’ The act is still isolated. The event is still seen as trivial and taken out of context. Intervention is still inconsequential. Everything other than violence is still ignored. So, the reality is not that the gender model is in the saddle, but that the radical behaviorism he champions that thinks we can understand events because people check this box or that box on surveys is in the saddle. The only difference here is in which sex the radical behaviorists prefer to focus on.
What happens if we take a different approach and treat abuse as an ongoing or chronic problem rather than as episodic? Everything changes. A doctor who views each complaint of chest pain as separate may become frustrated because I come to his office repeatedly with identical complaints, as many police, physicians, mental health practitioners, judges and advocates are when abused women return repeatedly for help or “remain’ in abusive relationships.
However, when physicians recognize the particular complaints are symptoms of heart disease, a chronic problem, they become proactive, view repeated use of their services as appropriate and even desirable and helps to ensure long-term risk-reduction. When we realize that the high level of fear expressed by the man or woman in front of the bench is the cumulative result of multiple episodes over many years, we can reframe the discrepancy between her level of fear and the proximate event as a signal of high danger, not a personality problem.
Note–my criticism here is not limited to Dutton, Felson, Kevan-Graham, Archer, Hamel and the handful of others on his coat tails. This criticism also applies, and equally, to any of those who try to understand abuse by making violent acts their unit of analysis regardless of whether they are studying women at shelters or in surveys. Just to be clear.
For persons who work in the real world with real people, the crucial distinction is not between the use of force and its absence, but between the use of force as a commonplace way to address differences, level the playing field, express frustration, jealousy, possessiveness or what have you, and the pattern of frequent, routine violence that is embedded in forms of domination and control, what we regard as abuse. If you look only at violent acts, the only way to distinguish these two situations is either by judging the physical violence and proximate outcome of these acts. So, a slap isn”t serious; a punch or kick is.
As I”ve shown, this is a terrible way to assess these events. Nor does it improve assessment when we add boxes to our surveys on acts of “control.’ The same distinction and the same confusion attends what is called “psychological abuse” and the insults, jealousy, demands for compliance and types of controlling behavior that are commonplace in relationships.
“[W]e have to set violent acts in their historical context, consider the co-occurrence of other coercive and controlling tactics…”
I”m not saying severe violence shouldn”t be sanctioned. But I”m saying in the world of abuse, this is the exception rather than the rule and that to understand whether and how the use of force in relationships contributes to abuse, we have to set violent acts in their historical context, consider the co-occurrence of other coercive and controlling tactics, take the subjective experience of those who are targeted into account, whether they experience themselves as victimized and seek outside assistance, for instance, and assess individual and societal harms that extend beyond physical injury, fear or psychological trauma. Dutton may not like my model of coercive control. So he can use another. But at least the coercive control model I outlined in earlier posts has the distinct advantage of allowing us to make these connections.
What about Fights?
Values again. I remain agnostic about whether the use of force is always unacceptable in relationships or families. I leave this to community mores and the moralists. If I exclude what I call “fights’ from my understanding of abuse, where partners are relative equals, violence is often bi-directional and neither considers themselves victimized or is particularly afraid of the other, this isn”t because I believe they are inconsequential or acceptable, but because, to make to my earlier point, I believe that special societal attention is merited by the types of ongoing coercion and control that infringes on peoples overall physical security, liberty and autonomy and because I believe that when these harms are inflicted on a group that is already disadvantaged, they reinforce inequality.
Now let”s turn to Dutton”s claims and the implication in the question asked by Glenn Sacks that: A) there is sex parity in violent acts; and B) assuming sex parity in violent acts, there is sex parity in abuse.
The Violence Incident Model
My basic position is yes, women may engage in violence in relationships in much the same number and for many of the same reasons as men. But no, this does not mean there is a crying need to expand services dramatically for male victims.
Evidence of Female Violence
Starting with the National Family Violence Surveys (NFVS) conducted in the late 1970″s and 80″s women consistently reported that they used violence against partners as often as men and, in some samples of younger women, even more often. Dozens of similar surveys have shown that many of these women initiate the use of force, employ injurious levels of violence, stalk and/or sexually coercive their partners, and insult or humiliate them (“psychological aggression’).
While a larger proportion of women than men identified their violent acts as retaliatory (though not necessarily defensive), like men, they often reported being motivated by jealousy or a desire to punish or ‘control” their partners. Recent surveys, several of which Dutton discusses, have confirmed earlier findings regarding the prevalence, scope and consequences of women”s violence against partners.
“[W]ith a few marked exceptions, all of the substantive work on women”s partner violence has been done by feminists working with a gender model.”
There are also indications that some female perpetrators use control tactics as well as violence. Women arrested for domestic violence reported they threatened or used violence at least sometimes to make their partner do things they wanted him to do (38%) and these threats were sometimes effective (53%), to “get control’ of their partner (22%) or to make their partner “agree’ with them (l7%). (Swan et al., 2009). Note, with a few marked exceptions, all of the substantive work on women”s partner violence has been done by feminists working with a gender model.
