October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October 7, 2014 by Curtis Vandermolen, Member, California Executive Committee

Domestic Violence Awareness Month has been observed every year in October since 1987. That means there has been 27 years of attempts to raise awareness about domestic violence in the United States, yet there has been little progress toward resolving this social plague. Why have domestic violence awareness and prevention campaigns been so ineffective?

The answer to this question is strikingly simple – domestic violence prevention advocates only focus on half of the problem (with some exceptions). It would be entirely inaccurate to say that they only focus on one gender. Domestic violence advocates focus on women through awareness, assistance and legal protections. And domestic violence advocates focus on men through admonishments, penalties and requests for them to hold each other accountable. Both of these efforts are two sides of the same coin – they perpetuate the myth that only women are victims of domestic violence, and only men are perpetrators.

Thirty years of research has repeatedly come to the same conclusions about domestic violence. As a prime example, the Harvard University School of Medicine published an article in the May 2007 edition of the American Journal of Public Health (Vol. 9, Ed. 5, PP 941-947), which revealed several findings:

  • “According to both men and women, 50% of this violence was reciprocal, that is, involved both parties, and in those cases the woman was more likely to have been the first to strike.”
  • “When the violence was one-sided, both women and men said that women were the perpetrators about 70% of the time.”
  • “Men were more likely to be injured in reciprocally violent relationships (25%) than were women when the violence was one-sided (20%).”
  • “This means both men and women agreed that men were not more responsible than women for intimate partner violence.”

I chose Harvard as an example because of their high value in the intellectual and medical community – with small variations these findings are among the most consistently confirmed in the social sciences. The findings in this study go beyond those that have been previously reported, but they continue a trend that has been seen over the last thirty years… violence against women is becoming less socially accepted, and violence against men has stayed the same or increased.

Trends in reporting domestic violence also underscore the unbalanced approach that domestic violence prevention advocates have used over the last thirty years. While rates of reporting domestic violence has more than doubled for women, rates of reporting for men has stayed the same. Although 25% of men and women are victims of domestic violence in their lifetime, less than 3% of individuals report that violence. Although domestic violence advocates have made it easier to report in some ways, policies and laws that have been developed to protect women often have the effect of reducing reporting. A comprehensive approach to this social plague would hopefully make great improvements for both men and women.

And it’s not just domestic violence advocates that are the culprits. The media are complicit in their gender-blindness, though some smaller news outlets are beginning to recognize the hypocrisy. Mainstream American media has been frothing at the mouth over high profile domestic violence cases like Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens), Ray McDonald (San Francisco 49ers), Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers), Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings). Have you heard about the arrests of Carmen Electra, Emma Roberts, Tonya Harding (unrelated to her skating incident), Chyna, or Hope Solo?

It is necessary that a science-based and gender-neutral approach to recognizing, reporting and resolving domestic violence is developed. Courts and law enforcement are predisposed to believe that men are the perpetrators, unless it is obvious that they were not. Even state laws require the arrest of the “dominant” aggressor, rather than the “primary” or “initiating” aggressor. Since men most often have the strength and size advantage in a relationship, any attempt to defend himself from an attack makes him the dominant aggressor. This bias prevents appropriate referrals for counseling and other services for both participants, creates a power imbalance in the relationship, and teaches involved children the wrong lesson.

Findings that women initiate violence more often should be disregarded. The key here is that half of domestic violence is bi-directional, so half of domestic violence cases should address violence by both parties. What the studies have shown is that in more than half of domestic violence cases, there is no perpetrator and no victim… there are two people that fought with each other. In most cases, domestic violence is not about power and control (though advocates have built an industry on this concept), it’s about conflicts in a relationship in which neither person has the tools to resolve the conflict or escape escalation.

One goal of National Parents Organization is to increase awareness about domestic violence as a social interpersonal problem. Accusations of domestic violence can be devastating in divorce or child custody cases – and there are attorneys and groups that recommend making an accusation (however credible) in order to ensure one party receives all or most of the parenting time. We believe that it is necessary for courts to take an evidence-based approach to accusations of domestic violence.

For additional research, consider these sources:


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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