research - Domestic Violence - Riding the donkey backwards
In post-Renaissance France and England, society ridiculed
and humiliated husbands thought to be battered and/or dominated
by their wives (Steinmetz, 1977-78). In France, for instance,
a "battered" husband was trotted around town riding
a donkey backwards while holding its tail. In England, "abused"
husbands were strapped to a cart and paraded around town,
all the while subjected to the people's derision and contempt.
Such "treatments" for these husbands arose out of
the patriarchal ethos where a husband was expected to dominate
his wife, making her, if the occasion arose, the proper target
for necessary marital chastisement; not the other way around
(Dobash & Dobash, 1979).
Although the patriarchal view supporting a husband's complete
dominance of his wife persisted into the twentieth century
(E. Pleck, 1987), during the latter half of this century,
we find a definite shift in people's attitudes toward marital
relationships. Beginning in the 1970s, for instance, advocates
like Del Martin (1976) and Erin Pizzey (Pizzey 1974; Pizzey
& Shapiro, 1982) exposed the "hidden" secret
of domestic violence. As a result, terms like "domestic
violence”, "domestic abuse," and "battered
wife" have found their way into our everyday speech.
Finally, society seems to be taking the issue of domestic
violence against women seriously and looking for solutions
to stem if not to end the violence.
Most of the early research dealing with domestic violence
focused solely on the female victims and the social factors
that supported the victimization of women (Smith, 1989). Consequently,
a voluminous literature now exists that portrays domestic
violence as a unitary social phenomenon stemming from a patriarchal
social order where women are portrayed as the victims and
men perceived as the perpetrators (Dobash & Dobash, 1979).
Such research has had a significant impact upon the evolution
of recent changes in civil law, enforcement of criminal law,
and the ways law enforcement and social agencies respond to
the needs of battered wives (see Victim Support, 1992).
As noted in the opening section, finding evidence that society
in centuries past found it necessary to punish men who did
not uphold the patriarchal way suggests previous recognition
that a husband could be assaulted or dominated by his wife.
In recent years though, such a possibility has found little
support or credence. Rather, the view of husband-as-victim
of domestic violence is more likely a subject of cartoons
(Saenger, 1963) or of jokes about "hen-pecked" husbands
(Wilkinson, 1981). In fact, raising the issue of husband-as-victim
has spawned a heated controversy within academic circles pitting
those who have reported such evidence (see Mills, 1990; Mold,
1990; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980) against those
who scoff at such a possibility (see Pagelow, 1985; Pleck,
Pleck, & Bart, 1977; Walker, 1989, 1990).
A number of factors apparently are stoking the debate. Among
those most often cited are the relative numbers of male versus
female victims, the methods used to determine whether or not
male victimization has occurred, and the nature and context
of female violence. With respect to this last factor, the
nature and context of female violence, the debate has widened
to include whether the violence perpetrated by a woman against
a man is motivated solely in terms of self-defence from either
actual or possible bodily threat, whether the violence perpetrated
by a woman against a man is in retaliation to previous victimization
by a male partner, and whether the resulting injury inflected
on a man by a woman is comparable to that inflicted on a woman
by a man.
With respect to the first issue much of the data available
on domestic violence in the United States, for instance, indicates
that, as Mildred Daley Pagelow (1985) argues, females far
outnumber males in terms of being the victims of violence.
Such is also the conclusion of a literature review prepared
for the United Kingdom's Home Office (Smith, 1989). Given
that most studies suggest that domestic violence is exclusively
perpetrated by men against women and propose theoretical frameworks
to account for this unilateral condition, men who experience
unilateral violence at the hands of their wives or female
partners have been all but neglected. Dismissed by the argument
that few men are actually the victim of spousal abuse or that
these few were in all probability men in denial of their own
abuse complaining of their spouses' self-defence needs, the
experiences of such men have warranted sparse academic concern.
Another feature preventing serious attention toward the issue
of battered men is the belief that studies of battered women
will suffice to provide a background for understanding male
victims. Further, it has been suggested that in those very
few cases of battered men that their social and legal needs
are already met within the context of present and available
social and legal provisions (Pagelow, 1985).
Although some argue that the relatively few cases of battered
men warrant little serious study, incidents of battered men
have drawn the attention of numerous social agencies in the
United Kingdom, for instance, among the police (Burrell &
Brinkworth, 1994; Kirsta, 1994), police surgeons (Harrison,
1986), counseling agencies (Jaevons, 1992; Kirsta, 1991, 1994;
Thomas, 1993), probation services (Jaevons, 1992), social
agencies like the Samaritans, the Salvation Army, and shelters
for the homeless (Harrison, 1986; Jaevons, 1992; Lewin, 1992),
psychiatrists and physicians, (Borowski, Murch, & Walker,
1983; Harrison, 1986; Oswald, 1980), fathers' rights groups
(Harrison, 1986), lawyers (Wolff, 1992), and even among those
who work with battered women (L. Davidson, personal communication,
April, 1994; ; Kirsta, 1991; Lewin, 1992; E. Pizzey, personal
communication, December, 1992).
