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Battered Men - The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence

Research on Battered Men

Aggression in British Heterosexual Relationships

A Descriptive Analysis

Discussion, References

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



Large-scale conflict tactics surveys undertaken in the United States between 1975 and 1992 indicate that approximately 10% of husband or wives commit minor assaults, and approximately 6% or below severe assaults, against their spouse during a 1-year time period [Straus et al., 1980; Straus and Gelles, 1986; Straus and Kantor, 1994]. This study of a representative sample of UK adults has found that 13 and 18% of women and men, respectively, experience any assault by a heterosexual partner across all their relationships or that 5 and 11% of women and men experience assault by their current partner. In reports of the first nationally based US study [see Straus et al., 1980], figures for the incidence of any assaultive act at any time during a marriage were given by 27.8% of wives. This is a more directly comparable comparison between these studies. It shows, in contrast to the previous assertion for the UK population based on a small convenience married sample [Russell and Hulson, 1992], that, if anything, UK heterosexual relationships seem to be less physically abusive than their American counterparts. This is in accord with the disparity in general levels of violent assault between the United Kingdom and the United States [Archer and Lloyd, 1985].

Incidences higher or lower than either these US or UK national samples are reported, using CTS methodology or other methodology, for different samples and smaller sample sizes, which are neither necessarily random nor representative samples [Straus and Gelles, 1986;Andrews and Brown, 1988; Straus, 1993; Straus and Kantor, 1994]. Clearly the heterogeneous nature of assault data, when broken down by both sex and other variables such as relationship status, social category, age or region supports concern that inference and projection to the general population from other smaller or selected samples may be spurious or unsound [Andrews and Brown, 1988; Straus, 1993].

In itself, some caution must also be exercised in the interpretation of this study. The exact CTS physical aggression scale [Straus, 1979] was not used and more severe assaults may have been underestimated. However, in as far as the results attempt to provide incidence, they may not be grossly inaccurate as this, and other studies [Straus et al., 1980] have shown that where serious assaults occur, lesser forms of assault almost always occur as well. Although a measure of chronicity has been provided (see the Results section), no information on chronicity of any one assaultive act was collected and so inference as to severity of assaults, as in a chronic battering relationship, is speculative especially as no attempt was made to collect data on the injurious consequences of assaults. It has been consistently pointed out that because of size and strength differences, more women are likely to incur injury from male domestic assault [Straus and Gelles, 1986] and that even more minor non-injurious assault may be fear invoking for women [Straus, 1993]. However, some male victims of domestic assault are found to have sustained serious injury [Smith et al., 1992; Buzawa and Austin, 1993; Stitt and Macklin, 1995]. A female to male ratio of between 6-8 to 1 is evident from analysis of available US data [Straus, 1993], which may be supported by the UK observations of Smith et al. [1992] who found wives and husbands seeking emergency hospital treatment in approximately this ratio.

Despite such reservations, however, the study has provided preliminary data for a representative sample of the UK population for the first time and generates the impetus for future more expansive and exacting UK study of this type. A clear inference drawn from these results is that victimization of women by male partners is more likely for women who are single and young, while for men being married or cohabiting and living in the southern part of the United Kingdom is most associated with assault by a female partner. It can also be suggested that there is some evidence to suggest that assaults between partner in the United Kingdom is increasing, given the higher percentage incidence recorded in the youngest age group.

The finding of a higher overall incidence of claimed male victimization is in line with other findings which have reported a higher incidence of men assaulted either by married or dating female partners [e.g., Nisonoff and Bitman, 1979; Cate et al,. 1982; Plass and Gessner, 1983; Brutz and Ingoldsby, 1984; Deal and Whampler, 1986; Arias et al., 1987; Brinkerhoff and Lupri, 1988; Archer and Ray, 1989; Stetts, 1990; Russell and Hulson, 1992]. Other studies have found women reporting aggression against a male partner at or even above male levels [Plass and Gessner, 1983; Archer and Ray, 1989; White and Koss, 1991; Russell and Hulson, 1992, Straus and Kantor, 1994]. This study has found a negligible difference between the incidence of men and women who reported inflicting assault on a partner overall, although with some variation from this in subsamples of the total population with either higher male or female rates of admitted assault.

It is suggested that it is reasonable to argue that the excess of male victimization found seems, at least in part, to result from the greater frequency at which "slapping a partner" occurs female to male. Female-to-male acts of assault are perceived less negatively than male-to-female assaults [O'Leary, 1993; Harris and Cook, 1994] and it has been suggested that in a "slap the cad" scenario, they are rationalized to a justified acceptance [Straus, 1993]. Further, it has been suggested that minor assaults by women on men equate with female verbal aggression, as opposed to a distinction between verbal and a move to physical aggression for men [Stets, 1990].

