Intimate Partner Violence (feminist's shame) – The Socjourn

I just saw a news story about a man who brutally beat a woman and killed her, dead as a door nail, on mother’s day. Of course, there will never be a public analysis and we (and by “we”, I mean the general public) will never know why he did it. The media will present the story and we will interpret it as just another sad example of the violence women experience at the hands of the mean and brutal men of this world. Men are like that, don’t you know: violent. And, just in case we don’t see it that way, the media will trot out, as they did in this story, the angry female from the victims services organization and she’ll tell us just how bad male perpetrated violence against women really is. And she doesn’t even have to say it is “male perpetrated” because the vast majority of people will simply hear it as such.

The almost universal belief that men are the perpetrators and women the victims of domestic violence is apparently backed up by criminal statistics, which show that eight of ten victims of IPV are women (Mann, 2012). That is, when people show up at a police department and report an IPV incident, they are almost always female. But, this curious asymmetry is not supported by recent research that has clearly shown that men and women are about equally likely to be victims of IPV  (Straus 2004, Straus 2007)! Researchers call this “gender symmetry” in domestic violence and suggest that over two hundred studies support that symmetry. What’s even more interesting (or perhaps disturbing) is that leading researchers in the field also suggest that decades of evidence of gender symmetry has actively and intentionally suppressed and distorted (Straus 2010, Graham-Kevan 2007, Straus 2007) by feminist sociologists who are either unaware of the empirical evidence or blind to their own gender biases.  Feminist sociologists have, in other words, worked to “invisibilize” IPV against men.

Of course, the question that arises at this point is, is this true, and if so, why? Has violence against men been “invisibilized” and is it a problem, or are women the primary victims. If you go by recent studies, violence against men has clearly been invisibilized. Feminists have suppressed data, ignored data inconsistent with their theories,  selectively cited studies, created evidence by misleading citation practices, obstructed publication, and even persecuted those who take a contrary position (Straus, 2007). If you accept this however then the issue becomes the contradictory police statistics. There is no ambiguity in the statistics that show that 8 out 10 times it is the women who report violence to the police. So, who is right? Are women the primary victims or have feminists done us a disservice? And if the latter, what are we to make of police statistics? How do you sort this out?

Well, it is actually not that difficult. Official government statistics are distorted and they give a false picture of reality. Perhaps an example from my own life will bring the issue into clear focus. My wife is an IPV counselor. She provides free counseling to victims of domestic violence through a local non-profit organization. I do a bit of IPV counseling myself to support her and bring a male voice in when needed. We thus have a direct window into the phenomenon of IPV, and what we found over the years is quite interesting. We find (in line with recent studies) that most couples report bidirectional violence. That is, in intimate relationships, it is most often the case that both partners are engaging in violent acts. We also find that men in relationships are about equally likely to report experiencing IPV as women. That is, men beat women and women beat men. What’s more remarkable is that, of all the men that we have seen over the years who have reported forms of IPV in their relationships to us, not a single one has ever reported to police! That is, men experience violence, but they keep their mouths shut about it. Even when we encourage them to report the violence they experience, they don’t. This remarkable observation calls into question the utility of official police statistics which, in this light, seem entirely useless and unrepresentative of actual social reality.

Upon hearing that police statistics are useless as empirical indicators of IPV, you may be initially disconcerted, even confused, but explaining the anomaly is not that difficult. Men do not report their victimizations because there is a culture of silence when it comes to female perpetrated violence. Men experience an intense feelings of shame when they are victims (Adebayo 2012) of female perpetrated violence. Female assault just doesn’t register as assault in the mind in a lot of cases. That is, men do not report because of the stigma associated with being “weak” and presumably “unable” to defend themselves, the ridicule that necessarily attends this stigma, and the fact that they don’t see it as assault. Police officers laugh, friends exclaim surprise when an individual “allows” a female to beat them, and family members downplay and minimize the assault as if being hit by a girl isn’t being hit at all. The net result is that IPV perpetrated against males is almost completely erased from the criminal statistics, and totally absent from the sociological (and social) radar.

So, is violence against men “invisibalized”? Clearly it is. The notion that women are primarily the victims of IPV is erroneous and can only be supported by ignoring the evidence or using biased police statistics, which is exactly what outlets like Huffpost do  (see Vagianos, 2014). Is this a problem? It most certainly is. More and more studies show that all forms of violence, whether they be physical, psychological, emotional, or even spiritual, have long term negative consequences for individuals and society (Sosteric 2013). In other words, it doesn’t make you strong, it makes you damaged. What’s more, traditional “feminist” approaches to treatments, treatments which assume patriarchy as the cause,  have been singularly unsuccessful in improving IPV statistics and recidivism rates (Graham-Kevan 2007). It’s a bunch of radical hot air, really.

