Institutional Resistance to Acknowledging Intimate Male Abuse
(Revised paper presented at the
Counter-Roundtable Conference on Domestic Violence,
Calgary, Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2004.)

Eugen Lupri, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Sociology
The University of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta

© Not to be distributed without permission of the author.



In October 2003, Ralph Klein, Premier of Alberta, announced the creation of a province wide Roundtable on Family Violence and Bullying. In his announcement he stated: "We recognize that domestic violence is a complex issue, and we hope the roundtable will help us to get a firm understanding of the scope of the problem and propose concrete solutions to resolve it as much as possible."

Alberta Children's Services Minister Iris Evans, whose ministry played a coordinating role to bring community members to the table, said that "we all have a part to play in creating a province that is violence-free and where everyone can be safe."

Following these announcements the province-wide roundtable scheduled topic-related focus groups leading up to regional workshops. The actual Alberta Roundtable on Family Violence took place in Calgary on May 7, 2004, where more than 200 representatives from various groups and organizations came together to discuss the issues.

Preceding the all-important Roundtable discussion, Minister Iris Evans, while in Calgary on February 5, 2004, said that "input from men's groups is of critical importance to the provincial government to be able to identify issues from their perspective." This is historic. "There's never been a government asking for men's input on this issue," responded Earl Silverman of Calgary's Family of Men Support Society. The government is going out of its way to ensure there is a male voice heard." Calgary Herald, February 6, 2004:B2. Byline: Mario Toneguzzi.

Earl Silverman erred, at least in part. While the government did hear the male voice, it did not take that voice seriously. On the contrary, the government's declaration "that a multitude of perspectives and populations will be included in this process to examine the issue of male abuse" was just that: a declaration.

Although the men's advocate groups participated actively and diligently across Alberta, the larger all-important process of government consultation lacked openness, collaboration and transparency. Thus, the province-wide roundtable failed to acknowledge explicitly the extent, nature and gravity of women's physical and psychological violence against men.

It is for these reasons that victimized men and fathers organized a Counter-Roundtable Conference and invited five researchers to discuss the issue of male abuse and why it lacked proper acknowledgment in our society. I was one of the invited speakers to make the following presentation.

It is a pleasure to address the distinguished and professional audience that you represent: front-line and crisis-line workers, service providers, community leaders, health-care providers, family therapists, interested citizens and, last, but by no means least, victimized fathers and victims of intimate partner violence.

Many of you have been discriminated against and treated unfairly. You feel betrayed by your government because it promised you an open process and mutual consultation, as well as a balanced approach in finding a permanent solution to the problem of family violence. You feel betrayed because the government's approach to finding a solution to the problem still relies too heavily on anecdotal data showing that domestic violence is a one-way street (male-to-female), and its corollary, that male violence against women is an outgrowth of masculinity. You feel betrayed because male victims do not count and are not counted by your government. Although you have been resourceful and patient, participated in the process, and made valuable input, your government has largely ignored your contributions to the process. You have every right to feel betrayed and frustrated. Let me say at the outset that I share your sentiments and why I do so is at the heart of my presentation. I speak to you as both a researcher and a humanist.

In early January, I became aware of the Alberta Roundtable on Family Violence and sent it my unpublished paper entitled, "Domestic Violence: The Case of Male Abuse" to post on its web site. A few days later I received a fairly long letter, stating, among other things, the following:

The Alberta Roundtable on Family Violence process will be built on a foundation of openness, transparency in process and due diligence focused on the best interest of all the children, youth and families impacted by family violence across Alberta. We will be preparing a context document which references rigorous and numerous studies and research sources from various perspectives, including male abuse. (my emphasis; Fricke, personal correspondence, January 4, 2004)

I was impressed by this personal communication from a government representative and said so in my brief reply. After this exchange, however, followed silence. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Chapman, your section's facilitator, informed me that, "rumour has it that you [I] prepared the document, sent it to the Family Violence Prevention Unit, Health Canada, which, however, did not approve it."

