National Post

Page URL: http://www.nationalpost.com/home.asp?f=990710/25634

Saturday, July 10, 1999

Men and women are equals in violence

Donna Laframboise
National Post

According to the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, an organization run by Health Canada and paid for by your tax dollars, domestic violence is something that happens to women.

The Clearinghouse's Web site includes a wife-abuse fact sheet, but no corresponding one on husband abuse. While our esteemed violence experts could have issued an all-purpose, neutrally worded "spouse-abuse" fact sheet, they chose not to do so.

According to the wife-abuse sheet, "While men, too, can be abused by a partner, research has consistently shown that the man is the victim of abuse in fewer than 10% of all incidents of partner abuse."

And the moon is made of green cheese. In fact, two years ago, California State University psychologist Martin Fiebert assembled a list of 70 research studies, stretching back to the 1970s, all concluding something quite different: That violence in married, co-habiting or dating couples is an equal-opportunity phenomenon.

Researchers without a feminist axe to grind have long recognized that about half of domestic violence is a two-way street -- with both women and men doing the pushing, shoving and throwing. The other half of spousal violence is fairly evenly divided between couples in which only women are assaulted and those in which only men are.

The latest Alberta study, in which 12.5% of women and 12.9% of men said they had behaved violently toward their spouse during the previous year (and in which men admitted to committing more violence than even their spouses attributed to them), is only the latest reason to conclude that a good deal of what we've been told about domestic abuse over the past 25 years is wrong.

Feminists, men-against-violence-against-women activists, three levels of government, and thousands of media reports have all painted an extreme, one-sided, simple-minded portrait of domestic violence as being about a hulking brute of a man terrorizing a quivering wisp of a woman.

These situations do exist and society should do everything it can to put a stop to them. But only a small segment of real-world domestic violence looks like that. In the words of the researchers who studied the Alberta couples: Most people in relationships where violence is present "reported a pattern of violence that was bidirectional, minor, infrequent and not physically injurious."

The sad thing is that this Alberta data has been sitting around for 12 years. It was collected back in 1987, but only half of it was examined, leading to a one-sided 1989 paper titled The incidence of wife assault in Alberta.

Nor is this the only time such bias has been a factor. In 1989, a study by University of Calgary sociologist Eugen Lupri titled Male Violence in the Home appeared in a Statistics Canada magazine. Two years later, the Ontario government used that study to justify an $858,000 advertising campaign featuring the slogan "Wife assault; it is a crime. There's no excuse."

What few Canadians knew was that this paper, too, told only half the story. Indeed, according to the numbers Prof. Lupri had collected, nearly twice as many wives as husbands (9.0 versus 5.4) admitted to "hitting or trying to hit" their spouse. A decade later, the Statistics Canada magazine has yet to set the record straight.

Last year, I spent four nights in a police cruiser in downtown Toronto, during which I was taken to every domestic violence call the entire division received.

The only person I saw in need of medical attention was a man (the incident was reported by neighbours as a domestic; it was actually an instance in which the man was assaulted by a male visitor).

The only person I saw with a bruise was another man. In that case, both he and his girlfriend improbably told the police he'd received the injury when an empty box fell from an upstairs loft and hit him on the forehead.

The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence says we shouldn't forget "that women are dying from abuse." But every year, another arm of the federal government -- the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics -- reports that one in four of the people murdered by their spouses are male.

(Most studies showing equal amounts of male and female violence do acknowledge that women are more likely to be seriously injured. This is perhaps because men, generally speaking, are physically stronger and are therefore capable of inflicting more damage.)

Four hundred publicly funded shelters to which a battered woman can turn exist in this country, but not a single one has been established to help battered men.

Are we really interested in stopping the cycle of family violence? Do we really believe that no amount of violence is acceptable? Or do we only care about abuse when the victims fit our stereotypes?

Feminists, men-against-violence-against-women activists, three levels of government and thousands of media reports have all painted an extreme, one-sided, simple-minded portrait of domestic violence as being about a hulking brute of a man terrorizing a quivering wisp of a woman.

These situations do exist and society should do everything it can to put a stop to them. But only a small segment of real-world domestic violence looks like that. In the words of the researchers who studied the Alberta couples: Most people in relationships where violence is present "reported a pattern of violence that was bidirectional, minor, infrequent and not physically injurious."

The sad thing is that this Alberta data has been sitting around for 12 years. It was collected back in 1987, but only half of it was examined, leading to a one-sided 1989 paper titled The incidence of wife assault in Alberta.

Nor is this the only time such bias has been a factor. In 1989, a study by University of Calgary sociologist Eugen Lupri titled Male Violence in the Home appeared in a Statistics Canada magazine. Two years later, the Ontario government used that study to justify an $858,000 advertising campaign featuring the slogan "Wife assault; it is a crime. There's no excuse."

What few Canadians knew was that this paper, too, told only half the story. Indeed, according to the numbers Prof. Lupri had collected, nearly twice as many wives as husbands (9.0 versus 5.4) admitted to "hitting or trying to hit" their spouse. A decade later, the Statistics Canada magazine has yet to set the record straight.

Last year, I spent four nights in a police cruiser in downtown Toronto, during which I was taken to every domestic violence call the entire division received.

The only person I saw in need of medical attention was a man (the incident was reported by neighbours as a domestic; it was actually an instance in which the man was assaulted by a male visitor).

The only person I saw with a bruise was another man. In that case, both he and his girlfriend improbably told the police he had received the injury when an empty box fell from an upstairs loft and hit him on the forehead.

The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence says we shouldn't forget "that women are dying from abuse." But every year, another arm of the federal government -- the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics -- reports that one in four of the people murdered by their spouses are male.

(Most studies showing equal amounts of male and female violence do acknowledge that women are more likely to be seriously injured. This is perhaps because men, generally speaking, are physically stronger and are therefore capable of inflicting more damage.)

Four hundred publicly funded shelters to which a battered woman can turn exist in this country, but not a single one has been established to help battered men.

Are we really interested in stopping the cycle of family violence? Do we really believe that no amount of violence is acceptable? Or do we only care about abuse when the victims fit our stereotypes?




RELATED SITES:

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  • The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence

  • Copyright Southam Inc.