PASK: Sex of Perpetrator Not a Factor in Domestic Violence

Robert FranklinJune 10, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

This post continues my reporting on the vastly important Partner Abuse State of Knowledge project (PASK).  My first piece is here (NPO, 5/24/13).  PASK seeks to bring together and analyze all relevant and competently done studies on intimate partner violence in an effort to grasp what we know and in what areas work needs to be done.  To that end, 42 domestic violence scholars from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Mexico delved into some 12,000 peer-reviewed studies published since 1990.  Their inquiries were divided into 17 topic areas and their analyses were reported in the journal Partner Abuse over the past year.  The complete work runs to almost 2,700 pages.  Here are the summaries of methodologies and findings in the 17 subject areas (Springer Publications, November 2012).

I’ve already reported on the first three, so I’ll take it up from there.

We’re told time and again by the domestic violence industry that DV knows no season, that it occurs across all boundaries of ethnicity, race, class, etc.  Technically, that’s true.  No class or race is immune to domestic violence.  But as is so often the case with the DV industry, the statement obscures more than it reveals.  The fact is that various behaviors and conditions are clear risk factors for DV, i.e. their presence tends to predict violence and their absence tends to do the opposite. 

So section four tells us that younger age, unemployment, low income and minority ethnicity are predictive of perpetration of DV. 

Again contrary to the claims of DV activists, exposure as a child to parental violence “show evidence of low to moderate risk for IPV and of mediation by… factors such as antisocial behavior and adult adjustment.”  In other words, kids who grow up watching their parents fight may or may not go on to become abusers.  And if they have other anti-social tendencies, their tendency to abuse will be greater, but as adults, they can deal with whatever tendency to violence they may have.

Put simply, there’s not nearly enough scientific evidence to support laws that view parental violence as per se abusive of children.

Into the bargain, adolescents should be kept away from aggressive or anti-social peers.  Those associations constitute risk factors for engaging in dating violence or DV later in life.

Interestingly, alcohol turns out to be a lower risk factor than most would have thought.  The researchers found its use and DV perpetration to be “of low magnitude and not found consistently.”  Illegal drug use seems to be a more important risk factor for DV perpetration than alcohol except that alcohol use in female perpetrators is more predictive than it is for males.

Unsurprisingly, the type of relationship a couple is in matters.  Married people are the least likely to engage in domestic violence while separated women are at greatest risk of victimization.

Of course the researchers looked at demographic factors for possible DV association.  Care to guess which demographic characteristic wasn’t even mentioned as a risk factor for DV perpetration?  That’s right, the researchers nowhere mentioned sex as playing any role whatsoever in either perpetration or victimization.  For the umpteenth time, domestic violence is not a matter of sex, it’s a matter of behavior.

Section five deals with the prevalence of emotional abuse and control between intimate partners.  The researchers analyzed 204 studies and found that, overall, perpetration of this type of abuse was roughly equal between the sexes.  Forty percent of women and 32% of men reported some form of “expressive aggression,” i.e. verbal or emotional abuse.  Forty-one percent of women and 43% of men reported being the targets of some form of coercive control by an intimate partner.  Men were more likely than women to coerce sex, but rates of that behavior were extremely low.

The summary’s section on the effects, both physical and psychological, on victims of domestic violence is the strangest.  It states what we’ve come to expect – that women are more likely than men to be injured in domestic violence incidents, but goes on to admit that “there was a relative dearth of research examining the consequences of physical and psychological victimization in men.”  Indeed, there’s so little research into the psychological effects of violence against men that the authors refused to draw any conclusions about that subject. 

Still, despite this “relative dearth” of information, the authors confidently state that women suffer more in all ways from domestic violence than do men.  How they reached that conclusion with so little information about male victims, they don’t explain.

And apparently, they’re not much interested in learning about male victims.  Each section of the summary includes suggestions for future research into the particular subject area, and the section on the consequences of DV is no exception.  What’s strange though is that the authors fail to call for more research into male victims and the consequences to them.  For research scientists to adopt an approach to their subject of “we don’t know enough, but we don’t need to know more” must be counted as odd.  More to the point, it’s obviously more of the same.  Male victims have been far too little studied.  Whether the authors know it or not, that needs to change.

That said, PASK is generally a fine example of how to approach domestic violence and the state of our knowledge about it.  I’ll report more on it in due course.

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