The Bellevue-based Family Health Institute is doing a commendable job of bringing public awareness to the issue of violence in the family, and doing something about it. For example, they recently hosted a two-day conference, Children & Violence: the 1998 Summit Conference on Violence & the Family.
I stated in an earlier version of this article that I just wished they weren't so gender-polarizing about it. I may be getting my wish, at least in part.
Don't get me wrong. Domestic violence against women is a serious social problem. It affects the kids. It affects all of us. But there is no need to exaggerate the problem, or to only be concerned with one part of the domestic violence problem. Domestic violence is a people problem, not just a "women" problem. Women, women like TV comedian and star Phil Hartman's wife, also commit domestic violence. Maybe if domestic violence services were available, she would not have murdered him and committed suicide. Telling the battering woman that she is the victim and "he must have done something" hurts women. It appears that the FHI site may have gone farther than they intended in this regard, as have many in the media and in other organizations concerned about domestic violence. This is not particularly surprising. It seems that a lot of one-sided "advocacy-based research" is mistakenly taken as "truth" rather than selection of only those parts of the "truth" that best support the position of the advocates for domestic violence services only for women. We see this in the federal Domestic Violence Against Women Act and state programs such as that of Washington, which declares as official policy that 95% of the domestic violence is by men against women despite the many reserarch reports that women are responsible for a quarter, a third, or even more of the domestic violence. I want to commend FHI for re-examining their fact sheets in light of this perspective, for removing some of the "data" which is nothing more than statements by advocates before Congressional committees, and for adding information about men as victims.
Their Men and Violence "fact" sheet on their Web site continues to misrepresent seriously several studies, for example by taking the results beyond the scope of the study or by presenting only half the picture.
In the most serious misrepresentation, FHI exaggerates by more than two-fold the percentage of women killed in the workplace by intimates. FHI cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics for: "For women, murder (39%) — not highway crashes (26%), vehicle/pedestrian accidents (6%), falls (5%), harmful exposures (4%), or other factors — is the leading cause of on-the-job death. Between 1992 and 1996, approximately 14% of the women killed in the workplace were murdered by spouse, ex-spouse, boy (or girl)friend, or ex-boy (or girl)friend." [Emphasis added.] This information is incorrect. That BLS report shows that of the 2,506 women killed in the workplace between 1992 and 1996, "only" 141, or just 5.6%, were homicides by present or former intimates. Angry customers killed 186 workers, and 336 were slain by co-workers. Some 4,406 workers (including 709 women) were killed during robberies or other crimes. Highway crashes killed 650 women, and 156 were struck by vehicles.
FHI did modify this statement from an earlier statement that 1992 data showed 20% of women killed in the workplace were murdered by intimates, after I published the first version of this article, but they still seem weddded to gross exaggeration of the percentage of workplace deaths due to homicide by an intimate.
The exaggeration of workplace homicides by intimates is a prime example of "advocacy-based research," aimed at presenting--or misrepresenting--data most favorable to one's cause rather than the data that gives a full and accurate picture of workplace deaths of women. "Domestic violence in the workplace" was a key new component for the NOW-backed Violence Against Women Act II, and millions of dollars (including half a million for a national clearinghouse and 40% tax credits for employer programs in this area) were sought for this new initiative. Their "advocacy-based research" led them to present workplace death data in the most dramatic and compelling way possible, using the methodologically-flawed approach of arguing only percentages from a very small N (number) and get maximum benefit from 28 homicides by intimates a year.
As another example of "advocacy-based researchy," FHI presents the factiod, "The victims of family violence sustain more injuries requiring medical attention than victims of car accidents, rape, and muggings combined." The source? Not any study or research report, but the testimony of two advocates before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs, and Alcoholism. It's a misstatement of a misstatement. Researcher Richard Gelles, author of Behind Closed Doors (the first source cited on the FHI Men and Violence Fact Sheet) cites this as one of the more common misstatements one hears about domestic violence. As he states in Domestic Violence Factoids,:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF INJURY TO WOMEN BETWEEN THE AGES OF 15 AND 44 IN THE UNITED STATES--MORE THAN CAR ACCIDENTS, MUGGINGS, AND RAPES COMBINED.
This factoid has been attributed to both Surgeon General Antonia Novello and the Centers for Disease Control. The actual primary source of this "fact" is research by Evan Stark and Ann Flitcraft. It was probably Stark and Flitcraft who supplied the fact to CDC, who then included it in material supplied to the Surgeon General. Unfortunately, as good a sound bite as this is, it is simply not true. The original source of this statement goes back to two papers by Stark and Flitcraft. First, the actual research the "fact" is based on is a rather small survey of one emergency room. Second, in the original articles, they said that domestic violence may (emphasis added) be a more common cause of emergency room visits than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
Linda Saltzman from the Centers for Disease Control tells all journalists who call to check this fact that the CDC does not recognize this as either their fact or a reputable fact.
FHI cites a Bureau of Justice Statistics report on violence-related injuries in emergency rooms as saying "Approximately 84% of reported assaults on spouses or ex-spouses are committed by men against women." Obviously, the study cited is about injuries treated in emergency rooms, not "reported assaults on spouses or ex-spouses." And, of course, other studies show that female victims are more likely than male victims to go to the emergency room in the first place, unless the injury is really serious.
