USA Today

Tuesday, July 13, 1999

Women as likely as men to hit

By Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY

A government-sponsored study finds, in part, that women assault men at least as often as men hit women.

The findings are sure to fuel one of the touchiest debates in the field of domestic violence: who hits whom and why.

About 27% of women and 34% of men in the 21-year study reported they had been physically abused by a partner. About 37% of women and 22% of men said they had perpetrated the violence.

When partners were interviewed, 70% to 80% agreed that physical violence took place and agreed on the extent of the abuse, the report says.

The study was co-authored by psychology professor Terrie Moffitt, now on sabbatical, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The U.S. Justice Department, which released her report Tuesday, sponsored the analysis of her data. The research was done with 1,037 young New Zealand adults, 52% male and 48% female.

Moffitt's study did not include "who started each incident or if some of the acts were in self-defense, but it is clear that in most cases of partner violence in this age group, the parties are involved in mutual violence."

Although the research was done in New Zealand, it will take its place among major, seemingly dueling studies with different findings. Richard Gelles, co-author of two other government studies on domestic violence, says the New Zealand research is solid: His findings are similar.

"Both our studies found the same level of self-reports of hitting by women and men," says Gelles, now with the Penn School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania. "The domestic violence movement has emphatically tried to ignore the fact women hit men."

Gelles' findings run counter to another government-funded study, which found in 1997 that women are three times more likely to be assaulted in some way by a male partner and 17 times more likely to be badly beaten over a lifetime than men are by women.

The experts do agree that men are much more apt to injure women than the other way around. "This is not an even playing field," Gelles says.

Sue Osthoff of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women says studies about abuse are very dicey. "Women tend to take more responsibility for their actions," reporting more of their abuse than men do, she says. Studies often "don't get the full context of the abuse," including whether the partner's hitting is in self-defense. Women's often is.

Gelles and Osthoff will discuss aspects of abuse at the Penn School of Social Work's conference on intimate violence, which begins Friday.

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