This paper addresses the question of male victimization by
reviewing research studies and literature in which domestic
violence directed against husbands/male partners has been
found or considered. Further, I argue that more research is
needed to help define the similarities and differences between
male and female victims of domestic violence. The contention
that the numbers of battered men in society are very small
and thus present an anomaly to the general thinking that women
are the only "legitimate" subject of domestic violence
is denied. The fact is that taking a serious look at the phenomenon
of battered men may actually be a necessary next step to help
"de-contaminate" the study of domestic violence
ARE MEN VICTIMS?
RESEARCH AND CONTROVERSY
Although domestic assaults against men have been reported
in the literature since the 1950s (Bates, 1981; Straus, 1993),
the earliest academic reference to "battered husbands"
can be traced to the work of Suzanne Steinmetz (1977, 1977-78).
Extrapolating from a small-scale study, Steinmetz suggested
that the incidence of "husband beating" rivalled
the incidence of "wife battering" and that it was
husband abuse, not wife abuse, that was a largely underreported
form of domestic violence. Her claims received considerable
media attention in the United States and elsewhere, but she
was savagely attacked for misreading, misinterpreting and
misrepresenting her findings by opponents. Pagelow, for one,
(1985) criticized Steinmetz's evidence on a number of grounds,
for instance, the use of aggregate, as opposed to couple samples.
Further, she noted that Steinmetz's work did not address the
context in which women were the perpetrators of violence,
namely, "self-defence.” Consequently, Pagelow argued
that the claim of husband abuse could not be supported and
that the "battered husband syndrome" was "much
ado about nothing."
Despite the criticisms levelled at Steinmetz and her concept
of the battered husband, violence directed at husbands has
been reported by others. For instance, Murray Straus, Richard
Gelles and Suzanne Steinmetz (1980) estimated that about one
in eight men in the United States acted violently during marital
conflict. However, they estimated a similar number of women
also acted violently during marital conflict. They also noted
that in a majority of these cases, violence was a mutual or
bilateral activity, with only 27% of cases finding that husbands
were the sole perpetrators of violence and 24% of cases finding
only wives acting violently. With respect to serious violence,
as judged by the Conflict Tactics Scales (Note 2), these authors
stated that the rate for men beaten by their wives was 4.6%;
a figure that indicated "over 2 million very violent
wives.” While 47% of those husbands who beat their wives
did so severely three or more times a year, 53% of women who
beat their husbands severely did so three or more times a
In a later article, Straus and Gelles (1986) reviewed both
their own and other studies in the United States and reported
somewhat equivalent assault rates for both male-to-female
and female-to-male. In their 1975 survey, Straus, Gelles and
Steinmetz (1980) estimated that approximately 38 out of every
1000 families experience severe husband-to-wife violence,
while 46 out of every l000 families experience severe wife-to-husband
violence. Ten years later, Straus & Gelles (1986) reported
that the rates have dropped from 38 to 30 and 46 and 44 per
1000 couples, respectively. In overall acts of violence, as
defined by the Conflict Tactics Scales, husband-to-wife rates
of violence were 121 and 113 and wife-to-husband rates of
violence were 116 and 121 per 1000 couples for the two study
years (i.e., 1975 and 1985).
Although Straus and Gelles (1986) did not dwell on these comparisons,
they did make a statement that seems to run counter to the
prevailing academic and public perception of the time, namely,
that "an important and distressing finding about violence
in American families is that, in marked contrast to the behaviour
of women outside the family, women are about as violent within
the family as men" (p. 470). The small change in the
wife-to-husband rate of violence, as opposed to some change
in the husband-to-wife violence, was suggested to result from
a lack of attention or concern to male victimization. The
case for giving due regard to domestic women-on-men assaults
and an acceptance of this higher level of victimization was
backed by reference to other studies finding similar levels
of male victimization (Brutz & Ingoldsby, 1984; Gelles,
1974; Giles-Sims, 1983; Jourilles & O'Leary, 1985; Lane
& Gwartney-Gibbs, 1985; ; Laner & Thompson, 1982;
Makepeace, 1983; Sack, Keller, & Howard, 1982; Saunders,
1986; Scanzoni, 1978; Steinmetz, 1977, 1977-78; Szinovacz,
In conclusion, summarized such data as Straus and Gelles (1986)
indicating that women engage in minor assaults against their
male partners at a slightly higher rate than for the same
attacks upon women by men. In situations in which both partners
use violence, men and women were also almost equally responsible
for the first blow, but in only one quarter of these relationships
was the man the sole victim. At more potentially injurious
levels of assault, men were considered to exceed women in
their aggressive behaviour and it was suggested that a relative
rate in the order of 6 or 7 to 1 (male versus female) was
evident for the perpetration of injurious assaults.
