October is the seventh annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month, when activists and the media focus the nation's attention on violence against women. However, October's events only tell half the story. Why? Because the research on domestic violence overwhelmingly establishes that domestic assault is not a crime committed by men against women, but instead one committed by both men and women. By using weapons and the element of surprise, women are abusing their male partners as often as vice versa.
For example, veteran domestic violence researchers Richard Gelles, Murray Straus, and Susan Steinmetz, who were once hailed by the women's movement for their pioneering work on violence against women, have repeatedly found that women are just as likely as men to physically attack their spouses or partners.
Studies conducted by the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in 1975, 1985, and 1992, found that abuse rates were equal between husbands and wives. In fact, the evidence suggests that abuse of wives by husbands is decreasing, while abuse of husbands by wives is increasing.
Cal State Long Beach professor Martin Fiebert has compiled and summarized 117 different studies with over 72,000 respondents that found that most domestic violence is mutual and, in the cases where there was only one abusive partner, that partner was as likely to be female as male.
Studies by researchers R.I. McNeeley and Coramae Richey Mann show that women are much more likely than men to use weapons and the element of surprise. These weapons often include guns, knives, boiling water, bricks, fireplace pokers and baseball bats.
Neither male nor female domestic violence can generally be dismissed as self-defense. According to Straus, for example, roughly 10 percent of women and 15 percent of men perpetuate partner abuse in self-defense. Dr. David Fontes, the director of Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE), has also found that only a small percentage of female abusers are acting in self-defense.
Crime statistics do indicate that women are more likely to suffer serious injury in domestic violence than men are. But such statistics are misleading because surveys show that an abused woman is nine times as likely to report abuse as an abused man. Many men hesitate to call the police because they assume, often correctly, that the police will automatically treat them as if they are the perpetrator.
Nor do husbands murder their wives significantly more than wives murder their husbands. A 1994 Department of Justice study analyzed 10,000 cases and found that women make up over 40 percent of those charged in familial murders. As crime journalist Patricia Pearson explains, because women who murder their husbands tend to use less detectable or traceable methods--such as poisoning (which are often ruled "heart attacks") and hiring others to do the killing (which usually aren't counted as "murders by wives" in official crime statistics), these murders are far less likely to be noticed than murders by men, which are usually committed with guns.
Mainstream feminist organizations, however, have steadfastly maintained that women are only victims of, but rarely perpetrators of, domestic violence. As Pearson points out, such organizations are not doing women any favors. By denying the existence of female batterers, abusive women are not getting the treatment and counseling services that they need. Worse, by allowing them to go unpunished, they are encouraged to believe that they can get away with their abuse indefinitely. This frequently results in escalating abuse of men (and children) and, sometimes, abuse of women when men finally strike back.
Pearson also notes that because feminists deny woman's capacity for violence, the serious problem of lesbian battery--which research clearly indicates is at least as common as heterosexual battery--has been swept under the rug. Sociology professor Claire Renzetti, author of Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships, says that lesbian batterers "display a terrifying ingenuity in their selection of abuse tactics, frequently tailoring the abuse to the specific vulnerabilities of their partners."
The list of prominent feminist and female dissidents who are demanding acknowledgment of, and accountability from, female batterers is growing. They include: Canadian Senator Anne Cools, a former shelter director and a pioneer of the battered women's movement; author/activist Erin Pizzey, who set up the first battered women's shelter ever in England in 1971; Cathy Young, author of Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve Equality; Donna Laframboise of the Canadian National Post; author and columnist Wendy McElroy, founder of Independent Feminists and herself a former DV victim; Patricia Overberg and Carol Ensign, former and current directors of the Valley Oasis Shelter in Lancaster, California, one of the few domestic violence shelters in the country which accepts men; Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism?, which details how feminists obtain inflated domestic violence numbers by lumping "shouting" and "slamming doors" with real domestic abuse; former Women's Studies professor Daphne Patai, author of Professing Feminism; Pearson; Steinmetz; and Renzetti. Recently both the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control have issued statements acknowledging the need for attention to male victims of domestic violence.
Familial violence by and against both men and women is a serious problem in a violence-wracked America, but it is a problem for which both men and women share responsibility. Over the past 30 years, feminist activists have justly called abusive men to account for their despicable actions. It's now time to do the same for abusive women.