Orlando Sentinel

Men aren't the only abusers

By Kathleen Parker

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 27, 1999.

Let's be clear. It gives me immense pleasure to say, "I told you so."

For years, I've written that women initiate domestic violence as often as men -- countering the myth that women are beaten every fifth nanosecond or so by knuckle-dragging spouses -- and, as a result, have been used for target practice by DV activists.

My purpose wasn't to blame victims or excuse batterers but merely to invite truth to the discussion: Domestic violence isn't about gender; it's about violence. You can't solve a problem until you correctly define it.

Nevertheless, the myth-making industry has continued to produce what amounts to propaganda -- churning out statistics, erecting billboards of bruised women, going for the aorta with images of tear-streaked children asking: "Why won't Daddy stop hitting Mommy?"

Most of these activists, no doubt, are wonderful people trying to make the world a better place. But some have been so driven by their political agenda to advance women'scauses, even at the cost of truth, that they can't permit a variant view.

Now, Mother Jones -- the left-leaning, pro-feminist magazine widely recognized for its journalistic integrity and careful reporting -- comes out with this:

"A surprising fact has turned up in the grimly familiar world of domestic violence: Women report using violence in their relationships more often than men."

This new information isn't "a crack by some anti-feminist cad," wrote reporter Nancy Updike, but is the result of an in-depth study of 860 men and women followed since birth.

The research was conducted by Terrie Moffitt, a University of Wisconsin psychology professor. Her findings, which aren't really "surprising" at all, support data from a 1980 study, which showed that wives hit their husbands at least as often as husbands hit wives. That report was so controversial, by the way, that it prompted death threats against the researchers.

The official line from DV activists back then -- as, no doubt, now -- is that men more often kill women, thus the findings are irrelevant.

The activists are half right and half wrong. It's true that more women than men are killed in domestic disputes, but it's not true that this fact makes irrelevant any finding that women hit, too.

If women are striking men who then kill them, we might examine that scenario more closely. What Moffitt discovered is that women, contrary to the DV party line, do not strike out only in response to men's violence but often initiate the violence that leads to their injury or death.

Meanwhile, statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a significant increase in violence among girls ages 12 to 18. A reasonable question might be whether these violent girls will become violent adults, who may end up in fatal domestic abuse incidents.

For Moffit's most telling finding was that violent women in violent relationships were more like their partners -- likely to be unemployed and less educated -- than they were like other women in the study. Which is to say, if we want to discover the root causes of violence and advance the goal of stopping it, we would do better to study violent women rather than to pretend they don't exist.

Moffitt's study, if it's allowed into the light, may mark a turning point in our dialogue about domestic violence. While we can't ignore that men, owing to size and strength, are more dangerous than women when provoked, we also can't ignore that women may need to change their behavior.

As Updike points out, Moffitt's findings compel us to further research, "not in spite of the fact that so many women are being beaten and killed every year, but because of it."

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section. She can be reached at Kparker@Kparker.com on the Internet.

Copyright 1999 Orlando Sentinel Online.