Returning to the controversy surrounding the issue of violence
against husbands, Straus (1989, 1993) and Straus and Kaufman-Kantor
(1994) have extended such observations and reiterated the
importance of giving due consideration to the issue. Straus
(1993) has pointed out that some studies fail to report findings
of female-to-male violence. For instance, Straus noted that
in a Kentucky study of battered wives, the study failed to
report a 38% rate of unilateral female-to-male violence. Straus
further noted that in reviewing over thirty studies, every
(Straus's emphasis) study using a sample that was not self-selecting
had found rough equivalence of assault rates for both women
and men (e.g., Brush, 1990; Sorensen & Telles, 1991).
Some of the variation in the reports of incidence of violence
directed against husbands or male partners could be attributed
to the difference in whether the studies surveyed the general
population or were based upon samples of reported victims
as found in police records or agencies dealing with domestic
violence. The much lower rates of male victimization evident
from studies on samples of victims of domestic violence drawn
from victimization programs police records or other similar
agencies working in the field were suggested to introduce
a "clinical sample fallacy" into the debate. In
contrast evidence derived from the use of the Conflict Tactics
Scales, although widely recognized and used, has been criticized
by some as seemingly giving credence to attacks by women upon
men by erroneously equating female assaults with potentially
more harmful male assaults (e.g., Bogarde, 1990; Kurz, 1993).
Several American and Canadian studies have indicated levels
of female violence against husbands or male partners as more
than just an anomaly or a small percentage of isolated individual
cases. For instance, Nisonoff and Bitman (1979) reported that
15.5% of men and 11.3% of women reported having hit their
spouse, while 18.6% of men and 12.7% of women reported having
been hit by their spouse. Studies of both dating and married/cohabiting
couples have also found that women admit committing unilateral
acts of violence against their male partners at levels not
greatly dissimilar to those committed by men (Arias &
Johnson, 1989). In a survey of 884 United States university
students, Breen (1985) found that both male and female students
reported being the victim of an act of violence by a romantic
partner in approximately equal proportions (18% of the men
and 14% of the women). And among married male students, Breen
found that 23% reported being slapped, punched or kicked,
while 9% reported being the victim of an assault involving
a weapon and a similar percentage reported receiving injuries
that required them to seek medical treatment. In a study of
particular interest, as it surveyed patients attending an
emergency department, Goldberg and Tomianovich (1984) found
that men constituted 38% of the victims of spousal violence.
Bland and Orn (1986), in a Canadian study of the relationships
between family violence, psychiatric disorder and alcohol
abuse, found that men and women were nearly equal in committing
acts of violence against their partners. In another study,
this time for 562 married and co-habiting couples living in
Calgary, Canada, Brinkerhoff and Lupri (1988) found nearly
twice as much wife-to-husband, as husband-to-wife, severe
violence. Using data derived again from the Conflict Tactics
Scales, these researchers reported a 4.7% rate of severe violence
in husband-to-wife relationships while a 10.4% rate was found
for wife-to-husband severe violence. These authors also suggested
that male violence decreased with level of educational attainment,
but female violence increased. Also Sommers, Barnes and Murray
(1992) reported a higher incidence of at least one incident
of partner abuse for females as opposed to males (39.1% versus
In the United Kingdom, surveys of domestic incidents are more
restricted than the National Family Violence Survey or other
comparable surveys in the United States or Canada (Smith,
1989). However, if we allow as evidence the reporting in the
popular media, evidence of male victims can be found. For
instance, in a UK survey of 2,075 people about family life
reported in the popular press, Moller (1991) reported that
three times as many women, as men, admitted hitting their
spouse or partner. Individual case histories of battered men
have also been reported in various popular presses as well
as details of an unpublished British study, using the Conflict
Tactics Scales, where similar results were found (e.g., Kirsta,
1989, 1991, 1994; Stacey & Cantacuzino, 1993; Wolff, 1992).
In an article reviewing a number of legal cases, Bates (1981)
commented that while "little had been written about male
victimization, it was not difficult to find male victims from
even a superficial search of case law."
By contrast, a study of police and court records in Scotland
found that only 2.4% of cases involved a male victim (Dobash
& Dobash, 1978). Two other studies in the United Kingdom
gave a somewhat different picture. Borowski, Murch, and Walker
(1983) in a survey of fifty general practitioners found that
just over 80% of physicians reported seeing a case of a female
victim of domestic violence about once every six months, but
totally unsolicited, 27% of the physicians reported seeing
a male victim with about the same frequency. In a study by
psychiatrists in Scotland, Oswald (1980) reported on 299 women
involved in violent relationships. Forty-six percent of these
women reported being both victims of violence by a spouse/partner
or near relative and perpetrators of violence towards their
spouse/partner or near relative. Another 12% stated they had
been violent towards a spouse/partner or near relative, but
received no violence from them. In a more recent UK study,
Smith, Baker, Buchan, and Bodiwala (1992) reported on the
results of their gender-blind study of victims of domestic
assaults attending Leicester Royal Infirmary casualty department.
