Edmonton Sun

Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Male abusers targeted?

Yet studies show women often instigate attacks


Edmonton cops are targeting men in domestic abuse cases despite a flood of recent studies showing women are just as violent, say critics.

The concerns come after statistics released by a local women's shelter, and attributed to the Edmonton Police Service, suggest men were arrested in 91% of all domestic violence cases last year.

"When police appear on the scene, they are going to presume the man is the instigator. There's no two ways about it," said local lawyer David Willson, who has handled dozens of such cases and is among a growing chorus of local critics. "They probably would tell you otherwise.

"If you looked at these statistics and concluded 90% of domestic assaults are perpetrated by males, you'd be wrong."

Statistics released in the WIN House Edmonton Women's Shelter newsletter last week show 6% of the 889 people Edmonton police arrested last year in domestic abuse disputes were women and 91% were men. In 3% of cases, both men and women were arrested.

The court system is no more sympathetic, Willson said.

"I almost know for sure, almost invariably, I can get (an assault charge against a woman) dropped because the guy doesn't want to proceed," he said. "They're not going to drop it against the guy."

But police say they're only acting on complaints, not targeting men. Men are frequently unwilling to lay a complaint because of the stigma associated with admitting a woman beat them, said spokesman Wes Bellmore.

"If it's a woman who slaps a man and says, 'Yeah, I slapped him,' she goes to jail. That is policy," Bellmore said.

But police statistics certainly don't jibe with numerous recent studies on domestic abuse, said a former University of Alberta professor and head of a gender rights group.

"I have researched this subject for years," said Ferrel Christensen, a retired philosophy professor. "Men and women assault each other equally often."

Four Canadian surveys analysed by University of British Columbia professor Donald Dutton "suggest that at least as many women as men have acted violently within their intimate relationships," said an analysis published in The Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science in 1999.

The paper noted, however, that women suffered greater physical harm than men.

A 1998 University of Calgary study found that of 213 couples reporting violence, both partners were involved in 38% of cases. In 27% of cases only the husband reported committing violence and in 35% only the wife admitted it.

Edmonton has a program for abusive women run through Forensic Assessment and Community Services downtown, Christensen noted.

"There are a lot of women who need this kind of help."

But Bellmore said if it's a case of getting men to come forward, police have their hands tied.

"What are we going to do to get men to recognize that if a woman punches them in the nose, they can call us?"

Copyright 2000, Canoe Limited Partnership.