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MenWeb online journal ISSN: 1095-5240

Battered Men - The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence

Research on Battered Men

Aggression in British Heterosexual Relationships

A Descriptive Analysis

Both sexes reported having experienced physical victimization with a higher percentage of men sustaining victimization, mainly as a result of minor acts of assault. Almost equal percentages of men and women reported inflicting victimization against partners.

Michelle Carrado, M.J. George, Elizabeth Loxam, L. Jones and Dale Templar
Market and Opinion Research International Ltd. (M.C., L.J.) Department of Physiology, Saint Bartholomew's and Royal London Medical School, Queen Mary & Westfield College, London University, (M.J.g,), and The British Broadcasting Corporation (E.L., D.T.), London, United Kingdom.



1. Forward and Introduction

2. Materials and Methods

3. Results

4. Discussion & References



A 12-item scale, derived from the Conflict Tactics Scale, was administered to a representative sample of 1,978 heterosexual men and women in Great Britain in mid November 1994. Men and women were asked to identify conflict tactics sustained or inflicted in all past and present relationships and those sustained in current relationships. This paper reports results for physical victimization and also reports on two further questions asked to discern context and meaning ascribed to such sustained or inflicted victimization. Both sexes reported having experienced physical victimization with a higher percentage of men sustaining victimization, mainly as a result of minor acts of assault. Almost equal percentages of men and women reported inflicting victimization against partners. Additionally, incidence of physical victimization is presented according to relationship status, age, socioeconomic category and by regional distribution. Both sexes reported a range of reasons or contexts ascribed to their sustained or inflicted victimization.


In North America and Canada, aggression within intimate relationships has been investigated by researchers using a variety of methodologies [Straus, 1993]. One technique has been to administer the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) developed by Straus [1979], to samples including large national population samples [for reviews of such studies see Straus and Gelles, 1986; Straus 1993; Straus and Kantor, 1994]. By contrast, in Britain research on violence in relationships has focused almost exclusively on studies of battered women [Smith, 1989], community samples of women [Andrews and Brown, 1988], or on the nature of police or agency recognition and response to domestic violence [e.g., see Borowski et al., 1983; Edwards, 1988; Bourlet, 1990]. The only CTS studies known to the present authors in the United Kingdom are two small-scale studies of student dating relationships, one published [Archer and Ray, 1989] and one unpublished [see Kirsta, 1994] and a convenience sample of married couples [Russell and Hulson, 1992].

In the discussion of aggression within intimate relationships, the results from CTS studies have been controversial as, when sampling both men and women, they purport to show that aggression can be committed both male-to-female and vice versa to about the same extent. Thus, a sometimes heated and even confrontational debate between North American researchers or academics [e.g., see Straus, 1993; Kurz, 1993] has centred on the nature of physical conflict in heterosexual dyads and the context and meaning of results obtained in such studies. Critics of the CTS methodology [e.g., Bogarde, 1990; Kurz, 1993] argue that female-to-male assaults are in no way equivalent to male-to-female assaults and suggest a number of deficiencies of these studies. Central to these arguments have been assertions such as female-to-male violence is only committed in self-defense, in anticipation of an assault, or in retaliation against a previous male assault or that is is expressive, rather than instrumental, and less injurious.

This paper reports results of the first survey of conflict tactics in the United Kingdom for a national representative sample of heterosexual adults. Additionally, the survey conducted asked questions designed to be able to ascribe reason and context to reports of sustained or inflicted victimization.


The survey of heterosexual adults was conducted on a sample of 1,978 UK adults aged 15 and over within a regular commercial bimonthly survey ("Omnibus Survey", Market Opinion and Research International [MORI]) seeking to determine consumer and social attitudes. The total survey was conducted as face-to-face interviews in the respondent's home by trained interviewers (75% female) who conduct these surveys regularly. The section containing questions relating to conflict tactics (verbal reasoning, verbal or symbolic victimization, and physical victimization) in personal relationships was administered as a self-completion instrument. Sampling quotas were used to ensure that the sample was representative of sex, age, socioeconomic group, relationship status, and geographical region of the adult population of the United Kingdom. To achieve this, 150 sampling points were used and data obtained were weighted to reflect the known profile of the adult population of the United Kingdom as determined from the most recent national census data.