It seems like I have to say here, because feminist approaches are ineffective, this has to be looked at more carefully. And if what I’ve said so far doesn’t convince or if you find yourself looking for ways to undermine what I’m saying, I can use my own life as an example. In my life it is the women who have been the most violent toward me. I’ve been hit by a man in my life only once, and frankly, it was my fault because I instigated. On the other hand, I’ve been physically assaulted, emotionally abused, and psychologically harangued by past intimate partners more times than I can count. And, it is not just the physical violence we need to be more empirical about. I’ve experienced multiple forms of female violence from multiple intimate past partners. I’ve been put down, abandoned, insulted, emasculated, neglected, and disparaged many times in my life, and its always been at the hands of a female. And the IPV I reference here does not even include violence at the hands of my mother (another female) who whipped and beat me whenever she bloody well felt like it. She didn’t have any problems with breaking a wooden spoon on my hand or flailing me with one of her leather belts. And she didn’t have any trouble making it worse if I told her she should stop. I remember wailing in pain and begging her to stop and she just hit me harder and harder and harder. I’ve never experienced that kind of violence at the hands of a man, ironically, and this female perpetrated violence has never appeared in any official record of domestic abuse because nobody ever investigated it as such. I, for reasons already enumerated, never reported it. Overall, men have been much kinder to me. I don’t know what its been like in your direct experience, but in my experience (and probably in Walt Disney’s experience as well, if you can judge his “wicked witch” archetypes as evidence), it is the females of the species who are the most violent and brutal. And I’m not going to sugar coat it for you. I was left with a damaged psyche as a result of the abuse. I had emotional and psychological issues for a good forty years of my life as a result of the female on male violence that I experienced. If you don’t like hearing it, tough. You can’t erase that experience, you can’t stop me from talking about it, and thankfully it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss it as irrelevant. From this point forward, any rational, reasonable, sociologically sophisticated, unbiased, and effective analysis will have to take into account the full reality of IPV, and the fact that women can be just as mean, viscous, violent, and cruel as men.

Now of course, having said all this, I want to point out, I’m not bashing feminism here. There is something to be said for feminist theories of patriarchal domination. We should not forget that barely a hundred years ago, women could not vote, were considered weak and emotional, and were seen as generally incapable of making meaningful and rational decisions. Women were, and in fact still are, dominated by a patriarchy that diminishes the female sex, exposes them to violence, undervalues their social contributions, and generally oppresses them down. Down to this day, stereotypical male characteristics (and individuals) are elevated (strength, competition, rationality) while female characteristics are devalued. In other words, patriarchy is real. It does have an impact and we should not make the same mistake the feminists do of ignoring (or actually suppressing, as Straus (2010) notes), an important part of reality. All I’m saying here is we (and by “we”, I mean sociologists, students, and society) need to take a closer look because our current understanding of IPV is off base and totally inadequate.

Anthony Abayomi Adebayo, Domestic Violence against Men: Balancing the Gender Issues in Nigeria. American Journal of Sociological Research, Vol. 4 No. 1, 2014, pp. 14-19.

Graham-Kevan., N. (2007). Domestic Violence: Research and Implications for Batterer Programs in Europe. European Journal of Criminal Policy Research 13: 227-232.

Mann, R. M. (2012). Invisibilizing Violence Against Women. Power and Resistance: Critical Thinking about Canadian Social Issues. L. Samuelson and W. Antony. Halifax, Fernwood Publishing.

Straus, M. A. (2004). “Prevalence of Violence Against Dating Partners by Male and Female University Students Worldwide.” Violence Against Women 10(7): 790-811.

Straus, M. A. (2007). “Processes Explaining the Concealment nad Distoration of Evidence on Gender Symmetry in Partner Violence.” European Journal of Criminal Policy Research 13: 227-232.

Straus, Murray A. (2010). Thirty Years of Denying the Evidence on Gender Symmetry in Partner Violence: Implications for Prevention and Treatment. Partner Abuse 1: 332-362

Cite This Article

Michael Sharp (2015). Intimate Partner Violence (feminist’s shame). The Socjourn. [http://www.sociology.org/intimate-partner-violence-domestic-abuse/]

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