Let me digress here for a moment. This paper was an unpublished and expanded version of a commissioned document that I, with Dr. Elaine Grandin, had prepared for the Family Violence Prevention Unit of Health Canada in the summer of 2002. It had survived four rounds of review, but for reasons that I shall detail later, the National Clearing House on Family Violence had not yet published it. After one year of stalling, I felt that the Family Violence Prevention Unit was no longer interested in the commissioned document. Since then more recent cross-cultural and other studies have reported some of the most compelling evidence supporting the position that women are no less violent than men. Because of these newer findings, I decided to expand and revise the paper. By early January, the paper had evolved as "work in progress." I shared the paper with interested colleagues and friends and asked for their comments. I followed one major principle of evaluation: Do empirical data support the idea or theory that I am proposing? I thought, quite innocently in retrospect, that members of the Alberta Roundtable and the powers that be would also be interested in the paper. It was an updated and detailed report on male abuse with some cross-cultural and comparative findings on man-to-woman violence. I was wrong.

Ms. Fricke had also stated in her letter:

We are committed to acting with academic integrity in this process and have posted a National Clearing House Web Site as a source for various perspectives on the Alberta Family Violence Roundtable web site, as strict academic rigor is a requirement of the National Clearing House process. A multitude of perspectives and populations will be included in this process . . . to examine the issue of male abuse [my emphasis] and to provide a context for broader participation in the larger process. (personal correspondence, January 4, 2004)

Had Ms. Fricke indicated clearly that only peer-reviewed and previously published documents were to be posted on their website, I would have accepted that decision. However, to say that the National Clearing House on Family Violence's requirement adheres to "strict academic riguor" is not only ludicrous, but it reflects a certain amount of ignorance, to say the least. (No personal offense to Ms. Fricke) Having worked with staff members of the Family Violence Prevention Unit for over two years on a commissioned document that has finally culminated in a publication entitled "Intimate Partner Violence Against Men," I can say with some authenticity that their requirement is not one of "academic rigour" at all, but rather one of an "ideological rigour" that resembles the process and decision-making of the Alberta Roundtable experts.

Sending a copy of the paper to the provincial government's feminist activist Professor Leslie Tutty, which she acknowledged promptly, stating that she looked forward to reading it, did not help either. The powers that be had decided not to post it on the Roundtable's web site, but failed to inform me of their decision. I call this institutional resistance to acknowledging and accepting for dissemination valid and reliable data on male abuse. In this case, institutional resistance or discrimination refers to biases in attitudes or actions that are inherent in the operation of governmental and other agencies that treat male and female victims of intimate violence unequally. It is a built-in, systemic way to create obstacles that block the acknowledgment of gender symmetry in partner violence.

Because institutional resistance has prevailed and the government has failed to explicitly acknowledge that intimate partner violence against men and fathers is a serious social problem, we are here and not at the Stampede Roundup Centre, where the Alberta Roundtable and its experts meet. It is this powerful and pervasive force of institutional resistance or institutional denial of the reality of female violence against men that I would like to discuss this afternoon: how it came into being, how it operates, and why it persists. I'll begin with a few theoretical observations.

Institutional Resistance and the Role of Feminism

Because feminist theory has been a powerful and influential conceptual framework for explaining intimate violence between men and women, let me sketch its essential underpinnings (Lupri, 1990). A basic tenet of feminist theory is its view of intimate violence as a manifestation of our culture's "patriarchal" structure, with its attendant differential status, power, and control, which are reflected in individuals' attitudes and behaviours. Dobash et al. (1998, 1992) propose that gender asymmetry in partner violence reflects a context of gender inequality both within the household and in the larger society. Their research program conceptualizes men as perpetrators and women as victims, but it fails to provide comparative findings on woman-to-man verbal and physical abuse to validate these gendered patterns. While their historical research on patriarchy is informative, their contemporary data are derived primarily from narratives of battered women living in shelters and transition houses, not from representative samples of both genders.

Notwithstanding these conceptual and methodological problems, feminist scholars have developed several strategies and implemented them successfully in the academic, political, legal and public domains. One important strategy is to construct intimate violence as a gender issue rather than as a human problem (Lupri, 2004). As stated above, men have been constructed as the primary oppressors and perpetrators of intimate violence and women have been regarded primarily as victims. A second successful strategy has been, and still is, to use advocacy efforts to convince the state to acknowledge the oppression of women, both within and outside the household. Their third successful strategy has been, and still is, to ensure that domestic violence against women is acknowledged as a public issue and a serious social problem. A corollary of the latter strategy entails focusing sharply on physical violence as well as on outcomes. However, radical feminists have ignored the complexity of the dynamic that is an integral part of intimate interaction and have been reluctant to recognize that men and women are intimately engaged in, and part of, the dialectic interplay of abuse.

