Husband Battering: A Serious Problem Billboards, radio, and TV ads across the country proclaim that "every fifteen seconds a women is beaten by a man." Violence against women is clearly a problem of national importance, but has anyone ever asked how often men are beaten by women? The unfortunate fact is that men are the victims of domestic violence at least as often as women are. While the very idea of men being beaten by their wives runs contrary to many of our deeply ingrained beliefs about men and women, female violence against men is a well-documented phenomenon almost completely ignored by both the media and society. The first reaction upon hearing about the topic of battered men, for many people, is that of incredulity. Battered husbands are almost a topic for jokes - such as the cartoon image of a woman chasing her husband with a rolling pin.
One researcher noted that wives were the perpetrators in 73% of the depiction of domestic violence in newspaper comics (Gelles 1974). Battered husbands have historically been either ignored or subjected to ridicule and abuse. In 18 th-century France, a battered husband 'was made to wear an outlandish outfit and ride backwards around the village on a donkey' (Langley & Levy 1977). Even those of us who like to consider ourselves liberated and open-minded often have a difficult time even imagining that husband battering could take place. Although feminism has opened many of our eyes about the existence of domestic violence, and newspaper reports often include incidents of abuse of wives, the abuse of husbands is a rarely discussed phenomenon. One reason researchers and others had not chosen to investigate husband battering is because it was thought to be a fairly rare occurrence.
Police reports seemed to bear this out, with in some cases a ratio of 12 to 14. 5 female victims to every one male victim. But another reason is that because women were seen as weaker and more helpless than men due to sex roles, and men on the other hand were seen as more sturdy and self-reliant, the study of abused husbands seemed relatively unimportant (Steinmetz 1978). In 1974, a study was done which compared male and female domestic violence.
In that study, it was found that 47% of husbands had used physical violence on their wives, and 33% of wives had used violence on their husbands (Gelles 1974). Half of the respondents in this study we reselected from either cases of domestic violence reported to the police, or those identified by the social service agency. Also in 1974, a study was released showing that the number of murders of women by men (17. 5% of total homicides) was about the same as the number of murders of men by women (16. 4%of total homicides). This study, however, showed that men were three times as likely to assault women as vice-versa.
These statistics came from police records (Gelles 1974). The murder statistic was no big news, by the way. In 1958, an investigation of spousal homicide between 1948 and 1952 found that 7. 8% of murder victims were husbands murdered by wives, and 8% were wives murdered by husbands. More recently, in a study of spousal homicide in the period from 1976 to 1985, it was found that there was an overall ratio of 1. 3: 1.
0 of murdered wives to murdered husbands, and that 'black husbands were at greater risk of spouse homicide victimization than black wives or white spouses of either sex' (Mercy & Saltzman 1989). The subject of husband battering had finally been addressed, but not to the great satisfaction of anyone. Although it had finally been shown that there was violence being perpetrated both by wives and husbands, there was no information about relative frequency or severity, or who initiated the abuse and who was acting in self-defense. Furthermore, some researchers became concerned that the use of police or social services references in choosing subjects to study might be biasing the results.
In short, they recognized that battered husbands might be nearly invisible next to their female counterparts (Farrell 1986). In 1977, Suzanne Steinmetz released results from several studies showing that the percentage of wives who have used physical violence is higher than the percentage of husbands, and that the wives' average violence score tended to be higher, although men were somewhat more likely to cause greater injury. She also found that women were as likely as men to initiate physical violence, and that they had similar motives for their violent acts. Steinmetz concluded that 'the most unreported crime is not wife beating -- it's husband beating' (Langley & Levy 1977).
In 1979, a telephone survey was conducted in which subjects were asked about their experiences of domestic violence. 15. 5% of the men and 11. 3% of the women reported having hit their spouse; 18. 6% of the men and 12. 7% of the women reported having been hit by their spouse (Straus, Gelles& Steinmetz, 1980).
In 1980, a team of researchers, including Steinmetz, attempted to address some concerns about the earlier surveys. They created a nationally representative study of family violence and found that the total violence scores seemed to be about even between husbands and wives, and that wives tended to be more abusive in almost all categories except pushing and shoving (Straus, Gelles & Steinmetz, 1980). Strauss & Gelles did a follow up survey in 1985, comparing their data to a 1975 survey. They found that in that decade, domestic violence against women dropped from 12. 1% of women to 11.
3% while domestic violence against men rose from 11. 6% to 12. 1%. The rate of severely violent incidents dropped for both groups: From 3.
8% to 3. 0%of women victimized and from 4. 6% to 4. 4% for men.
In 1986, a report appeared in Social Work, the journal of the National Association of Social Workers on violence in adolescent dating relationships, in which it was found that girls were violent more frequently than boys (Steinmetz 1988). Another report on premarital violence found that 34% of the males and 40% of the females reported engaging in some form of physical aggression against their mates in a year. 17% of women and 7% of men reported engaging in severe physical aggression. 35% of the men and 30% of the women reported having been abused.
