Gentlemen, the goalposts have been moved. Buckle your seatbelts.
I read Michael Flood’s article that he offered in a comment on AVfM as defense for his assumption that women are 95% of the victims of domestic violence. I was not prepared for what I found. Guess what? He and other DV potentates are reframing domestic violence, and his claims of 95% female victims only refers to what he calls “intimate terrorism” (also called “coercive controlling violence”).
The name may be new, but the idea of intimate terrorism has been around for some time. My memory tells me that even the early DV activists used a similar descriptor of the problem. In fact, the implication then, and even now, was that all of domestic violence was intimate terrorism. You know, that big-burly-smelly-angry guy™ who controls the whimpering wifey with an iron hand, yells for his sammich, and beats her to a pulp for not adding enough mayo. That guy. In the early days, this was the poster child for DV: the out-of-control man beating the defenseless woman and controlling her every move.
Everyone in the gynocentric press jumped on the bandwagon like it was the only train out of hell. Donations flooded in (pun intended) by the millions. Laws were written at warp 7 (in Star Trek vernacular), and in a wisp of time the domestic violence industry became a billion-plus-dollar-a-year venture solely by alleging to protect women from these evil, mostly imaginary patriarchs. They made a stunning success of framing all men as potential intimate terrorists and all women as potential victims. Domestic violence was falsely framed as pervasive, and the DV propaganda machine sold the myth that acts of a tiny, pathological minority were representative of all men. They also succeeded at taking a complex, multifaceted social malady and reducing it to a “one size fits all” sound bite fit for low-end public consumption. Of course, a significant part of that reduction was to cut male victims and female perpetrators from the picture.
There was just one problem: that pesky research. Study after study kept showing that women admitted to being violent in relationships as often as men, pointing to symmetry in the victims of domestic violence. In fact, women admitted more often than men that they were violent in relationship.
The DV industry researchers reacted to that by focusing on how men lie and minimize their abusiveness; that women are afraid to report their abusers; that real perpetrators won’t admit as much on a questionnaire—and on and on. But guess what? None of those excuses could negate the fact that women admitted to committing violence against their intimate partners. Period. The only way around it was to call the women liars and that wasn’t going to happen. Even the self-defense mantra didn’t work outside their own insulated ideology.
So, what to do? How can gender symmetry in DV be explained in ways that still demonize men and make them ripe for fundraising? This is where the fun, a flood of it, starts.
It starts by moving the goalposts. They saw the writing on the wall that their worldview of all DV being men beating women was crumbling and something needed to be done to explain why those women would admit to being violent. What did they do? They invented a new term: situational couple’s violence (SCV). Wow! Here’s what Flood says about this:
Here, the violence is relatively minor, both partners practise it, it is expressive (emotional) in meaning, it tends not to escalate over time, and injuries are rare. Situational couple violence does not involve a general pattern of coercive control.
Hold the press, folks. Can you imagine a man explaining to a batterer’s intervention leader (or to a judge, for that matter) that his violence was emotionally expressive in meaning and not part of a serious pattern of coercive control?
He would be instant toast.
Flood makes a case for men being only 5% to 10% of domestic violence victims by differentiating what he calls SCV, where male victims are common, from what he calls “intimate terrorism,” which he concludes is nearly all female victims. He portrays intimate terrorism as mostly a lethal, controlling man dominating a helpless woman. This is Flood’s 95% female victims. This is different, he tells us, from the situational couple’s violence that is commonplace in everyday relationships when people get upset and might push or shove in a spontaneous manner. This, Flood argues, may be violent but lacks the injurious, dominating, and coercive aspects of intimate terrorist violence (shall we go ahead and coin ITV for you, Michael?).
He tells us that situational couple’s violence, unlike ITV, includes both male and female victims. He also tells us that situational couple’s violence is much more prevalent than intimate terrorism—probably by at least a factor of 3 to 1.
This gambit superficially appears to get Flood and the DV industry out of some hot water since for decades they have portrayed women as the only victims of domestic violence—while the research clearly demonstrates gender symmetry.