There has been an enormous growth in the amount of public, professional, and media attention given to wife assault in Canada (Lupri and Grandin, 2004). Countless studies have examined the nature and extent of the problem. Thousands of women's shelters have been established in North America and throughout the world. Legislation and police charges have evolved to respond to growing knowledge about the extent of domestic violence against women. The issue of domestic abuse of males, in contrast, has received only a little attention in Canada. Even today, there still exists a strong institutional resistance to fully acknowledging that intimate violence is a two-way street. While some progress has been made, male abuse has yet to be recognized as a public issue and a social problem.

Institutional Resistance: The Case of Statistics Canada

I'll use the 1993 Canadian Violence Against Women Survey to show how institutional resistance may operate and why it tends to persist. A total of six federal governmental departments and agencies were committed to participate in the financing of this victimization study, and a host of advocacy experts were involved in developing the questionnaire. According to Fekete (1995:82), "there were endless consultations with feminists who were considered prime "stake-holders" in the issue." A pivotal role was played by the Status of Women Canada, an agency of the federal government that focuses on improving women's economic autonomy and well being, eliminating systemic violence against women and children, and advancing women's human rights.

As specifically designed by feminists and meticulously conducted by Statistics Canada, the 1993 Violence Against Women Survey is a single-gender national survey of female respondents, who were asked about acts of violence perpetrated against them by their intimate male partners. Although painstakingly planned and executed, this large victimization survey neglected to ask women whether they themselves had ever perpetrated any physical or psychological violence against their male partners. This neglect is quite consistent with feminist theoretical notions of asymmetry in partner violence, as mentioned earlier. Because men have been constructed as the primary violence perpetrators and women have been considered primarily as victims, victimization studies overwhelmingly have used samples of women. As was well known in the early 1990s, two decades of solid research had shown that more than 50 representative studies reported finding equal assault rates by men and women. The deliberate decision to focus exclusively on female victims was not only an indefensible act of misleading the public, but it was also an affront to thousands of male victims. However, in the words of Shelly Crego, a spokeswoman for Statistics Canada: "At the time, it was decided that since violence against women was more prevalent, we would only keep track of them." (Cited in Evenson and Milstone, 1999). It is difficult to comprehend, however, that the experts and planners of Statistics Canada's 1993 women's survey were unaware of the earlier representative national and regional Canadian studies that reported equal assault rates by men and women (Kennedy and Dutton, 1988; Brinkerhoff and Lupri, 1988; Lupri, 1990; Brinkerhoff, Lupri, and Grandin, 1992; Sommer, Barnes, and Murray, 1992; Lupri, 1992).

The 1993 survey cost $1.9 million, which was part of the $136 million that the Mulroney government had allocated for its Family Violence Initiative (Fekete, 1995: 82). The survey included 12,300 women, no men. The Statscan report, and the media coverage of it, painted a powerful portrait of millions of women cowering behind closed doors, living in fear of violent and abusive husbands. "Fifty percent of Canadian women reported assaults" read the headline in the Globe and Mail. "Ground-breaking Statscan survey finds violence pervasive." The survey was delivered with all the credibility of Statscan behind it. Nevertheless, the picture is false, as we all know. That's only half the truth.

A full understanding of partner violence must go beyond this feminist analysis to ask questions about the role of control in generating violence that may have little to do with either patriarchal tradition and structures or with patriarchal motives. Recent analyses of abused men's stories and narratives reveal episodes of physical, emotional and verbal violence that are intended to demean and control male partners, abusive acts that are similar to those reported by battered women (Migliaccio, 2002:35-41; 2001: 8).

The narrative analyses also shed light on abused men's emotional hurt. Having been abused by a woman the men felt that they had failed to achieve culturally defined masculine characteristics, such as independence, strength, toughness, and self-reliance. As a result the men felt emasculated and marginalized, and tended not to express their fears, ask for help, or discuss details of their violent experiences with others. During the interviews, the abused men repeatedly expressed shame and embarrassment (Migliaccio, 2001: 9-11; 2002.

The men indicated that their disclosures of abuse were often met with reactions of disbelief, surprise and skepticism from staff of domestic violence shelters, legal based institutions and hospitals, as well as friends and neighbours. These reactions may cause male victims to feel even more abused. While these findings are based on small samples and are not generalizable, they call into question the feminists' assertion that man-to-woman arises from different motives. They show that many abused men also sustain emotional hurt and some serious physical injury, as is revealed in Table 1 below.