The questions administered in this section of the survey were derived from the CTS as devised by Straus [1979]. The exact items of the original CTS were not used in every case, although items were derived from it and based on the concept of progressive series of escalating levels of possible conflict as outlined by the CTS [Straus, 1979]. The items used were as follows and are given the letters indicating their position in the 12 items asked:

Items of Physical Victimization

E. Your partner has, with some force, pushed, grabbed, bitten, scratched, or shoved you (you have, with some force, pushed etc.).
C. Your partner has slapped you (you have slapped your partner).
D. Your partner has punched or kicked you (you have punched or kicked your partner).
H. Your partner has thrown a heavy object at you, smashed something over you or hit you with a heavy object (you have thrown ...etc).
J. Your partner has struck you with a sharp or pointed object (you have struck ... etc.).
A total of three questions each using this scale were used to gain data on conflict tactics. Two questions were asked in the context of any past or present heterosexual relationship, where one question related to victimization sustained and one to victimization inflicted. The third question asked for victimization sustained solely within current relationships. Thus, respondents supplied data concerning victimization both sustained and inflicted in any of their heterosexual relationships and victimization sustained in their current relationship. In each case, the scale items were prefaced with an introduction that stated:

Thinking about any personal relationships you have ever had (with a member of the opposite sex) which, if any, of the actions below have you ever had done to you by a partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife when one or both of you has disagreed or quarrelled?

As appropriate, this wording was changed to "thinking about your current relationship ... " to ascertain victimization sustained in current relationships and " ... have you ever done to a partner ...." to ascertain victimization inflicted against a partner in any relationship.

Eliciting data in terms of relationships, rather than a specified time period, was a similar approach to that adopted in a previous small-scale conflict tactics study conducted in the United Kingdom [Archer and Ray, 1989; Russell and Hulson, 1992]. This particular methodology was preferred as it obviates criticisms leveled when conflict tactics are only asked in context to a period of, for instance, the last year. It was not possible to ask the extent to which respondents had experienced or committed each form of assault on more that one occasion. Some evidence of multiple victimization (sustained or inflicted) has been derived by identifying the numbers of individuals reporting more than one category of assault.

In a further two questions, respondents were asked to ascribe possible context and meaning to the conflict tactics either sustained or inflicted in all past and present relationships. Items used in these two questions were formulated de novo and sought to offer respondents a series of alternatives which included such explanations as self-defense, instrumental or expressive reasons, or the involvement of alcohol. Respondents were allowed to identify any number of items, rather than given a forced choice, as where more than one assault was identified different contexts might be possible. The items used in these two questions are shown in detail below:

Items for Reason and Context

A. He/she thought it was the only way to get through to me / I thought it was the only way to get through to him/her.
B. He/she was getting back at me for something nasty I said or threatened to do to him/her I was getting back at him/her for something nasty he/she said or threatened to do to me.
C. He/she was getting back at me for some physical action I had used against him/her/I was getting back at him/her for some physical action he/she had used against me.
D. To stop me doing something/ to stop him/her doing something.
E. To make me do what he/she wanted / to make him/her do what I wanted
F. He/she thought I was about to use a physical action against him/her / I thought he/she was about to use a physical action against me.
G. He/she was "under the influence" of, for instance alcohol at the time / I was "under the influence" of, for instance, alcohol at the time.
H. It is or was in his/her character, that's the way he/she is or was / It is my character, that's the way I am.

In addition, respondents could cite "other," "no particular reason," or "don't know" to these questions. Although the options offered are by no means extensive, they allow preliminary analysis of the context and reason respondents considered for the conflict tactics reported. All the data for survey forms were collated and computerized and tables of results were produced by MORI in the form of simple descriptive statistics. The levels of sample difference needed for statistical significance at the 5% level for this survey data were 3-4% when comparing samples of between 500 and 1,000 and 5-8% when comparing samples of 200-500, where between 10 and 30% ( or between 90 and 70%) of a sample respond positively.

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