How to explain those gosh darn violent women in a system without male victims? Just create a new category! Situational couple’s violence—the violence that does not matter. If he can show that the violence that women are involved with is just, you know, situational violence, then the fact that women are violent in relationships can easily be explained and ignored. And so can their male victims.
Okay, but wait. If you make that jump and believe that the real domestic violence is ITV, with men beating women, then what do you do with SCV? Looks like out of the frying pan and into the fire.
You see, Flood never tells us whether SCV is something that needs treatment from domestic violence services or if it is something that can be ignored and allowed to exist without intervention. Either way, I think they are screwed. What should they be doing with those male and female victims of SCV?
Is it something that needs to be treated by domestic violence services? If it is something that needs to be treated, what services are available for this large group of male and female victims? The research seems clear to say that this type of violence is more likely to need counseling or educational assistance. Is that offered by domestic violence services for this type of violent couple? Are they catering to this large majority with appropriate counseling services? I sure haven’t seen it or even heard of it.
Is SCV even something that needs intervention? One might assume that, since Flood completely ignored it in his assessment of victims. If we don’t need to change situational couple’s violence, then the White Ribbon folks of Australia are right to ignore it. However, if it is something that does need treatment and services, then why would White Ribbon only enlist men to change domestic violence? If SCV has both male and female victims, should they be enlisting both sexes? Flood is an ambassador for the White Ribbon Australia group. I wonder why he hasn’t urged them in this direction?
Then the other possibility is that SCV is not something that needs the attention of domestic violence services, and if that is the case, how do they differentiate one from the other and then release those who are only committing “situational” violence? I haven’t seen a bit of that either.
When do the “There’s No Excuse for Abuse” posters start coming down?
The concept of situational couple’s violence, also known as common couple violence, has been around for quite some time. First introduced into the literature in 1995 and discussed frequently in the 2000s, it is certainly a well-known concept, but … you never see a thing about it in the media, nor in the legislation, and certainly not in the services themselves. Something seems amiss.
Are we all to now erase the “no excuse” mantra of the past 50 years and put it in the dumpster along with some others? It seems so, because now they have fabricated an excuse. It’s called situational couple’s violence.
Yes, after failing to sell the “all violence is male” narrative, it is now intimate terrorism that Flood is convinced is the more virulent form of DV, with 95% female victims. He claims that the nationally representative samples that show gender symmetry were actually not about real violence at all. No, they were just situational couple’s violence. Voila! Now we don’t have to worry anymore about the research that showed women to be violent. That was just situational—unimportant—violence. Now we can create another boogie man who can keep the woman-only narrative going for a little while longer. The narrative of intimate terrorism, which is the province of men, of course. As we all know, women do not seek coercive control of relationships. Never happens.
The Australian Personal Safety Survey reported that 73,800 females and 21,200 males were victims of at least one incident of physical assault by a current or previous partner. By my math, even this official Australian survey (which, by the way, focuses considerably more on women than on men) clearly states that men comprise about 22% of the victims. Surely not 5%. But what does Flood do with this official figure? He claims that it is mostly those pesky situational couple’s violence folks. Here’s what he says:
Violence which is usually minor and infrequent – what Johnson calls situational couple violence – is likely to dominate general survey data.
Then he goes on to mysteriously estimate the number of intimate terrorists from the survey totals. He relies on a crony, Michael Johnson, to do the dirty work. Johnson estimates that 25% of those 73,800 female victims were victims of intimate terrorism and only 5% to 10% of the 21,200 male victims would qualify for this designation. Pretty impressive. But they never did say how they came to those numbers. They just pulled them out of air so thin it might be anorexic.
Notice that Flood is careful when he quotes these numbers when he says:
So, if this is accurate, then female victims of intimate terrorism by a male partner are somewhere from eight to 17 times as common as male victims of intimate terrorism by a female partner. There are around 19 to 20,000 individuals (19,510 to 20,570) living with intimate terrorism this year, and males are between five and 10 percent of all victims.