Groundbreaking research on lesbian couples by Claire Renzetti (1992) also provides enlightening counter-evidence for proponents of patriarchy theory. Renzetti found that psychological abuse was present in all of the violent relationships she studied. Abusive individuals were extremely threatened by their partners' efforts to establish independent friendships and activities, and jealousy was a major problem. She identified power and control as major sources of conflict and abuse. In fact, the majority (68%) of lesbian couples in Renzetti's study reported that their dependency was a source of conflict. A number of studies show that battering in lesbian relationships is at least as frequent as in heterosexual relationships (Dutton, 1994; Brand and Kidd, 1986).

The background and issues surrounding the 1993 Violence Against Women Survey reveal why the myth persists that men are the perpetrators and women the victims of intimate violence. The myth is perpetuated by action as well as non-action and involves several interlocking governmental agencies (National Health and Welfare, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Status of Women Canada, Family Violence Prevention Unit, Statistics Canada) and federal legislation, as well as the powerful mass media. All of these actions and non-actions reflect a general denial of male abuse, and/or "selective inattention" to factual information that demonstrates gender symmetry in domestic violence. They also strikingly indicate that intimate partner abuse is as much an ideological issue as it is a scientific one.

Table 1: Injuries and Weapon Use

Name Injuries Weapons
Karl multiple bruises hangars, rolling pin, steak knives
Ben multiple bruises numerous thrown objects
Peter1 lacerations and multiple abrasions, internal injuries, dislocated ribs cellular phone, metal lock, numerous thrown objects
Kyle1 heavy lacerations, multiple bruises fingernails
Larry2 multiple bruises, numerous lacerations steak knives, screwdrivers, scissors, hangers
Jake2 multiple bruises, head trauma metal pots and pans
Frank multiple bruises numerous thrown objects
Tim1 multiple bruises, lacerations all over his face numerous thrown objects, keys
Darrell multiple bruises, head trauma bat, numerous thrown objects
Bryan2 multiple bruises and lacerations steak knives
Doug bruises none
Donald no damage done (mainly threats)
1 Sought out medical assistance, (10)
2 Respondent claimed spouse abused children as well, including the use of weapons
Source: Migliaccio, 2001 (Table 1, p. 8)

Six Years Later: Statistics Canada's 1999 General Social Survey

It was not until 1999 that Statistics Canada's General Social Survey (GSS) made its first attempt to measure spousal violence through detailed questions on a traditional victimization survey, including both man-to-woman and woman-to-man abuse (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2000). Statscan and its collaborators must have finally realized that violence in any form, by either gender, is morally and legally wrong.

Respondents were asked 10 questions concerning violence and other forms of abuse by their current and/or previous spouses and common-law partners during the 12-month and 5-year periods preceding the telephone interview. According to their responses, almost equal proportions of men and women (7% and 8% respectively) had been the victims of intimate partner violence. These findings were consistent with many earlier studies, which had reported equal rates of assault by women and men in intimate relationships. Now the facts finally were being confirmed by the nation's esteemed number-one number cruncher. However, Statscan's mouthpiece, The Daily (July 25, 2000), was quick to point out that this survey of 14,269 women and 11,607 men aged 15 years and older found that "women were more likely than men to report severe forms of violence." Men in abusive relationships were more likely than women to report being slapped, having something thrown at them, and being kicked, bitten, or hit with an object during the five-year period. The inclusion of "sexual assault" in the 1999 GSS undoubtedly contributed to the large number of reports of severe forms of violence directed against women. US researchers found that sexual aggression and nonsexual physical aggression were highly correlated among men, but not among women (Straus et al., 1996).

Another noteworthy finding relates to psychological or emotional abuse, which includes various forms of controlling behaviours. It consists of behaviour intended to shame, demean, intimidate or humiliate the intimate partner and that type of psychological abuse may be more damaging than physical abuse (Marano, 1996: 60). The 1999 GSS measured emotional abuse through seven different items, ranging from limiting contact with outsiders to limiting access to financial information. About one out of five men (18%) and women (19%) reported having experienced some form of emotionally abusive behaviour in their current or previous intimate relationships during the past five years. Men and women (11% and 9% respectively) were equally likely to report experiencing two controlling forms of behaviour ("he/she is jealous and doesn't want you to talk to other men/women," and "he/she demands to know who you are with and where you are at all times"). Feminist definitions of abuse emphasize one person's power and control over another, rather than the actual violent acts perpetrated. However, the above findings reveal that equal proportions of men and women reported using these two controlling behaviours.

