What would you do if you were stuck in an abusive relationship? What would you do if asking for help was not only considered humiliating, but there was even a stigma attached to it? How would your life be different if you knew that the person you were involved with could not only get away with, but even sometimes be encouraged to do something to you that you would never – ever – be encouraged to do to them? This is what men have to face everywhere, because the world does not take seriously the idea that a man can be the victim of physical abuse by a female.
The Gender Bias
According to FindCounseling.com, women are victims of domestic abuse five times more often than men. In fact, they say “women make up about 85% of the victims of non-lethal domestic violence.” Well, this surely matches the public perception. We hear about cases about women being abused much more often than men being abused, and obviously there’s a reason for it. But is the reason really because it happens more?
When Arizona State University (ASU) researcher Jennifer Scarduzio investigated university students’ opinions on abuse, the results were predictable. “Society has a perception that a man should never hit a woman,” she said. “That’s just kind of a cultural norm. [But when it comes to a woman hitting a man], people try to explain that and say, ‘Well maybe she was acting in self-defense or maybe he did something to her to make her hit him or maybe it was an accident. […] People don’t want to think that a female can be violent just on her own, without someone provoking her.”
Katie Harris, another researcher working on the study, said “When men are victims of intimate partner violence, people tend to say things like, ‘Oh, well, he’s a wimp for getting beat up by a girl. He isn’t a real man.’” Indeed, I’ve had an experience where I had to tell a well-intentioned female friend of mine to stop painfully punching me in the arm. “Seriously? I barely touched you!” she protested. Though it was relatively emasculating, I made a big enough deal about it that she knew I was serious, so she stopped; though there are of course other ways of dealing with that situation…
In my case, however, it never escalated beyond that, and we never dated; so it’s much worse for the domestic abuse victims in actual romantic contexts. In fact, participants in that ASU study were shocked that female abusers could “inflict serious damage” on their boyfriends/spouses at all. Some doubted that female violence was even possible.
This is what almost all of the more than 100 bystanders thought as they watched a woman abusing a man in a park, as seen in this shocking video below. Notice, in particular, how one woman not only didn’t step in to help… she actually flat-out condoned it.
It’s hard to believe that people can think that women don’t, or can’t, violently abuse men, when you find cases of such abuse all over the world. Well… here’s a wake up call: Not only does it happen, but female-to-male violence is just as common as male-to-female violence.
The Gender-Victim Ratio
The Problem with Abuse Research
When people report abuse statistics, they tend to say “abuse” frivolously. The real problem here is that people have different definitions of abuse. For example, last year in France, a new law was created to protect people from spousal abuse. They outlawed “psychological abuse,” which was considered repeated verbal actions, intended to hurt someone’s rights and dignity or harm their psychological well-being. Anyone who has experienced bullying knows that this form of abuse exists, but I have a hunch that not everyone outside France would agree to adopting this law. Otherwise we would all have that law.
Wikipedia provides more information on some of the problems involved in domestic abuse research concisely, as well as studies that have shown results contrary to the idea that women are always the victims.
Results of studies which estimate the prevalence of domestic violence vary significantly, depending on specific wording of survey questions, how the survey is conducted, the definition of abuse or domestic violence used, the willingness or unwillingness of victims to admit that they have been abused and other factors.
For instance, Strauss (2005) conducted a study which estimated that the rate of minor assaults by women was 78 per 1,000 couples, compared with a rate for men of 72 per 1,000 and the severe assault rate was 46 per 1,000 couples for assaults by women and 50 per 1,000 for assaults by men. Neither difference is statistically significant. He claimed that since these rates were based exclusively on information provided by women respondents, the near-equality in assault rates could not be attributed to a gender bias in reporting.
One analysis found that “women are as physically aggressive or more aggressive than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners”. However, studies have shown that women are more likely to be injured. Archer’s meta-analysis found that women suffer 65% of domestic violence injuries. A Canadian study showed that 7% of women and 6% of men were abused by their current or former partners, but female victims of spousal violence were more than twice as likely to be injured as male victims, three times more likely to fear for their life, twice as likely to be stalked, and twice as likely to experience more than ten incidents of violence. However, Strauss notes that Canadian studies on domestic violence have simply excluded questions that ask men about being victimized by their wives.
In fact, a man’s humiliation by being assaulted by a women is often the topic of various scenes in comedy TV shows or movies. I too can appreciate the “humor of suffering” in the right contexts – such as on light-hearted game-shows like UK’s “distraction,” or “Fear Factor” in America. But there’s a time and a place for comedy.
In his 2009 book “Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence,” Philip Cook lists tons of different reports, combining information from multitudes of studies. One of the most recent general-population studies discussed was in 2008 (see page 14), and just like five of seventeen earlier studies, it found that most abusive relationships were those in which both the female and the male were abusive. In fact, after comparing a variety of studies (see page 17), results indicated that 50% of violent households were those where both spouses were violent, whereas 27% had only male aggressors, and 24% had only female aggressors.
One university professor whose lecture I attended some years ago told us about a meta-analysis that showed men were more likely to attack while unarmed, whereas women were more likely to attack with weapons; but essentially the prevalence of such behaviour was equal between both. He also gave an interesting anecdote that I remember well. I will paraphrase it in first-person style, as I remember him telling it:
…In one class, many many years ago, I was explaining the information I just told you, about how men are often abused by women in relationships and that there is little attention drawn towards it. I noticed one girl in the front of the class visibly squirming uncomfortably at this. I felt terrible, because I can imagine how frustrating it must be for a victim of an abusive relationship to hear about how women can be aggressors. Some days later, she came to my office after class, which was very surprising. She told me that she never realized it, but she had in fact been abusive to her boyfriend. She said she wasn’t really aware that her behaviour was considered “abusive” until she heard it from my lecture. She went so far as to thank me for the lesson.
The Bottom Line
While it’s true that abuse happens to both men and women, almost everyone underestimates how much it happens to men. In fact, while domestic abuse is just as prevalent in women as in men, only men receive the stigma attached with seeking help, and rarely even receive that help. In Part 2, we’ll look at the domestic abuse double-standard in greater detail, and reveal just how hypocritical people have become.