Orlando Sentinel

Blame both sexes for family violence

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on December 1, 1999.

On Planet Gender, everybody is talking about recent news that women increasingly are being arrested for domestic violence. Men's groups are jubilant; feminists are incensed. One group sees justice; the other sees backlash.

Everybody seems to be looking for the spin that advances his or her agenda, rather than enlisting new information to draw helpful conclusions that might reduce domestic violence.

The latest chatter was prompted by a story in The New York Times reporting that in many states this year women have constituted 25 percent or more of domestic assault arrests.

In Concord, N.H., for instance, women were arrested in 35 percent of domestic assault cases; in Boulder County, Colo., 25 percent of defendants through September were women; in Vermont, women comprised 23 percent of domestic assault arrests.

Though men see the increase as reflective of reality -- and feminists as a mockery of their efforts to crack down on male batterers -- social scientists offer a variety of explanations: Women are becoming more aggressive; women are hitting other women; men are calling the police more often; female police officers are less likely to let other women off the hook.

Growing statistical evidence suggests that all of the above are pieces of the truth.

More than 20 years ago, researchers Murray Straus and Richard Gelles found that women initiate violence as often as men in intimate relationships. A study this year by a University of Wisconsin psychology professor, Terrie Moffitt, confirmed those findings and raised the bar a notch.

Contrary to feminist explanations that women were violent only in self-defense, Moffitt's study found that women often initiate the violence that leads to their injury or death.

In the face of such contradictory strains, common sense is useful. Common sense tells us that women have become more aggressive, that women cops are likely to be tougher on other women, that men are tired of the feminist insinuation that all men are violent and that domestic violence is but a manifestation of male oppression.

Today, men are more likely to insist on equal protection from police and courts. And there's less of a stigma for a man to report that he is a victim of domestic violence.

Yet, common sense also tells us that when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, women most often lose. Even if statistics show that women often initiate violence, the same figures show that women are more seriously injured and more often killed. And even though 25 percent of those arrested are women, that's a whole lot less than the 75 percent who are men.

Regardless of who starts it, domestic violence clearly remains a growing societal problem. Just as clearly, domestic violence is not a gender issue, but a problem of violence that cuts across sex, race and economics.

The truth is that violence is a function -- or rather a dysfunction -- of self-restraint. Across the board, Americans seem to revel in displaying the least of themselves. Whether eating, drinking or exercising our libidos, we do everything in excess and feel justified in demonstrating, physically or verbally, whatever emotion lies closest to the surface.

Violence within relationships is just another form of excess; both sexes may be equally culpable.

The nyah-nyah "she-he went first" attitude underscoring nearly any discussion involving men and women these days is juvenile and ultimately destructive. You can't fix a problem unless you correctly define it. The fact that women are being arrested in greater numbers may be unwelcome news to feminists. On the other hand, it may be useful information as we try to solve the riddle of domestic violence.

Copyright 1999 Orlando Sentinel Online.