Why Women”s Violence May be Different
Although the motives and some behaviors reported by female perpetrators closely resemble reported dynamics identified among male perpetrators of assault, there may be significant differences. Case studies of violent women and voluntary samples of women arrested for partner violence consistently report that the vast majority had been victimized by the male partner they assaulted, with the proportion reporting victimization ranging from a low of 64% (the NFVS) to a high of 92% (Swan et al. 2009).
Many male perpetrators also report being assaulted by women, but the proportions are far lower, hovering between 30% and 40%. As Dutton recognized, the profiles of female offenders reveal higher levels of child sexual abuse, depression and substance use than among male offenders. But most importantly, there is no evidence as yet that female partner assault evolves into the patterned subjugation reported by women who use shelters, emergency rooms or other services.
While many of these women do report they have used violence with their partners, including women in shelters, it does not compare in frequency or scope with the violence they report has been used against them. These data suggest that a specialized treatment modality that targets the unique problems female perpetrators present might be more useful than the psycho-educational model used by most programs for male offenders.
Is There Sex Parity in Violent Acts and Dynamics?
Like so many others who advance the gender parity argument, Dutton relies heavily on Archer”s meta-analysis of other surveys. Based on his review, Archer concluded that women perpetrated slightly more than 50% of reported partner violence and inflicted 35% of domestic violence injuries on men. By contrast, the NFVS reported that both the proportion of injurious assaults by men and their frequency were roughly 6 to 8 times greater than those committed by women, though the absolute numbers in both cases were small.
A major limit of Archer”s meta-analysis was his decision to omit the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) (Tjaden & Tonnies, 1998) from his overview, the largest population survey to date, presumably because its size (8000 male and 8000 female respondents) and focus on safety would have skewed his results. Dutton too ignores this data, in part because he relies on Archer.
Despite its name, the NVAWS provided the most accurate prevalence data we have on women”s violence against male partners as well as of male partner abuse. The NVAWS was conducted more than a decade ago. But because it compared male and female rates of being abused, stalked and sexually assaulted and did so over their life-time, it comes closer than the surveys Dutton cites to tapping what we mean by abuse.
According to the NVAWS, with the marked exception of knives, which women and men use equally, men used every other means of serious assault much more often than women, including kicking, biting, choking, trying to drown, hitting with an object, “beating up,’ and threatening with a knife and a gun, with ratios extending from 2:1 (for kicking and biting) to more than 14:1 (for beating up). But the finding from the NVAWS that is most relevant here was the large gender differences in victimization that emerged when attention shifted from reported violent acts during the study year (where the male:female ratio was only 1.4:1l, to partner assault over the life-course, where the ratio was more than 3:1 (22.1% vs. 7.4%) Note: this is the same ratio reflected in domestic violence arrests. Gender differences in sexual abuse and stalking were considerably larger.
Why do Archer, Dutton and others who share their approach ignore the NVAWS? The answer they give is that it asked about “safety’ concerns, not merely about violent behaviors. This difference bears on what I said earlier about the motives behind the Conflict Tactics Scale used in the surveys Dutton cited, that the researchers didn”t care about what violence meant to the parties involved since they assumed they could rationalize it. But from the standpoint of understanding abuse, meaning is everything. If by use we mean the types of coercion that lead victims to apply a calculus of fear and potential suffering to their decision-making, a subjective safety concern would seem far more relevant than reports that force was used.
Do Battered Men Require a New and Dedicated Track of Services?
The vast majority of point-of-service studies assessed the experiences of female victims only, though several thousand studies are based on service population other than “shelter houses’ When we began our research in the medical complex in the late 1970″s, almost no one had heard of battered women and there was no indication in the medical records we reviewed that physicians had the foggiest idea what they were dealing with. Doctors would write things like “kicked with foot’ or “punched with fist,’ as if these organs had magically acted on their own.
At the time, about 1 abuse-related injury in 40 was correctly identified with its source. So, I would not rule out the possibility that a significant population of battered men remains hidden in medical, child welfare, police, prison or mental health records.
The question asked by Glenn Sacks refers to an unmet need for support and service to battered men. The usual measure of this is that lots of folks with a problem are showing up for help which isn”t available. Or population surveys find that lots of folks want help, but can”t get it. This too seems to be the implication of Dutton”s commentary.
In fact, however, almost none of the women or men who reported violence in their relationships to the surveys he cited (depending on the survey, somewhere between 1 and 3%) had sought outside assistance for the violence. This is a major reason why we have insisted that the surveys don”t reflect a serious social problem.
However limited they may be, the only evidence there is to estimate the need of battered men for service comes from institutional data. This evidence shows that female/male ratios in help-seeking prompted by domestic violence range from 4:1 (for police calls and arrests) to between 15:1 and 20:1 for calls to hot-lines, requests for protection orders, ER visits, or use of child welfare or sexual assault services. In other words, with the marked exception of police, there is no evidence that the men identified as victims of female partner assault by the surveys want, seek or need help.
