Essay Preview: Battered Husbands
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An Unaddressed Problem
Billboards, radio, and TV ads across the country proclaim that “every fifteen seconds a women is beaten by a man.” Violence against women is clearly a problem of national importance, but has anyone ever asked how often men are beaten by women? The unfortunate fact is that men are the victims of domestic violence at least as often as women are. While the very idea of men being beaten by their wives runs contrary to many of our deeply ingrained beliefs about men and women, female violence against men is a well-documented phenomenon almost completely ignored by both the media and society.
” she started pawing and ripping at him with her fingers, scratching his back and face…”
From Dec. 12, 1990 police report detailing the beating of Stanley G. by his wife
“… multiple bruises, abrasions and lacerations… chest wall contusion… psychological trauma…”
From the hospital injury report of the same incident
These reports are only a taste of what we believe inconceivable for women to do to men. But believe it or not this does happen.
The first reaction upon hearing about the topic of battered men, for many people, is that of incredulity. Battered husbands are almost a topic for jokes – such as the cartoon image of a woman chasing her husband with a rolling pin. One researcher noted that wives were the perpetrators in 73% of the depiction of domestic violence in news paper comics (Gelles).
Battered husbands have historically either been ignored or subjected to ridicule and abuse. Even those of us who like to consider ourselves liberated and open-minded often have a difficult time even imagining that husband battering could take place. Although feminism has opened many of our eyes about the existence of domestic violence, and newspaper reports often include incidents of abuse of wives, the abuse of husbands is a rarely discussed phenomenon.
One reason researchers and others had not chosen to investigate husband battering is because it was thought to be a fairly rare occurrence. Police reports seemed to bear this out, with in some cases a ratio of 12 to 14.5 female victims to every one male victim. But another reason is that because women were seen as weaker and more helpless than men due to sex roles, and men on the other hand were seen as more sturdy and self-reliant, the study of abused husbands seemed relatively unimportant (Steinmetz).
In 1974, a study was done which compared male and female domestic violence. In that study, it was found that 47% of husbands had used physical violence on their wives, and 33% of wives had used violence on their husbands (Gelles). Half of the respondents in this study were selected from either cases of domestic violence reported to the police, or those identified by the social service agency.
Also in 1974, a study was released showing that the number of murders of women by men (17.5% of total homicides) was about the same as the number of murders of men by women (16.4%of total homicides). This study, however, showed that men were three times as likely to assault women as vice-versa. These statistics came from police records (Gelles).
The murder statistic was no big news, by the way. In1958, an investigation of spousal homicide between 1948 and 1952 found that7.8% of murder victims were husbands murdered by wives, and 8% were wives murdered by husbands. More recently, in a study of spousal homicide in the period from 1976 to 1985, it was found that there was an overall ratio of 1.3:1.0 of murdered wives to murdered husbands, and that “black husbands were at greater risk of spouse homicide victimization than black wives or white spouses of either sex”.
The subject of husband battering had finally been addressed, but not to the great satisfaction of anyone. Although it had finally been shown that there was violence being perpetrated both by wives and husbands, there was no information about relative frequency or severity, or who initiated the abuse and who was acting in self-defense. Furthermore, some researchers became concerned that the use of police or social services references in choosing subjects to study might be biasing the results.
In 1980, a team of researchers, including Steinmetz, attempted to address some concerns about the earlier surveys. They created a nationally representative study of family violence and found that the total violence scores seemed to be about even between husbands and wives, and in fact wives tended to be more abusive in almost all categories except pushing and shoving (Gelles & Steinmetz).
Strauss & Gelles did a follow up survey in 1985, comparing their data to a 1975 survey. They found that in that decade, domestic violence against women dropped from 12.1% of women to 11.3% while domestic violence against men rose from 11.6% to 12.1%. The rate of severely violent incidents dropped for both groups: From 3.8% to 3.0%of women victimized and from 4.6% to 4.4% for men. In 1986, a report appeared in Social Work, the journal of the National Association of Social Workers on violence in adolescent dating relationships, in which it was found that girls were violent more frequently than boys (Steinmetz).
Another report on premarital violence found that 34% of the males and 40% of the females reported engaging in some form of physical aggression against their mates in a year. 17% of women and 7% of men reported engaging in severe physical aggression. 35% of the men and 30% of the women reported having been abused.
Strauss & Gelles commented in their 1986 report that “violence by wives has not been an object of public concern… In fact, our 1975 study was criticized for presenting statistics on violence by wives.” Yet domestic violence is an issue framed in the media and in the political arena as one of male perpetrators and female victims. Violence in gay and lesbian relationships is rarely discussed, and violence against men in heterosexual relationships less so.
Legislation about domestic violence is always orientated toward the female victim. For instance, in 1991, Senator Joseph Biden again introduced the “Violence Against Women Act” which at this writing has passed the senate Judiciary Committee. It has a section called “Safe homes for Women” which specifically allocates funds to “womens” shelters
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