Abuse produces direct physical and/or psychological consequences for the victims. According to the 1999 GSS, 549,000 men were abused, of whom 13% reported physical injury and 3% percent medical attention. A recent meta-analysis (quantitative review) of more than 80 representative studies of physical aggression between heterosexual partners found that 35% of victims had been injured by an intimate partner, and 39% of those requiring medical treatment were men (Archer, 2000). The fact that larger proportions of female victims were injured (65%) and of those 61% required medical treatment should not deter us from observing that a substantial minority of men had been injured by a female partner. While the physical consequences of abuse are more severe for women, the consequences for abused men are by no means negligible and harmless, as is often argued by those who focus on the outcomes and contexts of violent acts (e.g., Tutty, 1999). Men's greater size and strength might account for the greater proportion of injuries sustained by women. Making this statement is by no means intended to minimize the impact that violent acts have on those women who experience them. However, any violent act, whether it is inflicted on a woman or a man, is a form of moral debasement and humiliation. Furthermore, acts such as assault and threats of violence, regardless of the context, are offenses under the Criminal Code of Canada.

These survey results reported by Statscan are important for at least three reasons. First, they confirm findings on the controversial issue of gender symmetry in couple violence. Second, the findings have been reported widely by other researchers, professionals and the Canadian mass media. As a result, the findings not only corroborate many earlier studies, but they legitimate the urgent need to address the seriousness of male abuse and the implementation of services specifically designed for abused men, a need that is rejected by Leslie Tutty in her 1999 monograph, Husband Abuse, prepared for the Family Violence Prevention Unit. Her reason:

"At this point, however, there is no evidence that the number of Canadian husband abuse victims warrant the type of specialized services that have been developed for women abuse victims." (p. 25)

What an affront to the thousands of victimized men! How great must the number of victimized men be to warrant the same type of specialized services that have been available for abused women, Professor Tutty? Here is a gender comparison. According to the 1999 GSS, 549,000 (7%) men were physically and 1,487,000 (18%) men were emotionally abused by their intimate partner during the previous five-year period, compared to 690,000 (8%) and 1,552,000 (19%) women respectively (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2000:17). Physical assault rates for Alberta men and women were slightly higher than the national average: 9% (n=68,000) and 11% (n=90,000) respectively. The failure to extend similar specialized services to male victims remains a fundamental moral issue in our society and should be addressed promptly, notwithstanding the well established finding that proportionately more women than men suffer more serious injuries. However, to give less priority to the physical and emotional injuries sustained by men, compared to women's, would be discriminatory.

One more point. While the 1999 Statscan General Social Survey is obviously superior to the 1993 women's victimization survey, it still falls short of collecting the kinds of information that is needed in order to gain a better understanding of the contexts and outcomes of violent relationships. We need to collect both victimization and perpetration data to validate the responses that both partners provide. An important distinction is whether violence is inflicted on the partner or whether it is sustained by the person in the study. Such information enables researchers to measure the extent of mutual violence within a relationship. We need detailed information from a subsample of matched rather than aggregated couples to learn more about the dynamics of intimate violent and non-violent relationships. And, finally, we need information regarding why violent couples not only survive, but manage to endure their abusive relationships into old age. This is a message I shall communicate to Statistics Canada.

Institutional Resistance: The Family Violence Prevention Unit

I would like to conclude my presentation by sharing with you my recent experience with the Family Violence Prevention Unit, Health Canada, another federal agency that has its own agenda on intimate partner violence.

In early February 2002, the manager of the Unit invited me to submit a proposal on the issue of "females who abuse their intimate male partners." Although I was flattered by her request and remarks regarding my previous research on the topic, because of other pressing professional obligations at the time, I declined to do so. Three weeks later, I received another phone call with the same request and more persuasive arguments. I caved in, albeit reluctantly. I then submitted a proposal outlining in detail that I would do a literature search and also report data from my own national and regional studies on intimate partner violence against men, as well as some comparative data on man-to-woman abuse. A week later I was informed that I had been awarded the contract. We signed a contract specifying the Terms of Reference, that is, the proposed outline and the date of delivery. I then contacted Dr. Elaine Grandin, a former collaborator of mine, and asked her whether she would like to join me in completing the task at hand. She agreed and we went to work.

