Vancouver Province

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Domestic violence cuts both ways

Susan Martinuk
The Province

In matters of domestic violence, it's increasingly apparent that women are not always the fragile, innocent creatures we would like them to be.

Statistics Canada just released its annual report of family violence and, lo and behold, men are just as likely to be abused as women.

Contrary to the commonly-held thesis that testosterone-fuelled men are always at fault, eight per cent of women and seven per cent of men reported being abused.

Perhaps even more interesting -- but not surprising -- is that female victims were more likely to report the incident than men. (Can't imagine burly men rushing out to tell the world they've just been given a left hook by a dainty spouse).

But, for too long, we have trivialized the idea that men can be victims of spousal abuse. Perhaps it's time for men to take to the streets with candles and take back the night.

The majority of Canadians still hold the errant bias that men are always at fault and women are typically incapable of violent acts.

For years, this thinking has been ingrained in the heart of North American culture as women's groups have gained power and used it to grossly inflate the idea that women are routinely abused and victimized. Governments have responded generously with money for vague grants and programs.

But the statistics -- the facts -- reveal quite the opposite. Since the 1970's, at least 70 studies have shown what Stats Canada reports today -- that spousal abuse is an equal opportunity employer.

In fact, a 1999 study in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science showed that women were 2.5 times as likely to initiate the most severe conflicts.

Yet newspaper headlines ignore the less politically-correct issue of violence against men. From 1989-1992, 97.2 per cent of stories on domestic violence referred to women as victims; only 2.8 per cent refer to men. When one considers the above facts, that's a pretty healthy demonstration of bias.

So what's the problem? Men getting slapped around may not fit our image of domestic abuse -- but why should it matter?

Because the false thinking that only women are victims now underpins government policies and laws.

In B.C., the NDP government instituted a zero-tolerance policy towards spousal abuse which forces the law to lay charges and prosecute alleged abusers whenever officers respond to a call of domestic violence.

The edict holds -- even if the 'victim' doesn't want to lay charges, admits that the charges are exaggerated or if no evidence of wrongdoing exists. Sadly, the policy only seems to hold when women make the calls. Men needn't bother spending the quarter.

The Liberal government is currently reviewing the policy and we can only hope that it is changed.

Domestic violence should not be viewed solely through the lens of gender or stereotype.

Granted, men pack more of a punch when they do hit, so it only makes sense that they are responsible for inflicting more serious injuries. But we all suffer when the harm (or degree of harm) done is linked to gender rather than to the individual that is suffering -- or the individual that is hitting.

It's time to hold both men and women morally and legally responsible for their actions in relationships. Domestic violence won't end until we do.

© Copyright 2002 The Province