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What About the Women?

How Many Domestic Violence Awareness Advocates Discriminate Against Women

Copyright © 1998 by Philip W. Cook

Book cover
Abused Men
The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence

by Philip W. Cook
Order on-line

"Most of us believe that masculine power is the fountainhead of private, as well as public, violence. Never mind that women commit the majority of child homicides in the United States, a greater share of severe physical child abuse, an equal rate of sibling violence and assaults on the elderly, about a quarter of child sexual abuse, and an overwhelming share of the killings of newborns. Spouse assault is what men do to women, women from all walks of life, getting punched in the face by the dark fist of patriarchy. Even if we concede that women batter their children, we cannot take it a step further and picture them battering men. We might learn that a man's nose was broken, that he lost his job, that he was emotionally devastated, but we still think to ourselves: He's a man. He could have hit back. He could have hit harder." 
Patricia Pearson, author of

When She Was Bad: Female Violence and the Myth of innocence. (order on-line)


Despite more than twenty years of consciousness raising and programs, in some key areas women are still being discriminated against. What is unusual, is that the discrimination is being supported by many awareness advocates.

Twenty years ago, men and women killed their partners in roughly equal numbers, but now far fewer women are killing their male domestic partners. According to a comparison study by Dr. Daniel Nagin a public policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, there is a "substantial" difference in the rate of decline. He links this to improved economic circumstances and as importantly, legal advocacy programs for female domestic violence victims. Dr. Nagin told the New York Times (July 28, 1998): "The resources for women seem to be saving the men’s lives."

National homicide rates are not as precise as most people would assume. There are yearly variations. Surprisingly, a significant percentage of state and local reports to the Justice Department statisticians do not include information on whether the victim was an intimate. The 1994 justice dept. figures may be the most accurate as a larger number than usual of homicide reports were examined. As reported in Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence these results show about 20 percent more females than males were slain by their mates. Of all white family murder victims, 62 percent were wives and 38 percent were husbands. For black family spouse murders, according to the justice department, "Wives were just about as likely to kill their husbands as were husbands to kill their wives." One might argue with Dr. Nagin's use of the words "far fewer" to describe this difference, but his main point is that the rate of decline for women murdering intimate partners has shown a remarkable downward trend even factoring in overall declines in the homicide rates including those against non-intimates.

Given the news media and activist attention to the deaths of women at the hands of their spouses compared to the coverage and outrage when it happens to a man, a twenty percent greater rate of female partner murders is not as large a difference as many would assume. For example, the "Silent Witness" program featuring life-size red silhouettes of women killed due to domestic violence specifically excludes male victims. This useful public awareness program is supported by corporations and government but there is no such effort for male victims, because there are few advocate groups for them. The few male victim advocates who have tried to enlist the support of national and state domestic violence coalition groups have been actively excluded from participating.

By "legal advocacy programs" Dr. Nagin is specifically referring to domestic violence shelters and crisis lines that offer consumer quasi-legal advice such as understanding how the court system works, obtaining restraining orders and educating victims as to some available options under the law. It also means victims advocates either from semi-private sources such as the shelters but also in locales where there are such advocates within the District Attorney office. Results show that domestic violence victims advocates secure a higher rate of prosecution and conviction for offenders. It should also be noted, that states which require mandatory arrest if there is domestic violence, should also be counted as a form of increased legal advocacy. What is surprising is that most criminologists and other experts (Dr. Nagin and I strongly agree on this point) believe that we don't know for sure what works to prevent domestic violence. We can only say with certainty that arrest and prosecution works. Whether other types of legal advocacy such as restraining orders, or the often mandated in lieu of prosecution (anger management program), are truly effective is still a matter for further investigation.

Dr. Nagin however, says the data indicate that women who have help escaping or changing an abusive situation are less likely to murder their partners. Since there are no effective legal or non legal advocacy programs for male victims, he can not say one way or the other whether they would have the same effect. Given the numbers of male victims and the even larger numbers of couples who experience mutual abuse, it seems logical however, to make the assumption that similar legal advocacy programs for men would reduce the number of female murders.

Shouldn’t we at least try to put in place such programs for men, to see if they can be effective in preventing murders of women? Many domestic violence advocates resist this notion. Indeed, most reject any recognition at all for the fact that some women can be violent and controlling in their intimate relationships. The lowest official estimate puts it at 148,000 male victims a year and 838,000 female (National Criminal Victimization Survey-U.S. Justice Dept), while the highest, the National Family Violence Survey-funded by The National Institute of Mental Health-shows 1.8 million female victims and two million male.

Advocates however, often mix the results by quoting the low figure for males in the first survey and the higher figure for females in the latter.

They fear that attention to domestic violence against men will de-emphasize the importance of services for women.

In direct response to this view, researchers, reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association (August-97) found gender-equal rates of emergency room treatment. They declared: "Recognition of the global nature of violence may be more realistic than assuming that only women are victims."

The advocate’s assumptions hurt women in another way besides perhaps increasing their chances of being murdered or injured. When women call a shelter or domestic violence crisis line expressing concern about their own anger and violence, they are often told, "Oh, he must have done something to provoke you."

Pioneering sociologist Dr. Suzanne Steinmetz (Co-author of Behind Closed Doors-Violence in the American Family-1980) says, "We are in essence denying women services."

" When a man beats up a woman, right away he’s put in a program for batterers. He’s helped to deal with his problems. He’s also sometimes sent to jail. But when a woman does it, it’s passed off as no big deal. No one says, ‘Gosh if you’re acting this way, you might be troubled.’ "

Dr. Steinmetz also points out that it took a long time for shelters to help lesbian women. Lesbian partner battering contradicts gender-feminist patriarchal theories about the causes of domestic violence. Public acknowledgment of the problem is kept quiet for political reasons.


Related article by Erin Pizzey

The modern era battered women’s movement began in 1972 when Erin Pizzey opened the world’s first shelter. In 1974, she wrote the first book on the subject, Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear. She recalls how the problem was ridiculed and ignored, there was no news media attention, social service providers and law enforcement said there was no need for shelters and crisis lines, and funding didn’t exist.

She says It is very similar to what is happening now for male victims and female perpetrators. Pizzey adds however, that there is one new factor: "There are as many violent women as men, but there’s a lot of money (now) in hating men. The activists (at the shelters) aren’t there to help women come to terms with what’s happening with their lives. They’re there to fund their budgets, their conferences, and their statements against men."

The fact that her publisher was threatened and her home shot at by some activists may provide some understanding for Pizzey’s broad brush statements about the movement she founded.

There are in fact, many within the movement who are selfless, dedicated and non-sexist. There are also about a dozen domestic violence crisis lines who provide advocacy to both male and female victims while effectively identifying perpetrators for appropriate action.

Despite these islands of non-discrimination however, the greatest impediment to improved understanding about the complex nature of domestic violence-its causes, it’s effects, and how best to help men and women-may actually be many of the domestic violence awareness campaign’s most public advocates.

©1988 by Philip W. Cook

An earlier version of this article originally appeared in The Oregonian. Philip W. Cook is the author of Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence By .  Mr. Cook is a former broadcast journalist and currently writes and lectures on domestic violence and gender issues.


Related Books:

Book cover
Abused Men
The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence

by Philip W. Cook
Order on-line
Book cover
When She Was Bad
Violent Women & the Myth of Innocence

by Patricia Pearson

Review - also

Kirkus Review, customer comments

Order on-line
book cover
Facing the Fire: Experiencing and Expressing Anger Appropriately
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Audio Cassette

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