The previous small-scale CTS studies performed in the United Kingdom have both found that the female sample had committed more severe violence than male partners [Archer and Ray, 1989; Russell and Hulson, 1992]. The former study also reported more female minor assaults as well, with both minor and severe assaults as reported by either the male or female partner. The initial national US study reported an incidence of female reported assaults made on male partners, who were not themselves reported as being assaultive, as well as reciprocal and unidirectional male-to-female assaults [Straus et al., 1980]. Interpreting their UK findings Archer and Ray [1989] noted that previous suggestions [Arias and Johnson, 1989] that men may be more cognizant of the potential to cause serious injury and to do damage to the relationship, which effectively causes them to restrain their aggression. This might have been operating within married and cohabiting relationships, given the fact that married or cohabiting women were the least likely to report sustained victimization. The disparity in incidence of victimization between married/cohabiting or single dating women across all relationships, but not current relationships, may indicate that the women surveyed have tended to form more committed and enduring relationships with men who do not tend to assault them or to dissolve relationships in which they are assaulted.

It could also be suggested that higher levels of male victimization/female aggression in CTS studies might reflect that some heterosexual males may give tacit observance to "Macho" images in public, but privately their lived experience and this stereotype have nothing in common. It is also possible that their female partners also obey female stereotypes of lesser aggression in public, but less so in private. This, apart from other considerations, could account for some of the discrepancy between CTS studies where rough equality of assaultiveness male-to-female and female-to-male is found, as opposed to common perceptions of the greater aggressiveness or assaultiveness of males. Social unacceptability of males being victims of domestic assault [George, 1994; Harris and Cook, 1994] may also be part of the explanation for the higher percentages of victimization of married or cohabiting men remaining within current relationships.

Further, an analysis which allows for female assaultiveness [White and Humphrey, 1994] finds some support from the relatively low levels of gender difference in aggression found in meta-analysis of psychological studies [Eagly and Steffen, 1986]. It also seems to be supported in marriage guidance literature, where leading exponents in the field in the United Kingdom have noted the frequency with which they experience married couples where the female is dominant and the male experiences loss of libido or impotence [Crowe and Ridley, 1990]. Thus psychological or emotional distress of males can be identified in female-dominated relationships and also in response to physical assault [Marshall, 1992]. Also, male or female-dominated relationships occur to about the same extent and show more relationship assaultiveness than more egalitarian couples [Coleman and Straus, 1986]. Thus, the finding in respect of male, as opposed to female, victimization reported in this study may not be as contentious as is often assumed, especially given that aggression by females can also occur frequently in lesbian relationships [Renzetti, 1992].

In allowing respondents to ascribe reasons or context to victimization, this study has attempted to go beyond many other studies utilizing the CTS approach. Clearly the interpretations given by both male and female respondents are varied, although with some tendency for explanations to divide by gender and a division of "reasons" operates between attributions to partners as opposed to self-attribution. This would tend to confirm the operation of social desirability, whereby it has previously been reported that victimization is more reliable than reported aggression [Jourilles and O'Leary, 1985; Arias et al., 1987; Riggs et al., 1989]. This may also explain the lower response levels for inflicted victimization found. Interestingly, however, the previous UK couple studies have noted that this aspect was less of a problem than anticipated, with little difference in the reliability of either male or female responses [Archer and Ray, 1989; Russell and Hulson, 1992].

In so far that reasons or contexts tested have attempted to assesss a "self-defensive" motive, the results seem to support a Canadian study that the majority of women did not report their aggression against male partners in this context [Sommer, 1994]. It has also been suggested that within marital conflict, men more often withdraw from confrontation leading to an escalation from their female partners than vice versa [Christensen and Heavey, 1990; Noller et al., 1994]. This might be applicable, especially given that women identified a need to "get through to their partner," more than men, as a reason for their aggression. These findings on "self-defense" are contradictory, however, to the assertions of UK couple studies [Archer and Ray, 1989; Russell and Hulson, 1992] where either factor analysis of psychometric and other variables [Russell and Hulson, 1992] or correlation coefficients (Archer and Ray, 1989) suggested that female assaults were retaliatory or self-defence.

Finally, it would seem that both men and women recognized a greater involvement of male alcohol abuse within interpartner conflict, which tends to confirm previous analysis for a difference in the link between alcohol and aggressive behaviour for males and females [Sommers et al., 1992; Straus and Kantor, 1994].


The authors acknowledge Mr. Paul Woolich and the British Broadcasting Corporation for funding the survey undertaken and Mr. R. Duffy of MORI for organizing additional analysis of data. Additionally, Dr. Reena Sommer is thanked for reading a draft manuscript and making helpful comments.


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Our thanks to Dr. Malcolm George for providing this study.

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