Retrospective study of the casualty department records for
1988, of assault victims of both genders who identified their
injury as arising from "domestic incidents," found
an incidence of male victims of spousal assault. Covering
a number of categories of inter-relational violence within
the home, eleven men and 55 women were positively identified
as the victim of an assault by their spouse or partner. Another
six men and 30 women were identified as having been assaulted
by a romantic partner. In the total study of 142 male and
155 female identified victims, an interesting feature was
the fact that 59% of males and 25% of females did not identify
Furthermore, reports of male victims of female-perpetrated
domestic violence can be found using data from Australia (Scutt,
1981). Thus academic literature reporting studies of domestic
violence from four countries (United States, Canada, United
Kingdom, and Australia) has reported an incidence of male
victimization from zero to slightly higher than the incidence
of female victimization. While a surprising number of studies
find rates of male victimization, the data is not always complete.
What is clear, however, is that assaults by women against
their husbands or male partners do occur. This is even acknowledged
by some of critics of the concept of "battered men"
(Walker, 1990). Whatever the incidence of female assaults
on male partners is, Pagelow's (1985) view that male victimization
hardly ever occurs is being challenged by numerous researchers
coming from a variety of disciplines and research areas (Macchieto,1992).
Further, the debate about battered men is becoming more heated,
as more men come forth and publicly describe their status
as victims of domestic abuse (see Aardoom, 1993; Edwards,
1992; Greenfield, 1992; Raeside, 1993; Smith, 1992; Thomas,
1993; and Turner, 1988).
ON THE NATURE OF ASSAULTS AGAINST
A major criticism levelled at Steinmetz's claim of "battered
husbands" was that she failed to address the context
or the situation that would have prompted a woman to act violently
against her male partner. The critics claimed that in those
(rare) cases when a woman attacked a man such an assault was
in all probability justified in terms of self-defence, stemming
from either his previous assaults or the likelihood of imminent
assault. Initially, owing to this criticism and believing
that most assaults by women on men would be in self-defence,
Straus did not pursue any of the initial interest from the
original 1975 survey (Straus, 1993). Subsequently, however,
reviewing both their own and other studies in the United States,
somewhat equivalent assault rates for both male-to-female
and female-to-male were identified and discussed (Straus &
Gelles, 1986) in the context of this criticism. Detailed considerations
to take account of the severity of assault, different reporting
and surveying methodologies, and the likelihood that assaults
were in self-defence or in response to previous victimization
were addressed. It was argued from national survey data that
the reported rates at which women admitted a violent act against
their spouse and the rate that men reported an attack upon
them, seemed to indicate that all female-to-male violence
could not be exclusively explained as only women retaliating
in self-defence. The responses of women themselves concerning
unprovoked assaults on their male partners also mitigated
against self-defence as being the sole reason for female-to-male
violence. Additionally, the higher median and mean rates of
assaultive behaviour for women in such studies also mitigates
against an explanation that all assaults by women are in self-defence
(McNeely & Robinson-Simpson, 1987).
She repeatedly started fights, then called the police accusing
him of assault. The cops refused to believe that he had been
the victim. It had reached the point where he would stand
with his hands clasped behind his back refusing to react or
retaliate in any way, while she attacked him with her fists
and her nails. (Thomas, 1993, p. 167)
In concluding whether assaults by women were always in self-defence,
Straus (1993) pointed out that every study that had investigated
who initiates violence, using methods that did not preclude
the wife as the instigator, has found that wives instigate
violence in a large proportion of cases. Straus' case that
women are likely to be violent in the home is given further
support by observations of the behaviour of young women in
a youth assessment centre. The levels of aggression and violence
by females has been reported to be as high as for males, but
in contrast to the males, is more likely to be expressed inside
the centre rather than outside in public places (Kirsta, 1994,
p. 322). Straus stresses, however, that the high level of
violence by women in the studies he reviews might not indicate
who started the argument or whether wives attacked as a way
of obviating a potential assault from their physically more
able male partner.
Critics of Straus's thesis point out that such evidence against
assaults by wives being in self-defence, which are based upon
data obtained from the Conflict Tactics Scales, fail to take
account of the occurrence of acts of violence before the survey
year for which questions are asked and fail to take account
of the more serious potential for injury to women (Bogarde,
1990; Kurz, 1993; Pagelow, 1985). Thus, it is suggested that
assaults by women may be a result of abuse and violence in
previous years by the husband or male partner. Straus (1993),
in reply to such criticism, has stated that he considers at
least some writers to misrepresent his published work in respect
to the victimization of both women and men (e.g., Kurz, 1993).