FHI cites a 1995 Journal of the American Medical Association report: "between 9% and 17% of women presenting to emergency departments were there because of domestic violence". In a 1997 JAMA report the researchers found that 19% of the women patients and 20% of the men had experienced recent physical domestic violence.
The Department of Justice's National Violence Against Women Survey reports that 37.5% of the people subjected to physical violence by an intimate in the last year are men. The figure that the FHI chose to report from this study is the lifetime figure (7.4% of men and 22.1% of women), which still shows that 26.5% of the lifetime victims.
The Department of Justice's most recent Sourcebook of Criminal Justice reports the results of a Gallup Poll survey. Respondents were asked, "In most families people get mad at each other for one reason or another. Thinking about your own situation, have you, yourself ever been physically abused by your spouse or companion?" Some 8% of the males said "yes," as did 22% of the females.
What happens for male victims? A National Violence Against Women Survey on the outcome of stalking incidents reported to police shows that women are 50.3% more likely to have the perpetrator detained or arrested, 27.9% more likely to have the matter referred to the prosecutor or court, and 81.9% more likely to be referred to victim services.
Just as there are "urban myths" about alligators and snakes coming back up your toilet bowl, or about the $25,000 Nieman-Marcus cookie recipe, there are "urban myths" about domestic violence. One, that a March of Dimes study shows that domestic violence causes more birth defects than anything else does, persists despite the vigorous assertions from the March of Dimes people that there is no such study.
Another popular "urban myth" is that Super Bowl Sunday is the most dangerous day of the year for wives and live-ins. Washington Post staff writer Ken Ringle checked out the sources, and found that there were none, that it's an "urban myth." The researcher of the study cited says "That's not what we said at all!" But that doesn't stop the annual vigils and ad campaigns.
But the statistics aren't important. People are important. Kids are important. People commit domestic violence, and people are the victims of domestic violence.
Let's take a look at one of the Family Health Institute's biggest projects, Project MAVRIC: their "Men Against Violence Response Initiative Campaign." The first thing you see on their Web site is:
(mav`er ik) n 1. [colloq.]
A person who takes an independent stand, often ethically or morally, refusing to conform
to the dictates or norms of a group, especially when such conformity results in harm to
others. 2. A person who refuses to support -- and who actively works to
change -- personal, family, community, and cultural norms which provide the foundation for
and drive violence, as in the Men Against Violence Response Initiative Campaign (MAVRIC).
Is this like the White Ribbon Campaign, an attempt to "blame and shame" men for the acts of a few violent men with their annual vigil for the women massacured by a deranged man at L'é Polytechnique in Quebec? As FHI elaborates on their Project MAVRIC, the answer to that is not clear. FHI has modified its Web page to add to the top, "How boys are socialized and learn to be men is one of the central focus areas of Project MAVRIC."
Since this article first appeared on MenWeb, FHI has added to its Web site a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) aimed at addressing our concerns. Some of the questions they address are:
I'm not sure whether these FAQs adequately address the concerns I raise in this article. I leave it to you, the reader, to check out the FAQ and form your own opinion about that. Their gross exaggeration of the percentage workplace deaths of women that are due to homicides by an intimate is certainly in line with the gender politics of NOW and its advocacy of the Violence Against Women Act II.
- What are some examples of the personal, family,
community, institutional, and cultural norms MAVRIC wants to address?
- Is Project MAVRIC about "wife
beating," domestic violence, or violence against women?
- Does the Institute take the position that men
are the ones to blame for violence?
- Does the Institute take the position that men
are the principal victims of violence?
- Why is it that only men [are] invited to sign the Men's
Personal Resolution Against Violence?
- Is Project MAVRIC a feminist-led project
(focussing on gender politics)?
- Is Project MAVRIC a "men's movement"
project (focussing on gender politics)?
- What approach does MAVRIC take to reducing
One way that statements like those in the White Ribbon Campaign and the definition of "maverick" presented here could be taken is that the "norm" is for the guy to go home, beat up on his wife, then drop down to the local tav to boast about it, and that they are courageously "going against the flow" in saying that beating up your wife is wrong. Think about it in terms of your own experience. I do not know one man who thinks that beating your wife is a "normal" or "OK" thing to do. Do you? I do know some men who have hit their wives. Men don't talk to other men about beating their wives. That, alone, shows that men know it's not OK to do. The men I have talked to about it have a lot of guilt, shame and grief about it.
But there's a deeper issue here, if our concern is about family violence, and violence against kids. The 1996 report from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data system reports that 55.3% of the physical abuse of kids is by women. (Yes, I know it's "excused" on the ground that women spend more time with kids and have more opportunity. Explain that to the kid.) Does FHI ask people to take a pledge against personal violence, and to act strongly against family violence? FHI takes the gender-polarizing position that only men need to take this pledge, even though women commit almost 40% of the domestic violence, and even though just over half of the physical violence against kids is by women. Why not a campaign for people to pledge to stop family violence?
The bottom line is that the statistics and the arguments aren't that important. What is important is that domestic violence is a people problem, not just a gender-polarized "women" and "men" problem. It hurts the kids, and hurts us all, regardless of the genitilia of the person doing the battering. I urge you to support pending legislation to require delivery of domestic violence services to people, not just to women.