Kudos to Flood for the “if this is accurate” disclaimer. It allows him to spread completely unsupported data at a safe enough distance for plausible deniability in the face of inevitable debunking. Also note that he is suggesting that there are a total of 18,450 female victims of what he calls intimate terrorism. Since Australia’s female population was about 7.5 million at the time of this survey that boils down to less than three women out of a thousand having experienced what Flood calls Intimate Terrorism. I guess that 1 in 5 thing, even by Flood’s suspicious standards, will just have to go, eh?
Of course, he says that in order to get good numbers about intimate terrorism, you need to avoid using nationally representative samples. They just show you the non-important, non-issue violence. The kind of violence that Flood says doesn’t count. What you really need to do is to use data from shelters, hospitals, police, and other agencies that specialize in dealing with women-only victims.
Here’s what he says:
Studies using the Conflict Tactics Scale are most likely to pick up the pattern of aggression involved in ‘situational couple violence’. Acts-based studies are only a weak measure of levels of minor violence in conflicts among heterosexual couples. They are poorer again as a measure of intimate terrorism or coercive controlling violence (Johnson 1995, 284-285).
The other two types of violence—coercive controlling violence (or intimate terrorism) and violent resistance—predominate in samples drawn from agencies (law, refuges, hospitals) (Johnson 2010: 213).
So in one sweep of his hand, Flood dismisses years of research using the CTS, which tended to find gender symmetry in domestic violence, and says we need to focus on data from, gulp, women’s refuges! Sure! That’s where you will certainly find the, um, women who are victims! Yes! What a convenient idea for him to search for male victims from a sample drawn from services that are very specifically built for female victims.
I have an idea, I want to study polar bears. I think I will go to Mexico to study them. After not finding any polar bears, I can easily say I looked and they simply did not exist. Nice try, Mikey. Not.
So the struggle now is how to differentiate when and if there is such a thing as intimate terrorism and who are the victims. How does one tell the difference between situational couple’s violence and intimate terrorism? Where is the line? Are there different treatments for both?
Frankly, I see this as progress in some ways. I have seen for years men and women who were actually what are being called situational couple’s violence types get trampled by a “one size fits all” system that vilified the man and snatched away any power from the woman to stop the DV Gestapo from stampeding her husband. Maybe this new terminology will give the majority of couples who get into a scrum some help to process things and to learn new ways to cope rather than to be separated, jailed, shamed, and impoverished.
There is such a thing as intimate terrorism. It is rare, but it is there, and it is deadly whether the perp is male or female. I am happy to see efforts made to find and sort out that type of pathology and deal with it. When I have seen this before, the perpetrators—whether male or female—have been sociopaths and not likely to benefit from therapy. They generally need a different approach.
Many of us have been suggesting for decades that these extreme cases do in fact exist but they are not representative of all family violence. All too often therapy would be very helpful for many of these couples, but the DV industry has thus far refused and preferred their totalitarian judgmental approach that treats the ladies with kid gloves and the men with a whip.
Maybe this way of differentiating will help to tease out those who are truly sociopaths from those who are struggling as couples. Let’s get those non-sociopath couples into therapy with a good therapist. The treatment regimes I have seen for DV seem to run on the vastly erroneous assumption that all perpetrators are male and sociopathic. Maybe that can change. Just my two cents.
It is not much of a guess to say that this will take a long time, years, to sort this out. What is more than clear, however, is that we will not get to that point with the help of ideologues clamoring desperately to maintain a false narrative at any cost. And the cost is formidable.
My heart goes out to all the men who have been imprisoned and/or forced to attend sexist, hateful, and abusive batterers programs who were in a relationship that had situational couple’s violence. I think the DV industry owes millions of men and children an apology and a serious change in direction.
Some men have problems, but men are not the problem. Indeed, men are good.
Author note: The link below goes to a paper by Denise Hines, PhD, and Emily Douglas, PhD. It is an excellent academic resource that refutes many of the typical anti-male arguments about men and DV. This one focuses on the reality that men also are victims of “intimate terrorism.” If you don’t know Hines and Douglas, I strongly urge you to get to know some of their work. They are the ones who documented the mistreatment men receive when seeking help from DV services. I am very grateful for their excellent work. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913504/