Nowhere perhaps is controversy more acute than in the argument
over assaults made by women that result in death of their
male partner. In this instance, considerable attention has
been paid to the cumulative process of abuse that may lead
a woman to commit such an attack out of shear desperation
(Walker, 1993). Even here, however, Mann (1989) has propounded
that there is room for doubting that all such attacks are
as a result of "delayed" self-defence by noting
that not one woman in her sample of women imprisoned for murdering
husbands or lovers had been battered. Straus (1989, 1993)
and Sommer, Barnes, and Murray (1992) have also noted that
other studies of homicides indicate women not acting in self-defence.
INJURY OR NON-INJURY?
The final dismissal of violence by wives against husbands
or male partners derives from the assumption that female violence
is not as injurious or is less injurious than violence perpetrated
by men. Data already discussed indicates that assaults by
women on men can fall into the more serious category of the
Conflict Tactics Scales or, in other words, the level of assault
at which there is much greater risk of injury. Reviewing data
obtained in hospitals, both Goldberg and Tomianovich (1984)
and Smith (et al., 1992) found that male victims received
injuries that required medical attention. Smith (et al. 1992)
also reported that males tended to receive more severe injuries
and lost consciousness more often than women.
[A] man was admitted to Barts [St. Bartholomew's Hospital,
London] after his wife had split his head with a meat knife.
He was lucky to escape with his life. (quoted in Harrison,
1986, p. 34)
I've sewn up men who have had crockery thrown at them and
bottles smashed over their heads. I once saw a man who looked
as if he'd walked into a steamroller ... he was covered in
bruises and cuts. (quoted in Harrison, 1986, p. 35)
In one well publicized case last year, Mrs. D... C..., ripped
off one of her husbands testicles. Surgeons failed to save
it and the judge ordered the woman to pay £480 in costs.
A judge ordered Mrs. C... to pay court costs of £480
but did not make a compensation order. (quoted in Wolff, 1992,
It must be pointed out, however, that in the case of the United
Kingdom study (Smith et al, 1992), victims had been attacked
by a variety of related and unrelated aggressors in the home,
and some male victims could have received greater injuries
as a result of attacks by men. The upper body strength of
the average woman is less than that of the average man and
so it is possible to argue that there is less ability to injure.
However, the difference in strength need not be large (Fausto-Sterling,
1992). Reference has also been made to the disparities in
method of assault used by women as opposed to men (Flynn,
1990; Straus, 1980) whereby a woman attacking a man tends
to use methods of assault not dependent upon strength, for
example, using a household implement as a weapon. Seeking
to determine whether females sustained greater injury than
males, McLeod (1984) reported on an analysis of 6,200 cases
of domestic assaults reported to law enforcement officers
or the National Crime Survey interviewers. Therein, she reported
that women, in attacking men, were more likely to use weapons
(75% of females used weapons while 25% of males did so). Although
the numbers of women attacked in the sample were larger, the
extent of the injuries suffered by the male victims tended
to be more serious. Thus women made up for their lack of physical
strength by using a weapon, usually a household object. The
prevalence of women using weapons has been reported in United
Kingdom studies (George, 1992) as well as in an Australian
study of battered husbands (B. Thurston, personal communications,
May-November, 1993). These findings are in keeping with the
suggestion that women are more prone to use weapons and forms
of assault that do not depend upon physical strength for their
efficacy (Straus, 1980). The rate at which men might report
injuries, and indeed attacks, was also suggested to conceal
the extent of male victimization; a point that has been made
by others (Mack, 1989; McNeely & Robinson-Simpson, 1987).
Evidence that men view attacks made upon them and the resulting
injuries somewhat differently than women's reactions was presented
by Adler (1981) in a paper that was essentially refuting domestic
violence against men. The consequence of this tendency to
underreport, which is also very evident by women victims,
would have considerable implications for the reported incidence
of male victimization.
I suffered broken ribs.... I certainly never seriously contemplated
taking any action that might have resulted in her being charged
with assault. (Scottish victim, abstracted from a personal
letter to author, March, 1992)
In any case, Straus (1989, 1993) has pointed out that dismissing
male victimization on the basis of less or lack of injury
has implications for the whole consideration of domestic violence.
By noting the difference between the figures derived from
the Conflict Tactics Scales studies and injury adjusted rates,
he pointed out that the number of women victimized would be
drastically reduced, even though they had still been technically
assaulted in the home and potentially left fearful. Thus it
could also be considered an inequity to dismiss non-injurious
attacks against men on this basis and assumes that even non-injurious
attacks on a man are of no psychological trauma; a view that
presupposes a stereotypical attitude towards men. Psychological
trauma of men as a result of threat or stressful life events
is established by literature from both physiological and psychological
studies (Frankenhaeuser, 1975; Stoney, Davis, & Mathews,
1987) and the social sciences (e.g., Travato, 1986).
