Here are two stories about domestic violence in the news. The first one involves Aron Ralston. If you recognize that name it’s probably because he’s the guy who was trapped in a canyon in Utah and cut off his own arm to survive.
Aron was arrested on DV charges, but when prosecutors learned that the violence involved his domestic partner, Vita Shannon, punching him in the back of head twice, to which he responded by shoving her on the shoulder, the charges against Aron were dropped, and Vita is facing assault, disturbing the peace and wrong-to-minors charges instead. That last charge means that a child was present (the couple’s infant daughter) but was not hurt.
James McGill, of Englewood, punched his wife, tried to strangle her with a power cord, beat her with a laptop and threatened her with a knife. He is charged with aggravated assault, criminal restraint, making terroristic threats, weapons possession and two counts of child endangerment.
Which one of these stories is more common? Which one reflects the true face of DV? Women not hesitating to assault their male partners, assuming (and generally receiving) no or very limited retaliation, or men who viciously assault helpless women?
It all depends on who you ask.
There are two large national surveys of intimate partner violence (IPV) – one is conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the other by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which effectively means that one survey frames IPV as a health issue, and the other frames it as a criminal issue.
Unsurprisingly, they reach different conclusions. Let’s look at DOJ survey first, conducted by two feminist researchers.
Dr. Patricia Tjaden, a professor of sociology specializing in Violence Against Women (her own words) “developed and executed numerous federally-funded research projects, including the highly-acclaimed National Violence Against Women Survey”.
Dr. Nancy Thoennes has more than 30 years experience in the design of surveys and data collection forms and conducts large-scale statistical analyses using SPSS. She is a leading expert on child protection and the courts, as well as in the field of child support.
Patty and Nancy put their heads together and designed a survey called The National Violence Against Women Survey. Gee, that’s pretty objective, isn’t it? Not the National Violence Against Intimate Partners Survey. Not the National Domestic Violence Survey.
The National Violence Against Women Survey.
Who wants to guess what they found?
It’s called a confirmation bias and it is such a rookie mistake, it’s almost laughable. 30 years designing surveys and two PhDs between them yet Nancy and Patty couldn’t avoid a common undergraduate error?
According to Patty and Nancy, approximately 1.2 million women and 835 000 men were victims of IPV in the previous 12 months. They divided IPV into three categories: rape, physical assault and stalking victimization.
Here are their questions about rape:
Has a man or boy ever made you have sex by using force or threatening to harm you or someone close to you? Just so there is no mistake, by sex we mean putting a penis in your vagina (female respondents only).
Has anyone, male or female, ever made you have oral sex by using force or threat of force? Just so there is no mistake, by oral sex we mean that a man or boy put his penis in your mouth (or someone, male or female, penetrated your vagina or anus with their mouth or tongue).
Has anyone ever made you have anal sex by force or threat of harm? Just so there is no mistake, by anal sex we mean that a man or boy put his penis in your anus.
Has anyone, male or female, ever put fingers or objects in your vagina or anus against your will or by using force or threats?
Has anyone, male or female, ever attempted to make you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex against your will, but intercourse or penetration did not occur?
Well then. Only females are asked to respond to the issue of forced sex, and the only thing that counts as sex is putting a penis in something. Okie dokie. No problems with that question at all, right? And oral sex never involves women grabbing a man or boy’s head and forcing him to perform oral sex. Good thing CK Louis wasn’t consulted on this survey.
Gosh, I wonder if male respondents felt maybe a little reluctant to share their experiences when the first question won’t even permit them to respond?
Let’s look at physical assault:
After you became an adult, did any person, male or female, ever:
Throw something at you that could hurt?
Push, shove or grab you?
Pull your hair?
Slap or hit you?
Kick or bite you?
Choke or attempt to drown you?
Hit you with some object?
Beat you up?
Threaten you with a gun?
Threaten you with a knife or other weapon?
Use a gun on you?
Use a knife or other weapon on you?
Fair enough. Those all seem like assault to me. No problems here at all.
And finally, stalking:
Not including bill collectors, telephone solicitors, or other sales people, has anyone, male or female, ever:
Followed or spied on you?
Sent you unsolicited letters or written correspondence?
Made unsolicited phone calls to you?
Showed up at places you were even though he or she had no business being there?
Left unwanted items for you to find?
Tried to communicate in other ways against your will?
Vandalized your property or destroyed something you loved?
Only victims who were followed or harassed on more than one occasion and who experienced a high level of fear were counted as stalking victims. Of course, that means men who were subjected to any of the above, but who were not made afraid by those actions were not counted as victims.
So what did the NVAW survey find?
0.2% of men and 4.5% of women reported forcible rape.