Studies from service sites do, however, support one of Dutton”s conclusions, that the modal pattern of violence is bidirectional, with a substantial proportion of women reporting having used violence, including some groups of women in shelters. What Dutton does not mention, however, is that these same studies also documented significant differences in dynamics and outcomes by gender.
For instance, Phelan et al (2002) compared men and women presenting complaints of injury at a Level 1 trauma center for emergency medical services and who reported being in a currently violent or abusive relationship. In this population, men reported significantly higher rates of violence initiation than did women, with 100% of the men reporting initiating violence between 50% and l00% of the time.
In contrast, 91% of the women reported initiating violence between zero and 20% of the time. These results are also important because they suggest that, even when women initiate violence in an encounter, this is not the typical dynamic, making “bi-directional’ an accurate predicate to describe situations in which both partners use force.
Calls to police from male victims are a marked exception to the absence of male abuse victims from service sites. As I indicated earlier in this and previous posts, however, there is no indication that police are responding differently to male than to female callers or that any substantial number of pleas for help or protection are going unanswered.
I have already documented the dramatic outcomes suffered by abused women and identified in the medical complex. No similar profile has been identified among males.
In sum, a number of surveys show that millions of women in relationships use violence and controlling behavior with their partners and do so for many of the same reasons as men. Without context, which they surveys don”t provide, there is no basis to distinguish abuse from the commonplace use of force and control tactics in relationships. In the vast majority of the instances recorded by population surveys, however, there are no injuries and no one expresses a need for outside assistance or has sought it. In other words, these data have little bearing on the pattern of abuse with which advocates and governments around the world are concerned.
With respect to the small proportion of survey respondents who do report severe violence, male perpetrators are far more likely to use virtually all forms of serious violence more often than female perpetrators and cause the majority of injuries related to abuse. When stalking, sexual assault and life-time experiences of partner abuse are tapped as well as violent acts in the current year, the male: female ratio in victimization ranges from 3:1 to more than 10:1. But this gives us limited information about the extent or significance of sex differences in abuse because rape and injurious violence are relatively rare, though stalking is not. These data do not tap the infrastructure in the typical abuse case, which involves frequent, low-level physical constraint combined with sexual degradation and tactics to isolate, intimidate and control a partner.
The same surveys that show relative parity in violent acts also show that only a small proportion of these acts is deemed serious enough by their victims to prompt help-seeking. This is even true where the violence is judged serious by the researchers or respondents report being injured. The only reasonable conclusion is that the surveys Dutton relies on for his attacks on the gender model have little or nothing to do with the pattern of abuse with which I and other advocates and scientists are concerned.
The outcomes of violence reported by victimized women include a dramatic profile of medical, psychological, behavioral and psychosocial problems reported by no other class of assault victims. Since severe violence can”t explain this profile, the only credible explanation is that “something else’ is going on in these cases. This something else appears to be the pattern we have identified as coercive control. The key markers of this pattern are frequent, low-level violence, extended over a considerable time and accompanied by a range of nonviolent tactics to isolate, intimidate, degrade, exploit and control victims. Thus far, this systemic pattern has not been identified among any population of victimized men.
I do not rule out the possibility that we may yet uncover evidence at clinical sites of a significant, but hidden population of abused men requiring protection and support comparable to the levels of support currently given to battered women. But no credible evidence of such a population currently exists and Dutton provided none. Dutton believes my head is in the sand. Perhaps. But I would say his is in the clouds and that he and his colleagues have to join us down on earth where real people live, struggle and seek our help.
Despite widespread violence by women against male and female partners, some of it abusive, male abuse of women, particularly in the form of battering or coercive control, has a unique prevalence, set of dynamics and harms that have no parallel in the experience of large numbers of men. I believe this is due to the larger social context of sexual inequality in which women are abused.
I do not believe that women are intrinsically less violent or controlling than we are. I would make a single exception to this generalization, though it has not been raised in this debate. I believe the evidence is still out on the effects of female and male violence against same sex partners. It may very well be that male-male and female-female violence require special recognition and special track funding. The issue here is heterosexist discrimination, not the sort of control and sexual inequality we find in woman abuse.
Nothing I have said in this debate minimizes the real pain and suffering that attend not merely men who are abused by female or male partners, but also men who perpetrate violence against women out of a belief that they cannot retain their manhood without doing so. Many men are abusive for more mundane reasons, because real gains and privileges are available when you can take a partner”s money, force them to cook, clean and care for children, have them available sexually and get them to do your bidding out of fear.
Men who are assaulted by female or male partners merit substantial support and assistance, and services that deny them this because of anti-male bias should be held accountable and retrained accordingly. At present, however, I believe this can be accomplished without any substantial shift in policy or reallocation of resources from current training or support efforts. I would favor expanding current mandates so that it is clear that any victim of systemic coercion or control merits full recognition and support.
Eva Buzawa, et al. (1999, July). Response to domestic violence in a pro-active court setting: Final report. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.
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Richard Gelles (1995). Domestic violence not an even playing field. Retrieved from
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