The danger is, however, that this view could either result
in, or be used to legitimize, subsequent attacks by the man
(Straus, 1989,1993; Straus & Gelles, 1986). It is clearly
appropriate that concern should be addressed to even non-injurious
assault given the fact that medically it is well established
that, for instance, blows to the head need only inflict superficial
soft-tissue injury to be associated with loss of consciousness
and potential for neural or cerebrovascular trauma (Kelly,
Nichols, Filey, Lilliehei, Rubinstein, & Kleinschmidt-DeMasters,
THE CONTEXT OF VIOLENCE?
Little attention has been paid within the debate over battered
husbands as to the reasons why women might attack their male
partners other than for reasons of self-defence (Makepeace,
1983; Walker, 1984). The prevalent thinking underlying why
men attack their female partners rests upon the notion that
men need to control women (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Makepeace,
1983; Walker, 1984). In contrast, even Straus (1993) tends
to discuss female violence against male partners only with
reference to either self-defence or "slap the cad"
scenarios that imply an element of justification.
Not all accounts accept the notion that a woman's aggressive
behaviour toward a man is a consequence of her need to protect
herself from imminent danger, though. For instance, in a chapter
dealing with violent women, Shupe, Stacey, and Hazlewood (1987)
argue against the "universal" application of the
self-defence motive in women's aggression noting that "women's
violence cannot be dismissed as sheer rationalization"
(p. 52). Women can act in very aggressive ways for reasons
other than self-defence. Certainly, the aggression found among
some lesbian couples cannot be attributed to self-defence
only (Hart, 1986; Renzetti, 1992), including among some couples
a high level of sexual coercion (Waterman, Dawson, & Bologna,
1989). The fact is that women are capable of performing instrumental
acts of aggression against their partners. Some have argued
that women's aggression toward men, as well as men's toward
women, can be attributed to their need to dominate, possess,
or from feelings of insecurity (Marsh, 1976). In the author's
governmental report dealing with battered men (George, 1992),
two thirds of the male victims surveyed identified "bullying"
or "control" as the major reason why they felt their
wives used violence in their relationship. Similar findings
are also reported in studies of abused husbands in Australia
(B. Thurston, personal communications, May-November, 1993)
and Canada (Gregorash, 1993). Bates (1981), in his review
of legal cases, such as Willan vs. Willan (United Kingdom),
Keehn vs. Keehn (United States), Green vs. Green (Canada),
and Sangster vs. Sangster (South Australia), found evidence
of bullying, massive ill-treatment, and acts that caused danger
to life and limb. Thus these isolated reports of male victims
seem to indicate that, at least in some cases, violence directed
at men by their wives has very similar motivation and content
to that reported for men's aggression against their wives.
Also as women are often the victims of sexual aggression (Walker,
1989), reports of male victims of female sexual abuse can
be found in the literature (Bates, 1981; Stets & Pirgood,
1989; Struckman-Johnson, 1988; Swet, Survey, & Cohan,
1990; Thomas, 1993; Travin, Cullen, & Potter 1990). Further,
such sexual abuse can be very devastating for the male victims
(Sarrel & Masters, 1982).
Some have suggested that battered husbands may precipitate
their wives' violence by being "emotionally unresponsive"
(Harrison, 1986; Kusta, 1991), inattentive (Straus, 1993),
or being physically weak or disabled (Pagelow, 1985). The
suggestion, however, that a man's "emotional passivity"
or "inattentiveness" may be the cause for some women's
assaultive behaviour can hardly be used to justify such behaviour.
Arguably, we would never justify a man's assault on a woman,
for instance, for her passivity or inattentiveness.
Early accounts of battered wives echoed popular misconceptions
that such women were to blame for their victimization (Pizzey
& Shapiro, 1982). Recently, such victim blaming has been
firmly rebutted as little more than a mechanism for the abuser
to escape or excuse his antisocial actions (Smith, 1989).
Victim blaming is also very much a problem suffered by battered
men; while it's roots lie in humor of the hen-pecked husband
variety, it can also be seen within academic analysis of violence
against husbands. For instance, Adler (1981) suggested that
some men may be accepting and unconcerned by their partners
assaults, express jocularity at them, and thus see no reason
to end the relationship despite being exposed to violence.
It is open to question whether such denial by a victim of
his victimization is anything other than an attempt to suppress
such feelings and to escape stigmatization by using humor,
even though self-directed. Men may view violence towards them
and even the resulting injuries with little overt concern,
arguably though experiencing inward trauma, all because of
the need to deny a sense of their vulnerability (Levant, 1991).
The "slap the cad" scenario would seem to be an
instance of the application of blame on the male victim based
on stereotypical notions that it is not injurious and that
men should accept such admonishment for any and all perceived
failings in their behaviour.
