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Strategies for Battered Women
Battered Women continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 21
Media Misreporting of
Domestic Violence

Question 21 | Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEs, Counselor CEs, MFT CEs

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 rates.

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”
Take “the rule of thumb,” for example, tossed into the discussion this time around by the Los Angeles Times and the Brinkley show, among others. It’s supposed to be a rule in English common law that men are allowed to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than one’s thumb. But it’s not in the common law, as Christina Hoff Sommers shows in her book Who Stole Feminism? It’s a fable, designed to make the legal system look like an instrument males use against women.

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 can’t 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.” That’s 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 spouse’s elbow as she walks away from an argument, that counts too.

On the 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 didn’t, 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.

Hard facts

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.

Many 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, it’s 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.)
• Male gays 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 too?
• Contrary to claims that women’s 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 isn’t 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 (it’s the patriarchy in action, oppressing women) simply doesn’t fit the accumulating evidence. It’s 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?

- Weitzman, S., Ph.D., (2000). Not to People Like Us. Basic Books: New York.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Habib, S., Adelman, L., Leidner, B., Pasha, S., & Sibii, R. (2020). Perpetrator religion and perceiver’s political ideology affect processing and communication of media reports of violence. Social Psychology, 51(1), 63–75.

Hahn, L., Tamborini, R., Prabhu, S., Grall, C., Novotny, E., & Klebig, B. (2021). Narrative media’s emphasis on distinct moral intuitions alters early adolescents’ judgments. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications. Advance online publication.

Kim, S., & Oh, C. S. (2021). Abnormality in news stories: Influences on cognition, emotion, and behavior. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 33(1), 16–27.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 21
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 Test.

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