The first draft was due in early April and their feedback two weeks later. Six reviewers submitted their comments, which comprised a few contradictory suggestions that we could handle easily. We submitted our second draft within three weeks and that document was "circulated to representatives of Health Canada's partner departments in the Federal Family Violence Initiative Unit for review." That's where the trouble started and the institutional resistance emerged in full force. These reviewers had seen neither the first set of reviews nor the Terms of Reference. Consequently, their comments and suggestions were not only contradictory, but editorial changes with a twist had been added.

Dr. Reena Sommer, to whom I had sent a copy of the expanded version of the paper I mentioned earlier, hit the nail on the head when she wrote:

"I only hope the Family Violence Prevention Unit does not edit the paper down so that its meaning and message are removed. My past experience with this organization after the VVAWS findings were released was less than positive." (personal communication, August 8, 2003).

That's precisely what they did. This is not the time to detail the "editing down process," however, a few examples will illustrate their tactic.

Our text: "Domestic violence against women has been in the public eye for many years. However, the issue of intimate partner violence against men, in contrast, has received only a little attention in Canada."

Their comment: "It was felt that in the opening paragraph your formulation was not appropriate . . . and it could be taken to imply that this document is meant to be an instrument to counter that amount of public attention, as opposed to simply be an objective analysis of the reality of abuse against men."

A convoluted explanation! Nevertheless, the reality of male abuse is that it has received little attention compared to men's violence against women. Recall the findings of the 1993 Violence Against Women Survey and the enormous publicity that followed.

Text: "Men's greater size and strength might account for the greater proportion of injuries sustained by women."

Their comment: "The sentence was deleted. The statement is seen by reviewers, rightly or wrongly, to gratuitously imply that men and women are essentially equally violent."

The point is that both genders are essentially equally violent, notwithstanding the well-established fact that women are more likely than men to be severely injured physically.

Text: "Both men and women were equally likely to report experiencing two forms of controlling behaviour (jealousy and demanding to know the whereabouts of the person at all times) and both genders reported similar rates (19%) of sustaining psychological or emotional abuse."

Their comment: "The sentence was deleted because of the established position that the document was meant to focus on the abuse of men and not on both sexes."

Because the feminist definitions of violence emphasize that men are the powerful and controlling partners in their households, equal gender rates of controlling behaviour is a touchy and suspect finding. Because the staff members couldn't very well attack Statistics Canada's methodology, as feminists often do when they don't like the findings, the Unit resorted to its assumed editorial power. A somewhat similar paragraph was also the victim of the editorial ax. Presenting cross-national data on male abuse from the United States, New Zealand, and West Germany that confirmed Canadian findings (Lupri, 2004: 6-7), we had stated that:

"It should be realized that these cross-national findings pertain to countries in which modern secular liberal values prevail together with economic and familial emancipation of women. Thus they may reflect a relative change in the balance of power between women and men, moving toward more egalitarian relationships inside and outside the household."

Their reason for its deletion: None provided. Patriarchy theory must prevail.

The first draft of the document included a section titled "Acknowledgment of Woman-to-Man Abuse," in which we stated the following:

"It is important to acknowledge the controversial issue of woman-to-man abuse because, like man-to-woman abuse, it is illegal under Canada's Criminal Code, Section 265 (1). Couple abuse by either partner is harmful and demeaning not only to the individuals involved. It affects the whole family, particularly children, for whom a harmful cycle of violence may be established. A full understanding of partner violence may be realized only when it is viewed first as a human problem and then as an issue of gender."

The reviewers suggested to provide a verbatim definition of Section 265 (1) would enhance the readers' understanding of its meaning. In our second draft we inserted the following:

A person commits assault when . . . (a) he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly; (b) he threatens to apply force to another person, if he has, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has present ability to effect his purpose; or (c) while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.

While this section survived two more rounds of reviews, it was deleted in the end. Their reason: None given.