A confluence between male and female domestic violence in
terms of defined psychiatric conditions was suggested by Bates
(1981), although it has also been estimated independently
that less than ten per cent of family violence can be explained
by psychopathology (Gelles & Straus, 1988). In contrast,
some have suggested that family violence is highly prevalent
among individuals with particular mental health problems (Gondolf,
Mulvey, & Lidz, 1989). Sommers, Barnes, and Murray (1992)
have criticized the view, derived from sociological study,
that mental disorders play a negligible role in the genesis
of family violence. For instance, Bland and Orn (1986) found
a positive correlation between certain personality disorders,
alcohol abuse, and violence against either a spouse or children
in both male and female aggressors. Sommers, Barnes, and Murray
(1992) found certain factors more predictive for both female
and male abusers, namely, being young and achieving high scores
on Eysenck's Psychoticism Scale, the Neurotiscism Index, and
the McAndrew Scale. Similarly, O'Leary (1993) found that the
men in his sample who batter also scored high on the Minnesota
Multiphasic Personality Inventory, measures of emotional lability,
or evidenced certain personality disorders.
Thus, despite the fact that certain psychiatric conditions
are thought associated with a propensity toward violence,
there has been relatively little consideration of the role
of psychiatric/psychological criteria in the genesis of inter-spousal
violence in much of the literature. For instance, jealousy
has been linked to patterns of abuse and even homicide among
men and women (Bourlet, 1990; Docherty & Ellis, 1976;
Freeman, 1990; Renzetti, 1992; Seeman, 1979; Tarrier, Beckett,
& Ahmed, 1989).
If we are to develop a cogent theory of the causes of family
violence we need to integrate and define the interplay between
the social, psychological, and physiological factors (Johnston
& Campbell, 1993). Rather than assume we have all the
answers by focusing only on the social (e.g., issues of power
in relationships) or the psychological (e.g., need to dominate),
we must look at all the possibilities. For instance, further
research is needed to understand better the underlying neurochemical
abnormalities (e.g., dysfunction of the Raphe 5-Hydroxytryptamine
system), which leads to impulsivity, heightened aggressiveness,
and violent behaviors in some individuals. Medical studies
indicate that some women, as well as some men, are found to
have conditions that might predispose towards violence and
abuse of a partner (Brown et al., 1979; Lidberg, Asberg, &
Sundqvist-Stensman, 1984; Lidberg et al., 1985; Linnoila et
al., 1983). Rather than focus on purely social theories of
family violence we need to reexamine partner abuse in light
of what the neurosciences can tell us of such behaviors as
MEN AS VICTIMS: THE GREAT TABOO
Straus & Gelles (1986) sum up much of the problem we find
when discussing male victims of female violence when they
say "Violence by wives has not been an object of public
concern. There has been no publicity, and no funds have been
invested in ameliorating this problem because it has not been
defined as a problem" (p. 472, italics added). It can
be argued that by defining wife battering as the problem,
and husband battering as a non-problem, realistic estimates
of husband-battering, be they large or small, are nearly impossible
to obtain. It is easy, for instance, to argue that battered
husbands occur only as rare and isolated cases. Nearly all
male victims are isolated individuals owing to the relative
paucity of groups willing to acknowledge their victim status.
The fact is that a large proportion of the social agencies
that deal with family violence target only female victims.
Thus we should not be surprised if these groups do not find
evidence of male victims of domestic violence. Further, the
politicized nature of domestic violence among many within
academia mitigates against finding any evidence of male victims
(Note 3). Consequently, some professionals, like mental health
professionals, may be insensitive or even hostile to a man
describing himself in victim terms (Macchieto, 1992). Added
to all this, the traditional stereotypes give creditability
to a woman to be seen as a victim. The stereotypes associated
with men, however, lead most to deny such a possibility or
to ridicule' such a notion as male-as-victim (Farrell, 1993;
Wilkinson, 1981). This clearly deters men from making such
an admission (Machietto, 1992; Steinmetz, 1980). Also, male
victims may be aware, if only dimly, that to proclaim victim
status will only lead to unfavorable or unequal treatment
compared with female victims (Harris & Cook, 1994).
If a man is attacked by his wife and decides to call the police,
he is the one who is likely to be arrested. (quoted in Wolff,
1992, p. 22)
She was knocking the shit out of me; no one would believe
me. (Male victim and resident of the Kingsland Estate, Hackney,
London, England speaking on Kingsland, Channel 4, television
documentary, 4th June 1992)
When you are talking to your mates, it's hard to admit you're
being bullied by a woman. (quoted in Kent, 1993, p. 37)
If they knew how she knocks me about, and the fact that every
time it happens she manages to take me by surprise, catching
me off guard, can you imagine how they'd take the piss? (quoted
in Kirsta, 1994, p. 237)
Steinmetz (1980) has suggested that some men, following traditional
social norms, consider it unmanly to attack or even retaliate
against an assault by a woman. Further, when men and women
rate violent male-female interactions, they perceive male-to-female
aggression as more negative than female-to-male aggression
(Arias & Johnson, 1989). By implication, female-to-male
violence has a type of social acceptance not accorded to male-to-female
violence (Greenblatt, 1983). Thus while it is argued that
"society does not appear to shape the attitudes of most
men and women to accept the use of violence by men against
women..." (O'Leary, 1993, p. 24), we could suggest that
society does appear to condone the use of violence by a woman
against a man.