Also in 1986, Marriage and Divorce Today, a newsletter for family therapy practitioners, reported on a study done by Pill emer and Finkel hor of the Family Violence Research Laboratory of the University of New Hampshire. The study based on interviews of over 2000 elderly persons in the Boston metropolitan area, found that 3. 2% of the elderly had been abused. 52% of the abuse victims were men (Steinmetz 1988). Coram ae Mann, a criminologist at Indiana University, studied the case records of all murders committed by women between 1979 and 1983 in six major U.
S. cities. Her findings contradicted commonly held ideas about women who murder, and she was criticized by some people for this. 'They would raise the question, 'Well you have these poor battered women.' I said these weren't poor battered women. Many already had violent criminal records. They weren't weak or dependent.
They were angry.' (Mercy & Saltzman 1989) Strauss & Gellescommented in their 1986 report that 'violence by wives has not been an object of public concern... In fact, our 1975 study was criticized for presenting statistics on violence by wives.' Yet domestic violence is an issue framed in the media and in the political arena as one of male perpetrators and female victims. Violence in gay and lesbian relationships is rarely discussed, and violence against men in heterosexual relationships less so. Legislation about domestic violence is always orientated toward the female victim. For instance, in 1991, Senator Joseph Biden again introduced the 'Violence Against Women Act' which at this writing has passed the senate Judiciary Committee. It has a section called " Safe homes for Women' which specifically allocates funds to " women's's heaters (Rooke 1991).
Also note actions like that of Ohio governor Richard. Celeste who granted clemency to 25 women who were in prison for murdering their husbands. The reason he gave for this was the 'Battered Woman Syndrome' which, obviously, no man can claim as his. There is very little concern shown either for the idea of making spousal abuse a capital crime with the victim as extra-judicial executioner, nor for the idea that perhaps some of the men who murder their spouses might be suffering from an analogous " Battered Man Syndrome.' The only shelter for battered men in the entire state of California is run by Community United Against Violence (C UAV) in San Francisco, an organization dealing exclusively with gay men. Even straight men that are brave enough to risk the stigma of admitting victimization are unlikely to turn to a group of gay men for support (Rooke 1991). In some other states, attempts are being made to help abused men.
In St. Paul Minnesota, George Gilliland, Sr. the director of the Domestic Rights Coalition, has been trying to set up a shelter for battered men for a while, although without much success. Gilliland, whose wife hit him in the head with a board with a nail init, missing his eye by a fraction of an inch, attributes part of the delay to efforts by battered women's groups and other women's organizations to block the project.
In San Luis Obispo, California, David Gross is organizing the Allen Wells Memorial Fund for Battered Husbands. Mr. Wells was a battered man who could not find help and finally committed suicide after losing his children this violent wife in a custody battle. Women are still most likely to get physical custody of children in divorce cases, leading to another reason men are afraid to leave their abusive wives (Rooke 1991).
In conclusion, I think that husband battering is a serious problem, comparable to the problem of wife battering. Even if the statistics collected in the last several years are completely wrong and only one in 14 victims of spousal abuse are men, these are men who are hurting and need services that are currently not available. There is such a strong stigma against being a battered man, carried over from mid-evil times when the battered man was considered the guilty party, that special attention should be paid to reaching out to these victims. Simply opening up 'Women " sShelters' to men is not enough.
The victims and the perpetrators of domestic violence - women and men - have been suffering for too long. As the sharp distinctions between traditional men's and women's roles continue to blur, women are more frequently behaving in ways once thought (often erroneously) to be the exclusive province of men. Many experts feel that the problem of female-initiated violence must be exposed, "legitimized," and addressed by the media, the mental health and law-enforcement communities, and the Legislature (Steinmetz 1988). Resources and facilities to combat domestic violence are, unfortunately, in short supply due to cutbacks in almost all social services.
Perhaps some battered women's groups fear that if society recognizes that men are victims too, what little money is available will be diverted. But acknowledging men's victimization in no way involves denying that women are victims. Women's groups that help battered women could also help battered men, while men's groups that counsel abusive men could make their expertise available to violent women as well. Continuing to portray spousal violence solely as a women's issue is not only wrong - it's also counterproductive. And encouraging such unnecessary fragmentation and divisiveness will ultimately do more harm than good. No one has, or should have, a control on pain and suffering.
But until society as a whole confronts it's deeply embedded stereotypes and recognizes all the victims of domestic violence, we will never be able to solve the problem. Domestic violence is a neither a male or a female issue - it's simply a human issue. References Farrell, W. (1986). Why men are the way they are. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gelles, R. (1974). The violent home: a study of physical aggression between husbands and wives. Beverly Hills: Sage. Langley, R. , Levy, R.
(1977). Wife beating: the silent crisis. New York: Pocket Books. Mercy, J. , Saltzman, L.
(1989, May) "Fatal violence among spouses in the United States, 1976-85" American Journal of Public Health, 79, 595-599.