Seattle Times Article Gets it Right on Domestic Violence

It’s time to write a letter to the Seattle Times commending it for telling the truth about domestic violence in this article (Seattle Times, 12/25/10).

In one of the few cases in memory, the article not only tells the truth, but doesn’t “balance” it with false claims, inaccuracies or carefully-worded but misleading statistics.  Indeed, while it quotes one advocate who claims that, when women commit domestic violence, it’s all about “context,” it does so only to point out the unscientific nature of her claims.

The stars of the piece are Murray Strauss and Richard Gelles who, over the course of 35 years have established themselves as two of the responsible voices in the public debate about domestic violence.  They point out that DV advocates use bad science to promote their point of view and that policy makers uncritically follow their lead.  That results in the radical overweighting of services for women while male victims are ignored.

“This is the best-kept secret on family violence,” said Murray Straus, a sociologist who led the commissioned survey in 1975, and again in 1985 with the same results. “There is a tremendous effort to suppress and deny these results.”

Gelles adds,

“People cherry-pick their numbers for advocacy studies,” he said. “This is what advocates do, and that’s not sad. What’s sad is policymakers don’t create evidence-based policy.”

Not only do federal and state governments heap billions of dollars on service providers for women – usually organizations that make no secret of the sexism of their services or their political ideologies – but the entire apparatus of criminal justice has been recruited to their cause.

Since 1994, the federal law has doled out some $4 billion to states — dollars aimed at eliminating domestic abuse, stalking and sexual assault through increased financial, legal and housing support to women. The act has also upped the penalties against offenders and more closely knits prosecutors, judges, police and victims advocates to the effort.

Male victims?  They make up about one-third of all victims who actually sustain an injury in a domestic violence incident, but for them services are few and far between if they exist at all.

Laura Dugan, a public-policy expert and associate professor at the University of Maryland, said you might not know of a need for men based on the services available to them.

“All of these service providers, they do not let men on their premises,” she said, recounting a case she was familiar with in which an alcoholic wife was abusing her husband. “She really abused him. And he had nowhere to go.”

Meanwhile Gelles points out that adult DV is unique in the way it’s treated by advocates, service providers, lawmakers, police and prosecutors.

“No other federal legislation dealing with an aspect of family violence, including child maltreatment, sexual abuse and elder abuse, singularly focuses on one sex,” he testified.

I and countless others have pointed out time and again the many flaws in the domestic violence industry.  As far as I can tell, they all stem from its origin in radical feminist political ideology that holds that men assault their female partners for the political purpose of “keeping women in their place,” who are therefore unable to realize their full potential in the public sphere.

Inevitably, that proved to be factually incorrect as 35 years of responsible social science has shown.  But incurious legislators, ever eager to please the voting public, established funding based on that false ideology and it’s proven hard to wean people and organizations from all the federal largesse.

Thus we have service providers using taxpayer’s money to discriminate on the basis of sex.  We have public policy based, not on science, but on advocacy.  We have “treatment” of offenders that, again because it’s based not on science but on ideology, is ineffective to improve the behavior of perpetrators.

And since our “treatment” is ineffective and since, in any case, we don’t even attempt to treat half the population of those who commit domestic violence, the incidence of DV never seems to change.  (Why would it?  It’s like treating eczema with aspirin and wondering why your skin doesn’t clear up.)

Amazingly, we refuse to alter public policies to more closely reflect the by-now-well-known science on the subject.  Rather, the response always seems to be more of the same, i.e. direct ever higher levels of spending at the same programs in the quixotic hope of better results. 

We know the facts about domestic violence: men and women commit DV about equally; most DV results in either no injury at all or injury so slight as to not require treatment; women are slightly more likely than men to initiate a domestic violence incident, i.e. “hit first;” women are about twice as likely to incur an injury in an incident; men are far less likely to report being the victim of a DV incident or to seek medical care; law enforcement is overwhelmingly directed at arresting, detaining or restraining men, irrespective of the facts of the incident; treatment consisiting of psychotherapeutic intervention can be effective in reducing incidents of DV.

Despite its funding and its almost wholesale misrepresentation by mainstream media, the domestic violence industry is ripe for change.  What’s needed is a movement focussed on lobbying state and federal legislators to educate them about the truth and justice behind a science-based approach.  Public officials can’t be expected to know the facts if people who know those facts remain silent.

Articles like the one in the Seattle Times are small steps toward sanity in one of the least sane areas of public life.

Thanks to Edward for the heads-up.

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