October is the 12th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and activists, politicians and the media are focusing the nation’s attention on violence against women. However, October’s events only tell part of the story. Research clearly establishes that women are frequently the aggressors in domestic combat, often employing the element of surprise and weapons to compensate for men’s strength.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, men comprise over 35% of all domestic violence victims. A meta-analytic review of 552 domestic violence studies published in the Psychological Bulletin found that 38% of the physical injuries in heterosexual domestic assaults are suffered by men.
The National Institute of Mental Health funded and oversaw two of the largest studies of domestic violence ever conducted, both of which found equal rates of abuse between husbands and wives. California State Long Beach University professor Martin Fiebert maintains an online bibliography summarizing 174 scholarly investigations, with an aggregate sample size exceeding 160,000, which conclude "women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners."
Nevertheless, many states still define domestic violence as a crime only committed against women, and exclude male victims and their children from receiving state-funded DV services.
The cost of these misguided policies is very real, and children are often the ones who bear it. In one widely-reported case, Maegan Black, a young Sacramento, California woman, spent a nightmarish childhood trapped in a home with a violent, abusive mother. Black’s father David was partially disabled, and financially dependent on his wife. David and Maegan attempted on numerous occasions to get help from DV service providers, and were consistently rebuffed. Black, now 22, says:
"Nobody would help…everyone told me I didn’t understand, that my mother couldn’t possibly be the violent party. When the police came they’d always be ready to arrest my father, and it was up to me to scream as loud as possible that it was my mommy and not my daddy, so they wouldn’t take him away and leave me alone with her."
In another high-profile case, Socorro Caro often abused her husband Xavier, a prominent Northridge, California rheumatologist, once assaulting him so badly he had to have surgery to regain his sight in one eye. Because the domestic violence, criminal justice and family law systems are largely incapable of seeing a man as a DV victim, Xavier couldn’t take his children and leave. Because of his wife’s violent nature, he couldn’t walk away and leave his children behind. Socorro later shot and killed three of their four children, for which she was convicted and sentenced to death.
Current DV policies are so at odds with research and reality that many domestic violence researchers and treatment providers are rebelling against the DV establishment. Earlier this year over 50 of these authorities signed a letter urging the California legislature to stop the state’s policy of excluding male victims and their children from DV services.
According to signatory John Hamel, LCSW, a court-certified batterer treatment provider, research shows that children who witness their mothers abusing their fathers are just as likely to assault their intimate partners when they are adults as those who saw their fathers assault their mothers. Hamel, the author of Gender-Inclusive Treatment of Intimate Partner Abuse: A Comprehensive Approach, told legislators:
"Men account for half of all DV victims and incur a third of DV-related injuries. There is an overwhelming, irrefutable body of research indicating that children are adversely affected by witnessing interparental violence, regardless of the perpetrator’s gender. Ignoring female-on-male violence inhibits our efforts to combat domestic violence."
- Louisville Courier-Journal10/4/06
- Daytona Beach News-Journal10/20/06
- Omaha World-Herald10/26/06