Statistics reported by the media are inflated and skewed in an attempt
to portray domestic violence as a gender war in which brutish males are oppressing
innocent, passive females. In fact, men and women abuse their partners at equal
Journalists are having a lot of trouble dealing with the issue
of domestic violence. No other current topic seems so steeped in myths, bad stats
and general misinformation.
Rule of Thumb
the rule of thumb, for example, tossed into the discussion this time
around by the Los Angeles Times and the Brinkley show, among others. Its
supposed to be a rule in English common law that men are allowed to beat their
wives with a stick no thicker than ones thumb. But its not in the
common law, as Christina Hoff Sommers shows in her book Who Stole Feminism? Its
a fable, designed to make the legal system look like an instrument males use against
Or take the well-traveled factoid that At least one-fifth
of all emergency room visits by women are the result of beating by men (New
York Newsday). That finding comes from an inner-city population in Detroit. It
cant be projected nationwide. And besides, that Detroit statistic on beaten
people includes men hit by women.
Crazy stats are hurled around creatively
without challenge. Pat Stevens, a talk-show host, said on Crossfire, There
are 6 million women a year in this country who are battered by their husbands
or boyfriends. Thats true if you extend the definition of battering
far enough. One push, shove or slap on the arm a year will get you listed among
the 6 million spouse-batterers, just like O.J. Simpson. If you clutch your spouses
elbow as she walks away from an argument, that counts too.
assumption that only 10 percent of batterings are reported, Stevens told Michael
Kinsley and John Sununu that an estimated 60 million American women are beaten
each year by husbands or boyfriends. What Kinsley or Sununu might have said, but
didnt, is that 60 million would be a very surprising total, since the Census
Bureau estimates that only 56.8 million women in America are living with a man.
The real numbers are shocking enough. About 1.8 million
women suffer real violence from husbands or boyfriends, meaning one or more incidents
of hitting or kicking each year, with about 10 percent requiring help from a doctor,
according to Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire, an important researcher
in the field, and co-author of Intimate Violence with researcher Richard Gelles.
This means about 3 percent of women living with men suffer at least one violent
act a year, with about one-third of 1 percent requiring medical help.
studies show that the real numbers are low. In 1993, a Commonwealth Fund survey
asked 2,500 women about domestic incidents in the previous 12 months. Here are
some questions, with the percentage that said yes: Did your spouse or partner
ever throw something at you? (3 percent), push, grab, shove or slap? (5 percent),
kick, bite, hit with a fist or an object? (2 percent), beat you up or choke you?
(zero percent), use or threaten to use a knife or a gun? (zero percent).
Numbers fed to the media are not just routinely exaggerated and massaged into
an epidemic of violence; they are presented as somehow very different
from the rest of the violence in a violent society: they are offered up as evidence
of a gender war that implicates men in general, and the whole society, in the
battering conducted by out-of-control males.
These days, its
fairly routine to see journalism endorsing the radical theory of domestic
violence as gender warfare. Domestic violence can be portrayed as a war against
women, but only if a lot of evidence is suppressed or explained away. Factors
such as this, for instance:
A Straus and Gelles study showed that 1.8
million women reported assaults from their men and 2 million men reported assaults
from their women.
The 1985 National Family Violence Survey showed that
men and women were abusing one another in roughly equal numbers. (Men typically
do far more damage, but the number of attacks is the same.)
and lesbians report rates of domestic violence and abuse at least as high as those
among heterosexuals. One study shows an abuse rate of 14 percent among male gays
and 46 percent among lesbians in their current relationships. Is this gender warfare
Contrary to claims that womens domestic violence is largely
a defensive reaction to male violence, a 1993 study by Straus and Gelles says
that women initiate assaults against their partners at the same rate as
men. It isnt just self-defense, as I claimed in my 1988 book. Why
did he claim that in the book? It was the politically correct position.
Other studies back him up. One in 1990 concluded that 24 percent of domestic violence
is initiated by women, 27 percent by men.
The radical view of domestic
violence (its the patriarchy in action, oppressing women) simply doesnt
fit the accumulating evidence. Its a highly ideological overlay, dividing
the world unrealistically into brutish males and innocent, passive females. How
long will this wrongheaded oppressor-victim framework dominate press coverage
of the issue?
- Not to People Like Us. Weitzman, Susan, Ph.D. Basic Books:
New York. 2000.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section was about medias
representation of domestic violence. Write three case study examples regarding
how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
How many women suffer real violence (meaning one or more incidents
of hitting or kicking) each year? Record the letter of the correct answer the .