Gender aspects of abuse
The role of gender is a controversial topic related to the discussion of domestic violence.
Among the persons killed by an intimate partner, about three quarters are female, and about a quarter are male: in 1999, in the US, 1,218 women and 424 men were killed by an intimate partner, regardless of which partner started the violence and of the gender of the partner. In the US, in 2005, 1181 females and 329 males were killed by their intimate partners. Women are also much more likely than men to enlist help if they wish to kill their spouse; but such multiple-offender homicides are not counted toward domestic-violence statistics.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) states that “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which has led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”
Erin Pizzey, the founder of an early women's shelter in Chiswick, London, has expressed her dismay at how domestic abuse has become a gender-political football, and expressed an unpopular view in her book Prone to Violence that roughly two-thirds of women in the refuge system had a predisposition to seek abusive relationships, and to inflict violence. Pizzey also expressed the view that domestic violence can occur against any vulnerable intimates, regardless of their gender.
A Freudian concept, repetition compulsion, has been cited as a possible cause of a woman who was abused in childhood seeking an abusive man (or vice versa), theoretically as a misguided way to "master" their traumatic experience.
There continues to be discussion about whether men or women are more abusive, whether women's abuse of men, or men's abuse of women is typically more severe, and the question of whether abused men should be provided the same resources and shelters that exist for women victims sekä Carney (2007)
A problem in conducting studies that seek to describe violence in terms of gender is the amount of silence, fear and shame that results from abuse within families and relationships. Another is that abusive patterns can tend to seem normal to those who have lived in them for a length of time. Similarly, subtle forms of abuse can be quite transparent even as they set the stage for further abuse seeming normal. Finally, inconsistent definition of what domestic violence is makes definite conclusions difficult to reach when compiling the available studies.
Martin S. Fiebert of the Department of Psychology at California State University, Long Beach, provides an annotated bibliography of over two hundred scholarly works which demonstrate that women and men often exhibit comparable levels of IPV violence. In a Los Angeles Times article about male victims of domestic violence, Fiebert suggests that "...consensus in the field is that women are as likely as men to strike their partner but that—as expected—women are more likely to be injured than men." However, he noted, men are seriously injured in 38% of the cases in which "extreme aggression" is used. Fiebert additionally noted that his work was not meant to minimize the serious effects of men who abuse women.
In a Meta-analysis, John Archer, Ph. D., from the Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, UK, writes:
The present analyses indicate that men are among those who are likely to be on the receiving end of acts of physical aggression. The extent to which this involves mutual combat or the male equivalent to “battered women” is at present unresolved. Both situations are causes for concern. Straus (1997) has warned of the dangers involved—especially for women—when physical aggression becomes a routine response to relationship conflict. “Battered men”—those subjected to systematic and prolonged violence—are likely to suffer physical and psychological consequences, together with specific problems associated with a lack of recognition of their plight (George and George, 1998). Seeking to address these problems need not detract from continuing to address the problem of “battered women."
Donald G. Dutton and Tonia L. Nicholls, from the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia also undertook a meta-analysis of data in 2005. They concluded:
Clearly, shelter houses full of battered women demonstrate the need for their continued existence. Moreover, outside of North American and Northern Europe, gender inequality is still the norm (Archer, in press). However, within those countries that have been most progressive about women’s equality, female violence has increased as male violence has decreased (Archer, in press). There is not one solution for every domestically violent situation; some require incarceration of a terrorist perpetrator, others can be dealt with through court-mandated treatment, still others may benefit from couples therapy. However, feminist inspired intervention standards that preclude therapists in many states from doing effective therapy with male batterers are one outcome of this paradigm. The failure to recognize female threat to husbands, female partners, or children is another (Straus et al., 1980 found 10% higher rates of child abuse reported by mothers than by fathers).
The one size fits all policy driven by a simplistic notion that intimate violence is a recapitulation of class war does not most effectively deal with this serious problem or represent the variety of spousal violence patterns revealed by research. At some point, one has to ask whether feminists are more interested in diminishing violence within a population or promoting a political ideology. If they are interested in diminishing violence, it should be diminished for all members of a population and by the most effective and utilitarian means possible. This would mean an intervention/treatment approach based on other successful approaches from criminology and psychology.
Theories that women are as violent as men have been dubbed "Gender Symmetry" theories. On the other hand, Michael Kimmel of the State University of New York at Stony Brook found that men are more violent inside and outside of the home than women.
Both men and women have been arrested and convicted of assaulting their partners in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The bulk of these arrests have been men being arrested for assaulting women. However, in the case of reciprocal violence, frequently only the male perpetrator is arrested. Determining how many instances of domestic violence actually involve male victims is difficult. Male domestic violence victims may be reluctant to get help for a number of reasons. Another study has demonstrated a high degree of acceptance by women of aggression against men.
Murders of female intimate partners by men have dropped, but not nearly as dramatically. Men kill their female intimate partners at about four times the rate that women kill their male intimate partners. Research by Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD RN FAAN has found that at least two thirds of women killed by their intimate partners were battered by those men prior to the murder. She also found that when males are killed by female intimates, the women in those relationships had been abused by their male partner about 75% of the time. (See battered person syndrome and battered woman defense.)
Some researchers have found a relationship between the availability of domestic violence services, improved laws and enforcement regarding domestic violence and increased access to divorce, and higher earnings for women with declines in intimate partner homicide. However, both men and women are far less likely to be abused when married to each other. The bulk of injuries from domestic violence involves co-habitation or the distresses of relationship break-ups.
Gender roles and expectations can and do play a role in abusive situations, and exploring these roles and expectations can be helpful in addressing abusive situations, as do factors like race, class, religion, sexuality and philosophy. None of these factors cause one to abuse or another to be abused.
In 1997, the Canadian Advertising Foundation ruled that a national ad campaign that featured Nicole Brown Simpson's sister Denise with the slogan "Stop violence against women" was in fact portraying only men as aggressors, that it was not providing a balanced message and was, in fact, contributing to gender stereotyping. (The murder of Nicole Simpson also included the murder of Ronald Goldman.)