Most frustrating to us was the deletion of another important section titled, "The Bi-directionality and Initiation of Abuse." As you know, it often has been claimed that the reason studies using the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) -- an 18-item set of scales designed to measure the incidence of physical violence, verbal aggression, and symbolic acts of interpersonal conflicts -- have found as many women as men to be physically and psychologically abusive is because women are defending themselves against attack (Saunders, 1986; DeKeseredy and Schwartz, 1998; Tutty, 1999). However, several studies and most importantly the recent re-analysis of the All-Alberta study by Kwong, Bartholomew, and Dutton (1999) have revealed that a substantial proportion of women reported being the only one to inflict physical abuse and that a large proportion of women indicates that they initiated the abuse. This evidence does not support the view that the CTS only measure women's self-defense. Furthermore, of those couples who report any physical or psychological abuse, about one-half report mutual abuse. Similarly, a study exploring the link between intimate violence and psychiatric disorder found that wives (73%) initiated abuse somewhat more often than men (58%), "regardless of who started the argument" (Bland and Orn, 1988). These bi-directional data are important methodologically because women's perpetration reports and men's victimization reports can be compared to validate the obtained rates of woman-to-man abuse. This was our reasoning for including a section on the controversial issue of self-defense and initiation of violence.

Their comment: "The document was meant to focus on the abuse of men and not on both sexes . . . and we are planning a complete document on the issue of Mutual Violence."

We protested vehemently, re-instated the section as well as other deleted sentences and paragraphs and responded:

". . . a credible body of evidence has emerged that is inconsistent with the claim that women largely resort to violence only as a pre-emptive strike or in self-defense. Intimate relationships are dynamic and reciprocal, inherently ambivalent, often conflicted and contradictory. If they are abusive, certain behaviours or responses in one partner provoke a violent reaction in the other. Thus violence is a relationship and human issue, not a male issue. To presume that intimate violence is a one-way street or unidirectional, as Tutty (1999) in your sponsored publication does, is a conceptual fallacy. Furthermore, to focus on one gender only, as you insist in doing, defies the dynamic reality of intimate violence."

In September 2002, we submitted the third draft with our detailed comments. That draft was distributed to several other partner departments that are prime stakeholders and each with its own agenda on the issue of intimate violence against men. These reviewers, like their predecessors, were neither familiar with the Terms of Reference of the contract, nor were they familiar with what already had been affirmed as an acceptable document. This is evidenced by the contradictory nature of the comments and suggestions we received. The result was disastrous. Previously established texts and entire sections as well as key statements were either deleted or edited down to such an extent that the original message and meaning were removed. We protested, resubmitted the document and argued for a fairer evaluation. After this submission, however, followed silence.

We did not receive a comprehensive reply to our detailed concerns until January 6, 2004! Fifteen months had elapsed. This time, we worked directly with a senior analyst and the unit's manager and finally reached a sort of compromise with a "watered down" version of the original document on March 22, 2004. Some previously deleted sections and paragraphs were reinstated. However, the crucial section on "The Bi-directionality and Initiation of Abuse" was buried in an endnote! (20) Moreover, we were unsuccessful to resurrect the important "Acknowledgment" section.

Our frustrating experience with the Family Violence Prevention Unit of Health Canada represents another troubled case of institutional resistance to acknowledging and accepting the fact that intimate violence against men is as serious a social problem as is violence against women. Although the Unit initiated and commissioned the preparation of a document on "females who abuse their male partners," it failed to overcome its gender biases.


Finally, this brings us to the politics of interpretive practice. All interpretations are political in the sense that they vie with their competitors for validation and acceptance. Feminists recognized early the importance of using the macropolitics of definition--the patriarchal structure of society--and how ideologies are developed, sustained, and imposed, thus providing a basis for the enduring depiction of men as oppressors and women as victims by linking societal patriarchy and domestic patriarchy. Their strategy to construct intimate violence as a gender issue has worked. Feminists have failed, however, to recognize the complexity of the dynamic of intimate interaction and have been reluctant to recognize that men as well as women are intimately engaged in, and part of, the dialectic interplay of abuse. Thus, intimate violence is a human problem. To exclude male victims completely from receiving similar special services as female victims receive is untenable, discriminatory and unconscionable. These notions and tactics can and must be challenged by all of us, based on the overwhelming evidence that is available. Doing so will require dedication, resiliency, and persistent support of the cause. Let's start now with your suggestions, recommendations, and resolutions. I thank you for your patience.


The printed document Intimate Partner Abuse Against Men, © by the Minister of Health (2004), was released for distribution by the

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence
The Family Violence Prevention Unit
Public Health Agency of Canada

on February 10, 2005. It is available on-line.


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Brand, P. and A. Kidd, "Frequency of Physical Aggression in Heterosexual and Female Homosexual Dyads." Psychological Reports, 59 (1986): 1307-1313.

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Revised version completed 15-02-05
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