And finally, the whole issue of male victimization can be
suggested to receive scant attention because of the threat
it poses to masculine self images and "patriarchal"
authority, as much as for any threat it poses towards efforts
to counter female victimization. The lack of attention of
female aggression, as opposed to male aggression, has been
suggested to be rooted in scholarly debates on nature, culture,
and gender in which "sameness" or "differences"
are key issues; but actually result from a reluctance to consider
similarities between men and women, as opposed to differences
(Fry & Gabriel, 1994). Thus it is not surprising that
domestic violence against women, as opposed to men, is a socially
acceptable concern and receives study and support. This reinforces
two more easily recognized social stereotypes, female vulnerability
and male authority or dominance, and protectiveness. The admission
and recognition of male victimization, in the battered husband,
is the antithesis of this acceptable order and an equality
between the sexes that has been resisted historically, especially
by men (e.g., see judgments in the Willan vs. Willan and Teal
vs. Teal cases, Bates, 1981).
It can be argued that the social values (e.g., patriarchy)
that form the foundation for male violence against women,
also underpin the lack of acceptance of the battered husband.
Why the "battered husband syndrome" is so belittled
and considered a non-social problem can be found in the patriarchal
ethos that reinforces female victimization. By rooting the
debate on domestic violence only in notions such as gender
and physical size or strength, rather than the inherent attitudes
and propensity of individuals to use violence and abuse as
an interrelational strategy, female victimization will continue
as will the unseen victimization of some men both inside and
outside the home. The fact that so many in society, including
some academics, are so unwilling to accept the unilateral
battering of men by women stems, in large part, from the deep
and profoundly disturbing challenge such a fact poses to cherished
male and female stereotypes.
While most only view male victims of domestic violence as
the subject of incredulity or objects of humor, the fact is
that some men are battered. No matter their number, battered
men deserve better than to be seen as little more than footnotes
from earlier historical periods when they were castigated
and forced to ride a donkey backwards.
1. Richard Gelles and Murray Straus (1988), two of the leading
researchers in family violence, have described how the often
inflammatory debate over the issue of battered men helped
to squelch any serious study of the subject as well as sent
a signal to many well-intentioned scholars to avoid the field
totally. They write:
Perhaps the most unfortunate outcome of the wrangle over battered
men is that since the debate in the late 1970s, there has
been virtually no additional research carried out on the topic.
The furor among social scientists and in the public media
has contaminated the entire topic. Consequently, we have refused
every request for an interview or to appear on any talk show
on this topic for fear of yet again being misquoted, miscast,
or misrepresented. Other social scientists who witnessed the
abuse heaped on our research group—especially on Suzanne
Steinmetz—have given the topic of battered men a wide
berth. (pp. 105-106, italics added)
2. The Conflict Tactics Scales, devised by Murray Straus (1978,
1979) and several co-workers at the University of Minnesota,
consists of several scales designed to assess the various
ways that family members try to deal with conflicts in the
home. The Conflict Tactics Scales is divided in three parts,
with one part asking a series of questions about escalating
levels of threatened or actual physical assault between adult
partners. Starting with "Threatened to hit or throw something
at the other," it concludes with "used a knife or
gun on the other." The eight point scale is often analyzed
by researchers in terms of less serious and more serious violence;
more serious violence being those acts more likely to cause
injury. See Straus (1993) for a recent discussion of the validity
and criticisms of The Conflict Tactics Scales.
3. We could argue that "husband-battering" is a
more emotionally contested and politically charged issue in
the U.S. than in many other industrialized countries. In Sweden,
for instance, refuges have been established for male victims
of domestic violence (Kirsta, 1994). In another example of
the difference in attitudes toward male victims, Detective
Inspector Sylvia Aston, West Midlands Police Force (UK), reported:
We've made absolutely sure through our training that no officer
will ever dismiss a male domestic violence victim just because
he's a man. We don't take the attitude that a man can leave—many
can't And it's invariably the nice sensitive ones who get
battered. I think we risk going down a very dangerous path
by discriminating between the sexes in these offenses. Some
of the most violent people I've dealt with as an officer are
women, and if you don't judge a woman by her crime, but by
her gender, then not only do you perpetrate the old, misleading
stereotypes but you risk such offenses recurring, perhaps
in another relationship. Domestic violence as we see it is
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