Family violence

The blog is three days old, has four posts on a good range of topics and not a single substantive comment. Hmmm. Maybe this will get you going?

The popular perception, fueled by the news, media, government busy bodies and NGOs’ reports, is that family violence is largely a male problem. The TV campaigns “raising awareness” of the issue invariably feature angry men and battered women with black eyes. Come to think about it I do not remember a single man portrayed as a victim of domestic violence – humiliated, sworn at, scratched, punched. You may say this is only fair because most of the family violence is perpetrated by the males. The research proves it – right? Well, if this is what you think – think again.

More surprisingly, women are also just as likely as men to express hostility—in this case physically—in the context of a romantic relationship. The popular stereotype of a domestic abuser is a man who habitually hurts his female partner. Yet research by Archer and sociologist Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire calls this scenario into question. Surprisingly, their analyses demonstrate that men and women exhibit roughly equal rates of violence within relationships; some studies hint that women’s rates of physical aggression are slightly higher. This apparent equality is not solely a result of women fighting back, because it holds even for altercations that women start. Still, domestic abuse within intimate relationships poses a greater threat to women than to men. Women suffer close to two thirds of the injuries, largely because men are stronger on average than women. In addition, women and men differ in the severity of their actions; women are more likely to scratch or slap their partners, and men more commonly punch or choke their partners.

Men and women reported similar experiences of victimization and perpetration of violence. However, women were more likely than men to report initiating physical violence toward their partner.


These findings go somewhat against the prevailing impression conveyed by the media and in government policy that domestic violence is a male problem, perpetrated by men on their partners. This view arises largely from the observation that male perpetrators predominate at the very severe end of the scale of domestic violence in incidents involving severe injury or death of a partner. However, our results suggest that in its more common forms domestic violence involves violent couples who engage in mutual acts of aggression, and further, that the spectrum of violent acts committed by men and women appears to be similar.

The present study indicates that at least as many women as men are violent toward their partners.


Our findings about severe acts of violence converge with community studies: more women than men were physically violent.


…women may understand that the likelihood is very low that they will injure their partners or be prosecuted. Their partners are generally older and stronger; given social norms constraining men’s behaviour toward women, women may also anticipate that few men will hit back. If true, women may perceive little reason to constrain their assaultive behaviour and, therefore, many women should engage in partner violence.

Logically, there are two possible explanations of this puzzling discrepancy between the popular view and research results. Either the violent male stereotype was wrong all along (possibly based on cooked stats?) or else women have in the last 10-15 years become more abusive. There is a wealth of other angles worth exploring in the research conclusions quoted above – feel free to comment to get the discussion going.


One Response to “Family violence”

  1. Vanessa Says:

    Many years ago my parents sold one of their houses to a mens refuge, the stories they got told were just as bad as what we hear about male on female violence. One guy’s wife used to wait at home with all the lights off, hiding with a machete when he came home from work late at night. It is definitely not all one way.

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