July 22, 2009 at 3:59 am #31963
note: this is an interesting piece, and I’d love to hear the response of women to it. Are women acting from uncontrolled emotion, or striking in advance out of fear of impending male violence? – m.
THE VIOLENCE WE IGNORE
MEN ARE OFTEN VICTIMIZED BY WIVES AND GIRLFRIENDS
By Ned Holstein and Glenn Sacks
July 16, 2009
Police recently concluded that former Baltimore Ravens star Steve McNair was
shot dead in his sleep by girlfriend Sahel Kazemi in a murder-suicide. Yet
while there are more than 10,000 media entries on Google News for “Steve
McNair,” only a few of them mention the phrase “domestic violence.”
Violence by women against their male partners is often ignored or not
recognized as domestic violence. Law enforcement, the judicial system, the
media and the domestic violence establishment are still stuck in the
outdated “man as perpetrator/woman as victim” conception of such violence.
Yet more than 200 studies have found that women initiate at least as much
violence against their male partners as vice-versa. Men make up about a
third of domestic violence injuries and deaths in heterosexual
relationships. Research shows that women often compensate for a disadvantage
in physical strength by employing weapons and the element of surprise —
just as Ms. Kazemi did.
The most recent large-scale study of domestic violence was conducted by
Harvard researchers and published in 2007 in the American Journal of Public
Health. The study, which surveyed 11,000 men and women, found that,
according to both men’s and women’s accounts, 50 percent of the violence in
their relationships was reciprocal (involving both parties). In those cases,
the women were more likely to have been the first to strike. Moreover, when
the violence was one-sided, both women and men said that women were the
perpetrators about 70 percent of the time.
New research from domestic violence researcher Deborah Capaldi, a social
scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center, shows the most dangerous
domestic violence scenario for both women and men is that of reciprocal
violence, particularly if that violence is initiated by women.
There are solutions to protect all parties affected by domestic violence.
For one, just as we’ve properly stigmatized men who hit women, we need to
encourage women not to attack their men. Ms. Capaldi believes the best way
for women to be safe is to not initiate violence against their male
partners, adding, “The question of initiation of violence is a crucial one
… much DV is mutual, and initiations — even that seem minor — may lead
Second, when it is safe to do so, the domestic violence system needs to
treat violent couples as violent couples, instead of shoe-horning them into
the “man as perp/woman as victim” model. Counseling services for violent
couples are rare. Domestic violence authority Lonnie R. Hazelwood says that
the misguided domestic violence establishment “has been very effective in
passing laws to prohibit couples counseling and eliminate programs which use
Third, establish services and help for male domestic violence victims.
Denise Hines of Clark University found that when an abused man calls the
police, the police were more likely to arrest him than to arrest his abusive
female partner. This is partly the result of laws such as Maryland’s primary
aggressor law. Primary aggressor laws encourage police to discount who
initiated and committed the violence but instead look at other factors (such
as size and strength) that make them more likely to arrest men. When the men
in Ms. Hines’ study tried calling domestic violence hot lines, 64 percent
were told that they only helped women, and more than half were referred to
programs for male DV perpetrators.
Fourth, work to ensure that male domestic violence victims will not lose
their children in child custody proceedings. Ms. Hines found that the
biggest reason male victims hesitate to leave their wives/girlfriends is
concern for their children. If they leave, their children are left
unprotected in the hands of a violent mother. If they take their children,
when they’re found, the children will be taken away and given to the mother.
Perhaps none of these policies would have saved Steve McNair. But domestic
violence by women isn’t rare, it isn’t trivial, and ignoring it harms
couples and their children.
Dr. Ned Holstein is a public health specialist with the Mount Sinai School
of Medicine and the founder of Fathers & Families. Glenn Sacks is the
organization’s executive director. Their Web site is:
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