The only surprising thing about that is that 0.2% of men could find some way to report their rapes, given the way the survey was worded. Overall, 7.3% of men and 21.7% of women reported victimization.
I wish I could post the full article here for you, but it is behind a paywall. If you do have access, the full citation is:
PATRICIA TJADEN and NANCY THOENNES (2000). Prevalence and Consequences of Male-to-female and Female-to-male Intimate Partner Violence as Measured by the National Violence Against Women Survey Violence Against Women February 2000 6: 142-161, doi:10.1177/10778010022181769
The CDC survey, called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey(NIPSVS) reached some startlingly different conclusions. The article I’m going to cite is NOT behind a paywall, and you can access it here.
The tl;dr version:
5.4 million men report being victims of IPV, compared to 4.8 million women.
If you add the 600K rapes reported by women, you still only get 5.4 million women, which is exactly the same as men, suggesting that IPV is pretty evenly divided. It’s extremely problematic to add the rape numbers however, as 80% of rape victims also report being victims of violence, meaning they are being double counted.
The best case scenario in the NIPSVS is that women and men are equally violent, but the more likely truth is that women are significantly more violent than men.
Bert Hoff, who wrote the article even has a theory as to why that might be, and I think it’s a fascinating possibility. Noting that rates of violence against women are declining, while rates of violence against men are holding steady, Bert theorizes that:
This drop in IPV against females and steady rate of violence against males raises an interesting policy question. There are many thousands of support programs, web sites and public-interest media items for female victims of domestic violence (DV), and virtually no programs and only a handful of web sites in the USA for male victims. Perhaps these programs and public education efforts have resulted in males, but not females, getting the message that DV is wrong.
It gets even more interesting when you consider what the NIPVS considered violence.
Some 21.6 percent of the male victims in that 2001 survey [the NVAW] were threatened with a knife, contrasted to 12.7 percent of the women The NISVS omission of threats by knife or gun is not only curious, but it flies in the face of the Center for Disease Control’s own recommendations on data for IPV. The section of that document that covers the victim’s experience of IPV includes sections on sexual violence, physical violence, threats of physical or sexual violence and ‘‘psychological/emotional abuse’’. But NISVS survey respondents were not asked about being threatened with a knife or gun.
What is more violent, brandishing a knife at your spouse in the heat of an argument, refusing to wear a condom, or calling your spouse fat or stupid? NISVS did not ask about knife-wielding, but did ask about condoms and name-calling. Men were more often the victims of both psychological aggression (‘‘expressive aggression’’ and ‘‘coercive control’’) and control of reproductive or sexual health .
The NISVS distinguishes between physical violence (use of force) and expressive aggression (name calling), yet still finds that men are victims more often than women.
Interestingly enough, the police officers who dealt with IPV appear to understand that women are aggressors more often than not, but were reluctant to do anything about it. Men were only slightly more likely to be arrested than women (33.3% vs. 26.5%) and the police identified the women as aggressors 54.9% of the time, and yet:
In 41.5 percent of the cases where men called the police, the police asked if he wanted his partner arrested; in 21 percent the police refused to arrest the partner, and in 38.7 percent the police said there was nothing they could do and left.
Here is another interesting fact about male victims: 106 men suffered serious physical injuries, but only 54 sought medical attention. 90% of those men were asked how they sustained their injuries and 60% were honest: I was injured by my partner.
Only 14% got any information on how to get help from a program aimed at reducing IPV.
The best source of help for men were friends, neighbors, relatives, lawyers and ministers. The least helpful sources: programs aimed at IPV.
The services least helpful were:
. . .those that are the core of the DV service system: DV agencies, DV hotlines, and the police. On the one hand, about 25% of men who sought help from DV hotlines were connected with resources that were helpful. On the other hand, nearly 67% of men reported that these DV agencies and hotline were not at all helpful. Many reported being turned away. The qualitative accounts in our research tell a story of male helpseekers who are often doubted, ridiculed, and given false information.
That’s not news to regular readers but it’s nice to see it acknowledged in the research literature.
Now if only Facebook could get it’s information correct.
Survivors shouldn’t have to live their lives avoiding every possible situation that the abusive person could misuse. They can’t control that person’s behavior and we should work to continuously hold abusers accountable for their actions. Abusers go to devastating lengths to isolate their victims from family and friends. It is vital that survivors are able to safely rebuild those important connections, using Facebook and other social networks. Telling a victim to go offline to be safe is not only unacceptable, it further isolates her from people who love her.
It’s far more likely to be him.
Three things can not long be hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.
Looks to me like the sun is about to shine on the truth about intimate partner violence. Women are far more likely to throw the first punch.
Gives new meaning to the saying “ladies first”, no?
Lots of love,