The Detroit News

Friday, December 1, 1999

Numbers show jump in female batterers

By Cathy Young
The Detroit News

Slowly but surely, the real “dirty little secret” of domestic violence — female aggression — is coming out. Last week, the New York Times and the Associated Press news service ran stories about the rise in the numbers of women arrested for domestic assault.

The statistics are impressive. Ten years ago, about 1 in 10 domestic violence arrests involved women as defendants. Now, it’s 1 in 5 in Michigan and Connecticut, 1 in 4 in Vermont and Colorado, and more than 1 in 3 in New Hampshire. Public officials are mystified because, according to the Times, the trend “so diverges from the widely accepted estimate that 95 percent of batterers are men.” It is interesting logic: First, a dogma contradicted by virtually all social science research becomes “widely accepted.” Then, when it’s disproved by the facts, the response is to ask what’s wrong with the facts.

What’s going on is simple. As a result of feminist advocacy, laws and rules requiring police officers to make arrests in domestic quarrels have proliferated. Taking discretion away from the police has flooded court dockets with silly pushing and grabbing cases, but it has also lessened the chances that a violent woman will be let off the hook.

Ironically, the increase in female arrests is happening despite “primary aggressor” laws passed to ensure that women did not get arrested. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s still men who are disproportionately blamed when both parties are violent.

Meanwhile, organized feminist activists argue that if women are being arrested, it must be a “backlash.” The women must be merely “defending themselves and their children” against abusive men, Ms. Foundation President Marie Wilson writes to the New York Times. She claims that studies showing high rates of aggression by women label a woman as violent if she pushes a man away as he takes a swing at her.

Actually, most of those studies ask who initiated the violence. The attitude toward female self-defense that Wilson attributes to scholars studying women’s violence is in fact shown by battered women’s advocates toward male self-defense. I have in my files a letter from a battered women’s service, written to an attorney on behalf of a woman charged with assaulting her husband. The letter described the incident that led to her arrest as physical abuse by the husband — after recounting the episode as follows: “Mrs. C. grabbed Mr. C. by his necktie. When this occurred, he pushed her away. Mrs. C. then punched his face, and her nail cut his neck.”

Other ironies abound. Some feminists are now complaining about “over-routinized” enforcement of the law and about women being arrested in trivial cases. Aren’t these the people who told us domestic violence was never trivial? Remember how Montcalm County Judge Joel Gehrke was pilloried in 1996 for giving a convicted wife abuser a slap on the wrist and suspending all other penalties? The “abuse” in that case was a push that caused no injury.

The hypocrisy and anti-male bigotry of feminist groups should, alas, surprise no one. What is alarming is that they often have the ear of the authorities. Some states such as California are implementing programs with the blatantly sexist goal of reducing women’s arrests through “improved” police training. The training will presumably consist of indoctrination in radical feminist ideology: Battering is an instrument of male oppression, women are powerless and cannot be abusers. Women good, men bad.

Maybe, instead of investigations to determine why more women are getting arrested, what we need is a federal civil rights investigation to determine why states are pursuing policies that discriminate against men and infantilize women by refusing to hold them accountable.

Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network. Her column is published on Wednesday. Write letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, Mich. 48226.

Copyright 1999, The Detroit News